The Limited Usefulness of Convenience Sampling

Convenience sampling is a type of sampling by which the researcher selects a study environment and/or study participants primarily based on ease of access, availability, and/or familiarity. Convenience Convenience sampling radiussampling is not uncommon in qualitative research when researchers may need to complete their research in a short time frame and at a relatively low cost. For example, an ethnographer who wants to study how people behave in a confined space might design her research to observe people on her daily commute on the local subway. Or a graduate student might select clergy within a narrow radius of his university to conduct in-depth interviews to understand the roles clergy play in the lives of their congregations. Or focus group discussions might be conducted at a geriatric facility where the researcher visits her parents in order to learn about skilled nursing care.

In each case, the researcher may come away with insightful information about people in confined spaces on that particular subway car on a particular day, or clergy roles among the particular clergy drawn from religious groups within the neighborhood, or skilled nursing care at that particular geriatric facility. However, the important limitation of these studies lies in the fact that the subway car, the religious groups, and the geriatric facility were not selected because they were somehow representative of confined spaces, religious organizations, or senior medical care facilities, but rather because these locations and participants were in easy access and familiar to the researchers. As a result, and without other research to help triangulate the data, the researcher (and users of the research) have no way of knowing how (or if) the particular subway car on the particular day and time of day, or the clergy in the neighborhood, or the geriatric facility where the researcher’s parents live relate to (i.e., is the same or different than) the broader context of confined spaces, religious organizations, or geriatric facilities.

This raises an important limitation to convenience sampling. From a quality standpoint, convenience sampling limits the ultimate usefulness of a qualitative study because the data based on a convenience sample do not allow the researcher (and users of the research) to apply the findings to other contexts, i.e., convenience sampling limits the transferability of the research. Transferability is a vital aspect of the Total Quality Framework Transparency component and is fundamental to contributing something of value. And in the end, contributing something of value – that is, maximizing the usefulness of the research – is the researcher’s ultimate goal.



Image captured from:

Exploring the True Colors in Qualitative Data

Reliability, in the sense of being able to obtain identical findings from repeated executions of a qualitative research design, is debatable.  Validity, however, is another matter.  Validity, in the sense of whether the qualitative researcher is collecting the information (data) he or she claims to be gathering (i.e., ttrue colorshe accuracy of the data), is a topic worthy of much more discussion in the research community, or at the least a greater emphasis in our qualitative research designs.  While qualitative researchers may not be able to replicate their studies, they surely have the means to consider the authenticity of the data.

There was a Research Design Review post back in 2010 that discussed the importance and appropriateness of validity in qualitative research, including the idea that there are ready-made techniques for looking at validity in qualitative research and that, in some ways, validity is already built into our research methods.  To illustrate how qualitative researchers typically incorporate validity Read Full Text

Maintaining the Life of Qualitative Research: Why Reporting Research Design Matters

“Keep it simple,” “keep it short,” and “make it fast.”  These are the words that many qualitative researchers live by as they sit down to produce the final written report for CPRtheir clients.  The prevailing sense among some is that their all-too-busy clients don’t have the time, inclination, or research backgrounds to read lengthy reports detailing nuanced findings and method.  Instead, clients want a brief summary of outcomes that are actionable in the short term.  It is no wonder that PowerPoint reporting has become so popular.  Who needs complete sentences when a key implication from the research can be reduced to a bullet list or an alluring infographic?

But what has become lost in the ever-increasingly-shrinking report is the discussion of research design.  Where once at least cursory attention would be given to the basic design elements – this is what we did, this is when we did it, this is where we did it, and these are the demographics of the participants – in the first few pages of the report, this all-important information has been pushed to the back, sometimes to the appendix where it sits like frivolous or unwanted content begging to be ignored.  Not only should the research design not be sequestered to the badlands of reporting but the discussion of research design in qualitative research should be expanded and enriched with details of the:

  • qualitative method that was used (along with the rationale for using that method),
  • target population,
  • sample selection and composition of the participants,
  • basis by which the interviewer’s/moderator’s guide was developed,
  • reason that particular field sites and not others were chosen for the research,
  • interviewer’s/moderator’s techniques for eliciting participants’ responses,
  • measures that were taken to maximize the credibility and analyzability of the data, and
  • coding and other analysis procedures that were used to arrive at the reported interpretations and implications from the outcomes.

The inclusion and elaboration of the research design in qualitative reports matters.  It matters because qualitative research has a life, and it is only the researcher’s thick description of the paths and byways the research traveled that allows the life of qualitative research to thrive Read Full Text