Case Study – Diaries in Action
Benefits – What they offer
Implementation Considerations &
Case Study – Diaries in Action
HSE – Upskilling Social Care Workforce
Outreach E-Learning (OEL)
Offered the opportunity to delve into experiences.
E-Learning, a panacea for creating lifelong learning
Principal tool –Diaries, Diary/Interview
An important argument that supports the relevance of diary
writing emerges from the application of metacognitive theory
to the interaction between thinking and writing … writing
diaries helps developing the skills to think about described
facts, the diaries provide strong potentialities for analysis
and understanding of the social process that occurred in the
What they offer…
Because diaries offer the possibility of documenting the
present; ‘there is a perception at least that diaries are less subject
to the vagaries of memory’ (Elliot, 1997:2.4)
Diary writing ‘has the advantage of immediate and experiential
penetration in the related facts’ (Zabalza, 1994:19 cited in Sá,
Diaries provide the opportunity to ‘observe’ a group of
people deemed to be members of a counter-culture that
would otherwise be difficult if not impossible to effectively
study due to its inherent inaccessibility and ‘freedom from a
conventional schedule of activities’ (Zimmerman & Wieder,
What they offer… (contd.)
With retrospective data collection methods
respondents are usually required to summarise or
reconstruct a sequence of events (e.g. how many
times did the event happen? How did you feel
when you engaged in a particular activity?)
Stone & Shiffman, (2002) argue that the process of
summarising can result in undue weight being
given to more salient or more recent experiences.
Methodological Issues and Considerations
Wiseman et al. (2005) argue that the primary concern with the use of
diaries is the issue of fatigue.
In fact, as Wiseman (2005:397) notes the question of how long should a
diary be maintained ‘is perhaps one of the most hotly debated issues around
Coxon et al. (1993) recommend that diaries should generally not cover
a period of over one month, however the time frame for recording will
naturally depend on the number of entries required daily and/or per
Conrath et al. (1983) found that diary data were more reliable than
questionnaire data, however, if diary entry required more than five to
ten minute minutes per day to complete the reliability may be
compromised (cited in Marino et al. 2004: 401).
Methodological Issues and
Diary studies are often classified into three categories of
interval-contingent, signal-contingent and event-contingent
(Bolger et al. 2003).
Modern communications technology can be used to improve
response rates even where a standard written diary is being
Arguably the event-contingent method has the added advantage
or providing a greater degree of ecological validity to the study
as the recording of the event solely relies on the participant
him/herself choosing the time/s to provide the record at
naturally occurring intervals. Although this can present
Methodological Issues and
‘Paper and pencil diaries were the earliest and are still the most commonly used
approach in diary research’ (Bolger et al. 2003:593). In many ways the
benefits of such an approach are quite clear: ease of use for the
participant (providing literacy is not an issue) and relatively inexpensive
A number of limitations with the paper and pencil approach (Feldman
Barrett & Barrett 2001, Shiffman & Stone 1998): honest forgetfulness,
where participants simply forget to enter a record at the required time;
in the case of interval-contingent studies, failing to have the paper diary
on hand at the appropriate time in the case of event-contingent studies.
Implementation Checklist (Abridged Version:
An A4 booklet of about 5 to 20 pages is desirable,
depending on the nature of the diary
The inside cover should carry a clear set of instructions on
how to complete the diary – this should stress the
importance of completing at the correct times also
emphasising that keeping the diary should not influence
An model example of a correctly completed entry
Pages should be clearly ruled up as a calendar with
prominent headings and enough space to enter all the
Checklists of the items, events or behaviour to help jog the
diary keep’s memory should be printed somewhere fairly
Corti (1993) contd.
There should be an explanation of what is meant by the
unit of observation, such as a “session”, an “event” or a
“fixed time block”
Appropriate terminology or lists should be designed to
meet the needs of the sample under study, and if
necessary different versions of the diary should be used
for different groups
Following the diary pages it is useful to include a simple
set of questions for the respondent to complete, among
other things, whether the diary-keeping period was
atypical in any way compared to usual daily life. It is also
good practice to include a page at the end asking for the
respondents’ own comments and clarifications of any
peculiarities relating to entries
Not necessarily within the context of qualitative approach
‘Diary designs are excellent for studying temporal dynamics.
By having participants report their experiences over hours,
days, weeks and sometimes months, researchers can ask
questions such as: Does the variable of interest fluctuate from
morning to night, behave differently on weekends and
weekdays …Do individuals differ in these changes over time?’
Bolger et al. 2003:585
In addition to simply counting events or occurrences
researchers may well be interested in the reason behind these
frequencies or changes in frequencies thus can provide a
combined or triangulated approach to data collection
Marino et al. (2003:402/3) identify five
potential shortcomings regarding the use of
time needed to train the diary keepers
variable response rates
complexity of data-collection and analysis
the conditioning and increasing fatigue of the
limitations specifically related to the topic
The use of participant diaries for data collection
can be extremely effective across a range of
qualitative studies particularly those studies
adopting an ethnographic approach.
They can provide a sense of immediacy to an event
that may not be possible in a retrospective
interview no matter how skillful the interview is
There remain a number of considerations that need
to be acknowledged and dealt with if they are to be
used effectively (as with any method).
Alaszewski, A. (2006) Using Diaries for Social Research.
London: Sage Publications
Bryman, A. (2004) Social Research Methods (2nd Edition).
Oxford: Oxford University Press
Corti, L. (1993) Using Diaries in Social Research. Social
Research Update. University of Surrey [Available from:
Coxon A. M, Coxon, N. H, and Weatherburn, P. (1993)
Sex role separation in sexual diaries of homosexual men.
AIDS (7), pp. 877–882
Elliott, H. (1997) The Use of Diaries in Sociological Research
on Health Experience.
Sociological Research Online, vol. 2, no. 2, Available from:
Feldman Barrett, L. & Barrett, D.J. (2001) An introduction
to computerized experience sampling in psychology. Soc. Sci.
Comput. Rev. 19:175-85
Marino, R., Minichiello, V., Browne, J (2004) 'Reporting on
events using diaries', In: Minichiello, V., Sullivan, G.,
Greenwood, K., Axford, R. (eds), Handbook of Research
Methods for Nursing and Health Science (2nd Edition).
Pearson/Prentice Hall, 393-410
Sá, J. (2002) Diary Writing: An interpretative Research
Method of Teaching and Learning. Educational Research &
Evaluation, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 2: 149-168
Stone, A.A. & Shiffman, S. (2002) Capturing Momentary,
Self-Report Data: A Proposal for Reporting Guidelines.
Annals of Behavioral Medicine, Vol. 24, Number 3 pp.236-243
Wiseman, V., Coneth, L. & Matovu, F. (2005) Using diaries
to collect data in resource-poor settings: questions on design and
implementation. Oxford University Press in Association with
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, pp.
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