What is Maximum Variation Sampling?

Maximum variation sampling (sometimes referred to as maximum diversity sampling or maximum heterogeneity sampling) is a sampling method in which researchers attempt to collect data from the widest range of perspectives possible about a certain topic.

The goal with this type of sampling is to gain an understanding of a certain topic from a wide variety of angles.

By sampling individuals who are extremely different from one another (either in age, socioeconomic status, income, occupation, region, etc.) researchers can gain a more wholistic view of some topic and can analyze a topic from many different standpoints.

Examples of Maximum Variation Sampling

The following scenarios illustrate examples of maximum variation sampling in practice.

Example 1: Agriculture

Researchers are interested in understanding how a certain fertilizer affects plant growth in a certain region. To maximize the variation of plants in their sample, they decide to test the fertilizer out on the part of the region that receives the most rainfall each year along with the part of the region that receives the least rainfall each year.

Example 2: Public Opinion

Researchers want to understand the relationship between people’s opinion on a certain law and their annual income. They decide to include individuals in the top 5% of annual income in their sample along with individuals in the bottom 5% of annual income. In this sense, their sample includes maximum variation in terms of income.

Example 3: Media Consumption

Researchers want to understand the public’s opinion about a certain television show. For their sample they decide to ask the opinion of the following four groups:

  • A group of extremely young and poor people.
  • A group of extremely young and rich people.
  • A group of extremely old and poor people.
  • A group of extremely old and rich people.

By including these four “extreme” groups in their sample, the researchers are able to maximize the variation in individuals included in the sample.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Maximum Variation Sampling

One advantage of maximum variation sampling is that researchers can gain insights about a certain topic without obtaining a massive sample. By simply obtaining data about individuals in the most extreme positions, they need to sample far fewer individuals.

The disadvantage of this sampling method is that researchers are unable to generalize their findings to the rest of the population because the sample that they obtain will not be representative of the overall population.

That is, the data collected on the sample is unlikely to be similar to the data that would be collected on the whole population since only individuals in “extreme” positions would be included in the sample.

Additional Resources

Types of Sampling Methods (With Examples)
What is a Sampling Frame?
What is a Representative Sample and Why is it Important?

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