Code Saturation Versus Meaning Saturation: How Many Interviews Are Enough?

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Abstract

Saturation is a core guiding principle to determine sample sizes in qualitative research, yet little methodological research exists on parameters that influence saturation. Our study compared two approaches to assessing saturation: code saturation and meaning saturation. We examined sample sizes needed to reach saturation in each approach, what saturation meant, and how to assess saturation. Examining 25 in-depth interviews, we found that code saturation was reached at nine interviews, whereby the range of thematic issues was identified. However, 16 to 24 interviews were needed to reach meaning saturation where we developed a richly textured understanding of issues. Thus, code saturation may indicate when researchers have “heard it all,” but meaning saturation is needed to “understand it all.” We used our results to develop parameters that influence saturation, which may be used to estimate sample sizes for qualitative research proposals or to document in publications the grounds on which saturation was achieved.

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