• There are no suggestions because the search field is empty.

The How, Why and What of Mobile Diaries for Qualitative Research

Published 10 Nov 2021 6 minute read

Online qual
Mobile Ethnography

As a researcher, chances are you have run many diary/journaling exercises to get familiar with participants before conducting a focus group. Journaling is an effective mobile qualitative research method that provides rich insights into people's everyday lives.

Unfortunately, traditional paper diaries require lots of time and effort—from negotiating with the client for approval to designing the diary's structure, laying it out, printing, and distribution. If you'd rather not bother about these, you should consider adopting mobile diaries for qualitative study. 

This article will take you through the how, why, and what of mobile diary apps. Here’s what we'll cover:

  • What are mobile diaries?
  • How do mobile diaries work? 
  • Why you should use mobile diaries for qualitative research
  • When to conduct a diary study
  • Examples of mobile diaries in research
  • Advantages of mobile diaries

What are mobile diaries?

A mobile diary is an online qualitative research tool that allows researchers to collect data from users or customers via a mobile app, email, text, or some other mobile format over an extended period. Typically respondents are asked to complete a pre and post-survey to measure changes in perceptions or attitudes before and after completing the mobile diary fieldwork. Unlike traditional methods, mobile diary applications are cost-effective and time-efficient, which means you can collect more responses and process them seamlessly.

How do mobile diaries work?

Mobile diaries work best in contexts involving a small group of preselected participants. Here's how researchers use this tool for data collection:

  1. First, the researcher recruits suitable participants from an existing online survey panel, or via specialist fieldwork recruitment agency. These participants receive instructions on the scope of the study, plus detail about their participation.
  2. Using a mobile diary tool, participants can upload videos and images that provide insight into their habits, behaviours, emotions, and activities in their daily lives.
  3. Researchers review, analyse and interpret the data to harness the insights it contains. If needed, participants might be required to respond to follow-up questions in a semi-structured interview.

Advantages of using mobile diaries in qualitative research 

With mobile diary market research, researchers can collect highly accurate, personalised data using digital tools and devices, which is otherwise very difficult to achieve through traditional survey methods.

If you’re looking to optimise data collection and analysis in research mobile diaries are an excellent alternative to more traditional methods. Mobile diaries give participants the chance to share pictures, videos, and text more intuitively - just as easily as if they were talking to friends on your favourite social media platform.

By moving away from traditional pen and paper methods and deploying online qual research techniques provided your can:

  1. Record emotional responses
  2. Gain access to exclusive data
  3. Improve data shareability

Record emotional responses

Online diaries for mobile qualitative research allow the researcher to gather data on participants’ emotional responses in-the-moment to experiences and activities. By composing and framing your research in a different way - making it an activity rather than simply asking a question - participants will share the context of what is occurring (i.e where they are and why, who they are with etc) and record the emotion of the moment, how they feel.

This type of data is very difficult to capture through traditional paper diaries as the pen and paper might not be with the respondent at that moment, unlike a mobile phone which is always in pocket or hand.

Review Ranking- PC (1)

Gain access to exclusive data

We all move around a lot, whether at home, on our way to work or away on holiday. This poses a challenge in qualitative research as it is hard to keep track of participants’ activities as they move from one place to another. To do this, you need a data capture method that can go with the participant, no matter where they are.

Mobile diaries are with the participant at all times, whether they are in a store, socialising with friends, or at the sports ground. Nowhere is out of bounds or out of reach for a mobile diary study app.

Improve data shareability

Traditional paper-and-pen diaries are conducted in isolation, meaning participants won't see what anyone else has shared. This all changes with mobile. Mobile diaries allow users and customers to share and socialise responses, spark discussion, and debate ideas instantly.

What's more? With mobile diaries, participants get the chance to meet and bond ahead of any focus groups you may be planning, which improves the overall data quality.

All this points towards a move to doing diaries online, and with good reason. The benefits of moving away from traditional pen and paper for  data collection in market research to using online qual research techniques on platform's such as ours are wide ranging:  

  1. Mobile diaires reduce the cost (and headache) of posting, printing, and distributing traditional surveys.
  2. They give participants the chance to share pictures, video and text more intuitively, in the same way they do when talking to their friends and networks online
  3. Mobile diaries allow the qualitative researcher to review and moderate responses in near real-time.
  4. With mobile diaries, you can analyse data from the moment it is shared.
  5. They allow you to become more productive in your data analysis methods
  6. And, finally, mobile diaries bring you closer to consumers everyday lives

When to Conduct Mobile Diary Studies

Experimental research helps you gather quantitative data from your target audience. However, if you want to gain a contextual understanding of user behaviours, then you need a more holistic data collection method to gather these kinds of insights.

For example, if you're researching the shopping behaviour of adult males aged 25–40, a diary study would be a useful a useful tool. 

Diary studies are often used to in research studies to provide deeper understanding of a:

  • Product or Website: Understanding users' interactions with your app or website over a period
  • Behaviour: Gathering general information about user behaviour such as smartphone habits
  • General activity: Understanding how people share information online
  • Specific activity: Understanding how people complete specific activities like planning a wedding

A diary study can help answer common questions about a target audience’s habits, usage scenarios, attitudes, motivations, and customer journey. Questions may include:

  • What time of the day do users engage with a product?
  • How do users engage with the product?
  • What motivates users to behave in a certain way or make a decision?
  • What is the typical customer journey?
  • How do the target customers engage with our organisation?
    What is the specific customer journey and cross-channel user experience?
  • An important point to note here is that a diary study will provide broad or highly targeted information depending on your research focus.

Depending on your research goals, a diary study can provide broad or highly targeted information. 

Review Picturebook- PC (3) (1)

Which is better? A mobile ethnography or a mobile diary?

Over recent years, mobile diaries have evolved into platforms that are very similar to mobile ethnography platforms. It's easy to confuse the two. 

So, what's the big difference between mobile ethnography and mobile research diaries?

To answer this question, we need to explain what mobile ethnography is and how a mobile ethnography platform works.

Mobile ethnography is a qualitative research method that allows users to share information and respond to research questions via an app on their smartphones. Essentially, a mobile ethnography is an app that users download through which participants can answer questions and provide in-the-moment feedback.

Mobile ethnography studies range from people’s experiences of an activity such as checking in at an airport to how people respond to a an advert or marketing campaign.

With this method, you can capture multiple points of a target behaviour from the same respondent while amassing examples of the target behaviour from other respondents in a single study. Mobile ethnography effectively observes participants as they exist in their natural environment and collects real-time insights.

The big difference between mobile ethnography and a mobile diary is the website log-in desktop component. More than downloading an app on their smartphones, mobile diaries give users the option of logging into a website to reply to research questions, participate in forum discussions with a researcher and other participants, and answer daily polls and surveys or participate in longitudinal studies and focus groups.

Mobile diaries also allow for large-scale studies with hundreds of participants to obtain quantitative data via surveys and polls.

Text analytics A- PC (1)

Examples of mobile diaries in research 

How do mobile diaries come into play in real-life scenarios? Let's look at a few examples of mobile diaries in market research. 

Example 1 

A restaurant wants to learn more about its customers' meal preferences. To gather the required data, the owner preselects customers to form a research sample. Next, these participants use a mobile diary to document their eating habits, overall satisfaction with every meal, and other relevant information. 

The owner tracks these pieces of information over time. At different points, she sets up a conversation with participants to better understand their experiences. 

Example 2 

A shopping mall wants to gather relevant data on customer experience. The researcher selects an ideal mix of participants. Each of these respondents has to complete an online mobile diary entry every time they visit the mall.

Benefits of mobile diaries

A mobile ethnography or a mobile diary are excellent methodologies any time a brand wants to learn about customer behaviour and impressions in real time.  To recap, mMobile ethnographies or mobile diaries are an ideal tool if you want to:

  1. Gather in-depth feedback from participants in real-time
  2. Tracking consumers' behaviour over a period of time. 
  3. Improves user experience for participants. 
  4. Curate personalised user data and make data-driven decisions. 

If you’d like to find out more about mobile diaries and how Further's software can help you capture rich insights that capture behaviour and impressions, in real-time then book a demo or schedule a discovery call below.

Discover our platform and services


The insight platform for online qual, research communities, digital diaries, ethnography and more.

Services & Support

A range of expert research services and resources to help you deliver your projects with ease, speed and reach.


Human insight with impact; leveraging our academic and industry experts to uncover insight, create impact and make confident decisions.

Conde-Nast (1) (1)

We were amazed at the level of insight we achieved in just a week. Further opened our eyes to new ways of researching and understanding our staff

We helped Conde Nast International define a new global mission and vision statement

van-tay-media-Kab_-4M4I74-unsplash (1)

Further really understood the brief and were extremely proactive. We are now very confident that we’re taking the right products and proposition to market.

We helped this insuretech startup tailor their customer value proposition for the UK market ahead of a planned launch

Keyhouse (1) (1)

Further's expert team pushed us to clarify our assumptions and to think harder about how to communicate the value of our products and services

We helped Keyhouse enter a new market and understand what target users of their case management software needed and how to position their offer

FTH001_Mother_2_children_tablet (1)

Working with Further was a refreshing and eye-opening experience…...the qualityof their output which was excellent.

We helped Unicef generate insights to support the development of a mass market, sustainable fundraising product.

Zwift image (1)
Zwift-logo (1)

Strategically, Further’s insights provided clear and directional answers that will guide us through our next phase of growth

We helped Zwift understand users and non-users needs and wants so they could prioritise their innovation pipeline

Chillys image case study (1)
Chillys-logo (1)

We helped Chilly’s leadership team consider new ways to understand and co-create with their customers’

We helped disruptive pet insurance company Waggel develop customer personas and map out the current and intended customer journey.

What next?

Browse our site, download our resources, request a demo of our platform or speak to one of our experts

Browse our work
Contact Us