An Overview of Longitudinal Research Designs in Social Sciences

DOI10.1177/2321023020918068
AuthorJyoti Bala
Publication Date01 Jun 2020
SubjectNote on Methods
Note on Methods
An Overview of Longitudinal
Research Designs in Social Sciences
Jyoti Bala1
‘Time’ is an essential aspect of any research design (Babbie, 2013). Whether someone is interested in
describing the situation at one particular point in time or wishes to do an overtime analysis determines
whether the data are collected for one or more than one time period. On the basis of this criterion, the
research design can be broadly classified into cross-sectional research design (CRD) and longitudinal
research design (LRD). The present paper focuses on the latter and intends to give a brief introduction
on the different types of LRDs. The various advantages and limitations associated with the different
types of LRDs are also discussed. Along with this, a few field insights using prospective panel design
(PPD), a subtype of LRD, are shared.
CRD and LRD
Based on the number of time periods for which the same variable is measured, the research designs in
social sciences are broadly classified into two types: CRD and LRD. In CRD, the researcher collects the
data on one or more than one variable for a single time period for each case in the study. The researcher
measures the variables only once, and the measurement period can last for weeks, months or years. The
data collected using CRD are regarded as ‘contemporaneous’ (Menard, 2002: 2) and infer only about the
circumstances of the cases at one particular point in time (Babbie, 2013; Gravlee et al., 2009; Menard,
2008; Ruspini, 2002). For instance, the Police Study 2017 conducted by Common Cause & Lokniti—
Centre for the Study of Developing Societies follows a CRD. Here, 15,562 individuals over the age of
18 years were interviewed only once in June–July 2017 across 22 states in India. The data were collected
on 42 variables categorized into 6 main themes from these 15,562 individuals. Since these variables were
measured only once in this particular survey, it can provide only a snapshot of ‘people’s perception and
experience of dealing with the police’ in India (Common Cause & Lokniti—Centre for the Study of
Developing Societies, 2018).
As opposed to CRD, in LRD, the researcher repeatedly measures the same variable in precisely the
same format for more than one time period (Babbie, 2013; Gravlee et al., 2009; Grotpeter, 2008; Lynn,
2009; Menard, 2008; Ruspini, 2002). The data are collected from similar or comparable cases across
Studies in Indian Politics
8(1) 105–114, 2020
© 2020 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Reprints and permissions:
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DOI: 10.1177/2321023020918068
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Note: This section is coordinated by Divya Vaid (divya.vaid.09@gmail.com).
1 Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Corresponding author:
Jyoti Bala, PhD Scholar, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
E-mail: jyotijnu5@gmail.com

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