The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) study is a rich resource for sociologists, mainly because it offers direct measures of respondents’ contexts. The SOEP data provide (i) information retrieved from individuals themselves, (ii) direct information retrieved from their parents, partners, and organizations, (iii) prospectively collected information on past characteristics, and (iv) regional and spatial identifiers allowing researchers to link the data with regional-level characteristics. As the study has been in the field since 1984, the data also reflect variation in institutional and structural settings over time. Regular refreshment samples provide options to identify cohort effects. Together, these features allow multi-layered contextual designs that offer substantive insights into the effects of formal and informal institutions on individual behaviour and living conditions. This article introduces the main types of SOEP-based sociological research designs and discusses their survey methodological origins. It also points to underexplored potentials as well as limitations of the SOEP. Finally, it offers basic suggestions for approaching the data in each of the research designs presented.