Research Methods (1) Interviews

4. Recruiting research participants (a) Constructing the interview sample

The interview ‘sample’ refers to the group of people whom you will interview.

Your sample is determined by a range of factors, including:

  •      Your research question
  •      The resources you have to do your research
  •      And the context in which you are conducting your research

Constructing a sample includes making decisions about the number of people and the demographic composition of the people chosen to be interviewed (e.g. age, gender, socio-economic profile and other characteristics that are relevant to your study).

Qualitative researchers often tend to work with small sample sizes when they are interested in getting an in-depth understanding of processes, or the meanings that people attribute to their social situations.

Sampling decisions can have an impact on your research findings and the way they are received. It is important to:

  • describe and explain your sampling decisions and process, and
  • the strengths, weaknesses and limitations of your sampling approach (Hesse Biber 2014, p. 192).

The recruitment stage involves negotiating access to participants, including convincing participants of why it is necessary for them to participate in your study (England, 2002). Having a clear sampling strategy and understanding how it relates to you research question can be important in ensuring the success of your recruitment process.

Reflection exercise:

  • Brainstorm all of the elements you would need to cover in your interview samples in order to answer your research question/s. Can you answer your research question/s through one sample group or do you need several sample groups?


  • England, K. 2002. Interviewing Elites: Cautionary Tales about Researching Women Managers in Canada’s Banking Industry’. In: P Moss (ed) Feminist Geography in Practice, ed. Pamela Moss. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers Ltd., pp. 200-213.
  • Hesse-Biber, S. N. 2014. Feminist Approaches to In-Depth Interviewing. In: S. N. Hesse-Biber ed., Feminist Research Practice: A Primer, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC: Sage.