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snowball sample


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A non-probability sample obtained by recruiting one or more individuals who each recruit one or more individuals, and so on, in the manner of pyramid selling. Although it is sometimes used informally merely for convenience, it is also uniquely effective for accessing ‘hidden’ groups scattered sparsely in large populations but linked by social networks, such as drug users, prostitutes, professional criminals, or paedophiles. Its first prominent implementation was in a study of leadership dynamics among gang members, carried out by the US sociologist William Foote Whyte (1914–2000) and published in his book Street Corner Society (1943). Compare accidental sample, cluster sample, convenience sample, opportunity sample, probability sample, quota sample, random digit dialling, self-selected sample, simple random sample, stratified random sample.

Subjects: Psychology.


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