Diary studies

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Diary studies is a research method that collects qualitative information by having participants record entries about their every day lives in a log, diary or journal about the activity or experience being studied. This collection of data uses a longitudinal technique, meaning that it is reported by the participants over a period of time ranging from some days to more a few months, meaning that it studies the same variables over a period of time. This research tool, although not being able to provide results as detailed as a true field study, can still offer a vast amount of contextual information without the costs of a true field study.[1][2] Diary studies are also known as experience sampling or ecological momentary assessment (EMA) methodology.

Traditionally diary studies involved participants keeping a written diary of events. However the emergence of smartphones now enables participants to diary with photos, videos and text using a variety of online, mobile or offline apps and tools.

There are two types of diary studies:

  1. Elicitation studies, where participants capture media that are then used as prompts for discussion in interviews. The method is a way to trigger the participant's memory. This type of diary study is sometimes referred to by Researchers as pre-task or pre-work and typically is carried out before an in-person interview such as a Focus Group or an In-depth interview.
  2. Feedback studies, where participants answer predefined questions about events. This is a way of getting immediate answers from the participants.[3]


An early example of a diary study was "How Workingmen Spend Their Time" (Bevans, 1913) which went unpublished by George Esdras Bevans.[4]


Diary studies originate from the fields of psychology and anthropology. In the field of human–computer interaction (HCI), diary studies have been adopted as one method of learning about user needs towards designing more appropriate technologies.[3][5]


Advantages of diary studies are numerous.[6] They allow:

  • collecting longitudinal and temporal information;
  • reporting events and experiences in context and in-the-moment;
  • participants to diary their behaviours, thoughts and feelings in-the-moment thereby minimising the potential for post rationalisation;
  • determining the antecedents, correlations, and consequences of daily experiences and behaviors.


Diary studies might generate inaccurate recall, especially if using the elicitation type of diary studies, because of the use of memory triggers (e.g. taking a photo and writing about it later). There is low control, low participation and there is a risk of disturbing the action. In feedback studies, there is also low control, and it can be troubling and disturbing to write everything down.[7]


PACO[8] is an open source mobile platform for behavioral science.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sullivan, Brian K. (August 9, 2012). "5 methods to collect data with diary studies". Big Design. Retrieved September 24, 2016.
  2. ^ Flaherty, Kim (June 5, 2016). "Diary Studies: Understanding Long-Term User Behavior and Experiences". Nielsen Norman Group. Retrieved September 24, 2016.
  3. ^ a b Carter and Mankoff (2005). When participants do the capturing: the role of media in diary studies. CHI '05 Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems.
  4. ^ "Bevans, G.E. (1913). How Workingmen Spend Their Time (Unpublished Doctoral Thesis). Columbia University, New York, NY"
  5. ^ Palen, L., & Salzman, M. (2002). Voice-mail diary studies for naturalistic data capture under mobile conditions. In Proceedings of Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW '02), pp. 87–95. New York: ACM.
  6. ^ Lallemand, C. (2012). Dear Diary: Using Diaries to Study User ExperienceUX Magazine 11.3, August 2012.
  7. ^ Kuniavsky, Observing the User Experience, A Practitioner's Guide to User Research September 21, 2012, ISBN 0123848695.
  8. ^ https://www.pacoapp.com/

Further reading[edit]

  • Broom, A, Kirby, E, Adams, J, Refshuage, K (2015). "On illegitimacy, suffering and recognition: A diary study of women living with chronic pain". Sociology. 49 (4): 712–731. doi:10.1177/0038038514551090.
  • Broom, A, Meurk, C, Adams, J, Sibbritt & D (2014). "Networks of knowledge or just old wives' tales? A diary-based analysis of women's self-care practices and everyday lay expertise". Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine. 18 (4): 335–351. doi:10.1177/1363459313497610. PMID 23986374.

External links[edit]