Statistical Sampling Case Study

To learn about sampling techniques in social science research, students practice tackling a real-world research problem through discussing a hypothetical case.


  • To enable students to understand the benefits and drawbacks of various sampling techniques.
  • To provide students with experience designing sampling methods to address a real-world research problem.

Class: Sociology 128: Models of Social Science Research

Introduction/Background: This course introduces sociology students to concepts and strategies in social science research. In week five, students learn about nonrandom and random sampling techniques (snowball sampling, simple random sampling, etc.). In discussion section later that week, students apply this knowledge to a hypothetical case study where a researcher aims to study the experiences of homeless people in the United States.

Before Class:

 Students learned about the pros and cons of various sampling techniques in lecture.

During Class:

  • In discussion section, students received a handout about various types of sampling techniques, as well as a hypothetical research scenario about researching a population of homeless people in New York City. The instructor and students reviewed the sampling techniques they had learned, including what types of social science research questions each technique would enable researchers to answer.
  • Students were then broken up into groups of 2-3. Guided by four questions on the handout, students analyzed the research problem and discussed within their groups the pros and cons of various sampling techniques. The instructor moved between the groups and provided feedback as students were deciding how to answer each question.
  • Once each group determined how they would approach the problem, they shared out their choice with the class. The class discussed the benefits and drawbacks to each group's choices.

Students left class with a deep understanding of a hypothetical research scenario and the various considerations they would have to take into account when deciding how to sample a population. They would later use this knowledge in developing their group projects at the end of the semester.


The research scenario prompt, attached

Submitted by Matthew Clair, Teaching Fellow, Harvard Department of Sociology

clair_sampling_activity_handout.docx50 KB