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Sampling Design


A sample design is the framework, or road map, that serves as the basis for the selection of a survey sample and affects many other important aspects of a survey as well. In a broad context, survey researchers are interested in obtaining some type of information through a survey for some population, or universe, of interest. One must define a sampling frame that represents the population of interest, from which a sample is to be drawn. The sampling frame may be identical to the population, or it may be only part of it and is therefore subject to some under coverage, or it may have an indirect relationship to the population.

Sample Design for Managerial Research

In business research, companies must often generate samples of customers, clients, employees, and so forth to gather their opinions. Sample design is also a critical component of marketing research and employee research for many organizations. During sample design, firms must answer questions such as: – What is the relevant population, sampling frame, and sampling unit? – What is the appropriate margin of error that should be achieved? – How should sampling error and non-sampling error be assessed and balanced?


While developing a sampling design, the researcher must pay attention to the following points:

  • Type of universe: The first step in developing any sample design is to clearly define the set of objects, technically called the Universe, to be studied. The universe can be finite or infinite. In finite universe the number of items is certain, but in case of an infinite universe the number of items is infinite, i.e., we cannot have any idea about the total number of items. The population of a city, the number of workers in a factory and the like are examples of finite universes, whereas the number of stars in the sky, listeners of a specific radio programme, throwing of a dice etc. are examples of infinite universes.
  • Sampling unit: A decision has to be taken concerning a sampling unit before selecting sample. Sampling unit may be a geographical one such as state, district, village, etc., or a construction unit such as house, flat, etc., or it may be a social unit such as family, club, school, etc., or it may be an individual. The researcher will have to decide one or more of such units that he has to select for his study.
  • Source list: It is also known as ‘sampling frame’ from which sample is to be drawn. It contains the names of all items of a universe (in case of finite universe only). If source list is not available, researcher has to prepare it. Such a list should be comprehensive, correct, reliable and appropriate. It is extremely important for the source list to be as representative of the population as possible.
  • Size of sample: This refers to the number of items to be selected from the universe to constitute a sample. This a major problem before a researcher. The size of sample should neither be excessively large, nor too small. It should be optimum. An optimum sample is one which fulfills the requirements of efficiency, representativeness, reliability and flexibility. While deciding the size of sample, researcher must determine the desired precision as also an acceptable confidence level for the estimate. The size of population variance needs to be considered as in case of larger variance usually a bigger sample is needed. The size of population must be kept in view for this also limits the sample size. The parameters of interest in a research study must be kept in view, while deciding the size of the sample. Costs too dictate the size of sample that we can draw. As such, budgetary constraint must invariably be taken into consideration when we decide the sample size.
  • Parameters of interest: In determining the sample design, one must consider the question of the specific population parameters which are of interest. For instance, we may be interested in estimating the proportion of persons with some characteristic in the population, or we may be interested in knowing some average or the other measure concerning the population. There may also be important sub-groups in the population about whom we would like to make estimates. All this has a strong impact upon the sample design we would accept.
  • Budgetary constraint: Cost considerations, from practical point of view, have a major impact upon decisions relating to not only the size of the sample but also to the type of sample. This fact can even lead to the use of a non-probability sample.
  • Sampling procedure: Finally, the researcher must decide the type of sample he will use i.e., he must decide about the technique to be used in selecting the items for the sample. In fact, this technique or procedure stands for the sample design itself. There are several sample designs (explained in the pages that follow) out of which the researcher must choose one for his study. Obviously, he must select that design which, for a given sample size and for a given cost, has a smaller sampling error.


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