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Conducting longitudinal research

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By Deborah Loxton, Julie Ellen Byles, Annette Dobson, Wendy J Brown

Published: 2007
ISBN: 978-0-9775742-9-2
Pages: ii+134
Imprint: eContent Management



Deborah Loxton, Julie Byles, Annette Dobson and Wendy Brown
Women's Health Australia,Research Centre for Gender, Health and Ageing,
University of Newcastle, NSW

Longitudinal research provides data from the same participants over a set time period and as such permits causal pathways (for example to health, illness and mortality), to be determined. There is a new emphasis on accountability in the public health sector. Longitudinal research can help those professionals seeking to implement longitudinal style research in order to meet these new demands.

Conducting Longitudinal Research will help both novice and experienced researchers, from academia, government departments, private and public sectors to establish and conduct a longitudinal study. Offering direction and advice concerning the efficient conduct of longitudinal research studies, Conducting Longitudinal Research fills a gap in the research methodology literature.

Internationally, longitudinal research has become increasing important to both the academic community and state policy-makers as it is an important way to examine causal relationships - for example, understanding critical issues associated with ageing.

While the famous 'Seven Up' study is probably the best known, longitudinal studies can include many thousands of participants (eg, The UK 'Million Women' study). The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health (ALSWH), which began in 1996, has 40,000 participants who are surveyed every three years.

Conducting Longitudinal Research includes topics from the researchers' experiences:

  • Strategies to encourage participants to remain in the study (often for decades)
  • Establishing succession planning for key personnel, and
  • Handling very large volumes of data.

Conducting Longitudinal Research is a practical guide to the development and successful management of longitudinal studies written by researchers and personnel who have been running the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health for over ten years.

In plain language, each chapter provides the reader with a thorough examination of the topic, illustrative case studies and real-life examples, timelines for project development and implementation and a chapter summary of the main points for quick reference.

Conducting Longitudinal Research can be read from cover to cover, although it is designed so that each section stands alone, allowing readers a readily accessible guide to overcoming the diverse challenges that occur during longitudinal research. For example:

  • When a participant calls the study team and asks for help with a health problem, what procedure should be used?
  • How should the study team deal with angry callers?
  • What measures can be set in place to avoid data loss?
  • How should the research team ensure that participants are not lost to follow-up?

Researchers establishing a longitudinal study, or who have queries about the conduct of such research - from academic research centres, government agencies or private firms - will benefit from the practicalities of undertaking longitudinal research outlined in this book.

Table of Contents

Preface: A practical guide to longitudinal studies: Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health
Deborah Loxton

Getting Started: 'Preparing the ground' and 'planting the vines' for longitudinal research
Julie Ellen Byles, Annette Dobson, Lois Bryson, Wendy J Brown

Human Resources for Longitudinal Studies: Matching people to skills and tasks
Penny Warner-Smith, Deborah Loxton, Wendy J Brown

Accessing and Disseminating Longitudinal Data: Protocols and policies
Catherine Chojenta, Rosemary Mooney, Penny Warner-Smith

Longitudinal Survey Development and Design
Deborah Loxton, Anne Young

Recruiting for a Longitudinal Study: Who to choose, how to choose and how to enhance participation
Lyn Adamson, Anne Young, Julie Ellen Byles

Developing Relationships and Retaining Participants in a Longitudinal Study
Lyn Adamson, Catherine Chojenta

Cohort Management: Developing and maintaining participant databases in longitudinal studies
Lyn Adamson, Anna Graves

Data Management: The building blocks of clean, accurate and reliable longitudinal datasets
Anna Graves, Jean Ball, Eliza Fraser

Working with Longitudinal Data: Attrition and retention, data quality, measures of change and other analytical issues
Anne Young, Jennifer Powers, Virginia Wheway

Conducting Substudies in a Longitudinal Research Project
Jenny Helman, Deborah Loxton, Lyn Adamson, Anna Graves, Jennifer Powers

Communication and Dissemination of Longitudinal Study Findings
Catherine Chojenta, Julie Ellen Byles, Deborah Loxton, Rosemary Mooney

Book Review

Conducting Longitudinal Research: Practical lessons from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health
Deborah Loxton, Julie Byles, Annette Dobson, Wendy Brown (Eds)

Book Review

Reviewed by Susan Donath, Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics Unit, Murdoch Children's Research Institute and Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne, Parkville VIC

Source: Australasian Epidemiologist 15:1(April 2008)26

Conducting Longitudinal Research: Practical lessons from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health

Deborah Loxton, Julie Byles, Annette Dobson, Wendy Brown (Eds)

ISBN: 978-0-9775742-9-2 2007 eContent Management

The International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches is:

"an international peer-reviewed journal for timely publication of research, scholarship, educational, researcher and practitioner perspectives on multiple, hybrid (outcome of unusual blending), synergistic (combined effect), integrated and cultural research approaches. The focus is on combining or synergizing various theoretical frameworks, methodologies and methods most appropriate for addressing research questions."

Since the Journal's focus is not primarily on health research, I doubt that the contents of this journal would generally be of interest to AEA members. The current issue, however, is devoted entirely to papers on practical issues relating to longitudinal (health) research, using the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health (ALSWH) as a case study. Given that the ALSWH uses a standard quantitative research approach, it is not quite clear how this issue fits with the stated objectives of the Journal, but for researchers embarking on a quantitative longitudinal health study, the papers in this issue contain much useful practical information not easily obtained elsewhere.

The topics covered by the papers include: Human resources for longitudinal studies, protocols for accessing and disseminating longitudinal data, longitudinal survey development and design, recruiting for a longitudinal study, developing reiationships and retaining participants in a longitudinal study, developing and maintaining participant databases in longitudinal studies, data management issues, working with longitudinal data (attrition and retention, data quality, measures of change), conducting substudies, and communication and dissemination of findings.

In an ideal world, all researchers planning a new longitudinal study would aiready have already gained a detailed knowledge of the practical issues through working on, or being involved with, previous longitudinal studies. In practice, because there have been few large-scale community based longitudinal studies in Australia, many researchers embarking on a longitudinal study do so for the first time. In addition, successful longitudinal studies retain staff over a long period, so many experienced researchers may only work on one or two studies in their research careers.

This collection of papers is a valuable source of practical information on the main aspects of longitudinal studies. The papers on data management are particularly useful. This aspect of study design is often somewhat overlooked during the planning stage, but is absolutely critical for a successful study. In a longitudinal study it can be difficult to obtain good quality ongoing data (maintaining contact, keeping response rates high, getting the next survey out in a timely manner) at the same time as making the data already collected available to researchers either in the team or elsewhere.

Retention of study participants is a major challenge for longitudinal studies and several papers offer useful information on this topic. As the paper by Young, Powers and Wheway details, study retention in the ALSWH cohort of younger women has not been high (around 64% by Wave 3), due mainly to inability to make continued contact with participants. It is a little disappointing that the authors do not suggest, with the benefit of hindsight, additional steps that subsequent studies might take to ensure study retention in studies ofyoung adults. Overall, however, I would recommend this collection of papers to any researcher planning or conducting a longitudinal study.

Susan Donath
Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics Unit, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne, Parkville VIC, Australia

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