Research Methods STA630
PROBABILITY AND NON-PROBABILITY SAMPLING
There are several alternative ways of taking a sample. The major alternative sampling plans may be
grouped into probability techniques and non-probability techniques. In probability sampling every
element in the population has a known nonzero probability of selection. The simple random is the best
known probability sample, in which each member of the population has an equal probability of being
selected. Probability sampling designs are used when the representativeness of the sample is of
importance in the interest of wider generalisability. When time or other factors, rather than
generalisability, become critical, non-probability sampling is generally used.
In non-probability sampling the probability of any particular element of the population being chosen is
unknown. The selection of units in non-probability sampling is quite arbitrary, as researchers rely
heavily on personal judgment. It should be noted that there are no appropriate statistical techniques for
measuring random sampling error from a non-probability sample. Thus projecting the data beyond the
sample is statistically inappropriate. Nevertheless, there are occasions when non-probability samples
are best suited for the researcher's purpose.
Types of non-probability sampling:
In non-probability sampling designs, the elements in the population do not have any probabilities
attached to their being chosen as sample subjects. This means that the findings from the study of the
sample cannot be confidently generalized to the population. However the researchers may at times be
less concerned about generalisability than obtaining some preliminary information in a quick and
inexpensive way. Sometimes non-probability could be thee only way to collect the data.
Convenience sampling (also called haphazard or accidental sampling) refers to sampling by obtaining
units or people who are most conveniently available. For example, it may be convenient and
economical to sample employees in companies in a nearby area, sample from a pool of friends and
neighbors. The person-on-the street interview conducted by TV programs is another example. TV
interviewers go on the street with camera and microphone to talk to few people who are convenient to
interview. The people walking past a TV studio in thee middle of the day do not represent everyone
(homemakers, people in the rural areas). Likewise, TV interviewers select people who look "normal" to
them and avoid people who are unattractive, poor, very old, or inarticulate.
Another example of haphazard sample is that of a newspaper that asks the readers to clip a questionnaire
from the paper and mail it in. Not everyone reads thee newspaper, has an interest in the topic, or will
take the time to cut out the questionnaire, and mail it. Some will , and the number who do so may seem
large, but the sample cannot be used to generalize accurately to the population.
Convenience samples are least reliable but normally the cheapest and easiest to conduct.
Convenience sampling is most often used during the exploratory phase of a research project and is
perhaps the best way of getting some basic information quickly and efficiently. Often such sample is
taken to test ideas or even to gain ideas about a subject of interest.
Depending upon the type of topic, the researcher lays down the criteria for the subjects to be included in
the sample. Whoever meets that criteria could be selected in the sample. The researcher might select
such cases or might provide the criteria to somebody else and leave it to his/her judgment for the actual
selection of the subjects. That is why such a sample is also called as judgmental or expert opinion
sample. For example a researcher is interested in studying students who are enrolled in a course on
Research Methods STA630
research methods, are highly regular, are frequent participants in the class discussions, and often come
with new ideas. The criteria has been laid down, the researcher may do this job himself/herself, or may
ask the teacher of this class to select the students by using the said criteria. In the latter situation we are
leaving it to the judgment of the teacher to select the subjects. Similarly we can give some criteria to
the fieldworkers and leave it to their judgment to select the subjects accordingly. In a study of working
women the researcher may lay down the criteria like: the lady is married, has two children, one of her
child is school going age, and is living in nuclear family.
A sampling procedure that ensures that certain characteristics of a population sample will be represented
to the exact extent that the researcher desires. In this case the researcher first identifies relevant
categories of people (e.g. male and female; or under age 30, ages 30 to 60, over 60, etc) then decides
how many to get in each category. Thus the number of people in various categories of sample is fixed.
For example the researcher decides to select 5 males and 5 females under age 30, 10 males and 10
females aged 30 to 60, and 5 males and 5 females over age 60 for a 40 person sample. This is quota
Once the quota has been fixed then the researcher may use convenience sampling. The convenience
sampling may introduce bias. For example, the field worker might select the individual according to
his/her liking, who can easily be contacted, willing to be interviewed, and belong to middle class.
Quota sampling can be considered as a form of proportionate stratified sampling, in which a
predetermined proportion of people are sampled from different groups, but on a convenience basis.
Speed of data collection, lower costs, and convenience are the major advantages of quota sampling
compared to probability sampling. Quota sampling becomes necessary when a subset of a population is
underrepresented, and may not get any representation if equal opportunity is provided to each.
Although there are many problems with quota sampling, careful supervision of the data collection may
provide a representative sample of the various subgroups within the population.
Snowball sampling (also called network, chain referral, or reputational sampling) is a method for
identifying and sampling (or selecting) cases in the network. It is based on an analogy to a snowball,
which begins small but becomes larger as it is rolled on wet snow and picks up additional snow. It
begins with one or a few people or cases and spreads out on the basis of links to thee initial cases.
This design has been found quite useful where respondents are difficult to identify and are best located
through referral networks. In the initial stage of snowball sampling, individuals are discovered and may
or may not be selected through probability methods. This group is then used to locate others who
possess similar characteristics and who, in turn, identify others. The "snowball" gather subjects as it
For example, a researcher examines friendship networks among teenagers in a community. He or she
begins with three teenagers who do not know each other. Each teen names four close friends. The
researcher then goes to the four friends and asks each to name four close friends, then goes to those four
and does the same thing again, and so forth. Before long, a large number of people are involved. Each
person in the sample is directly or indirectly tied to the original teenagers, and several people may have
named the same person. The researcher eventually stops, either because no new names are given,
indicating a closed network, or because the network is so large that it is at thee limit of what he or she
Sequential sampling is similar to purposive sampling with one difference. In purposive sampling, the
researcher tries to find as many relevant cases as possible, until time, financial resources, or his or her
Research Methods STA630
energy is exhausted. The principle is to get every possible case. In sequential sampling, a researcher
continues to gather cases until the amount of new information or diversity is filled. The principle is to
gather cases until a saturation point is reached. In economic terms, information is gathered, or the
incremental benefit for additional cases, levels off or drops significantly. It requires that the researcher
continuously evaluates all the collected cases. For example, a researcher locates and plans in-depth
interviews with 60 widows over 70 years old who have been living without a spouse for 10 or more
years. Depending on the researcher's purposes, getting an additional 20 widows whose life experiences,
social background, and worldview differ little from the first 60 may be unnecessary.
In theoretical sampling, what the researcher is sampling (e.g. people, situation, events, time periods,
etc.) is carefully selected, as the researcher develops grounded theory. A growing theoretical interest
guides the selection of sample cases. The researcher selects cases based on new insights they may
provide. For example, a field researcher may be observing a site and a group of people during week
days. Theoretically, the researcher may question whether the people act the same at other times or when
other aspects of site change. He or she could then sample other time periods (e.g. nights and weekends)
to get more full picture and learn whether important conditions are the same.
Table of Contents: