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Running diary studies? Top 10 tips to help you get great results

By Kate Parrott

Project and Client Services Director


User research and usability testing are constantly evolving and changing, so it’s not surprising to see an increase in the number of briefs we have been receiving with diary studies as a requirement.

It has become apparent that, for clients, diary studies are turning into an essential research tool, even though they usually demand more from the users. This means that user recruitment teams like ours need to put a lot more effort into finding the right type of participants to take part in diary studies, people who are likely to stay commited to a longer than usual research or testing project.

After recruiting several thousands of participants over the last few years, what’s become apparent is it’s not just the incentive that ensures the participants’ commitment to the project (obviously it plays a vital role!), but there are other factors which help towards getting the most out of participants. Factors you might not have considered…

We have put together a list of 10 tips for diary studies, which will help you get the most out of the study once your participants have been recruited. Look after the participant and they will go above and beyond for you! Factor in as many of the following tips as possible and your analysis will be as strong as ever.

1. Keep it simple
Make sure you send over a clear instruction guide/manual to participants who have been selected to take part in the project. Keep the study simple; the more complicated, the more put-off they will be.

2. Over recruit
Ensure you over-recruit on the number of participants required. Depending on the criteria and demographics, you may have people dropping out of the project and/or have one person who is not contributing enough or in the correct way.

3. Extra time
Factor in extra time before you wrap up the project for the recruiter to replace participants if someone drops out. You can also use this time for any late submissions.

4. Be fruitful
Incentivise the right amount. Depending on the criteria, what is involved and the duration of the diary study, we recommend splitting the incentive: offer the first amount halfway through and the rest at the end to keep participants engaged throughout.

5. Be realistic
Keep diary studies to a maximum of one week and a maximum of 10-15 minutes per day, if possible. We find that any study that is longer than this can increase the chance of cancellations/ disengagement.

6. Engage
Ensure you are engaging and the participant feels comfortable talking to you. It’s vital to make it known their input is vital to the study.

7. Thank you!
Thank them for their input and acknowledge their efforts during the study. Make them feel appreciated and you’ll get a lot more out of them!

8. Don’t be needy
Try not to be too needy: there’s a fine line between engaging and harassing your participants. Check in with them once a day (or maybe twice if you feel is relevant), but remember the onus is on them to meet the requirements of the study and ensure they qualify for the incentive. No matter how much you chase them, if they haven’t engaged with you from the start, chances are they are not committed. This is a tell-tale sign for you or your recruiter to find a replacement.

9. Offer insight
Most people on our database are generally interested in hearing about how they helped in the research. In many cases, acknowledging their feedback’s value becomes as important (if not more) as the incentive. In other words, it’s not always about the money if you choose the right people. Offer to share some of the results with the participants, such as functionalities or updates they have helped develop. If you’re allowed to, you can even do this halfway through the project to keep them engaged.

10. Free feedback
Give participants a chance to provide feedback once the diary study is complete: they may have some feedback which they forgot to share with you during the research, which could be key to your analysis.

More blogs?
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If you would
like to find out more about our in-house participant recruitment service for user testing or market research get in touch on 0117 921 0008 or

About the author: Kate Parrott is the Project and Client Services Director at People for Research, and also a high quality user recruitment ninja. She is the go-to person when it comes to complex briefs and an endless source of top tips.

About People for Research: We recruit participants for UX and usability testing and market research. We work with award winning UX agencies across the UK and partner with a number of end clients leading the way with in-house user experience and insight.


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