A diary study is a research methodology used to obtain feedback from participants over a period of time (days, weeks, or months). In these studies, participants are asked to document information on their own when they perform a specific action or the participant has reached a specific period in the research.
Diary studies can be very informative since we, as researchers, cannot observe everything a participant does within a given timeframe. A diary study helps by having participants keep track of information for us. The data from diary studies help researchers and teams learn about specific patterns or changes that emerge over time.
Diary studies are unique compared to surveys, interviews, or focus groups because they gather data from the same group of participants, multiple times. This method overlaps more with longitudinal studies in situations where one or more quantitative measures (for example: confidence or effectiveness ratings) are collected at distinct points in time. The main distinction between the two methods is that diary studies do not require using quantitative metrics. Many diary studies can involve just collecting qualitative data (open ended feedback or self-reported observations).
Diary studies are useful when there is interest in participants beyond a single interaction or touchpoint. This kind of research can examine participant feedback about a product (GitLab or other application), behavior (DevOps tool usage at work), or activity (submitting a merge request or searching for content online). Some examples of participant data that is common to collect in diary studies includes:
Diary studies require many of the same steps outlined for longitudinal studies. One additional step is to determine when the participant will record entries:
When planning out the appropriate timeframes or touchpoints for the research, take into account the overall research questions.
Other factors that can impact diary study research planning include the types of participants recruited, deadline for the research, and number of research questions.
|Touchpoint||Time scheduled||Gratuity amount|
|1||45 minutes||$30 USD|
|2||15 minutes||$20 USD|
|3||15 minutes||$20 USD|
|4||60 minutes||$200 USD|
When setting up a diary study, it is important to think through all of the necessary parts participants will fill out within their diaries. Researchers should create a diary document that is easy to view, access, and edit. At GitLab, it is common to use collaborative digital files such as Google Docs or Google Sheets, so the researcher can share them with a participant and monitor their progress throughout the study.
When using Google Docs or Sheets, make sure to follow these steps and guidelines to ensure data privacy within your study:
questionsfor the participant
sharebutton at the top right hand corner
general accessdefaulted to
add people and groupsfield, add the
email addressof the participant
editoraccess and type in a short note (if needed)
Depending on the number of expected diary entries and touchpoints, it is advised to open participants’ diary documents often to monitor their current progress. If participants have not filled out specific entries on time, you can leave a comment and @ mention them using their email address to send a reminder to complete the task(s).
There are a few recent examples of diary studies completed by our GitLab team members:
These resources provide a more in-depth overview on how to conduct diary studies: