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What is a Convenience Sample?

Mary McMahon
Updated: May 21, 2024

A convenience sample is a study of subjects taken from a group that is conveniently accessible to a researcher. One advantage of this is that it is easy to access, requiring little effort and time. This sampling method suffers from a major disadvantage in that it is not an accurate representation of the population, which can skew results quite radically. Use of a convenience sample is quite popular and prevalent, however, and it can be valid under certain conditions.

Common Form

One frequent setting for a convenience sample is a college or university. Sociology students, for example, may want to conduct a survey to learn more about a particular issue, such as certain beliefs regarding social background and income. The students might distribute the survey to their classmates, because the members of the class are easy to access and the researchers are likely to get a high response rate. This sample is "convenient" because it is readily available to the students conducting the survey.


In general, the major advantage to a convenience sample is the availability of such a population. Researchers choose this type of group to gain information without having to travel extensively or build a pool of wide-ranging subjects. This often saves both time and money, which can make a tremendous difference while performing research.

Biases and Flaws

Any number of biases can occur in a convenience sample. By selecting from a specific population such as students enrolled in Sociology 101, people visiting a mall between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm on Saturdays, or library patrons, the study inadvertently excludes a great deal of the population. Choosing only students in a particular classroom at a certain university can easily exclude certain portions of the general populace, such as children or those without the financial means to attend the school.

Such exclusions are not always a problem. For example, a study on library patrons could easily take a convenience sample of people at a certain library and generalize the results. On the other hand, a study on social attitudes toward people with disabilities should not use only the students in a sociology class, which does not necessarily represent an accurate cross-section of the population. This inability to accurately generalize the results of such a group makes it ineffective for many studies.

Other Sampling Methods

Researchers who want more valid results typically take a "probability sample," which attempts to get an accurate representation of the population. It is not generally possible to study everyone, but it is possible to randomly assign people to a study with an eye toward retaining a balance of characteristics seen in the population in general. For example, organizations that conduct political polling usually try to draw on a large database of people and select subjects randomly. This randomization increases the chances of a more accurate pool forming to produce results that can be better generalized.

Disclosing Sampling

If a convenience sample is used, researchers typically disclose this fact. Good research usually includes a detailed overview of the sampling techniques used, so that people reading about it have a better understanding of how it was conducted. When revealing that a convenience sample was used, the researcher may also present justifications for its use and defend its accuracy.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All The Science researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By pleonasm — On Oct 18, 2012

@umbra21 - It's almost impossible to get a decent sample though. You'll always have to take the issue of it being a sample of convenience into account. Because even if you somehow manage to get a completely random sample it's still presumably going to be only from people in your country.

Which is one of the reasons scientists talk about "adjusting" the data.

That often gets misinterpreted when someone is trying to discredit the study, but it usually just means that they were trying to take these kinds of skewing factors into account.

By umbra21 — On Oct 18, 2012
@elizabeth23 - I think it depends on what is being researched. You just have to make it clear that your results only pertain to the sample population and are not a representative sample of everyone.

A campus is always going to be a self selecting population. All the people there decided to go to college which makes them different from all the people who didn't go to college. Presumably most of them come from backgrounds where they could afford to go to college as well. And they were all smart enough to get into college.

So, for example, an IQ survey of that kind of population isn't going to be useful as an indication of the average IQ of people in general, because presumably the college students will come out as smarter on average. But, if you call the study what it is, i.e. a study of the average IQs of college students of a particular university, then that's fine.

By DentalFloss — On Apr 19, 2011

Be careful when reading scientific "results" in popular magazines. They often dumb things down and find causality in pretty broad instances of correlation, and it can be very misleading. They also would likely not include mention of things like the use of convenience samples.

By elizabeth23 — On Apr 14, 2011

Some research benefits as much from a convenience sample as a random sample, it just depends on the research. And some places, like college campuses, might have convenience samples that really are fairly random- people from different backgrounds and areas, even though they likely are all close in age.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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