6 Ideas for Improving Sampling

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27 26 Learn more about Matthew B. Miles, A. Michael Huberman, and Johnny Saldaña's Qualitative Data Analysis, 4e, on page 25. Improve the Quality of Your Qualitative Samples Qualitative sampling involves decisions not only about which people to observe and/or interview but also about settings, events, and social processes. Qualitative studies call for continuous refocusing and redrawing of study parameters during fieldwork, but some initial selection still is required. A conceptual framework and research questions can help set the foci and boundaries for sampling decisions. Sampling may look easy, but settings have subsettings. For instance, schools have classrooms, classrooms have cliques, and cliques have individuals, so deciding where to look is not easy. Within any case, social phenomena proliferate such as (again using the classroom example) class lessons, teachers' questioning techniques, student unruliness, and use of innovations— these also must be sampled. But as much as you might want to, you cannot study everyone everywhere doing everything. Your choices—whom to look at or talk with, where, when, about what, and why—place limits on the conclusions you can draw and on how confident you and others feel about them. Sampling is crucial for later analysis, so how do we manage it all? SAMPLING ADVICE from the authors of Qualitative Data Analysis, 4e, Matthew B. Miles, A. Michael Huberman, and Johnny Saldaña Ideas for improving your sampling Follow these 6 ideas to improve your qualitative sampling: . It is probably a good idea to start with a fallback sample of participants and subsettings, the things you have to cover in light of what you know at that point, especially if you're new to qualitative research. That sample will change later, but less than you may think. Just thinking in sampling-frame terms is good for your study's health. If you are talking with one kind of participant, you need to consider why this kind of participant is important and, from there, who else should be interviewed or observed. In complex cases, remember that you are sampling people to get at the characteristics of settings, events, and processes. This means watching out for an overreliance on talk or on observation of participants while neglecting sampling for key events, interactions in different settings, and episodes embodying the emerging patterns in the study. The sampling choices at the start of the study may not be the most pertinent or data-rich ones. A systematic review can sharpen the early and later choices. There is a danger of sampling too narrowly. Go to the meatiest, most study-relevant sources. However, remember to work a bit at the peripheries—to talk to people who are not central to the phenomenon, but are neighbors to it. Talk to people no longer actively involved, to dissidents, renegades, and eccentrics. Spending a day in the adjoining village, school, neighborhood, or clinic is also worth the time, even if you don't see the sense at that point. You may learn a lot and obtain contrasting and comparative information that may help you understand the phenomenon at hand by decentering yourself from a particular way of viewing your primary cases. Spend some time checking whether your sampling frame is feasible. Be sure the time is there, the resources are there, the requisite access to people and places is ensured, and the conditions are right for doing a careful job. Plan to study a bit less, rather than more, and "bank" the extra time. If you are done, the time is yours for a wider or deeper pass at the field. Three kinds of instances have great payoff. The first is the apparently "typical" or "representative" instance. If you can find it, try to find another one. The second is the "negative" or "disconfirming" instance. It gives you both the limits of your conclusions and the point of greatest variation. The third is the "exceptional" or "discrepant" instance. This instance will allow you to qualify your findings and to specify the variations or contingencies in the main patterns observed. Going deliberately after negative and atypical instances is also healthy in itself; it may force you to clarify your concepts, and it may tell you that you indeed have sampled too narrowly.

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