Dovetail – A Diary Study Tool

The logistics of setting up an effective platform for a diary study can be difficult. You need to provide an easily accessible means for participants to submit their entries, stick to the schedule outlined in your planning stage, and organize your results so you can quickly analyze the data. Dovetail, a free webapp released late last year, is a great option to consider next time you’re running a diary study.

The nice thing about Dovetail is that it’s minimal design. You can tell right off the bat that it was designed with UX people in mind: simple onboarding, straightforward usability and solid performance all delivered in a casual, hip experience on par with the industry standard.

After you sign up for an account, you land on your dashboard where all your projects are kept. A sample study is provided (with pre-loaded questions and timeframes, etc.) as a means of showing you around the interface. I went ahead and created a new study. It’s really quite as simple as:

  1. Naming your project.
  2. Setting a time frame.
  3. Choosing between email or sms as the delivery method
  4. Writing the questions.
  5. Adding participants.
  6. That’s it!

Dovetail automagically sends out prompts to either the email addresses or phone numbers you provide at the times you specify.


The messages are have very clear directions–the participant simply replies to the email they received with the answer to the prompt, and the response is sent back over to the Dovetail interface to access and analyze.


Honestly the analysis functionality is almost too minimal. You can “star” your favorite responses, and add different colored tags to the responses. That’s really it. I can see the tagging system becoming helpful down the line – but it might be an extra burden to have to formulate your own folksonomic controlled vocabulary for your study. Do you tag by key words? topic? emotions? all? That is the one feature that I could see becoming easier with prolonged use of Dovetail.

The easy export to a csv file is an added plus to make it easy for cross platform functionality and visualizations for your analysis and reporting.

I’ve not had luck testing the sms – I specified a time to receive the message, and that time has come and gone. I assume it has the exact same wording as the email, and functions similarly.

Once I trust that the delivery features are trustworthy and punctual, and I have a better idea of how I would want to tag and organize responses, I’m pretty confident Dovetail will be an extremely useful tool to use for diary studies. It makes reaching the participants in-situ a breeze, and offers an intuitive, enjoyable means of administering the diary study for my participants, and myself.