Participant Selection in Qualitative Research: Part 1

Posted June 26, 2017

One of the impost important tasks a qualitative researcher can undertake is the selection of participants. Many researchers have difficulty with the design of this part of their study. Thus, this is the first of a series of blogs about participant recruitment in qualitative research.

A qualitative researcher must ensure they can access their participants and that the participants have experience with the phenomenon under study. As most qualitative data is collected through interactions with participants through the use of interviews, surveys, questionnaires, or focus groups, a researcher must find participants who are willing to speak about their experiences. Thus, finding a potential participant who has experience with the phenomenon and is willing to share their thoughts is at the heart of a proposed study. The best topic in the world cannot be explored without willing participants.

The first step you should take is to identify and describe the type of participant you need. Sitting down and taking time to brainstorm and write out a description of your ideal participant is one of the best ways to start thinking about who you need to find in order for your study to be successful. Look at this as a brainstorming session where you write down any words, phrases, or sentences that describe your participants.

Once you have a list of characteristics or traits, order them by relative importance. For example, if you are doing a study about adolescent females’ experiences with social media, two of your defining characteristics might be age and gender. Questions to ask yourself could include:
• How easy will it be for you to access participants under the age of 18?
• Are you connected with a pool of potential participants?
• Can you network to find your participants?
• What are additional considerations or permissions you might need given the possible age of your sample?

Spending the time considering these points will help you understand what is involved in recruiting your potential participants. You could decide to do a phenomenological study where you want participants recollections (this is a key word), about experiences with social media. Given this qualifier you could recruit women who are no longer adolescents but used social media when they were. You could also focus on women between the ages of 18 and 19, where you would not need special permission, or you could choose to use adolescents between the ages of 13-19 and know that there may be additional steps you need to take because of the age of your participants. Whatever decision you make, you will have taken the time to think things through and will be more successful than if you did not plan carefully.

In the next blog, we will consider the importance of inclusion and exclusion criteria and how they help you find the participants you need for your study.

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