Diary Studies: Understanding Long-Term User Behaviour

diary study

There are many different ways of conducting user research and we have dealt with most of them in this blog at one time or another; but one we haven’t really looked at diary studies in any great detail. This piece will act as a short introduction to the concept.

A diary study is a piece of research that relies upon participants keeping reliable records of their online activity in relation to specific tasks, sites or products.


A diary study involves users keeping detailed records of their online visits and interactions as they have them, logging their actions, thought, attitudes, reasoning and so on for their various decisions and actions. The objective is to study the behaviours of users, their attitudes and processes to provide insights into how they interact with sites, apps etc, why they do it, when and how. They are usually conducted over a fairly extensive period from days to months or even years in some of the more ambitious longitudinal studies. 

The focus of a diary study can be broad or more targeted depending on what is being studied. The sorts of topics that can be usefully included in diary studies are activities relating to:

  • a product or a website;
  • general information about user behaviour (e.g. mobile phone usage);
  • a very specific action such as buying a new appliance, selling your house etc.
  • particular physical locations or times of day e.g. what users do in the mornings or what they action on the move and so on;
  • social media activity and interactions and how and when users recommend or invite friends to share.

When to Conduct a Diary Study

You should be looking to conduct diary studies when you are trying to find out;

  • How users are acting over a period of time and how their attitudes and activity might be changing;
  • Specific information such as the time of day they access particular types of site;
  • Information on how they go about specific processes such as finding a supplier or a product;
  • The journey they take while online whether it is within one site or across a multitude of sites and what triggers crossovers and browsing;
  • Their site loyalty, how long it persists and what causes them to abandon old favourites and move to new sites;
  • What issues and problems users have with sites and how they react to the site, brand, organisation when difficulties occur;
  • When you want to understand the thought processes and antecedents to actions and the cognitive elements to decision-making online.

Keeping these diaries is quite a commitment for the participants so often some form of incentive is offered. You need to consider what is the best way to keep your users engaged and interacting; frequent contact is also a good idea for continued and full participation. It is also beneficial to conduct a pilot study of how the exercise is going to roll-out, so you can see where there are any gaps or shortcomings and make sure you are giving the study the maximum relevance and chance of succeeding in producing actionable data.

If you would like to know more about this interesting and potentially extremely useful technique, ring us on +44(0)800 024624 or email us at hello@ux247.com.

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