Understanding Diary Studies: Definition, Significance, and the Digital Transformation with ExpiWell

Understanding Diary Studies: Definition, Significance, and the Digital Transformation with ExpiWell

Dr. Louis Tay
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Introduction to Diary Studies

Diary studies are a venerable research method employed across social sciences and user experience research. Participants record information about their activities, thoughts, and feelings over a period, providing researchers with rich qualitative data. This method is instrumental in contexts where longitudinal observation is critical to understanding the nuances of behaviors and experiences (Bolger, Davis, & Rafaeli, 2003).

Diary studies are similar to, but also differ subtly from, experience sampling methods (ESM) and ecological momentary assessments (EMA). Specifically, diary studies often have individuals qualitatively record what they do during the day or a period of time. This method captures not only the subjective experience, but also what individuals care most about, and what occupies "the vast majority" of their "conscious attention" (Wheeler & Reis, 1991, p. 340).

The Critical Role of Diary Studies

The longitudinal nature of diary studies provides a window into the ebb and flow of daily life, offering insights that are often invisible in other research methods, although having similar strengths of ESM and EMA. Therefore, diary studies are invaluable for:

  • Capturing Real-time Experiences: They document experiences as they occur, reducing recall bias (Scollon, Kim-Prieto, & Diener, 2003). This often occurs with one-off retrospective surveys which can be inaccurate.
  • Understanding Contextual Factors: They can identify how context influences behavior (Shiffman, Stone, & Hufford, 2008). Because diary studies examine participants' lives as they live it, we can better understand the naturally occuring factors that influence behaviors.
  • Detailing Subjective Experiences: They provide a platform for participants to express personal reflections (Laurenceau & Bolger, 2005). A more free form approach (as opposed to experience sampling forms or quantitative scales) enables one to more fully understand what individuals care about - and not merely what researchers are interested in.

Applications Across Disciplines

Diary studies have wide-reaching applications:

  • Psychology: They explore emotional and cognitive processes over time (Smyth & Stone, 2003). For instance, a more qualitative approach enables one to understand what the subjective factors are in creativity and creative days in a naturalistic context (Czerwonka, 2019).
  • Healthcare: They track patient symptoms and treatment effects (Stone & Shiffman, 2002). For instance, recent research used a daily diary study to understand how behaviors physical and psychological functioning (Strahler, Nater, & Skoluda, 2020)
  • User Experience Research: They provide user feedback on product interaction in real-world settings (Rieman, 1993). This is very similar to the use of experience sampling to track how users engage with a product, as advocated by Google.

ExpiWell: Digitizing Diary Studies

ExpiWell’s app revolutionizes diary studies by digitizing the traditional pen-and-paper process used in diary studies:

  1. Accessibility and Security: The app’s availability on major platforms such as iOS and Android Apps ensures participants can easily record entries. Moreover, the data recorded is end-to-end encrypted so you do not need to worry about participants losing their physical diaries and inadvertently sharing personal information.
  2. Enhanced Data Integrity: Real-time data capture through ExpiWell reduces errors associated with delayed reporting.
  3. Multimedia Entries: ExpiWell supports various data formats from participants via our free mobile apps, enriching the quality of entries. Capture video, voice, photos, location, and more! Researchers have stress the importance of digital capture to overcome challenges in free-form writing (Carter & Mankoff, 2005).
  4. Send reminders: Through our convenient and easy scheduling, you can send nudges to participants to complete their diaries on a regular basis.


ExpiWell is not just an app but a digital transformation tool for diary studies. By leveraging ExpiWell, researchers gain access to immediate, rich, and participant-centered data, pushing the boundaries of what traditional diary studies can achieve. Embrace ExpiWell to harness the full potential of diary studies in your research endeavors.

If you are interested in learning more about how to apply diary studies in your research, please contact us at sales@expiwell.com! We would love to be your partner.


  • Bolger, N., Davis, A., & Rafaeli, E. (2003). Diary methods: Capturing life as it is lived. Annual Review of Psychology, 54(1), 579-616.
  • Carter, S., & Mankoff, J. (2005, April). When participants do the capturing: the role of media in diary studies. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 899-908).
  • Czerwonka, M. (2019). Those days when people are creative: Diary methods in creativity research. The Palgrave handbook of social creativity research, 59-73.
  • Laurenceau, J. P., & Bolger, N. (2005). Using diary methods to study marital and family processes. Journal of Family Psychology, 19(1), 86-97.
  • Rieman, J. (1993). The diary study: A workplace-oriented research tool to guide laboratory efforts. Proceedings of INTERACT '93 Computing, 5(3), 321-343.
  • Scollon, C. N., Kim-Prieto, C., & Diener, E. (2003). Experience sampling: Promises and pitfalls, strengths and weaknesses. Journal of Happiness Studies, 4(1), 5-34.
  • Shiffman, S., Stone, A. A., & Hufford, M. R. (2008). Ecological momentary assessment. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 4, 1-32.
  • Smyth, J. M., & Stone, A. A. (2003). Ecological momentary assessment research in behavioral medicine. Journal of Happiness Studies, 4(1), 35-52.
  • Strahler, J., Nater, U. M., & Skoluda, N. (2020). Associations between health behaviors and factors on markers of healthy psychological and physiological functioning: a daily diary study. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 54(1), 22-35.
  • Stone, A. A., & Shiffman, S. (2002). Capturing momentary, self-report data: A proposal for reporting guidelines. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 24(3), 236-243.
  • Wheeler, L., & Reis, H. T. (1991). Self‐recording of everyday life events: Origins, types, and uses. Journal of personality, 59(3), 339-354.

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