Social scientists often want to answer questions about large groups of people. Gathering information about such large groups can be impossible. When this is the case, researchers often resort to using a subset of the population to answer questions about the entire population. Using samples is common in all the sciences, not just the social ones. If you need your blood sugar checked, your doctor does not remove all of your blood! She uses a sample. For this to work, the blood in the sample must be nearly identical to all of the blood in your body.
When a sample reflects the characteristics of the larger group from which it was drawn, it is said to be representative. In all the sciences, a sample must be representative if it is to be used to make inferences about the larger group. This is no less true for the social sciences. When evaluating a sampling method for a research project, the most important consideration for the accuracy of the study is the representativeness of the sample.
Last Modified: 09/25/2023