The Advantages and Limitations of Diary Studies

diary study ux

In last weeks blog we explained that diary studies are qualitative surveys that can be used to provide insights regarding user behaviour. They can be a useful and effective tool but, like all research methods they have their own strengths and weaknesses which you will want to consider before deciding that diary studies are the right thing for your particular need.

The Benefits of Diary Studies

  • Experiences and feelings are recorded often as they happen and not in hindsight and in their natural place and environment so they are more likely to reflect the true position than recalled actions or emotions might. They are also contextualised which might make it easier to study and understand motivations, objectives and problems.
  • They provide information over a period of time (sometimes quite a long period) and thus can indicate precursors to actions, causes and effects of particular decisions or developments and what people do or where they turn to when events occur that affect their opinions or attitudes.
  • The extended timescale can also help to show how people views change towards a product or service over a period of use. Initial surveys only capture a snapshot of the specific time; diary studies produce more of a motion picture for analysis.
  • The external influencing factors that help shape opinion and attitude can also be captured via diary studies. As the participants are gathering a lot of contextual detail it is more likely they will reveal influencing factors, people, media, opinion-formers and so on during their recording.
  • The very nature of the exercise tends to provide richer detail as well as unpredictable and unexpected data which can help greatly in adjusting and developing future concepts and products.

The Limitations

But it isn’t all upside as you can imagine. Here are some of the potential pitfalls.

  • If you don’t define exactly what you are expecting, put the briefing together expertly and thoroughly and deliver it persuasively and intelligibly you run the risk of not getting what you want from the process.
  • Similarly, you need to have picked the right people to participate – this means people who are relevant to the research you are conducting.
  • The diarists will probably need to be prompted, reminded and motivated to complete their recordings when they are supposed to. Some (and perhaps a significant amount) of value is lost if it is done some time later or not everything relevant is recorded.
  • By its nature the data is difficult to analyse or group so it is time-consuming to trawl through it all to find useful insights and pointers.

All in all, diary studies can prove to be a very useful tool in the researchers’ armoury, often uncovering issues, relationships and behaviours that would otherwise go unnoticed. If you would like to know more about how they operate, ring us on +44(0)800 024624  or email us at for an exploratory, no-commitment chat.

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