Qualitative Research Sampling

 Qualitative Research Sample. Photo Courtesy Charles Chen on Flickr

Image Courtesy of Charles Chen on Flickr

Qualitative Research Sampling

By Dr. Sharon Warkentin Short
To me, one of the most intriguing aspects of qualitative research is the selection of the sample with whom to conduct the study. In contrast to the probability or random sampling that is standard for quantitative investigations, qualitative researchers generally rely on “nonprobabilistic” (Merriam, 1998) or nonrandom sampling to determine their research participants. That is to say, rather than selecting individuals or groups in such a way that each member of the population under study has an equal chance of being chosen, qualitative inquirers deliberately seek out respondents who have the most to contribute: “the goal is to select cases that are likely to be ‘information-rich’ with respect to the purposes of the study” (Gall et al., 2003, p. 165). This selection approach has sometimes been labeled “purposive” or “purposeful sampling” (Merriam, 1998).
Purposeful Sampling Revisited
An instructive way to think about purposeful sampling is to view such participants as panels of experts in a specific area (Maxwell, 2005), comparable to medical specialists who are consulted regarding a difficult case. In that situation, the goal is not to get an average opinion from an entire population of doctors, but rather to hear what these particularly qualified people have to say (Merriam, 1998). At least fifteen different varieties of purposeful samples have been identified (Gall et al., 2003).
For my research I decided that an intensity sample was the best choice. Described as “cases that manifest the phenomenon of interest intensely but not extremely” (Gall et al., 2003, p. 178), such informants can be expected to provide ample useful data without seeming so rare or exceptional that subsequent readers of the research might feel the study has nothing relevant to say to them.
Non-Random Research Sampling
When I was first exposed to the whole area of nonrandom research sampling, I was very skeptical, because it sounded so contradictory to the tenets of objective, scientific research. However, it was the analogy of the panel of medical experts that convinced me. I realized that, for my study, I was not trying to discover what “average” children, or children in general, thought about Bible stories; I wanted to watch closely how one particular group of children in one Sunday school responded to the stories. The sample that I eventually studied constituted an intensity sample in that their church was field-testing a new children’s curriculum organized around the metanarrative of the Bible. This meant that the teaching materials were explicitly focused on Bible stories, and the volunteers and staff were committed to using the materials as effectively as possible. In this program they were more involved with the Bible stories than a typical Sunday school class might have been, but their involvement was not out of reach for most churches.
Gall, M. D., Gall, J. P., & Borg, W. R. (2003). Educational research: An introduction (7th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Maxwell, J. A. (2005). Qualitative research design: An interactive approach (2nd ed.). Vol. 41. Applied Social Research Methods Series. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Merriam, S. B. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education (Rev. ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Thinking Like Einstein (Part 1 of 2)

One of the greatest elements of personal impact and success is the importance of developing your mind.
But how do you do it?
In my two part series, I’ll give a total of 10 key ideas to enhance your thinking as you build your mind and learn to think like Einstein. 
Here we go!
1. Redefine your understanding of “knowledge.” Knowledge is not what you happen to remember, true knowledge is that which you will never forget.  Here’s my point:  This is an area where so many people make mistakes… They assume they know more than they actually do.  But, truth told, they cannot command their knowledge and their memory of specifics (facts, details, comprehensive understandings of things, how these things relate to other areas of knowledge, etc.) is actually quite shallow.   Let’s face it, if you don’t remember it, you don’t know it.  So don’t over-estimate your knowledge.  Adopt a higher standard of what true knowledge is.
2. Identify the major or primary areas of knowledge you want to build.   You can’t know everything.  You can and should, in time, develop broad understandings of multiple areas– but you won’t be equally interested in everything.  So identify a subject/subjects, and begin to drive deeper.
3. Identify the best, most reliable sources for mastering the big picture of your topics/areas.  In other words, you need to begin studying a subject by learning about it “as a whole” and not piecemeal in small bits.  It’s hard to understand a subject if you start by trying to understand one tiny piece of the subject then try to go broader.  Instead, start by trying to develop a truly comprehensive, general understanding of the subject.
4. Start with secondary Christian sources if/when possible (of large general areas).  Some won’t agree with this- so they can write their own blog. I understand that perspective, but generally disagree.  From a Christian perspective, after one understands the big picture and broad understanding of something (astronomy or civlization or evolution or higher criticism), I think ‘most’ could benefit from reading about that broad subject from a Christian perspective– not so they can be indoctrinated, but because a Christian perspective will at least give them some perspectives and hot button issues of which to be aware.  Without this, I’ve seen lots of Christians lose their way because they stumble into dangers unawares, simply because their minds haven’t been properly trained to think critically and biblically just yet.
5. Then move to secondary “secular” sources of those large general areas.  Now is the time to move into the deep.  Now that you have a general understanding of the topic– and at least some biblical-Christian perspective, you’re ready to learn about the topic from other perspectives.  Keep your head on straight and go for it.
OK, so that’s a start… tune in next post for part 2 of this two-part series.