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In cross-sectional surveys, the study takes place at a single point in time. Hence, cross-sectional surveys do not entail the manipulation of the variables under study, and are limited in that way. Cross-sectional surveys allow researchers to study various characteristics, such as the demographic structure of the consumers, their interests, and attitudes, all at once. It aims to provide information about the population at the current moment in time. For example, cross-sectional surveys will tell us how the consumer is responding and feeling about the product at the present moment. It does not study the other variables that may affect the consumers’ reactions to the product in the future.
Cross-sectional studies are also known as transverse study or prevalence study. Researchers use cross-sectional research in physical and social sciences as well as business industries in order to understand the outcomes of the real world. Cross-sectional studies do not include experiments.
This article covers what a cross-sectional study is, its types, characteristics as well as its advantages.
One way to understand cross-sectional research is to think of a photograph of a family reunion. The people in the photograph help in determining what is happening in the moment, at the current time. Everyone has one variable in common – being biologically related – and variables that they do not share, example; education level. From the starting point till the end, you can use this photograph to make several observations about the family. Thus, a cross-sectional research basically helps you analyse the “pulse” of the population at any given time with the help of the data collected.
Researchers can also conduct a cross-sectional study to understand the variables that are prevailing in the population or affecting it at any given point. For example, researchers can use past data to analyse the effects of past smoking habits on the current diagnosis of lung cancer.
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In a cross-sectional study, the data collection process involves participants who share similar characteristics. However, the variable under review is different and is held constant throughout the study.
For better understanding, we have shared some examples of how cross-sectional studies can be used in different industries.
A healthcare firm may use a cross-sectional study to determine the correlation between exposure to passive smoking and lung cancer. While the study may not determine if passive smoking can cause lung cancer or not, it can provide information on correlations that may exist.
The city council may want to know how many schools in the area is in need of fund to offer a canteen facility. A cross-sectional study can help them determine how much is required to build and operate a canteen.
A retail company can use a cross-sectional study on men between ages 18 to 25 and 26 to 40 to identify similar shopping behavior between the two age groups.
A restaurant owner may use a cross-sectional approach to understand how people from different economic statuses respond to their new price list.
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Cross-sectional study tends to be either descriptive or analytical. In some cases, it is also a mix of both.
We have outlined the benefits and disadvantages of using cross-sectional study in research to help you determine if it is the right approach for your market, social research, or any other.
Although both cross-sectional and longitudinal research methods are quantitative in nature, there are several differences amongst them. In a cross-sectional study, researchers collect data of a variable at a specific point in time while in a longitudinal study, the data is collected at different times. In longitudinal studies, variables tend to change over time as well.
Researchers use cross-sectional research to find commonalities between different variables. They use longitudinal studies in order to dissect the findings of the cross-sectional study further.
[Read more on Longitudinal Study]