Snowball Sampling: Key to Successful Qualitative Research 

Snowball Sampling: Key to Successful Qualitative Research 

Research is an important tool that helps us understand various experiences. There are many different approaches to research. One such approach is snowball sampling, a popular method in qualitative research. 

Snowball sampling in research is useful when the population is hard to reach. In fact, these include individuals with rare diseases or stigmatized behaviors. All things considered, it may not always be the most accurate method. But it can serve as a solid foundation for experimental research.  

This blog will explore snowball sampling, its advantages and limitations, and various examples. 

What is Snowball Sampling? 

Snowball sampling, also known as referral sampling, is a non-probability sampling technique. Thus, researchers, in this case, use it to identify and recruit participants for a study.  

On the whole, the method involves starting with one or a few participants. These participants must meet the criteria for the target population. Followed by asking them to refer to other participants. All in all, you can continue this process until you achieve the desired sample size. 

Snowball sampling in research is also beneficial when the target population has stigmas. Such as drug addicts or sex workers. In this case, traditional sampling methods like random or stratified sampling may not be workable. 

This allows researchers to access these populations through the referrals of existing participants. Snowball sampling bias and limitations are the drawbacks to this technique. Even so, it has gained popularity in qualitative research and sociology.  

ALSO READ: Defining Snowball Sampling— Methods, Advantages, and Disadvantages 

Examples of Snowball Sampling in Qualitative Research 

Let’s understand a few examples of snowball sampling in qualitative research – 

Example 1 – Explore the experiences of women entrepreneurs in a city 

The researcher may start by identifying a few women entrepreneurs (small and big). Further, they can ask for references from other women entrepreneurs they know. Likewise, these referrals can be through personal contacts or professional networks. 

Example 2 – Studying the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community  

The researcher starts by recruiting a few participants who identify as LGBTQ+ through various channels. 

This includes social media, LGBTQ+ organizations, and personal networks.  

Evidently, researchers ask these participants to refer to other LGBTQ+ individuals they know. As they might know, there are individuals who are interested in adding their views to the study. In this case, they can continue the process until they reach the desired sample size. Significantly, this allows them to study the participants’ experiences. 

Snowball Sampling in Quantitative Research 

Snowball sampling is a technique that can be utilized in quantitative studies but is more frequently employed in qualitative research. The sample size is significantly greater, and the selection procedure is more organized. 

The following are examples of snowball sampling in quantitative research – 

Example 1 – Researching the use of illegal drugs by college students 

This sampling technique is used to find and engage drug users who are difficult to reach using conventional sampling techniques. While a few initial college volunteers who have a history of drug use may be asked to recommend other drug addicts to take part in the study.  

Generally found in their social networks. For that reason, it is important to know why they consume it and how they cope with it.  

With this in mind, this strategy can assist in reaching a demographic that random sampling techniques could miss. 

Example 2: Researching the conditions of refugees in a specific city 

In this case, the research aids in locating and recruiting refugees in the UK. They may initiate by reaching out to a small number of early migrants. For that reason, they might request that more refugees in their social groups take part in the study.  

Altogether, this strategy enables access to a population that could be challenging to find using other sampling techniques. Furthermore, it offers a more thorough picture of the realities and difficulties facing refugees in the UK. 

ALSO READ: The Right Time and Way To Do Quota Sampling 

Advantages and Limitations of Snowball Sampling 

The following are the benefits and drawbacks of the snowball sampling method:  

Advantages Limitations 
1. Cost-effective 1. Biased towards individuals with larger social networks 
2. Useful for researching hard-to-reach populations 2. Difficult to control the size and composition of the final sample 
3. Good for studying sensitive or stigmatized topics 3. Findings might not apply to a broader population 
4. Can provide a diverse sample 4. It may not be appropriate for research questions that require random sampling 
5. Allows for the identification of rare cases 5. Risk of over-representation of certain characteristics in the sample 
ALSO READ: Representative Samples: Importance + Methods 

The Role of Snowball Sampling Bias in Research  

Snowball sampling bias is a recurring drawback of this technique. Therefore, the first participants in snowball sampling may not accurately reflect the population’s interests, which is the main cause of bias. At this point, it may result in a skewed sample that either over- or under-represents particular features or attributes. 

The recruitment procedure itself has the potential to generate social acceptability bias, an additional reason for prejudice in snowball sampling. Certainly, participants might seek out people who are like them or who share their opinions or attitudes more frequently. Hence, this results in a cohesive sample that does not fairly represent the entire population. 

For this reason, researchers who use snowball sampling should be open and honest about their procedures. In addition to recognizing the constraints of their sample. Thus, they must consider utilizing various recruitment techniques to broaden their sample range and reduce snowball sampling bias


In conclusion, snowball sampling can be a useful method for researchers to access difficult-to-reach populations and collect data on sensitive topics. However, it is important to acknowledge its limitations and potential biases.  

Unquestionably, researchers should carefully consider whether snowball sampling is appropriate for their research studies, specifically for the targeted demographic. 

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