The development of theoretical sampling in practice

Ashleigh E. Butler, Beverley Copnell, Helen Hall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Problem: Theoretical sampling is a key research process within grounded theory. However, whilst methodological texts provide a definition, it is difficult to find examples of how theoretical sampling is undertaken as a study develops. The lack of clear exemplars has caused confusion amongst researchers, with many grounded theory studies providing no evidence of theoretical sampling. Aim: This paper aims to demonstrate the theoretical sampling process as a grounded theory study progresses. Methods: A constructivist grounded theory study of bereaved parents' experiences when their child dies in intensive care is used to illustrate the processes of theoretical sampling. Twenty-six bereaved parents participated in semi-structured, audio-recorded interviews. Data were analysed using constant comparative methods and theoretical memoing, with a theory developed that explained the changing nature of the parent-healthcare provider relationship when a child dies in intensive care. Findings: In this study, theoretical sampling necessitated the use of three different data collection techniques: Seeking new data collection sites, adding new interview questions, and sampling for specific participant characteristics. Each technique is discussed in detail and linked to the category and theory development in the exemplar study. Discussion: Though there are limitations to describing theoretical sampling processes on paper, clearly documented accounts can help novice researchers become familiar with the techniques involved and appreciate the benefits they bring to overall theory development. Conclusion: By providing a clear example of theoretical sampling linked to category and theory development, this paper has demonstrated the real world application of theoretical sampling in practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)561-566
Number of pages6
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018


  • Data collection
  • Grounded theory
  • Sampling
  • Theoretical sampling

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