In user research, a diary study is a research method used to collect qualitative data about user behaviors and experiences over time. Study participants are asked to keep a diary and describe aspects of their lives that are relevant to a product or service. This can take place over an extended period ranging from a few days to weeks and even months. This method can be useful for obtaining a contextual understanding of user behaviors and experiences over time, since this can be difficult to approximate in a lab setting alone.
While this type of user research can yield valuable information, the realities of users’ work environments can also make the data collected in diary studies a bit unreliable. This type of information gathering requires the diligence of the user over a longer period of time. It tends to be more susceptible to participants who become less engaged as time goes on, leading to generic commentary and observations in order to meet the required quota. And in many cases users will be too busy in their everyday work tasks to write down pain points and/or positive experiences at the time they are experiencing them. This is especially true within healthcare environments where the immediacy and accuracy of task completion holds an important focus. Additionally, the quality of the data depends heavily on the expressive ability of the writer, so productive recruitment of respondents is even more essential. Lastly, analyzing user diary entries can be a time consuming endeavor.
Outside of shadowing users, data collected from diary studies can provide a more thorough understanding of the user’s journey when engaging with a product or service repeatedly over time. However, there are many difficulties to consider when determining if this is the best research method to pursue.