Participant Selection in Qualitative Research: Part 3

Qualitative Methodology

In the previous installments of this blog series on participant selection in qualitative research, we discussed initial steps to determining who your participants should be, as well as the importance of establishing inclusion and exclusion criteria for your study. Once you have established your inclusion and exclusion criteria, you need to figure out how you are going to recruit and screen potential participants who meet those criteria. Here we will provide some tips on how to do this.

First, you should make a list of all the settings or organizations you can potentially work with to recruit participants. Such settings and organizations are often referred to as community partners, because as a qualitative researcher, you will be establishing a working relationship with them. Once you are at this stage of the process, you will probably have at least a few leads on potential community partners that may help facilitate your data collection. For instance, if your study involves interviewing teachers, you may want to come up with a list of local schools that could serve as community partners.

Once you have identified potential community partners, you will want to get in touch with their leaders (i.e., administrators) to discuss your study and the possibility of recruiting participants from their community or organization. Going back to our teacher study example, this would likely involve meeting with the principals of the respective schools. If the leaders permit you to conduct your study within their community or organization, you will need to work with them to establish procedures for how to solicit participation from their members. This might involve posting fliers with information about the study, sending invitation e-mails to a listserv of community members, or holding an information session at an approved time and place (e.g., during a weekly staff meeting). You will want to make sure to outline your inclusion and exclusion criteria in the information that you disseminate so that individuals will know if they are eligible to participate. Regardless of what method(s) you choose, the end result should be that potential participants are made aware of your study and are given information necessary to contact you should they be interested in participating.

When interested individuals contact you about participating in the study, you will want to ensure that they meet your inclusion and exclusion criteria before you schedule an interview. You can do this by having a brief phone call or e-mail conversation to ask them questions to assess their eligibility. Or, if you conducted an in-person information session, potential participants may approach you at that time, so you can assess their eligibility by asking them in-person.

If you follow procedures like this, you will ensure that you do not waste participants’ time (and your own) and only interview individuals who will provide relevant information to answer your research questions.


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