Selecting participants in a qualitative research study

This was an activity for my Qualitative Research Methods course with the almighty Dr. Jayson Richardson in the University of Kentucky’s school technology leadership doctoral program.

So you have a fantastic research question that has the potential to make a big dent in the circle of knowledge in your field… Where are you going to get your data?

Choosing your research participants is an essential component to your study. Miles and Huberman point out that not only are you choosing people for your study, you are also selecting the settings, events, and processes. They share that is important to line up these factors with the research questions that are the basis of your study. Ideally, you will be selecting participants who are the best source of data-rich information that can answer those questions.

While a common practice in quantitative research is to randomly select participants from a population, this is often not the preferred method of selection in qualitative research. Quantitative research is often used to make generalizations to a larger population, while qualitative research is used to richly describe what is happening within a specific setting and time.

Joseph Maxwell describes the selection of participants in a qualitative study, as purposeful selection. This is a strategy that deliberately selects the settings, people, and activities in order to provide data that can’t be found elsewhere. This method is able to provide you, the researcher, with information that will best answer your research questions. A rich source of data is much more important that being able to say participants were randomly selected.