Unlike nonprobability sampling, probability sampling refers to sampling techniques for which a person’s (or event’s) likelihood of being selected for membership in the sample is known. You might ask yourself why we should care about a study element’s likelihood of being selected for membership in a researcher’s sample. The reason is that, in most cases, researchers who use probability sampling techniques are aiming to identify a representative sample from which to collect data. A representative sample is one that resembles the population from which it was drawn in all the ways that are important for the research being conducted. If, for example, you wish to be able to say something about differences between men and women at the end of your study, you better make sure that your sample doesn’t contain only women. That’s a bit of an oversimplification, but the point with representativeness is that if your population varies in some way that is important to your study, your sample should contain the same sorts of variation.

Obtaining a representative sample is important in probability sampling because a key goal of studies that rely on probability samples is **generalizability**. In fact,
generalizability is perhaps the key feature that distinguishes probability samples from nonprobability samples. Generalizability refers to the idea that a study’s results will tell us something
about a group larger than the sample from which the findings were generated. In order to achieve generalizability, a core principle of probability sampling is that all elements in the
researcher’s target population have an equal chance of being selected for inclusion in the study. In research, this is the principle of random selection. Random selection is a mathematical
process that we won’t go into too much depth about here, but if you have taken or plan to take a statistics course, you’ll learn more about it there. The important thing to remember about
random selection here is that, as previously noted, it is a core principal of probability sampling. If a researcher uses random selection techniques to draw a sample, he or she will be able to
estimate how closely the sample represents the larger population from which it was drawn by estimating the sampling error. Sampling error is a statistical calculation of the difference between
results from a sample and the actual parameters of a population.

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