When choosing what method to use for your study, it can seem like there are dozens of different options available to you. It might be hard to know where to start. One method that researchers commonly use, however, is longitudinal research. This type of research involves data collection over an extended period of time, allowing you to draw conclusions about the effects and progress of a subject as it changes over time.
However, there are some pros and cons to consider before deciding whether or not this is the right method for your study.
What Is Longitudinal Research?
Longitudinal research is an empirical approach to understanding how certain variables change over time. In contrast, surveys are cross-sectional, meaning they only collect data once and then analyse it. While there are certainly benefits to using cross-sectional research (e.g., they’re cheaper and faster), longitudinal research provides unique insights into individual behaviour that can’t be achieved any other way.
Why Use Longitudinal Data?
Longitudinal data is beneficial because it allows researchers to track multiple variables over time. Imagine you’re conducting a longitudinal study on student drug use, and you observe that students who regularly go to church tend to have lower levels of drug use. Because you’re able to track multiple variables over time, you can see how those variables interact with each other.
In our example, if you examine church attendance at several points over time and compare it to drug use, you might be able to determine whether students who attend church regularly end up using drugs less because they began attending later than their peers or because they attend more frequently.
Methodological Issues with Longitudinal Studies
We don’t live our lives in isolation. Our lives are constantly interacting with and influencing those of others. The longitudinal approach is an extremely effective way to study a phenomenon, but it’s important to realize that there are some weaknesses: longitudinal studies require long-term commitments of time and resources, they rely on self-reported data and they can be subject to something called recall bias. In fact, there are two specific methodological issues worth mentioning here Attrition and Reactivity.
Attrition refers to participants dropping out of a study over time, which can skew results if not accounted for properly;
Reactivity refers to changes in behaviour due to being part of a study (which may or may not be related to what you’re studying).
These methodological issues make longitudinal research very tricky—but also very valuable when done right!
The Four Ways To Do Longitudinal Research
There are four main ways to conduct longitudinal research: Surveys, interviews, focus groups and content analysis. And while each approach has its strengths and weaknesses, one size does not fit all; your choice should depend on what you’re trying to learn about or understand. For example, if you want to analyse how people change over time (e.g., how their attitudes evolve over time), then a survey is likely your best bet. On the other hand, if you want to know how people think about something at a specific point in time (e.g., why they think that way), then an interview is probably better suited for your needs.
Limitations of Doing Longitudinal Study
Longitudinal studies have several limitations. They require an exceptionally large amount of time and money, which means it is difficult to conduct longitudinal studies on broad topics, such as issues affecting health or child development. Another limitation is they can produce ambiguous results because of their inability to show causality (correlation does not necessarily mean causation). Finally, it is difficult to generalize findings of longitudinal studies to other settings or populations because each study has its own unique factors.
Where Can You Find Large Panel Datasets?
Studies that track large groups of people over an extended period of time, called longitudinal studies, are incredibly powerful tools for social scientists. Longitudinal studies allow us to learn things about human behaviour that can’t be gathered any other way. For example, they’re a great way to measure how various people react when exposed to new technologies or changes in law. But there’s one big problem with longitudinal research: It takes time and effort to create!
Fortunately, many countries have data archives that researchers can use to do longitudinal work on a much larger scale than would otherwise be possible.
Here are some places you might find useful datasets:
USA Longitudinal Data Archive (USALDA)
UK Data Archive – Longitudinal Studies (UKDA-LS)
Canadian Institute for Health Information – Discharge Abstract Database (CIHI-DAD)
Swedish Birth Register and other Swedish registers of longitudinal studies (SR-LS) Etc.
Longitudinal research is one of today’s most innovative ways to study human behaviour. It differs from traditional, cross-sectional studies because it observes data over time, rather than from different perspectives at one time. The trend is quickly gaining popularity as more researchers choose to use longitudinal research methods in order to gain insight into deep seated and important issues.
At InnResearch, we have experts with years of experience crafting outstanding research. You can hire us to complete your own longitudinal study and benefit from our expertise in behavioural research methods.