Random Sampling vs. Random Assignment

Qualitative Methodology

Random sampling and random assignment are fundamental concepts in the realm of research methods and statistics. However, many students struggle to differentiate between these two concepts, and very often use these terms interchangeably. Here we will explain the distinction between random sampling and random assignment.

Random sampling refers to the method you use to select individuals from the population to participate in your study. In other words, random sampling means that you are randomly selecting individuals from the population to participate in your study. This type of sampling is typically done to help ensure the representativeness of the sample (i.e., external validity). It is worth noting that a sample is only truly random if all individuals in the population have an equal probability of being selected to participate in the study. In practice, very few research studies use “true” random sampling because it is usually not feasible to ensure that all individuals in the population have an equal chance of being selected. For this reason, it is especially important to avoid using the term “random sample” if your study uses a nonprobability sampling method (such as convenience sampling).

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Random assignment refers to the method you use to place participants into groups in an experimental study. For example, say you are conducting a study comparing the blood pressure of patients after taking aspirin or a placebo. You have two groups of patients to compare: patients who will take aspirin (the experimental group) and patients who will take the placebo (the control group). Ideally, you would want to randomly assign the participants to be in the experimental group or the control group, meaning that each participant has an equal probability of being placed in the experimental or control group. This helps ensure that there are no systematic differences between the groups before the treatment (e.g., the aspirin or placebo) is given to the participants. Random assignment is a fundamental part of a “true” experiment because it helps ensure that any differences found between the groups are attributable to the treatment, rather than a confounding variable.

So, to summarize, random sampling refers to how you select individuals from the population to participate in your study. Random assignment refers to how you place those participants into groups (such as experimental vs. control). Knowing this distinction will help you clearly and accurately describe the methods you use to collect your data and conduct your study.