Businesses rely on research to provide information about their customers. When marketers begin a research project, they almost always have in mind a group of people they want to study. How they go about determining who will be included in the study affects the reliability of the research results.

Target Population

The entire group of people about which information is wanted is the target population. Your target population might, for example, be a small group of 10 to 12 people who meet regularly at the local coffee shop. On the other hand, your target population may be the 50,000 people who drink a particular brand of coffee each morning in a defined geographical region. The smaller size makes it easier to conduct research with the first group. Fielding research on the second group will be much more difficult since it is nearly impossible to reach each person in the target population.

Accessible Population

The target population is who the researcher wants to study, and the accessible population is who the researcher can actually study. Resource restrictions such as budget constraints, geographical location and time contribute to the need for a limited research population. When it is not practical to recruit every human being in the target market, it is necessary to employ an accessible population as a subset of the target group.

Drawing Conclusions

It would be ideal to employ the target population when conducting a study. This enables conclusions to be made about the population as a whole. Researchers using an accessible population, where only a portion of the total population is included, attempt to generalize the results and then apply it to the entire population. A problem can arise when the accessible population does not reflect the target community. If the target population is 70 percent male and 30 percent female, it is important that the subset population has the same male-to-female ratio. If not, then conclusions drawn from the smaller population cannot be applied to the larger group without biased results.

Increasing Reliability

To determine the population for a research project, first identify characteristics of the target population that can be relied on to create a smaller replicate group. Demographics of the selected research group, such as age, gender, income, marital status and geographic location, need to be consistent with the target group to eliminate bias and unreliable results. If you are fortunate enough to have a research budget, consider hiring an accredited marketing research company to assist you with the statisical analysis needed when working with an accessible population.