Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


A fast-paced novel of conjecture and surprises



core definition

A population is the complete set of items that belong to a specified grouping.

explanatory context

Unlike the common conception of a population as the people living in a particular country, a population in social research can refer to any defined set and thus be of any size.

However, populations may be difficult to specify exactly. For example, the population of voters in the United Kingdom seems straightforward but on close inspection it is not just all adults over 18. It is those adults (over the age of 18) registered as voters in the previous October who live in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland. Furthermore, there are restrictions on who may register, peers of the realm, foreign nationals, certified insane, etc. may not register while people in the armed services who live abroad may register.

More importantly, having defined a population, it is rarely a simple job to discover who the members of the population are. The members of the population of third-year full-time B.A. Economics students at Polytechnic X can probably be specified whereas the population of pre-school children over the age of two in Coventry may be very hard to specify exactly. The population of intravenous drug users in London would be impossible to specify.

Statistical inference, which depends on samples drawn from populations is thus frequently inhibited by an inadequate sampling frame. A population parameter is a descriptive summary measure of the population. Statistical inference estimates population parameters on the basis of sample data.

analytical review

associated issues


related areas

See also


sampling error



copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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