Basics of Research Process

Cross Sectional Study: Definition and Examples

Cross Sectional Study
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A cross-sectional study is a research design used to gather data from a population or sample at a specific point in time. It aims to provide a snapshot of a particular phenomenon or explore the relationship between variables at a given moment. Unlike longitudinal studies that track individuals over time, cross-sectional studies focus on a single interval.

Whether you are investigating an unstudied topic or just can’t afford to spend too much time on research, cross sectional designs can work wonders. All you need is a single time and many different participants. Sounds easy, right? And it should be if you follow this guide from our writing service. Get ready for lots of insights and useful examples as you read our blog post. But first things first – let’s begin with the basics. 

What Is a Cross Sectional Study: Definition

A cross-sectional study is a type of observational research that allows assembling data from many different subjects at one point. Scientists usually rely on specific variables to pick the participants. As descriptive research, a cross-sectional study is used to observe something that already exists in a cohort. Thus, you won’t need to adjust or change variables. 

Here are the main attributes that set cross-sectional studies apart from other types of research:

  • The population members are observed only once.
  • Various traits can be examined simultaneously.
  • Researchers don’t control the variables.
  • Method allows investigating predominant qualities within a group.

As a rule, cross sectional studies are carried out in developmental psychology. However, research paper writers also widely use this type of study in economics, education, medicine and social sciences. 

Cross-Sectional Study: When to Use

A cross-sectional study is used to explore the characteristics that are dominant in a specific group of people at a particular time. Researchers opt for this method when having to choose between time or expenses. It’s a time-wise option, especially if the data you have was gathered only once. Cross-sectional studies don’t require repeated experiments, and, thus, are budget-friendly.

Example of cross sectional study use case

You want to find out how many people currently work remotely in your district. You only should learn the current number of individuals who work from home. For this reason, a cross-sectional study is preferred.

Descriptive Cross Sectional Study vs Analytical Cross Sectional Study

Depending on their main purpose, cross sectional studies can be either descriptive or analytical. 

A descriptive cross sectional study is aimed at the prevalence of some characteristics in a population. It only describes the outcome. An analytical cross sectional study requires that you look for a relationship between the cause and outcome.


You are examining the occurrence of cardiovascular disease. In a descriptive research design, you will look for the prevalence of cardiovascular disease in older individuals. Meanwhile, in analytical research you will focus on recent radiation exposure as the main reason for heart diseases.

Cross-Sectional Study: How to Implement

There are two ways to conduct a cross sectional study design:

  1. Use the data collected by another researcher/ organization.
  2. Run your own research.

In the first case, you can use national or local government’s registers, surveys or reports by international organizations. Such data is easy to retrieve from official websites. On the flip side, your research question may differ, so do variables. 

If you decide to do your own cross-sectional research, make sure you follow these steps:

  1. Select participants using inclusion and exclusion criteria. Include only those subjects that have necessary attributes that will help to answer your research question. Consider such factors as age, gender, social status to include individuals in your research.
  2. Examine the influence and results at the same time. Try to find an association between variables of interest. Sometimes, researchers may observe only the outcomes in subjects.
  3. Measure the prevalence of traits within your population. Collect and analyze data about traits that prevail in your chosen group. You can also estimate odd ratios to explore the relation between variables.

Conducting a cross-sectional research study undeniably requires much effort. Sometimes, it’s better to buy research paper online or ask professionals to ‘write my research paper.’

Cross Sectional Study vs Longitudinal Study

Now let’s look at the difference between a cross sectional study and a longitudinal study. Cross-sectional studies are executed to gather information from a population only once. Meanwhile, longitudinal studies are used to examine a small group of participants a number of times.

Longitudinal research is more time-consuming and requires more resources. For this reason, you should be 100% sure that there is some kind of correlation between variables. And that’s exactly what cross-sectional research can help you with. As a cheap and easy option, it allows you to collect initial information about the subjects. This should be enough to decide whether it’s worth continuing further research. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Cross Sectional Study

Cross sectional research is the best choice when it comes to gathering some basic information about some population. Advantages of cross sectional studies include:

  • Cheap data collection methods
  • Timesaving research option
  • Measurements of several variables at a time
  • Guidance to further experimental studies.

Limited time is one of the disadvantages of cross sectional studies. As an experiment that takes place only once, it also has some other limitations: 

  • Difficulty to identify causal relationship
  • No opportunity for long-lasting observation
  • Cohort effect among participants who share experience.

Cross Sectional Study Example

Now that you know all ins and outs, let’s review an example of cross sectional study. It should give you an idea of what this type of research should focus on.

Cross-sectional research example

Researchers examine the influence of vitamin C  consumption on blood vessels. They first conduct cross-sectional research to identify if there is any change in blood vessels in those individuals who take in vitamin C. If there is some impact, researchers will want to explore this further.

Cross Sectional Research: A Word From StudyCrumb

Like any other research method, a cross-sectional study takes practice. Not that much as you would need to complete a longitudinal research, though… And yet, you should remember that this method won’t work if you want to identify a cause-and-effect relationship. Opt for this type of research if you want to run an initial experiment or just lack time.

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FAQ About Cross Sectional Research Design

1. What is cross sectional correlational study?

As a correlational study, cross-sectional research is used to examine the association between two or more variables. However, as with any other correlational research, you won’t have any chance to manipulate the cause (an independent variable). 

2. Is cross-sectional study qualitative?

In most instances, a cross-sectional study involves working with numbers and specific measurements, and, thus, is quantitative. However, sometimes researchers can also use this method to collect qualitative data or analyze both types of data.

3. How is cross sectional data collected?

Cross sectional data is usually gathered with the help of surveys, polls or self-administered questionnaires. These tools allow researchers to quickly collect information from a large population. However, surveys aren't always accurate and can lead to invalid results.

4. What evidence level is a cross-sectional study?

Based on the validity and overall quality, the evidence level of a cross-sectional study is rather low. The design takes the VI place in the hierarchy since it offers evidence from a single study.

Article posted on:Nov 22, 2022
Article updated on:Aug 31, 2023


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