Reporting and justifying the number of interview participants in organisation and workplace research

Mark Saunders, Keith Townsend

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

134 Citations (Scopus)
3717 Downloads (Pure)


This paper examines established practice regarding the reporting, justification and number of interview participants chosen within organisation and workplace studies. For such qualitative research there is a paucity of discussion across the social sciences, the topic receiving far less attention than its centrality warrants. We analysed 798 articles published in 2003 and 2013 in ten top and second tier academic journals, identifying 248 studies using at least one type of qualitative interview. Participant numbers were contingent on characteristics of the population from which chosen and approach to analysis; but not the journal, its tier, editorial base or publication year, the interview type or its duration. Despite lack of transparency in reporting (23.4% of studies did not state participant numbers) we reveal a median of 32.5 participants, numbers ranging from one to 330, and no justification for participant numbers in over half of studies. We discuss implications and, recognising different philosophical commitments are likely to imply differing norms, offer recommendations regarding reporting, justification and number of participants. Acknowledging exceptions, dependent upon study purpose and data saliency, these include an organisation and workplace research norm of 15-60 participants, alongside credible numbers for planning interview research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)836-852
Number of pages17
JournalBritish Journal of Management
Issue number4
Early online date1 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016


  • interview
  • number of participants
  • data saturation
  • qualitative interview
  • sample size


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