How to Conduct a Diary Study

diary study

A considerable amount of planning and briefing needs to go into preparing for a diary study if you wish to get maximum compliance and, therefore, benefit, from the process. The whole exercise can be considered as falling into five phases which can be described as:


This is vitally important to ensure that you get the best outcome. You need to be sure of your objectives but you also need to describe to the participant exactly what you are looking for and what you are expecting from them. Determining the scope and shape of your project is critical for success. Also included in this stage is determining what sort of participants you need and how to identify, locate, engage and motivate them.


You can only get out of this exercise what you put in, in terms of the quality, accuracy and extent of the briefing information that you provide to the diarists. If they don’t know exactly what you are trying to achieve and precisely what part they play in it as well as how they must perform and deliver to play that part, your end result is likely to be incomplete at best, unusable as worst. An extensive briefing document is required and face-to-face (or at least phone) briefing with opportunities for questions, needed to ensure understanding and motivation. Some form of incentive to take part and deliver faithful and consistent records will probably be needed too. One way of ensuring continued, useful participation is to have staged incentive payments across the life of the survey; continuous feedback and positive encouragement, reinforcement and inclusion can also be useful in maintaining momentum.


The execution of the recording should flow naturally from the first two phases, if you have got them right. You need to decide how you want the logging to take place (on-screen, online, pen and paper or even video or voice recording) and when (at what time of day or particular events or occurrences). What level of detail and the types of elements you want recording are also vital.



This is an opportunity to get more context, understanding and clarity to what is recorded and to give participants a chance to air their views on the process and, perhaps, expand or enhance what they have submitted. While time-consuming this part of the process can provide rich and useful context and extra information.


Of course, once collected, all data has to be processed and analysed and this can be a long and laborious job. Organise your thoughts and objectives so that feedback can be grouped in useful clusters and try to identify trends and similarities where you can. You should hopefully be building a bigger picture as you proceed and the final objective should be to develop a customer journey (or journeys) to describe clients’ interactions.

If you are interested in the concept of diary studies and would like to find out more about how to plan, design and run them, why not give us a ring on +44(0)800 024624  or email us at  for an exploratory, no-commitment chat.

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