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Numeracy & Quantitative Methods

Laura Lake
Probability sample a method of sampling that uses of
random selection so that all units/ cases in the population
have an equal probability of being chosen.
Non-probability sample does not involve random
selection and methods are not based on the rationale of
probability theory.

Types of Sampling
Why is probability sampling important in quantitative research?
Research finding not based on samples that are biased /
Based on a sampling frame it enables research to be replicable
or repeatable.
Research results can be projected from the sample to the larger
population with known levels of certainty/precision (i.e. standard
errors & confidence intervals for survey estimates can be constructed).
Probability Sampling in
Quantitative Research
To achieve this the sampling frame used needs to:
ensure that the correct population is being sampled i.e. it
addresses the questions of interest
accurately covers all members of the population being studied
so they have a chance to be sampled.
The quality of the population list (sampling frame) i.e.
whether it is up-to-date and complete is the most important
feature for accuracy in the sampling.

Probability Sampling in
Quantitative Research
Four main types of probability sampling:
1.Simple random sample
2.Systematic sample
3.Stratified random sample
4.Cluster/ multi-stage random sample

Types of Probability
Randomly selecting units from a sampling frame.
Random means mathematically each unit from the
sampling frame has an equal probability of being included in
the sample.
Stages in random sampling:
Simple Random Sampling
Assign each
unit a
select the
amount of
select random
numbers until it
meets the
sample size
Similar to simple random sample.
No table of random numbers select directly from sampling

Systematic Sampling
Decide the
sample size
Work out
what fraction
of the frame
the sample
according to
fraction (100
sample from
1,000 frame
then 10% so
every 10
First unit
select by
then every
nth unit
(e.g. every
Gold standard of sampling.
Why? Designed to be more representative of the population
where the sampling frame is stratified according to
population variables .
Variables selected for stratifying are determined by the
characteristics needed by the research.
Stratification splitting the population into the different
strata (variables e.g. gender, age, ethnic background).
Samples can be stratified across more than one variable.

Stratified Random Sample
As a random sample:
Stratified Random Sample
Define population
Develop sampling
frame according
to characteristics
Determine the
proportion of
each population
variable of
Systematic sampling
methods can then be
followed to select
sample unit
Cluster sampling: selecting a sample based on specific,
naturally occurring groups (clusters) within a population.
- Example: randomly selecting 20 hospitals from a list of all
hospitals in England.
Multi-stage sampling: cluster sampling repeated at a number of
- Example: randomly selecting hospitals by county and then a
sample of patients from each selected hospital.

Cluster/ multi-stage
random sample
Three main types of non-probability sampling:

Non-Probability Sampling
A sample selected for ease of access, immediately known
population group.
+ good response rate.
cannot generalise findings (do not know what population
group the sample is representative of) so cannot move
beyond describing the sample.

Convenience Sampling
Aim is to sample reflecting proportions of population in
different categories or quotas (e.g. gender, age, ethnicity).
Used in often in market and opinion poll research.
+ easy to manage, quick
only reflects population in terms of the quota, possibility of
bias in selection, no standard error

Quota Sampling
Useful when a population is hidden or difficult to gain access
The contact with an initial group is used to make contact
with others.
+ access to difficult to reach populations (other methods
may not yield any results).
- not representative of the population and will result in a
biased sample as it is self-selecting.

Snowball Sampling
How large should my sample be in order for it to be
Larger samples are not necessarily better how
representative a sample it depends on the sampling technique
used and the size of the population.
Determining sample size is dependent of how much error
you are prepared to accept in your sample.

Sample Size?
The larger the sample size the more likely error in the sample
will decrease.
But, beyond a certain point increasing sample size does not
provide large reductions in sampling error.
Accuracy is a reflection of the sampling error and confidence
level of the data.
Sampling Error and
If a sample has been selected according to probability we
can assess the level of confidence.
Confidence levels will allow you to state, with a certain level
of confidence, that the sample findings would also be found in
the population.

Sampling Error and

+/ - 3% at 95% confidence level

A confidence interval of +/- 3% at the 95% confidence level
means that, 95% of the time, the true answer will be within
3% of the survey findings.

Confidence Intervals
Voting behaviour % of poll
Labour 37%
Conservative 35%
Liberal Democrat 22%
Other 6%
Bryman, A. (2008) Social Research Methods. 3
Ed. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.

David, M. and Sutton, C. (2004) Social Research :The Basics.
London: Sage.

ESRC Survey Measurement Programme. Online: available from
Survey Resource Network

Oppenheim, A. (2000) Questionnaire Design, Interviewing and
Attitude Measurement. London: Continuum
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Author Laura Lake
Institute University of Plymouth
Numeracy & Quantitative Methods
Sampling: Probability & non-probability sampling
Overview of probability and non-probability sampling techniques in
quantitative research.
Date Created March 2011.
Educational Level Level 5
UKOER LFWOERK UOPCPDRM Learning from Woerk WBL Work Based
Learning CPD Continuous Professional Development Probability sample,
non-probability sample, simple random sample, systematic sample,
stratified random sample, cluster/ multi-stage random sample,
stratification, convenience sampling, quota sampling, snowball
sampling, sampling error, confidence intervals.
Creative Commons License Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales license
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