What Is A Longitudinal Study? Types, Pros, Cons, And Writing Guide

what is a longitudinal study

Studies can take a short moment, from a few minutes for the short ones to months or decades, to complete depending on their design. If you are carrying out a systematic investigation over an extended period, this type of study is likely to be a longitudinal study.

We must say that because of this extended period and the variables under consideration, carrying out a longitudinal study can be pretty challenging, but we are here to help.

Keep reading to learn more about the longitudinal studies, categories, strengths, and weaknesses. We will also demonstrate how to conduct a longitudinal study correctly.

Longitudinal Study Definition

Longitudinal research is a type of correlational study that is used to explore variables over a long period.

It is mainly used in medical fields as well as other disciplines, such as sociology, psychology, and ecology. Let’s take an example here.

To study social interactions among wild cats using a longitudinal study, you recruit a set of newborn leopard cubs and then study the way they relate with others when growing. During the study, some of the parameters might include tracking data from the pack to identify interactions with the environment and other animals.

Longitudinal studies are distinguishable because of their characteristics, which include:

  • Observational: The studies mainly involve observing the study population and recording the changes noted in their traits.
  • Non-Interference: When carrying out a longitudinal study, researchers do not interfere with the study population’s day-to-day activities. The data can be collected using surveys with quantitative and qualitative questions.
  • Timelines: The most notable attribute of a longitudinal study is that it can run for weeks, months or even years. Some studies even last for decades.

The Difference between Longitudinal Study And Cross-Sectional Study

In a cross-sectional study, a researcher collects data from the selected study population at a specific point. However, a longitudinal study gathers data from the same sample over an extended period. Let’s breakdown the differences further:

  • Time frame: Longitudinal research requires an extended period and is suitable for analyzing long-term problems. A cross-sectional study, on the other hand, involves collecting information in a relatively short period and drawing conclusions from this data.
  • Sample Data: Longitudinal studies mainly involve gathering data from one sample, while cross-sectional research involves analyzing information from several samples.
  • Resources: Since longitudinal studies are done over an extended period, the cost is usually higher compared to using the cross sectional design.

Types Of Longitudinal Studies

Although the defining attribute of a longitudinal study is the extended period, it is further broken into several categories: panel, cohort, and retrospect. So, if your dissertation is following a longitudinal design, it is important to understand the three categories.

  • Panel Longitudinal Design
    In this study design, the researcher uses methods like surveys to collect information from a specific number of variables at regular intervals. It is mainly recommended for quantitative studies, but you can also use it for qualitative study design.This study design allows you to note the different points of an existing relationship within a specific population. It also works well when targeting to gather historical data using the same population.
  • Cohort Longitudinal Research
    As the name cohort suggests, this type of study involves gathering information from people who share a trait/s of interest or went through a specific occurrence simultaneously. For example, a researcher might carry out a study on a group of Hispanic children in New Mexico, USA.When doing cohort studies, the researcher exposes the targeted sample to a specific risk factor or characteristic. Then, the outcome is recorded. You can use the study to measure multiple variables for your study.This study is recommended when targeting to determine causal relationship in selected data sets. In the medical field, cohort longitudinal studies are used to analyze the causes of illnesses and determine links between the risks and impacts.
  • Retrospective Longitudinal Study
    In this type of study, you depend on the available information from other systematic studies to identify patterns. To put it differently, retrospective research looks backwards and is an excellent model for estimating the exposure’s effect on a particular outcome. When researching rare medical conditions, researchers prefer to use a retrospective study design.The most remarkable difference between retrospective longitudinal study and the other two, panel and cohort research, is that it can be completed pretty fast. However, you need to be extra careful to avoid miscalculation and recall biases.

Longitudinal Study Strengths And Weaknesses

As we have indicated, longitudinal studies are very useful in areas such as medicine and ecology studies. There are many reasons why you might want to do longitudinal research, but there are some disadvantages too.

Benefits Of Longitudinal Study

Here’s are the benefits of a longitudinal study

  • Greater Validation
    When conducting a study, the rules and objectives have to be determined from the beginning. In longitudinal research design, the authenticity is verified before commencing the study, making the result strike high levels of validity.Example: A cross-sectional study on the effect of police on crime might show that a lot of police are associated with major crimes and make an incorrect conclusion that police are a major cause of crime. However, longitudinal research would be able to identify trends (an increase or decrease) of crime in a selected area depending on the number of police.
  • Makes it Possible to Correctly Identify Trends
    Whether you are doing a longitudinal study in psychology, medicine, or medicine, the long-term focus allows you to identify relationships and trends within the collected data in real-time. When you combine this with previous data, you can even make more discoveries.
  • You are Able to Gather Unique Data
    Many studies gather short-term data to establish the causes and impacts of what is being investigated. Longitudinal surveys use the same principle, but data is gathered over an extended session. This means that long-term trends/relationships are impossible to establish when using short-term studies, but short-term relationships can be identified using long-term assessment.
  • Greater Flexibility
    While it is true that a longitudinal research design can be used to study specific data points, the data you gather can help to reveal unexpected relationships and patterns. Since it is long-term research, you enjoy flexibility not possible with other types of research.

Disadvantages of Longitudinal Studies

While the benefits of longitudinal study designs are many, they are not without a number of challenges. Here are some of them:

  • Research Time
    The primary disadvantage of a longitudinal research process is the length of the study. Long-time surveys are less likely to provide predictable results. Again, it may take a lot of time before the informative relationships or patterns can be monitored.

    Longitudinal study example: When studying the relationship between stomach cancer and smoking, you have to be patient and gather data for years to see any results because the negative implications of smoking can spread over decades.

  • Longitudinal Studies Require Large Samples
    To develop clear patterns or relationships, you need to deal with large quantities of data. For example, studies spanning several decades will involve a lot of data. Although there are advanced programs to help researchers analyze data, the process can be pretty complex for many researchers.
  • There is Always an Unpredictable Factor Looming
    It is important to appreciate that the original sample can be lost over time. Since longitudinal studies deal with the same subjects, what takes place outside of data collection can have an impact on data collected in the long term. For example, some people might opt to stop participating and others might fall outside the right demographics. If you did not factor in these peculiarities, there is a risk of your findings getting affected.

    Longitudinal study example: In a study that is checking the implications of using low-carb diets on people’s weight, the participants who do not see results within a very short time might want to drop out. The results might, therefore, make the low diet appear more effective because only those getting satisfactory outcomes are left.

  • Expensive
    When compared to cross-sectional studies, there is no doubt that longitudinal research can be pretty complex and costly. Unlike a cross-sectional study, where you only gather data for two weeks or months and retreat to do the analysis, a longitudinal study design extends for years or decades. Apart from human resource needs, you also have to meet the costs associated with data storage, analysis, and logistics.

Process Of Performing A Longitudinal Study

Once you understand the benefits of using longitudinal studies, the next question might be, “how does it fit within your thesis?” Here is a demonstration of how to go about doing a longitudinal study, from the best UK assignment help writers, whether for your dissertation or research center.

  1. Develop a collaborative team and define the long-term plan.
  2. Create a theoretical framework for supporting research questions.
  3. Create a study that maps onto the main goal.
  4. Define the sample of the study.
  5. Identify and train assessors on the goals of the study.
  6. Develop reliable data collection procedures.
  7. Start collecting data.
  8. Create a plan for scoring the data and data management.
  9. Analyze the data to identify patterns. Note that preliminary data analysis might start earlier before the study is concluded.

Get Research Help From Experts In Thesis Writing

Now that you know the definition and benefits of a longitudinal study, it is time to get started. So, are you ready? If you still feel inadequate to do it, know that you are not alone. Many are the students who come to us and say they fear getting failing grades. Some indicate they are unsure of how to practically follow the process of doing a longitudinal study, while others cite time constraints.

No matter what is making your longitudinal thesis or research appear tough, know that our professional assistance and best dissertation help is only a click away. We have the best masters, and Ph.D. degree holders who are fantastic at handling all types of research. From a clear understanding of what is a longitudinal design to extensive experience, no university research task is too tough for these experts.

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