If you are a user researcher or UX designer, you probably know how challenging it can be to manage a diary study. This type of research usually involves asking a group of participants to record their experiences regarding a particular subject over a specific period of time, often using digital tools like a mobile app or an online account.

Diary studies are incredibly useful, as they allow to record the users’ thoughts and actions in context, as opposed to a session in a lab-based environment.

We almost make it sound like running a diary study only carries advantages, but that is not really the case. From our experience, it’s impossible to run a successful study without proper planning; one of the biggest challenges is keeping the participants engaged throughout the project.

“To the participant, the researcher can appear detached, the tasks sometimes seem irrelevant, and the tools can prove cumbersome to use. As a result, diary studies often suffer from high participant drop-out rate, infrequent [and inconsistent] diary entries, or entries that lack effort, context and detail.” Anya Zeitlin, Applying participant experience principles to diary study design

People for Research recently teamed up with Comic Relief to help them manage a high-volume diary study across the UK. Dozens of participants who matched Comic Relief’s criteria were invited to take part in an eight-week project to share their thoughts and opinions about Red Nose Day and Comic Relief in the run up to the 2019 telethon, which happened on 15th March.

Comic Relief trusted our process in making sure we would be able to recruit a diverse pool of participants from all over the country. We were able to work closely with the charity’s team from the early stages, which allowed us to understand the aims of the research and tailor our approach to getting the right people to provide them with invaluable feedback.

We worked according to the following goals to keep the project’s drop-out rate below the industry’s average.

💡 Set realistic expectations

In the initial screening call, I made all participants fully aware of what they were committing to, including the time period (eight weeks), and confirmed if they had any holidays booked or were planning on not being available, as this wouldn’t work for them.

They were made aware they would be testing an app on their smartphone and that they needed to consistently give up one hour of their time a week to the project. I didn’t try to fluff it up, but instead was just honest with what they should expect from it, so they wouldn’t abandon the project because it was more demanding than they thought it would be.
By being as transparent as I could with the participants, I was able to confirm they still felt engaged over the phone to commit to this. If they were unsure or thought they would be away, it just simply would not be right for them or the client, so there was no reason to put them forward.

The Comic Relief team were brilliant to work with and provided us with a strong understanding about the various types of people that support and donate to charities. At PFR, we pride ourselves on ensuring our individual strengths shine through within a collaborative effort, allowing our recruitment and marketing team the autonomy to ensure an organised, fair, and efficient process in recruiting the appropriate people.

💡 Communicate often and clearly

Both myself and the rest of the team working on this project were not only in constant communication with the clients, but also with the participants, before and throughout the diary study.

“Working with People for Research was great. The team were proactive at every stage of the project. They helped us solve problems and provided ideas for how to make sure were following best practices. It felt like the right people were always available to answer questions,” said Robert Alleyne, Audience Strategist at Comic Relief. “The team are engaged, personable and experts in their field. Each team member brought a different area of expertise and this was shown by the way they listened and responded to questions.”

Our experience has shown that keeping your users engaged and aware of any changes to dates, for example, is key to a healthy relationship ahead of the beginning of the project. This will contribute to minimise the drop-out rate at the onset.

💡 Make it fun

Inspired by basic principles of gamification, we wanted to make sure that our weekly communications with the participants provided a visual illustration of their progress in the diary study. We set up a simple email template with a loading bar to show their progress and how close they were to their end goal. We also made sure the content reflected how important their contribution was to a charity.

drop out charity case study comic relief

We found that this simple interaction really made a difference, with over 90% of the participants opening the weekly emails to check their progress.

Now that the eight-week long study has been closed, Comic Relief will analyse the data, and use it to inform future Red Nose Days. “We want to make sure our audience is central to the decision making we make and this piece of research, along with others, will help us to do that,” Robert said.

“People for Research recruited a diverse set of respondents with a variety of opinions. This made sure we had a well-rounded set of views and opinions throughout the research. It helped us to tell a clear story of the campaign from different viewpoints. The generosity of the public makes Red Nose Day a success. This research will help us to make sure we do our best to reflect their views and opinions as we raise money to help vulnerable people at home and abroad.”

As Comic Relief have rightly pointed out, it’s the people who make Red Nose Day a success. This is central to every charity, so allowing people to directly share their views can aid the relationship with current donators, as well as future donators.

Doing research within the charity sector is unique in the sense that you are trying to understand people’s opinions on giving, as opposed to receiving a service. Research with a different kind of industry usually yields results that aim to improve their products for their customers. However, with user research for a charity, it’s less about understanding what people want for themselves and more about what they want for others, so keep this in mind especially if running a longer project like a diary study.



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

At 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 up with a number of end clients who are leading the way with in-house user experience and insight.