The evaluation of the incontinent patient relies on accurate assessment of urinary symptoms. Although the 7 day urinary diary is a reproducible method of data collection, the optimal means of implementing this diary is unknown. The urinary diary is usually employed after the initial clinical pathophysiologic evaluation has been performed and the patient has received intensive instructions on the correct method of diary completion. This study aims to determine if a urinary diary provided to the patient prior to the initial clinical evaluation along with minimal instructions will provide symptom data comparable with that obtained by conventional methods. Two hundred seventy-eight women were recruited to participate in one of three clinical trials for urinary incontinence treatment. All subjects completed a diary prior to the initial clinical evaluation, the Minimal Instruction Diary, and a second diary after clinical evaluation, the Intensive Instruction Diary. The Minimal and the Intensive Instruction Diaries were compared for number of episodes of diurnal and nocturnal voluntary micturition and incontinence. Pearsons' correlation coefficients ranged from 0.67 to 0.78 for each of the urinary symptoms. Intra-subject comparison indicated a decline in reports of nocturnal voluntary micturitions from the Minimal to the Intensive Instruction Diary. No demographic or urodynamic parameters could account for the difference. The 7 day urinary diary is a reliable tool to asses urinary symptoms, which can be utilized prior to the initial clinical evaluation. Its case of use and practicality make this diary promising for use in a wider patient population.