What is a Diary Study?

At a Glance

Diary studies are a type of longitudinal study in which contributors create “diary entries” as points of data over a specified period of time. Diary entries can be audio, text, images, videos, or a combination of these assets.

Diary studies can provide valuable insight into how users behave and interact with their surroundings in their everyday lives. For example:

  • You may want to understand the first-time user experience throughout all stages of that experience—from when the user initially loads the software through the ensuing days and weeks of using (or not using) it.
  • You may want to understand the experience users have with the software by getting them to complete daily check-ins, in which they report their experience for each of those days.
  • You may want to understand different moments within the experience: for a car rental experience, for example, such moments would include reserving a car, as well as picking up and dropping off the car at a rental location.

How to conduct a diary study with UserTesting

Designing and running a diary study using UserTesting may be slightly different from what your team has done on its own. Historically, customers have engaged with UserTesting's Professional Services team to assist with these types of projects. Diary studies have different stages, so contributors dropping out of a study is likely. Such attrition is one of the several complexities associated with diary studies, which is why we advise involving our Professional Services team.

However, you can run a diary study on your own with UserTesting:

1. Define the flow of your test, including timeline and touchpoints. For example:

  • Pre-screen contributors (with seven days of launching the test). Look for contributors who are the best fit.
  • Pilot a shorter version of the diary study to ensure that all the instructions and materials are clear to contributors. Make changes accordingly, based on any feedback, prior to the following sequence of touchpoints.
  • Touchpoint 1 (Day 1): Live interview to understand background and experience
    • What is the contributor shopping preparation process, if any?
    • How will contributors decide where to shop?
    • What are contributors planning on buying/shopping for? 
      • Do they have a specific item or category in mind, or are they planning to do more general browsing? 
      • Are contributors planning to buy items they want and/or items they need? 
  • Touchpoint 2 (Day 2): Recorded test of first-time experience.
  • Touchpoint 3 (Day 7): Recorded test of experience after one week
  • Touchpoint 4 (Day 14): Recorded test of experience after second week
  • Touchpoint 5 (Day 15): Live interview to follow up on their overall experience
    • How do participants describe the post-purchase experience overall?
      • What does an optimal post-purchase experience look like?
      • What are the most important details to know?
      • What kind of post-purchase communications are expected from retailers?
    • If they needed to return the item or cancel the order, how would they expect to be able to do that?

2. Run an unmoderated test to identify contributors for your study.

  • We call this “pre-screening” because you will select which contributors, based on their answers to the unmoderated test, are to be included in your full diary study.
  • This step is important because diary studies require time and commitment from you and the individuals participating in your study, so you want to ensure you have the right people participating.

3. Create a favorite contributors of the people you are including in your test.

4. Using your favorite contributors, invite these specifically selected contributors to the first test (touchpoint). Running this session as a Live Conversation can answer questions people have about the overall process, helping the whole study to run more smoothly.

5. On the appropriate days, send the next test (touchpoint).

  • These unmoderated tests can include specific questions and, if appropriate, a link to any tool you want people to use to complete their diaries (a Google Form, a Microsoft Office 365 document, etc.).
  • Tip: Schedule these tests so that you don’t have to manually launch them each day.

6.  Conduct the final test (touchpoint). As with the first touchpoint, running this touchpoint as a Live Conversation will allow you to collect the most data and customize your questions to each of your contributors’ experience during the study.

7.  Keep in touch with your contributors and message them prior to every touchpoint.

8. As a best practice, keep all the tests for your diary study in a folder so that it is easy to look at them as a list on your Dashboard.

For a more detailed explanation of these steps, see our Running a Diary Study course, which includes an example test plan for a diary study.

Learn More

Need more information? Read these related articles.

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