How do I know who to interview? Determining appropriate inclusion criteria for your qualitative study

Posted December 18, 2018

Qualitative researchers often employ a purposeful, or purposive, sampling strategy to identify possible research participants. This is a sampling strategy used to carefully select participants who can offer insight into the research topic and questions. But how do we know who to select for participation? This is where inclusion criteria factor into the equation.

While it may seem easy to just say that people who have experience with the topic should be included, these criteria will need to be much more detailed. This approach can, however, be a good starting point. Once you have narrowed your possible participants down to those who have experience with the topic, brainstorm other characteristics those people might possess. Is your study about women only? Is your study about adults between the ages of 18-25? Is your study about people who are in their first years of their career, or people who have been in their field for more than 20 years? About teachers who teach grades 1-6? These basic characteristics can be helpful to start fleshing out who will be included in your study.

Another way to think about this could be in terms of exclusion criteria, or those characteristics that people might possess that would make the ineligible to participate in your study. You eventually will have to delineate exclusion criteria, so thinking through both sides now, as you are constructing your inclusion criteria, can help. After you brainstorm these criteria, you can begin to write this out for your methodology chapter in a narrative format. This might read something like the following: “To be eligible for inclusion in this study, participants must be women between the ages of 23-28, be teachers of an elementary school grade 1-6, and be in their first three years of that career.” Just remember: the more detail, the better!

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