Research Writing

Ad libitum sampling/Characteristics/example

Ad Libitum sampling is a type of sampling where there is no limit on the data recorded and the time at which they are recorded, but the researcher notes everything that seems relevant to the research.

It is generally used to carry out a preliminary observation process. However, these observations are usually biased towards the most significant elements or individuals.

Ad Libitum sampling is an informal process that often uses field annotations, since the observer does not keep track of everything that happens, but the result of the process is always biased by the behaviors, individuals or situations that most they attract the attention of the observer.


Among the most important characteristics of Ad Libitum sampling are the following:

  • This type of sampling consists of unsystematized experiences.
  • They are data obtained that may be interesting or easier to observe for the person who performs the data collection process.
  • The selection process is subjective which can lead research in one direction.
  • Another reason for bias is due to the fact that there are subjects that can be easily observed differently from others.
  • Ad Libitum sampling is used to generate an ethogram, it records rare and significant behaviors of individuals.

Record Types for Ad Libitum Sampling

Ad Libitum sampling has two different types of data recording. Next, we mention each of them:

Continuous records: This type of record consists of obtaining accurate and faithful information on the observed behavior.

For this, it is necessary to measure the frequency, real duration and the moments in which this behavior arises and ends.

Discrete records : This type of record, also known as temporal sampling, consists of taking a sample of the observed behavior but periodically. For its part, this type of sampling has two aspects:

  • Instantaneous sampling: It consists of registering at the moment, the observations about the behavior of an individual.  This process cannot be done for infrequent or short-lived regimens. A common mistake is that the observer usually registers patterns of behavior that most attract his attention. Ad libitum sampling
  • One-zero sampling : It consists of recording observations instantly about the way in which a subject behaves. This process tends to overestimate the time in the recording pattern because it tends to point to what happened during the entire observation time.


Imagine that you are an observer and you are conducting a study about the behavior of four-year-old children in a period of 20 minutes, so you must record everything that is useful, avoiding the interpretation of data that you observe:

  • 10.00 am: Start the registration process
  • 10.05 am Child A picks up a red ball
  • 10.06 am: Child C takes a cookie
  • 10:07 am: Child A approaches child B
  • 10.08-10.15: Child A eats near child B
  • 10.16: Child B moves away from child A
  • 10:22 Child A follows Child B

Ad Libitum sampling is performed when it is not possible or practical to carry out a process of continuous observation and recording of the behavior of an individual or the target audience, so it is necessary to settle for a partial record.

For this process, there are no systematic restrictions on what is recorded or when it is recorded, but the observer is in charge of writing down everything that he may consider relevant at the time, that is, it is considered a timely observation.

To carry out Ad Libitum sampling, it is necessary to make a set of assumptions with justifications that are not always available, so it is advisable to use techniques that do not cause biases related to the elements of interest. Ad libitum sampling

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