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GuidesResearch methodsCluster sampling: Definition, method, and examples

Cluster sampling: Definition, method, and examples

Last updated

31 January 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Hugh Good

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Every day, an astonishing 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created, and that figure will keep growing. Much of this data pertains to consumer needs, preferences, and behavior.

Therefore, collecting data about your customers will help you optimize nearly every facet of your business. This is true regardless of your industry, the demographic makeup of your target market, or the kinds of goods and services you offer.

However, researching and gathering data from a large population can be time-consuming and expensive. And traditional methods of collecting data are often inefficient, leaving many researchers with incomplete or inaccurate results. This is where cluster sampling comes into play.

Read on to learn more about cluster sampling and how you can leverage it to collect data and make informed decisions.

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What is cluster sampling?

At its core, cluster sampling is a method of collecting data from a large population by dividing it into smaller groups, or clusters. Each group or cluster makes up a subgroup that researchers can then study in detail.

For example, let's say you want to collect information about athletes in a particular city. You can divide the city into several clusters, each consisting of athletes from a certain district or part of town.

This approach is often more cost-effective and efficient than traditional methods of collecting data, such as random sampling. It also helps researchers gather accurate information about populations that are geographically dispersed. 

Types of cluster sampling

Cluster sampling can be categorized in two ways: the number of stages within the cluster sample and how those groups are depicted across the cluster analysis. 

Generally speaking, this method comprises a multitude of steps to accumulate your desired sample size. Single-stage, two-stage, and multi-stage clustering techniques are all viable options for achieving accurate results in your research.

1. Single-stage cluster sampling

Single-stage cluster sampling is an economical method of data collection that can save time, energy, and resources. It involves selecting a number of clusters at random and then collecting information from each. 

2. Two-stage cluster sampling

Two-stage cluster sampling is very similar to single-stage clustering, except, in this case, the sampling process is split into two stages. The first stage involves selecting clusters at random, while the second stage requires data to be collected from a certain number of members within each cluster. 

3. Multi-stage cluster sampling

Finally, multi-stage cluster sampling is an iterative method that consists of multiple stages and steps. This type of sampling is especially useful if you collect data from a large population spread across many different geographic locations.

When to use cluster sampling

Cluster sampling is beneficial when your research requires data collection of an expansive population. It can be used in quantitative and qualitative studies and works well when factors such as cost, time, and resources need to be considered. 

How to get a cluster sample

The process of collecting cluster samples requires a few simple steps:

Step 1: Define your population

Begin by defining your population and determining its size. This will help you identify the number of clusters needed and decide on an appropriate sample size.

Step 2: Divide your sample into clusters

Once you've determined your population size and the number of clusters needed, it's time to divide your sample into smaller groups. This can be done by geography, demographics, or other criteria that suit your research. 

Step 3: Randomly select clusters to use as your sample

Next, select your clusters randomly and use them to form your sample. Make sure you choose enough clusters to represent your population accurately and cover all relevant factors.

Step 4: Collect data from the sample

Finally, collect data from the sample using surveys, interviews, or any other data collection method that suits the study. This helps researchers gather accurate information representative of the population at large. 

Advantages of cluster sampling

Cluster sampling has several advantages compared to other methods of data collection. These include:

  • Cost-effective – It requires minimal resources and personnel to carry out the sampling process, making it a highly cost-effective method.

  • Accuracy – Cluster samples can provide a more accurate reflection of a population of interest than other methods, given the breadth of sampling achieved. This ensures that the results are reliable, representative, and reflect actual trends, behavior, or attitudes within a population. 

  • Time efficient – The sampling process is relatively quick, meaning researchers can save time and resources without compromising on accuracy. 

  • Ease of implementation – Cluster sampling is relatively easy to understand and implement, meaning it is suitable for almost any type of study. 

  • Convenient access – Sampling clusters can provide convenient access to data and information that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to obtain.

Disadvantages of cluster sampling

Despite its many advantages, cluster sampling also has some drawbacks. These include:

  • Possibility of underestimation Sample sizes chosen (potentially due to time or cost constraints) might be too small to accurately represent the population under study, leading to non-representative data or results. 

  • Limited scope – Cluster sampling is generally limited to a certain area or population and is challenging and expensive to use in nationwide or global studies. 

  • Bias – If the clusters used are not randomly selected, the study's results may be biased and unreliable.

Applications of cluster sampling

Cluster sampling can be used in a variety of research contexts, including: 

  • Surveys – help researchers gather information from a large population efficiently and cost-effectively 

  • Marketing – used in marketing research to identify customer trends, preferences, and buying habits 

  • Demographics – used to study demographic characteristics such as age, gender, income, and ethnicity

  • Environmental studies – assists in monitoring air and water quality and other factors

Systematic sampling vs. cluster sampling

When deciding between systematic and cluster sampling, it is important to consider the research objectives and available resources. 

Systematic sampling requires fewer resources and personnel but is not as accurate or representative as cluster sampling. On the other hand, cluster sampling requires more personnel and resources but is typically more accurate than systematic sampling. Ultimately, the choice between the two depends on the study's type and objectives. 

Scale your company with deep customer understanding

Cluster sampling is an effective tool for businesses that want to understand their customers better. By identifying customer trends and preferences, companies can create targeted marketing campaigns and tailor their products and services to better meet their audience's needs.


When should cluster sampling be used?

Cluster sampling is a convenient and cost-effective way to collect data from a large population. You can use it in surveys, market research, demographic, and environmental studies.

What is a real-life example of cluster sampling?

An example of cluster sampling would be a survey conducted by a company to better understand the preferences and needs of their customers. The company could divide its customer base into clusters based on age, gender, location, etc., and then select a random sample from each cluster for further analysis.

Is cluster sampling a probability sampling technique?

Yes, cluster sampling is a type of probability sampling technique. In this method, clusters or groups are randomly selected from the population and then sampled. 

What determines one-stage vs. two-stage cluster sampling?

The difference between one-stage and two-stage cluster sampling lies in the sample selection. In one-stage cluster sampling, the sample selection is made in one step; clusters are randomly selected and then sampled directly.

In two-stage cluster sampling, on the other hand, a two-step process is used – clusters are first randomly selected and then further subdivided into smaller units which are then sampled.

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