Investigating the Use of Electronic Well-being Diaries Completed Within a Psychoeducation Program for University Students: Longitudinal Text Analysis Study

Myles-Jay Linton*, Sarah Jelbert, Judi L Kidger, Richard W Morris, Lucy A Biddle, Bruce M Hood

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Psychoeducation has the potential to support students experiencing distress and help meet the demand for support; however, there is a need to understand how these programs are experienced. Web-based diaries are a useful activity for psychoeducation because of their therapeutic benefits, ability to capture naturalistic data relevant to well-being, and appropriateness for text analysis methods.

This study aims to examine how university students use electronic diaries within a psychoeducation program designed to enhance mental well-being.

The Science of Happiness course was administered to 154 undergraduate students in a university setting (the United Kingdom). Diaries were collected from the students for 9 weeks. Baseline well-being data were collected using the Short Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (SWEMWBS). The percentage of negative and positive emotion words used in diaries (emotional tone) and use of words from five life domains (social, work, money, health, and leisure) were calculated using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count 2015 software. Random effects (generalized least squares) regression models were estimated to examine whether time, diary characteristics, demographics, and baseline well-being predict the emotional tone of diaries.

A total of 149 students participated in the diary study, producing 1124 individual diary entries. Compliance with the diary task peaked in week 1 (n=1041, 92.62%) and was at its lowest in week 3 (n=807, 71.81%). Compared with week 1, diaries were significantly more positive in their emotional tone during week 5 (mean difference 23.90, 95% CI 16.89-30.90) and week 6 (mean difference 26.62, 95% CI 19.35-33.88) when students were tasked with writing about gratitude and their strengths. Across weeks, moderate and high baseline SWEMWBS scores were associated with a higher percentage of positive emotion words used in diaries (increases compared with students scoring low in SWEMWBS were 5.03, 95% CI 0.08-9.98 and 7.48, 95% CI 1.84-13.12, respectively). At week 1, the diaries of students with the highest levels of baseline well-being (82.92, 95% CI 73.08-92.76) were more emotionally positive on average than the diaries of students with the lowest levels of baseline well-being (59.38, 95% CI 51.02-67.73). Diaries largely focused on the use of social words. The emotional tone of diary entries was positively related to the use of leisure (3.56, 95% CI 2.28-4.85) and social words (0.74, 95% CI 0.21-1.27), and inversely related to the use of health words (−1.96, 95% CI −3.70 to −0.22).

We found evidence for short-term task-specific spikes in the emotional positivity of web-based diary entries and recommend future studies examine the possibility of long-term impacts on the writing and well-being of students. With student well-being strategies in mind, universities should value and encourage leisure and social activities.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere25279
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 22 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank Prof Laurie Santos for developing the original course on which the Science of Happiness course was based. This work was supported by the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute, University of Bristol, and the Development and Alumni Relations Office, University of Bristol.

Publisher Copyright:
©Myles-Jay Anthony Linton, Sarah Jelbert, Judi Kidger, Richard Morris, Lucy Biddle, Bruce Hood.


  • psychoeducation
  • diary
  • students
  • text analysis
  • wellbeing
  • science of happiness
  • university
  • emotional tone
  • e-mental health
  • mobile phone


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