What is Non-Response Bias in Qualitative Research?

A brief introduction to Non-Response Bias

For more best practices see our method overview

Definition of Non-Response Bias

Non-response bias is a type of sampling bias that occurs when some participants in a qualitative research study do not provide data or drop out of the study. This can affect the Credibility and Transferability of the findings, as the non-respondents may have different characteristics or opinions from the respondents. Non-response bias can also introduce systematic errors in the analysis and interpretation of the data, as the missing values may not be random or ignorable. Depending on your type of study this bias may mostly stem from Self-Selection Bias but it can occur for other reasons as well.

Problems due to Non-Response Bias

Non-Response Bias in qualitative research can occur due to a variety of reasons:
  • Low response rate: The proportion of participants who complete the study may be too low to represent the target population adequately. This can happen due to poor recruitment strategies, lack of incentives, or low interest in the topic.
  • Self-selection: The participants who choose to participate or remain in the study may have different motivations, attitudes, or behaviors from those who decline or drop out. This can create a biased sample that does not reflect the diversity of the population.
  • Non-contact: The researchers may fail to reach some potential participants due to incorrect or outdated contact information, lack of availability, or refusal to cooperate. This can result in a loss of data from certain groups or segments of the population.
  • Non-cooperation: The participants who are contacted may refuse to answer some or all of the questions, provide incomplete or inaccurate data, or withdraw from the study before completion. This can reduce the quality and quantity of the data collected and affect the reliability and validity of the results.

Strategies to Mitigate Non-Response Bias

To mitigate non-response bias in qualitative research, you should adopt some of the following strategies throughout the research process:
  • Design a clear and relevant research question and objectives that align with the interests and needs of the target population.
  • Choose an appropriate sampling method and sample size that ensure adequate representation and coverage of the population. Theoretical Sampling can for instance steer you towards participants that are most relevant for your study.
  • Develop a comprehensive and updated contact list of potential participants and verify their eligibility and willingness to participate.
  • Provide clear and concise information about the purpose, procedures, benefits, and risks of the study and obtaining informed consent from the participants. Do also document that information in your Audit Trail
  • Offer incentives or rewards for participation, such as monetary compensation, gift cards, vouchers, or recognition. Be careful, though, not to provide undue incentive that may become the main reason for participation, itself causing Self-Selection Bias and other forms of Participant Bias
  • Establish rapport and trust with the participants and maintaining regular communication and follow-up throughout the study. Follow-ups can be combined with Member Checking
  • Use multiple modes and methods of data collection, such as interviews, surveys, focus groups, observations, or documents, and allowing flexibility and choice for the participants. This is called triangulation. There are different types of triangulation as presented in the following list:
  • Minimize the burden and inconvenience for the participants by reducing the length and complexity of the questions, ensuring confidentiality and anonymity, and respecting their preferences and opinions.
  • Handle missing data appropriately by using statistical techniques such as imputation, weighting, or adjustment, or by acknowledging and reporting the limitations and implications of non-response bias.

Conclusion on Non-Response Bias

Non-response bias is a common and challenging issue in qualitative research that can compromise the Trustworthiness of the findings. By applying the strategies outlined on this help-page, you can reduce the risk of non-response bias and enhance the quality and rigor of their qualitative research studies.

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