Diving Into Cross-Sectional Surveys

Diving Into Cross-Sectional Surveys

cross sectional surveys

There are several survey studies that you can conduct on consumers or on virtually any subject you wish. As mentioned previously, there are three main types of survey research methods: cross-sectional studies, longitudinal studies and retrospective studies.

Fortunately, you can create and customize a survey for each type of survey research method. In this article, we will delve into cross-sectional surveys, which are a part of their own distinct set of survey research: cross-sectional studies. 

Mainly used in developmental psychology, this research method expands to a wide variety of other sectors. This includes studying consumers and a business's target market.

Defining Cross-Sectional Surveys

A cross-sectional study is defined as a study in which research is gathered about a particular population at one fixed point in time. As such, this type of survey research method has been dubbed as a snapshot of a studied population.

This kind of study is conducted via cross-sectional surveys, surveys designed specifically for the cross-sectional model. Using an online survey tool, researchers and business owners can craft their own cross-sectional surveys and deploy them to a specific sample pool.

This type of survey therefore does not require using a survey panel. In fact, it is often contrasted to panel surveys, as they follow a panel over several points in time. Additionally, it runs contrary to longitudinal studies, as they too inspect participants beyond a specific position in time. 

The Key Aspects of Cross-Sectional Surveys

cross sectional surveys

To fully understand cross-sectional surveys, aside from their definition solely, you ought to understand their key features. The following lists the core aspects that distinguish these surveys from that of others. Here is how they differ aside from their deployment frequency:

  1. They are part of observational studies, in which no intervention takes place, only pure investigation.
  2. They fall under descriptive research, which seeks to describe the what, how, when and where of variables, as opposed to the why. 
  3. They can find current and prevalent attributes in a population.
  4. They do not manipulate variables. 
  5. They cannot be used to uncover the cause of something, but rather the makeup of a phenomenon or opinions thereof. 
  6. Researchers use them to look at various respondent characteristics, such as age, education, income, gender, etc.)
  7. They provide an overview of what is occurring in a particular community, situation, etc. 

How They Differ from Longitudinal & Retrospective Surveys

Cross-sectional studies are in diametric opposition to longitudinal studies; they are also different from retrospective studies. As such, the surveys for each will differ in design, function, frequency of deployment and purpose. 

Unlike cross-sectional studies, longitudinal studies observe a group of people over an extended period of time, as opposed to just over one point. The length of study varies; it can take place anywhere from weeks to years. 

Therefore, these studies help put forth a depiction of a sequence of events. These are used to detect changes and developments within the sampling pool. Cross-sectional studies, on the other hand, paint a picture of just one moment in time, usually the prevailing one.

Retrospective studies combine aspects of both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies. They study respondents with surveys that deal with questions about past events. In this way, researchers can compare past feelings and attitudes with those of the present, much like in longitudinal studies. 

However, retrospective surveys can be conducted just once, as with cross-sectional surveys. They may amass data on one point in time or several. 

Additionally, unlike longitudinal studies, which involve continuous studies, retrospective surveys draw from a pool of an already existing data set. As such, they only deal with events of the past and will not gather any data on new opinions and attitudes that respondents may hold.  

It’s important to note that all three of these research methods/survey types are observational, allowing researchers to record and understand the subjects’ behaviors via observation only.

The Types of Cross-Sectional Surveys

There are two types of cross-sectional surveys: descriptive and analytical. Typically, researchers rely on both when conducting this type of study. However, one of these methods may exist entirely on its own. 


A cross-sectional descriptive survey evaluates how frequently, widely, or extensively a particular behavior, phenomenon, attitude or opinion occurs in a demographic group. The findings of each of these categories is thus reviewed and measured on prevalence. 

There is a slight distinction made when assessing these different traits in that, when performing studies on the prevalence of something, the study is called a “prevalence study.” On the contrary, when feelings and opinions are analyzed, it is called a “survey.” In either case, surveys can be used to study all of these categories. 

Since it is purely descriptive, this method can exist on its own in a cross-sectional study, as opposed to the following study.


An analytical cross-sectional survey probes into the association of two related or unrelated variables. This type of research isn’t entirely infallible, as variables and outcomes are simultaneous, along with their studies. 

For example, say you need to find the association between a risk factor and health. Since the risk factor and health result are measured concurrently, with no other variable taken into consideration, it may be difficult to determine whether the risk factor alone contributed to the health outcome. Due to this limitation, analytical studies are usually not conducted alone. 

Which Industries Depend on these Surveys for Market Research

There are various industries that depend on cross-sectional surveys for their market research needs. As such, these surveys can serve a wide variety of applications. The following cites several industries that put these surveys into practice.

  1. General business: In the general business sphere, you can conduct these studies to understand how your target market and its segments react to changes in offerings, along with how you set up marketing, advertising and branding campaigns. 
  2. Healthcare: Researchers may use this survey to study how certain groups of people are prone to certain disorders and conditions, along with how lifestyle changes affect health and much more.
  3. Retail: Retailers can use these surveys to find trends in relation to spending and how they differ between genders and income levels.cross sectional studies
  4. Psychology: Psychologists can conduct these surveys to study a wide variety of people to understand similarities and differences in their mentality and psyche.
  5. Education: This survey can help educators understand how students of various grades perform in a new course of study. 
  6. Real estate: Real estate agents and business owners can use these surveys to measure the demand of real estate in particular neighborhoods at the current time. 
  7. Technology: Those in the tech sector can learn the prevalence or existence of certain frustrations and pain points that new SaaS or tech products can help solve. 

The Pros and Cons of Cross-Sectional Surveys

Like many other types of survey research methods, cross-sectional studies offer both advantages and disadvantages. It’s vital to consider both of these facets, as they will not merely guide your decision in choosing to use these surveys. They will also allow you to know what to expect if you do use them for your market research needs.


  1. Surveying multiple variables shows how differences in income, gender, age, et al. correspond with a critical variable of interest.
  2. Can be used to prove or disprove assumptions and hypotheses. 
  3. Relatively inexpensive to conduct.
  4. Fast results despite large amounts of data from a large sampling pool.
  5. Findings can be used to create new hypotheses, inciting new studies and more thorough research.
  6. Captures the specific feelings, attitudes and behaviors at a specific point in time.
  7. Can be used for a wellspring of other research methods (retrospective surveys, market segmentation, branding, etc). 


  1. Cannot be used to uncover behavior over a period of time.
  2. Does not determine cause and effect since variables can affect the relationship between the cause and outcomes.
  3. Cannot be used to find conclusions about causation.
  4. Results can be biased if there is a conflict of interest (with the funding source).
  5. Cohort differences can affect groups. (Those born in the same decade may share certain experiences, but those within that group born in a certain area may share only experiences connected to their location).

Questions, Trends and Key Things To Remember 

There are a variety of questions pertinent to cross-sectional surveys, as they are descriptive and observational in nature. You would compose them based on the prevailing characteristics you want to unearth or see if there are any correlative qualities behind components like risks, behaviors and outcomes.  

As such, there is no list of general questions to ask in these types of studies, as they are specific to populations, variables and their conditions. Investigating the ins and outs of a specific population allows marketers and business owners to understand the relationships between variables. If you need to examine trends, you can repeat these surveys at different points in time. But remember — these surveys should NOT be repeated in the same group of respondents, as they are not follow-up surveys, which are only used in longitudinal studies.

Frequently asked questions

What is a cross-sectional survey?

A cross-sectional survey is conducted to gather information about a studied population at one certain point in time. It is sometimes referred to as a “snapshot” survey.

How does a cross-sectional survey differ from a longitudinal survey?

Performed to examine a population at a specific point in time, a cross-sectional is the opposite of a longitudinal survey, which is conducted to study how certain variables change in a population over a period of time.

What is a descriptive cross-sectional survey?

A descriptive cross-sectional survey is one that measures how frequently or extensively a behavior, opinion, or phenomenon occurs.

What is an analytical cross-sectional survey?

An analytical cross-sectional survey is conducted in order to better understand the relationship between two or more variables.

How are cross-sectional surveys similar to retrospective surveys?

Cross-sectional and retrospective surveys both ask questions about events or occurrences that happened in the past. This helps researchers understand how feelings and opinions change over time.

Survey Research Methods: A Deep Dive

Survey Research Methods: A Deep Dive

Although survey research methods are just one tactic under the enveloping market research field of study, they too are administered in a number of ways. 

That is because much like market research, there is no single or universal technique when it comes to survey research. Instead, there are various survey research methods, those that only pertain to the survey aspect of market research.

Survey research methods include different sets of classifications, from types of surveys, to data organization and more. It is key to become familiar with all of them to determine which is most suitable for your market research needs. 

This article will navigate all the nuances that pertain to survey research methods.

Surveys for Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research

Market research relies on both primary and secondary research; surveys fall under the former and have several classifications. The first major one conveys the duality within survey research methods: that of quantitative and qualitative research.

Quantitative research surveys: 

Quantitative research involves gathering quantitative, or numerical data. Surveys amass this data by asking questions that quantify attitudes, opinions, feelings and behaviors. The point of this kind of survey research method is to form generalizations. 

Quantitative research surveys therefore use a larger sample size in order to crunch numbers on different issues and variables. This survey research method is highly dependent on using and creating mathematical and statistical data. 

These surveys use this data to identify patterns in a target market, find averages, make predictions and test relationships.

Essentially, this survey research method uses respondents to understand the “what” and “how much” of a studied subject.

Qualitative research surveys:

Qualitative research zeroes in on experiences, ideas and opinions, instead of focusing on statistical or quantitative results. Instead, this survey research method seeks to holistically interpret an issue, occurrence or phenomenon.

As such, qualitative research seeks to perceive an issue in more depth, find the cause of an occurrence, create inferences, find solutions to problems and uncover trends.

This research method is centered around the “what” and even more so, the “why” of a research subject. 

Unlike quantitative research, qualitative research uses a smaller sample size for a deeper understanding of causes, motivations and sentiment. 

This kind of survey research method uses open-ended and exploratory questions in natural environments, in which respondents freely discuss their opinions to help researchers identify the “why” behind an issue.

Understanding the “why” is then used to make decisions on how to resolve the issue or how to improve on an existing productive situation.

Survey Panels Vs Random Sampling

The second main classification of survey research methods is categorized via the sampling pool. There are two main types of sampling pools, i.e., the type of respondents that take part in a survey. 

Market Research Panel: 

A market research panel is a pre-recruited group of survey respondents who have agreed to take part in online surveys. This method is most commonly employed by market research panel companies, which require the panelists to share personal information about themselves. 

This includes the information you’d find at the screener section of a survey tool such as demographics, but can also include behavioral data. The panel can be used for more than one survey; this way is convenient for market researchers who require long-term survey campaigns such as longitudinal surveys

Random Sampling Pool:

A random sampling pool is a group of survey respondents who have not been recruited to take part in a survey. Instead, this method involves, as the name suggests, a random group of participants. They take a survey once they reach a publisher’s website or app, which is triggered by an online survey tool. As such, they take a survey due to their being real-time users on a site or app in which the survey has been launched.

Any business can take this automated approach, which does not require seeking out participants manually, as a market research panel would. Although the pool of respondents has been gathered randomly, the qualifying participants are not random.

This is because the survey software used to launch this survey includes screening questions and demographic requirements that respondents must meet to take the survey. As such, researchers still get the exact kind of participants they seek to survey. This survey research method includes probability and non-probability sampling.

Survey Research Methods Based on Campaign Type & Macro Applications

Survey research methods can be further divided based on the type of macro application (or discipline) you need the data for. They can also be categorized into different campaign types, which can fall under the macro applications, or exist as their own application.  

You should understand these purposes before you choose the proper survey type for your research needs. Here are the major campaigns and applications to base your survey method on:

  • Marketing: A broad term that includes a wide variety of processes to raise awareness and demand in your company, promote it and understand your target market.
  • Advertising: One of the key practices in marketing, advertising refers to communication using overtly sponsored messages to promote or sell a product or service. 
  • Branding: The development of a brand’s reputation and image, along with increasing the recognition of your company. 
  • Market Segmentation: Facilitates targeting those most likely to be satisfied customers of your company or content. It involves splitting your target market up into smaller groups of people with similar characteristics. 
  • Competitor Analysis: It is the process of identifying and assessing your competitors based on their strategies to unearth their strengths and weaknesses relative to your brand.
  • Employee Satisfaction: The degree to which employees are content and fulfilled with their jobs, including their schedule, work environment and banter with fellow employees.
  • Customer Satisfaction: The measurement of how happy customers are with a company's products, services, experiences and interactions.

Types of Surveys

Finally, we arrive at the types of surveys, the most granular aspect of survey market research methods, that is, unless you delve further by looking into survey questions. 

These surveys are classified as belonging to either quantitative or qualitative methods, along with their best application type. As for the latter classification, you ought to know that these surveys are not necessarily limited to these applications. 

Rather, they are most apt for the named applications and campaigns, but due to the versatile nature of surveys, the following can be used in other applications, including those not mentioned in this article.

  1. Cross-sectional surveys: Gather data to make inferences about a population at some point in time. 
    1. Used to provide snapshots of the populations they survey.
    2. Drawn from a few specific variables to narrow down a unique and smaller population.
    3. Method: Quantitative surveys
    4. Best used for: advertising, market segmentation, employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction, branding
  1. Longitudinal Surveys: Study variables over longer periods of time. (Weeks to decades)
    1. Require more dedication from respondents and researchers, including time and money. In this regard, a larger pool of participants is used and studied for much longer.
    2. Like cross-sectional surveys, these are also observational and study the exact sample pool for the length of the study.
    3. Method: Primarily qualitative, but can be quantitative
    4. Best used for: marketing, competitor analysis, market segmentation
  2. Retrospective Surveys: Merge aspects of both cross-sectional and longitudinal survey methods. 
    1. Observe changes that occur over a longer period of time, but are facilitated just once. 
    2. Thus, responders discuss occurrences, attitudes and feelings from the past. 
    3. Method: Qualitative and quantitative surveys
    4. Best used for: Marketing, branding, competitor analysis

Going Beyond Survey Research Methods

Understanding the various survey research methods are crucial to forming the most fitting market research campaign for your brand. However, it doesn’t end here. With innovations in the market research field, other survey methods and sub-methods are going to emerge.

Moreover, after you’ve found the best survey research method(s) for your company, you’ll need to conduct the proper survey data analysis

As such, you’ll need to analyze your surveys, and this can be done in a number of formats. Some are going to be more visual than others. 

After all, conducting surveys is one thing, but understanding the surveys is the centerpiece of any research campaign.

Frequently asked questions

What is a quantitative research survey?

A quantitative research survey is one in which all responses can be assigned a numerical value so that results can be easily analyzed. They are used to quantify thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in order to make generalizations about the target market.

What is a qualitative research survey?

A qualitative research survey is used to gain a deeper understanding of the ideas, opinions, or experiences of a group of people. This type of survey uses open-ended questions that allow respondents to discuss their opinions freely.

What is a market research panel?

A market research panel is a group of individuals who have been selected to participate in a series of surveys over a specific period of time.

What is a random sampling pool?

A random sampling pool is a group of individuals who have been selected at random to participate in a survey. In an online survey tool, a sample pool is derived via automation.

What is a longitudinal survey?

A longitudinal survey is one that studies a group of individuals over a period of time, which can range from weeks to decades.

The 3 Major Types of Survey Research Methods

The 3 Major Types of Survey Research Methods

Within the ever-evolving and accelerating market research space, there is a litany of surveys making the rounds. Businesses are scrapping to get all the necessary consumer insights into their hands, and this is a fitting approach to satisfy any target market.

That’s because surveys allow you to gain an edge within your niche and outperform your competitors. While nothing is guaranteed, researchers and marketers have long been turning to surveys to observe the minds of their customers and potential customers.

Before perusing through the aforementioned litany of surveys, you ought to know about the different types of survey methods. That’s because there’s no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to survey research. 

Business needs vary, as do their industries, customers and campaigns. Let’s navigate the three most salient types of survey methods.

Survey Research — Beyond Distribution Type

In survey research, there are four types of distribution methods — but we won’t be covering those too much in depth. That is because they are widely known and seen. It’s virtually impossible for you or your business to not have heard of them in a limited capacity at the very least.

However, for the purpose of organizing the in-depth survey methods we discuss later into the deployment types, we’ll briefly mention them here. The four different types of survey deployment methods are:

  1. Paper surveys
    1. Written questionnaires
    2. Mail-in surveys
    3. Newspaper surveys
  2. Online surveys
    1. Online forms
    2. Proprietary surveys (on brand sites)
    3. Email surveys
    4. In-app surveys
    5. Third-party surveys
  3. Telephonic surveys
    1. Cold calling
    2. Anonymous respondents
  4. One-on-one interviews
    1. In-person and onsite interviews
    2. Less anonymity

All of these survey deployment types can serve both qualitative and quantitative research needs. The ones you choose to incorporate into your market research campaigns is ultimately up to the needs of your business. Some businesses prioritize ease, some prefer quick insights while others prefer cost-savings.

Now that you know survey distribution types, less delve further into specific survey methods.

Cross-Sectional Survey Studies

Cross-sectional surveys concentrate on a very specific point in time and exist as a quick overview of a small population sample. This method is ideal for situations wherein quick answers are needed to gain knowledge on standalone, or single situations. 

This survey method is based on three conditions: 

  1. the distribution of surveys to small samples 
  2. within large populations and 
  3. conducted over a small period of time.

The sample pool is drawn from specific variables, usually, only a few to narrow down a unique and usually small population. The findings are recorded within a short period of time and are studied and archived within that one specific point.

The variables are not manipulated as this type of research method is for observations only. This approach cannot measure causation between certain occurrences (ex. Inactivity and weight); rather, it measures the correlation between occurrences.

Longitudinal Surveys

The antithesis of cross-sectional surveys, longitudinal surveys study variables over a longer period of time. This can be anywhere between weeks and on the far end of the spectrum, decades. 

As such, they require more input in terms of several aspects, including participants, time and money. In this regard, a larger pool of participants is used and studied for much longer.

Similar to cross-sectional research, this method is also observational and studies the exact sample pool for the duration of the study.

Longitudinal surveys come in three main sorts:

  1. Trend surveys: 

    1. Study trends
    2. Observe how participants’ tendencies change over time
    3. Ask the same questions at different points in time
    4. Don’t necessarily study the exact same participants throughout, since the focus is on trends
  2. Panel surveys:

    1. Focus more on people than trends
    2. The same participants are studied throughout the duration of the study
    3. Tend to be more expensive and difficult (tracking & keeping up with the same people for years on end)
  3. Cohort surveys:

    1. Regularly study a group of participants that fall under a specific category
    2. Don’t require the same participants to take part every year
    3. Examples include those born within the same decade, workers of the same industry at the same time, other common life experiences

All three of these kinds of surveys help researchers study how people change and, as longitudinal research, they are also part of correlational research.  Longitudinal surveys help businesses and researchers scrutinize developments and changes.

They allow researchers to assess whether the changes are due to age, life factors or trends.

Retrospective Surveys

This survey method is yet another type based on frequency. It combines aspects of both cross-sectional and longitudinal survey methods. 

Retrospective surveys observe changes that occur over a longer period of time, much like longitudinal surveys. However, like cross-sectional surveys, they are facilitated just once. As such, responders discuss happenings from the past. These include feelings, attitudes, experiences and beliefs.

The findings are thereby longitudinal in nature, but performed in a cross-sectional fashion, ie, without requiring the long amounts of time to collect the data, like in traditionally longitudinal studies.

This scaling back on timing and monetary savings are the major advantages of this type of survey method. However, it does have its fair share of drawbacks, mainly those of memory distortion. For example, memories from the recent past may be vivid or clear enough to provide researchers with accuracy.

But memories of the more remote past, or even those of both the recent and distant past, when compared against one another, may lead to inaccurate answers.

Settling on the Correct Survey Method

Before you conduct any survey research, there are several questions you can stand to ask yourself or your own business. These should help you narrow down the proper survey method and distribution channel for your survey research. 

Here are some questions to consider which method is most suitable for you:

  • Do you need to gather long-term, continuous research or are you looking to gain insights on the current timeframe?
    • This will help you decide between choosing a cross-sectional or longitudinal survey study.
  • If you prefer a long-term study, are you willing to persist in obtaining responses from your sample pool, or do you want to pursue different respondents each time?
  • Would you prefer to survey the same group of respondents in the long term?
  • How often do you need survey responders to take part in your survey research campaign?
  • Are you looking to understand the development of people’s behaviors or trends within your industry?
  • If you don’t need to conduct a survey across a large span of time, do you need to question respondents about the past?
  • Do you need to study a specific category of participants, or can they fall within a more broad category?

As a business, you should cross-reference your responses to these questions with the information above. That way, you can make an educated decision about which survey method and (survey types) are best for your business. 

Frequently asked questions

What are the four methods of survey distribution?

The four survey deployment methods are paper surveys, online surveys, telephonic surveys, and surveys conducted via in-person interviews.

Why are cross-sectional surveys conducted?

Cross-sectional surveys are used to quickly get answers about a specific scenario at a certain point in time. They focus on a small sample size to provide a general overview of a specific scenario or situation.

What is a longitudinal survey?

A longitudinal survey studies a pool of participants over a set period of time. The period of time can range from weeks to many years. It is performed to understand how the respondents change or develop over time.

What are the three types of longitudinal surveys?

The three types of longitudinal surveys are trend surveys, panel surveys, and cohort surveys.

How is a retrospective survey different from a longitudinal survey?

Retrospective surveys are performed to observe changes that occur over time, but they are conducted only one time. The survey is performed to understand how the respondents feel or react to something that happened in the past.