Editor’s note: Nicola Vyas is the senior research director at Healthcare Research Worldwide. The HRW team can be reached at info@hrwhealthcare.com. This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared under the title “Small is Beautiful: Optimising Quantitative Approach in Healthcare.”

If you have previously worked in consumer research, in the first few weeks of working in the pharmaceutical industry, you may have raised an eyebrow when presented with a quantitative sample size of 30 respondents. While you may have initially scoffed at such a paltry base size, after only a few months you will find yourself actively defending these sample sizes and bandying about terms such as “robust”, “statistically significant” and “conclusive evidence.”

So where does that leave us? Should we be worried about researching with such small base sizes or is this just a fact of life in pharmaceutical market research?

I firmly believe that we should always aim for the largest achievable sample size. Recent projects we have conducted have included sample sizes of over 1,000 respondents and with this number of respondents we can all feel confident that the results we obtain deserve the moniker “robust.” A larger sample size provides us with a much richer data set in which we can explore subgroups, test hypotheses and run more complex statistical analysis.

Where we struggle is when researching small population sizes from which it is neither practical nor appropriate to draw a large sample of respondents. This is when we are forced to take a more pragmatic approach. Let’s face it, budgetary and time constraints nearly always impact the feasibility of a quantitative research study. But does that mean we are just making do? No, I don’t believe it does. However, there are several pitfalls which we need to avoid.

One of the key considerations when working with a small sample is simply to remind yourself ...