Have you often wondered why researchers miss a huge chunk of their target audience when conducting surveys? It’s called sampling. Sampling is an aspect of research that entails selecting a small set of your target population to represent the views of your target audience.

In this blog post, we will define the concept of the sampling frame, discuss its importance in research, review the types of sampling frames, and some relevant examples, identify a sampling frame in research, and lots more.

Let’s dive in straight away.


What is the Sampling Frame?

A sampling frame is a collection of all the various categories of a target population. The various units of this category can be any entity, group of individuals, or people relevant to the topic of interest. It is made up of all the components your ideal target audience possesses.

Hence, the sampling frame then becomes the basis for selecting a small number of the main target population to represent the interests of the overall target audience. A sampling frame can take various forms, from a physical list, like a directory, a customer database to mention a few. Usually, there is a specific criterion to identify and include anyone in the sample frame list.

Why is a Sampling Frame Important in Research?

Having a well-defined and appropriate sampling frame is crucial in any research endeavor, because it ensures, that the group of people selected accurately reflects the actual audience being targeted in the research. It helps in eliminating sample bias or random selection of people not representative of the population you are trying to reach. Let’s take a look at some of the importance of sampling frame.

  • It helps researchers define the target population: A sampling frame helps determine the target population for a research study, providing a comprehensive and accurate list of all the individuals or units that comprise the population being researched.
  • Target population selection: A sampling frame allows researchers to gather the required representative sample from the target population, based on the already defined target population. The sampling frame ensures that every member of the population is included in sample selection, therefore, minimizing sampling bias.
  • Generalizability of findings: A sampling frame enhances the generalizability of research findings, as it only selects a sample of the representative population that represents the views of the larger/general population. With this,  researchers can reach conclusions that can be generalized to the larger population. This improves the external validity of the research study.
  • Transparency and documentation: A sampling frame is usually documented this provides transparency of the sampling process. This allows other researchers to evaluate the sampling process and replicate the study where necessary. This enhances the credibility and transparency of the research.
  • Statistical analysis: A sampling frame is key to carrying out proper statistical analysis, which includes, calculating sampling probabilities, estimating population parameters estimation, and appropriate weighting techniques. In this case, the sampling frames are used as a point of reference for assigning weights to the selected sample units and adjusting for any potential biases.

Read More – Statistical Analysis Plan: What it is & How to Write One


Types of Sampling Frames

  • List-Based Sampling Frame: This type of sampling frame is a list of individuals who represent the target population. It is usually a pre-existing database such as a customer involved using a pre-existing list or database that represents the target population. Examples include a list of registered voters, a customer database, a student roster, or a membership directory of an organization. List-based sampling frames provide a structured and comprehensive list of individuals or units from which a sample can be selected.


  • Location-Based Sampling Frame:  This refers to a list put together based on the common geo-location of the target population. For instance, if research is being conducted on people who live in a riverine area, their geo-location would be the basis for the population. This type of sampling frame is commonly used in surveys or studies that require a representative sample from specific geographic regions.


  • Random Digit Dialing (RDD) Sampling Frame: RDD is a sampling frame commonly used in telephone surveys. It involves generating random phone numbers using a computer algorithm that combines numbers randomly to access both listed and unlisted numbers of potential participants. 


  • Event-Based or Time-Based Sampling Frame: In some studies, the sampling frame may be defined by specific events. e.g. attendees of training or webinar. 
  • Sampling Frame by Administrative Units: In certain research studies, the sampling frame may be defined by administrative units, like schools, hospitals, or government agencies. This type of sampling frame is often used in studies that require sampling within specific organizations.

Examples of the Sampling Frame

  • Voter Registration List of registered voters within a specific jurisdiction.
  • Customer Database maintained by a company.
  • Student Roster or enrollment records.
  • Telephone Directory
  • Membership List of various organizations
  • Hospital Patient Registry

These examples depict the diverse nature of sampling frames, ranging from pre-existing lists and databases, etc. The choice of sampling frame depends on your research objectives, the attributes of the target population, and the availability of relevant data sources.


How Do You Identify a Sampling Frame in Research?

  • Define the Target Population: Determine the population that aligns with your survey interests.
  • Spell out the Inclusion Criteria: Specify the criteria that individuals would need to meet to qualify for participation. This could be based on demographic characteristics (e.g., age, gender, location), membership in a specific organization, or other relevant factors.
  • Explore Existing Lists or Databases: Use existing lists, databases, or registers that already contain information about the individuals or units within the target population. For example voter registration lists, customer databases, student rosters, membership directories, or any other relevant sources specific to your research area.
  • Relevant Authorities or Organizations: Reach out to relevant authorities, organizations, or institutions who have access to the information list you require. 
  • Use Data Collection Methods: In the event of no readily available sampling frame, review data collection methods you can use, such as a random digit dialing method to generate phone numbers for a sampling frame.
  • Outline Sampling Procedures: Once a potential sampling frame has been defined determine the methods you will use to draw a sample from it. e.g. probability sampling methods or non-probability sampling methods.
  • Assess the Representativeness and Suitability: Refine the sampling frame by evaluating it to ensure that it is a true representation of the target population and idea for your research objective. When doing this consider factors such as coverage, accuracy, inclusivity, and potential biases that may arise from using the sampling frame.
  • Document and Justify: Document and justify your choice of a sampling frame in your research methodology section, by documenting details about the sampling frame, its source, any limitations or potential biases, and how it aligns with your research objectives.

Sampling Frame vs Sampling

Sampling Frame and Sampling are  related concepts in research, but they serve different purposes:

Sampling Frame: A sampling frame refers to a defined source of people who represent the interest of the target population. It is from this sampling frame that respondents would be selected. It is usually a comprehensive and accurate representation of individuals with attributes that are in the target population of interest. In a nutshell, the sampling frame is the basis for defining, identifying, and selecting people who will be potential respondents in survey research. a basis for identifying and selecting potential participants for the study. It helps to ensure that every member or subset of the population is represented in the study.

Sampling: Sampling, on the other hand, is the process of selection of individuals from the sampling frame who would participate in the study. The sampling process involves methods, like probability sampling (where each member of the population has a known chance of being included) or non-probability sampling (where the selection of participants is based on subjective criteria).

In summary, the sampling frame is like a bucket list of all the viable participants representing a target audience or population. While sampling is the process of selection from the bucket list of respondents who will eventually participate in the survey,


Differences Between a Sampling Frame and a Population

A sampling frame and a population are distinct concepts in research:

Population: The population refers to the total group of people who share characteristics of interest to the researcher. The population is, therefore, a larger group to which the researcher wants to generalize the findings of the study. For example, if the research is focused on the voting behavior of citizens in a country, the population would be all eligible voters in that country.

Sampling Frame: On the other hand, is a small list /group of people who represent the same interests as the target population. It is usually a list, database, or defined source that represents the target population. It is from this list that the sample frame will be selected. In other words, a sample frame is a tool used to identify units of the target population that represent the view of the general population. 


  • Size: The population is the entire group of interest, while the sampling frame represents a small group or unit of the population from which the sample will be selected.
  • Representation: The population is made up of all the individuals or units who share the common characteristics of interest to the researcher. On the other hand, the sampling frame consists of a small set of the population that can be reached and is easily accessible or within the reach of the researchers.
  • Purpose: The population defines the scope and target of the research study, while the sampling frame is a viable tool used for sampling purposes to facilitate the respondent’s selection.
  • Inclusion: The population is made up of basically accessible and inaccessible individuals, while the sampling frame represents only those individuals or units that can be sampled based on the available list or database.

Characteristics of a Good Sampling Frame

  • Inclusiveness: A good sampling frame should consist of all members of the target population. It should be holistic and cover every individual or unit that the research aims to study. This way no relevant group is excluded, reducing bias in the sample.
  • Accuracy: The sampling frame should be up-to-date and accurate, depicting the current population. For continuity sampling, It should be regularly maintained and validated to minimize errors and omissions, as Outdated or incomplete frames may cause sampling bias and affect the generalizability of the findings.
  • Uniqueness: Each element in the sampling frame is unique and distinctly different, this eliminates duplication or repetition of subgroups. distinct. The use of identifiers, such as ID numbers or addresses, can maintain the integrity of the sampling frame.
  • Accessibility: A good sampling frame should be easily accessible and available for researchers to draw samples from. Sufficient information about each unit is collected allowing researchers to make informed decisions while selecting their sample. Accessibility also enhances transparency and reproducibility in research.
  • Adequate coverage: The sampling frame should cover the entire target population and include all relevant subgroups or strata. It should accurately represent the characteristics and diversity of the people, ensuring that the sample represents these attributes as well. Adequate coverage helps in achieving a representative sample.
  • Reliability: The sampling frame should be reliable and consistent. Ideally, it is created using reliable sources of data and maintained with care. The frame is from systematic errors, ensuring that all units have an equal chance of being selected, hence promoting fairness and accuracy in the sampling process.
  • Privacy and confidentiality: The sampling frame should respect ethical guidelines and address all privacy concerns. Compliance with relevant legal and ethical guidelines is crucial to building trust and encouraging participation.

Advantages of Using a Sampling Frame

  • Targeted sampling: A sampling frame allows precision in defining the target population they wish to study. This provides a clear database of potential candidates that fit the specifications of the target population. This targeted approach increases the relevance and the applicability of the results derived.
  • Representative samples: A sampling frame ensures that all the relevant units in a target population are adequately represented. This enhances the generalizability of the findings to the larger population.
  • Reduced sampling bias: A well-put-together sampling frame minimizes sampling bias, as to a large extent a sampling frame ensures that each unit has a fair chance of being included in the sample selection. This minimizes bias and increases the reliability of the results.
  • Efficiency and cost-effectiveness: Having a sampling frame is a time saver, as researchers can directly draw samples from the frame without any need for extensive preliminary research. This efficiency is cost-effective and researchers can free up time to focus on more technical aspects, like data analysis and interpretation.
  • Longitudinal studies: Sampling frames are excellent for studies that track the same individuals over a period. Thus with a sample frame, it’s easy to locate and contact respondents for subsequent batches of data collection.
  • Access to contact information: Sampling frames usually include contact information, like addresses or phone numbers, of the units or individuals in the target population. This information makes it easy for researchers to reach out to potential participants, This improves response rates and minimizes non-response bias, as you get to reach participants who are interested in participating in the survey. 
  • Documentation and transparency: A sampling frame allows for a documented record of the sampling process, and details like the criteria used to select units or individuals. This makes the framing process transparent and other researchers have access to the sampling frame process to validate the findings and also replicate the process when needed.
  • Problems Encountered in the Sampling Frame: While sampling frames offer numerous advantages, as with every concept, there is always a downside. Here are some common issues that researchers may face when working with a sampling frame:
  • Incomplete or outdated information
  • Non-coverage error
  • Frame Error
  • Selection bias
  • Privacy and confidentiality concerns
  • Sampling frames limitations and accessibility


  • Incomplete or outdated information: Sampling frames may encounter incomplete and outdated pieces of information, due to changes in the target population based on new arrivals or departures. This can cause a bias in the outcome if this leads to under-representation or overrepresentation or even total exclusion of certain groups. Regular updates and maintenance are necessary to address this issue.
  • Non-coverage error: Non-coverage error happens when parts of the target audience are excluded from the sample frame. This happens if all the subgroups are omitted either as a result of some oversight or underestimation on the part of the researcher.
  • Frame errors: Frame errors are discrepancies within the sample frame, such as duplicate entries, misclassified units, or incorrect contact details. These frame errors can distort the sampling process and cause bias in the selection of the sample. Detailed cleaning of the sample frame can address this problem.
  • Selection bias: While the sampling frame seeks to provide a representative sample sometimes selection bias can occur during the process. This happens due to human error on the part of the researcher where they may unintentionally introduce bias by selectively including or excluding certain units from the frame during the sampling stage. This bias can undermine the validity, representativeness, and generalizability of survey results.
  • Privacy and confidentiality concerns: Sampling frames sometimes include personal information which raises privacy and confidentiality concerns. Safeguarding participants’ data is vital in other to maintain ethical standards. So striking a balance when accessing necessary information and respecting privacy rights is ideal to ensure the continued participation of your target audience. 
  • Sampling frame limitations: The sampling frame sometimes has limitations that affect its suitability for the research objectives. For instance, the frame may be missing details and demographic information and sometimes fail to capture the characteristics of the target population. To mitigate against this critical evaluation of the frame’s adequacy and using external supplementary data sources would help. 
  • Sampling frame accessibility: In some cases, the sampling frame may be hard to access for researchers, due to legal restrictions, data ownership issues, or limited access to certain populations to mention a few. All this may hamper the ability of the researcher to derive representative samples.


A good sampling frame is key to ensuring a proper or comprehensive representation of your target audience. It is one of the ways to ensure that the group of people selected to represent the general population of the target audience, truly represents all the various groups in the target population.

 However in the process of sampling researchers often encounter problems like incomplete or outdated information, non-coverage errors, frame errors, selection bias, privacy concerns, limitations, and accessibility issues. Constantly validating and updating samples would address the limitations of the sampling frame. 


  • Angela Kayode-Sanni
  • on 13 min read


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