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Diary studies help you understand how people experience and behave in context and in the moment, allowing you to collect qualitative information by having participants record entries about their everyday lives or specific actions. Not only do they glean a lot more insight than a survey or a 60-minute interview, the data they generate can be extremely comprehensive. A diary study is the perfect research method for contextual product testing, emotional feedback, situational experiences and fluctuations in individuals’ responses to questions.

A traditional diary study can be split into five stages:

+ Planning and strategy
+ Briefing and tools
+ Study period
+ Post-study finalisation
+ Data analysis

This blog focuses on the second area in this process: briefing and tools. Specifically we’re looking at nine tools you can use to implement a long-term diary study and the benefits and potential pitfalls of each.

After you’ve set your strategy, one of the next steps in a diary study is defining the platforms and technology to use, so we did some research around nine tools that will help in the implementation, tracking, reporting and insight from your diary studies.

dscout

A diary study tool and remote research platform that allows you to design, recruit, field and analyse diary studies in one place. This end-to-end diary study tool offers ‘missions’ for the participants to complete.

👍  Pros: A flexible and easy-to-use research tool with simple stages and an end-to-end process in one place. The usability is great and their customer service comes highly recommended. The integration of tools is easy to manage.

👎  Cons: Pricing on individual projects can be expensive compared to other tools on this list. Dscout don’t delete their data, so if your account is active, your data will remain on the platform. There is no scheduling tools on the platform currently, meaning you can either release your tasks all at once or have a reminder set up to launch weekly tasks. The final note with dscout is that the app is only available on Android or iOS and there is no availability through non-mobile devices.

📣  What the professionals think:

“Dscout offers a variety of services and levels of involvement so they’re easy to work with no matter what I need. I can run the whole thing myself and just use their tools, or they can consult and do the initial set-up, or they can do a high-level report for me, or they can run the whole thing through their Studio. They’re flexible and happy to adjust as needed. However, some parts of the tool are still a mystery to me. It does a lot, but it’s not always obvious and I think I end up doing some things manually that I didn’t need to.”
Kelly Moran, Senior User Researcher at Google

“As a researcher, I’m constantly looking for the most effective and user-friendly tools for collecting accurate, illustrative, and in-the-moment data. dscout checks every box and is always improving, which is great. There are currently some limitations in the survey tools that don’t let us drill down as specifically as we need. And, sometimes scouts don’t follow directions as perfectly as we could get using a moderated method, but it’s the best option available when it comes to unmoderated methods.”
Meagan Hart, User Experience Researcher at Facebook

Indeemo

Diary app | Indeemo is a smartphone app for mobile interactions and qualitative research with a simple interface for participants and clients to understand. It allows users to add photos, videos, text and record their screens which is handy for software testing.

👍  Pros: Indeemo allow you to schedule tasks to diary participants and their project managers give you feedback based on their experience of the app in the past. Most users find their interface to be quite intuitive, but there are still thorough training and tutorials available.

👎  Cons: There is no real self-service option here, and the project management model is great if it’s your first time using it, but can get a bit tiresome. Also, some users report that the platform tends to run more slowly as the data collected increases (for example, videos can take a while to load).

📣  What the professionals think:

“Indeemo is a simple tool, easy to use, with strong project support. Great for mobile ethnography projects and for getting quick qualitative feedback from individuals and small groups of participants.” Mike Stevens, founder of What Next Strategy & Planning

“I love that Indeemo offers simple, intuitive user interface to organise and sort through qualitative interview data. However, I wish there were a more simple way to give respondents pseudonyms in the platform for easy reference in subsequent coding and analysis. It would also be great to be able to use pseudonyms when commenting or probing respondents.”
Jessica Shakespeare, Senior User Research Manager at Join the Dots

SurveySignal 

SMS data collection tool | SurveySignal allows you to send participants surveys either with a unique ID code. These texts can be scheduled and flexible with a mix of measurements.

👍  Pros: Can be scheduled and follow up messages can be automated if individuals don’t fill out time sensitive surveys. Participants can remain anonymous with data being assigned to a pseudonym.

👎  Cons: Unclear on the targeting or segmentation. There is a lack of transparency on pricing and how often participants are contacted. The strength is distribution, you build the survey and analyse the results through external tools.

📣  What the professionals think:

“SurveySignal integrates the idea of using SMS messages as signals and reminders, according to fixed or random schedules and of linking these signals to mobile surveys designed with common online survey software.”
Wilhelm Hofmann, Assistant Professor of Behavioural Science at the Chicago University

“We have been using SurveySignal for a while, and really like some aspects of it. It integrates with Qualtrics, so the survey look and feel is really top notch. Downside is that survey data can’t feed forward across surveys, but that hasn’t been a big issue for our work.”
Kevin M. King,
Associate Professor at the University of Washington’s Department of Psychology

LifeData

LifeData is an experience sampling tool that allows you to capture individuals’ experiences in real-time, with a focus on the healthcare market. The data feeds into clinical trials, allowing researchers to monitor participants through the platform’s dashboards and evaluate their outcomes.

👍  Pros: The real-time data dashboard is a nice feature. This tool also offers flexible scheduling options and the ability to create multiple question/schedule combinations, which is great for complex study designs.

👎  Cons: It’s specifically tailored to clinical trials and the healthcare industry, so you may find some of the features to be too niche.

📣  What the professionals think:

“We’re [using] the LifeData app to collect daily ESM/EMA data in a study. Good ability to customise, integrate with smartphones, push notifications, etc. Pretty cool!”
Matthew P. Ithurburn, Assistant Professor at University of Alabama

Ilumivu

Ilumivu is another academic tool used for remote studies with a focus on healthcare and the medical industry. It integrates with wearable devices and sensors to generate and collect data that isn’t just subjective and can match physical symptoms with other factors, like the time when the user completes the survey, to align the user’s mental state and other factors like stress with the information collected.

👍  Pros: Not only does this tool developed by researchers allows you to capture self-reported data, but the phone/wearable integration makes it possible to collect objective biometric information.

👎  Cons: Used mostly in academia and healthcare, so similarly to other tools on this list you may find some of the features and language to be a bit niche. Aesthetically speaking, the interface is quite basic and looks a bit old-school.

📣  What the professionals think:

“mEMA [by Ilumivu] is a complete EMA solution that uses a mobile application to perform measurements. Furthermore, Ilumivu provides options to enrich an EMA data set with physiological sensor data, as measured from the mobile phone sensors or wearable sensors.”
F.J. Blaauw, CEO at Researchable B.V. (et al, Journal of Biomedical Informatics)

iFormBuilder by Zerion Software

iFormBuilder is an online form builder that allows users to update forms and submit information beyond what a traditional survey offers. For example, the user is able to scan barcodes to track users weekly shopping, capturing photos and tracking inventory.

👍  Pros: The ability to work offline and upload later means participants don’t need a stable internet connection. Additional integrations and APIs allow for easy integration with other tools. Some users also mention how easy it is to use the platform’s interface, from creating the forms to assigning them to other users.

👎  Cons: The pricing can be a bit steep and the Zerion platform does not provide direct access to participants, so you will need to recruit through other means.

📣  What the professionals think:

“This application offers a very simple data structure that can be adapted to any user that needs to use it. It also offers good capabilities when it is not connected to the internet, and the general support with this application has been excellent. On the other side, the price is a little high and is oversaturated with options to compensate for its value.”
Valentina G., freelance web designer

“iFormBuilder looks like it could be a great product, but the form building interface is clunky and confusing.”
Daryl Vogan, Application Architect at Michael Baker

MetricWire

MetricWire helps analyse, engage your audience and manage compliance. The technology allows researchers to adapt to their participants’ individual behaviours and real-world context to identify the mechanisms for change faster.

👍  Pros: Enables questions to be sent to users based on their location, which is great if you want to target users who are leaving a specific place or only when they’re at home, for example. The studies can be adapted to everyone, with tailored questions based on past answers. The reporting element is quite sophisticated.

👎  Cons: Their website can feel a bit overwhelming at first, but most users report that this is not reflected on the (simpler) research portal. Still, MetricWire is more of a data entry platform than a complete solution for diary studies. Also, you will need to source your participants externally.

📣  What the professionals think:

“[Although] their homepage is not very helpful and has a lot of useless graphics, their research portal is much better. Normally, with a custom app-based program, it’s difficult to get into participants’ phones, especially iPhones. This is a nice workaround. We’ve even done remote recruitment and participant self-installs and it works. But, it’s not perfect and like all it has downsides.”
Aidan Wright, Associate Professor of Psychology at University of Pittsburgh

“MetricWire’s mobile data collection feature has lots of cool applications in medicine and beyond.”
Jan Kulinski, Software Designer/Developer at Ground News

SurveyAnyplace

Although not exactly an end-to-end diary study tool, SurveyAnyplace allows you to distribute surveys to individual users and create reports for each of them based on their answers.

👍  Pros: User-friendly interface and versatile survey-building options, especially if you are already familiar with other similar tools. The many customisation features make it easy to brand your surveys.

👎  Cons: You have to source your own participants and some users report there is not enough documentation and training resources. Question logic is quite complex and needs to be worked out in advance: the software doesn’t intuitively update  the logic if the user makes changes to the survey design (like Survey Monkey, for example). Some users have also reported the occasional bug when saving changes.

📣  What the professionals think:

“As a customer success manager, I use SurveyAnyplace to gather customer satisfaction and feedback. Next to that we implemented it on some of our clients websites to allow site visitors to request detailed pricing offers based on their product preferences.”
Jasper Steyaert, Customer Success Manager at De Websters

“I used SurveyAnyplace to build a learning campaign. It was interactive, personalised, automated a lot of functions I normally have to do manually and looked awesome. Getting feedback from stakeholders is much easier. The impact on our audience (who are using the platform to learn products that they then sell to customers) has been extraordinary.”
Kelly Vogler, Senior Manager Learning Design at Super Retail Group

QuestionPro

Create surveys, polls and forms to distribute and measure data. QuestionPro also has access to a participant pool with transparent pricing, but it’s unfortunately restricted to the US. You can start an account for free, but there is a cost associated to setting up campaigns and projects.

👍  Pros: Finding users through the platform is fairly straightforward and the platform offers a free trial to help you kick-off your first project. There are a lot of customisation options, from the welcome page to the thank you message. A lot of users also rate their effective customer support.

👎  Cons: Not a lot of integrations with other parties, especially when it comes to reporting and data analysis. The platform does not offer the ability to schedule campaigns, and there is limited functionality on the distribution front (for example, you can’t A/B test different subject lines or messages). Some users also mentioned using QuestionPro can be expensive.

📣  What the professionals think:

“QuestionPro is good for small and medium-sized companies as it enables a company to create online surveys in a fast and secure way, but I don’t think it’s a good fit for big companies. It’s easy to use and has high response rates, but the conditional logic should be more flexible.”
Asia Kwiatkowska, Project Manager at BKMPL

“The tool adapts to mobile use incredibly well, although we create the surveys on computers. It also permits multiple users to access the data while the survey is active. The downside is a somewhat outdated and visually unappealing interface. While I appreciate the prioritisation of functionality, I would like to see more energy devoted to aesthetics.”
Alicia Meyer, Resident Director at Soutwest Baptist University

All nine tools listed above have their limitations and advantages. However, the area where most of these platforms fall short is when it comes to assisting the researchers and users with recruiting the right users to take part in the diary studies and qualitative research. If you are struggling with participant recruitment, find out more about our services here or get in touch on info@peopleforresearch.co.uk.

 


 

Jason Stockwell, Insights Marketing Manager

If you would like to find out more about our in-house participant recruitment service for user research or usability testing get in touch on 0117 921 0008 or info@peopleforresearch.co.uk.

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.