Diary Methods


Diary methods are qualitative research tools which ask participants to provide written, oral or video accounts of their everyday life experiences or observations. Traditional diary methods utilised written accounts, however more contemporary applications of diary methods use a variety of approaches including apps, technologies or creative note taking. Diary methods can be reported within longitudinal studies and thus might be utilised between periods of 1 week to over 1 year. 

Diary approaches to data generation are premised on the desire to get ‘closer’ to an individuals’ perspective and better understand their lived reality, and thus are generally collected ‘in vivo’ during the course of the everyday life, rather than within a laboratory setting. The main advantage of this is reducing the time between a participant’s experience and their recollection of the event, thus reducing the chance of external stimuli or other influencing factors impacting the recollection.
Diary methods can also encourage a reflective process within participants. For example, by taking note of daily practices, participants are able to reflect on, and take note of, their actions in greater detail than they otherwise might. This could challenge participants’ assumptions and provide greater insight into their everyday lives.
Finally, many researchers utilise diary methods alongside other methods such as interviews. Diaries can then be used as a catalyst for conversation and a tool to elicit narratives from participants during interviews. Some limitations of diary methods are the reliance on participants to remember to complete them routinely, participants completing them very briefly and thus not providing adequate detail, or the reliance on certain levels of writing and comprehension. Technologies such as voice noting or voice-to-text apps can help overcome these barriers.



Find out more about diary methods by using the SAGE Research Methods library here.

Page edited by Melissa Whitaker, PhD Student, School of Geography, Politics and Sociology.