Best Practices for Diary Studies: 5 Tips for Motivating Participants & Preventing Drop-Outs

Diary studies is a research method which collects qualitative data by having participants record entries about the experience being studied in a log, journal, or diary. Entries can consist of text, video, audio, and/or images. Diary studies can be an excellent method to gather information over time. This method can provide valuable understandings and contextual insights about long-term user experiences, behaviors, and preferences. Moreover, giving participants time to reflect on the various diary prompts can help them be more thoughtful in their responses, which can generate valuable and detailed information. 

However, one big challenge and disadvantage with conducting diary studies is that the drop-out rate for this research method is typically quite high, and significantly higher compared to other methods such as focus groups or interviews. Here are a few tips for how you can overcome this challenge by boosting participants’ motivation to contribute and preventing them from dropping out of the study. 

1. Host a welcome/onboarding meeting

We recommend inviting all participants to a mandatory welcome meeting moderated by the researcher(s) to ensure that all participants are on board and set up with the right tools before the study begins. This meeting should include a demonstration of the diary entry process and the tool used for submissions. We recommend hosting smaller sessions with no more than 4-5 participants in each session so that the moderator can be sure to give everyone attention and answer questions.

2. Reinforce the project’s purpose

Feeling a sense of purpose can help boost participants’ motivation to contribute to the study and see the study through, all the way to the end. Therefore, we recommend clearly communicating the purpose of the study to the participants. Tell them why their contributions are important, valuable, and helpful. Reinforcing the purpose throughout the study – from the recruitment, to onboarding, and throughout the diary submission period – can contribute to preventing dropouts. 

3. Follow-up and ongoing encouragement

We recommend keeping an eye out for submissions throughout the study participants to make sure participants are regularly submitting their diary entries. Give reminders as needed. If the study design includes sending out regular prompts, they function as reminders. If participants are not sharing the needed diary entries, you should check in with them. Ask if they have any questions/concerns and offer them support. 

4. High incentives

At the end of the day, participating in a diary study requires quite a lot of work, time, and dedication from the participants. Participants should therefore be properly compensated. We recommend having a relatively higher hourly incentive rate for diary studies than for other UX research methods, such as a one-time interview or a focus group. In general, we suggest an hourly compensation rate for diary studies of at least $150 per hour. Next, we recommend avoiding giving partial incentives to participants and instead distributing the full incentive after the study is completed to motivate participants to see the study through, all the way to the end. 

5. Have a flexible timeline 

Sometimes, life happens, and participants may be unable to complete their diaries within the provided timeline for various reasons. We recommend planning for a week or more between the scheduled diary entry period and the absolute final deadline for data gathering so that you have the flexibility to give extensions to participants if necessary. This can prevent participants with a partial completion from dropping out and motivating them to complete the full study.

We want to hear from you! 

We hope you enjoyed this content and got some ideas to help you with conducting diary studies. What do you think about the recommended practices for diary studies? Do you have any questions? Feel free to reach out if you would like more information about diary studies and/or learn about the other services we offer. 

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