generalizability in qualitative research

Generalizability in Qualitative Research

How to achieve generalizability in qualitative research? It has long been perceived that qualitative research lacks generalizability. The qualitative researchers argue that the aim behind qualitative research is not to achieve generalizability as the results are only relevant to a small group of population. The researchers working on quantitative research methods think that qualitative research lacks in external validity.

The criterion that are used to check the generalizability of quantitative research could not be applied to check the generalizability of the qualitative research. Qualitative research has different aims, techniques and procedures and hence its generalizability should be calculated in the same manner that align with its techniques. If a research is not generalizable it is of no use to the society. Generalizability can be achieved in the qualitative research in a different manner.

Sample selection

In qualitative research the sample selection is done in a different manner than in the quantitative research. The random sampling technique would not be useful as the researcher selects the sample purposely. This purposeful selection of the sample is done with an aim to have the most representable sample from the population. The purposeful selection enhances the chances of selecting the most comprehensive sample that is representable and complete.

In sample selection judgmental and purposive sampling are more preferable than convenience sampling. The elements of the sample that have been selected but left during the research or lost interest should be replaced with other elements from the population. The researcher should make sure that any elements of the sample that left are notified in the research. Convenience sampling is used by the researcher when the researcher is unable to select a sample purposely. Convenience sampling is though criticized for its selection bias. The researcher has some control over the elements selected in the sample in purposive sampling.

The generalizability of the findings in qualitative research are not based on the demographic characteristics of the population but they look at the values, norms, and standards that are more or less same among different populations. For example if a study investigates the impact of partial attitude of the employers towards transgender people and find out that the partial and discriminatory behavior results in such people hiding their identity, low self-esteem, poverty, and well-being issues. The result of this study could be generalized to any other situation where discrimination is done on the basis of gender in society. It does not necessarily be a workplace, and it could be with any class or strata of the society.

Data collection

It is not easy saying than done to select the data collection method in qualitative research. There is no one model that can fit in all the similar situations but data collection method can be selected according to the requirements. A lot many researcher fail to understand the type of data collection tool that should be employed.

The accuracy in the construction of the data collection tool is really important and plays significant role in improving the validity of the study. The methods and steps taken in the construction of the data collection tool should be specified in the research. Often researchers think that some steps are so unimportant that they do not need to mention them in the research. While for other researcher while conducting their research it might be valuable to know the tiny details of the data collection. Informing the readers about the methods and procedures can help them in conducting similar researches.

When the researcher uses more than one method to collect the data and check the results of each method against each other, it gives the researcher an edge to say with confidence that the results of the study are more generalizable. This however is not always easy to achieve, there are some limitations to using more than one data collection tool in research. While using more than one method or tool the researcher should know that not all data collection tools complement each other. Some data collection tools are more in competition with each other, such tools can make the data analysis difficult. The researcher can using complimentary tools so that their results are more reliable and hence generalizable.

The researcher needs to make sure that all the contextual information related to the field where the research has been conducted is provided in the research. This will help the readers understand how far they can generalize the research to other such situations. It is worth while that other researcher replicate same studies that have been done previously but in different cultural settings. It will give a better idea whether the findings of the previous study are generalizable to other similar situation in a broader sense or not.

The researcher should make sure that any hindrances, rejection, problems, complexities faced by the researcher is discussed in the research. These hindrances are the factors that should be kept in mind while generalizing the study to another situation.

Approach to analysis

Qualitative research uses methods like corroboration, peer review, triangulation, prolonged engagement , respondent validation, multiple coding, and rigor to enhance the external as well as the internal validity of the research.

Peer review is a good way to avoid bias in data analysis in qualitative research. Several journals only accept peer-reviewed research for publication. Publication journals provide checklist to the researchers so that they know what are the quality criteria to be able to get their research published. Peer review help the researcher in improving the quality of data analysis. The researcher get the data analysis checked by another researcher, scientist, colleague, advisor, mentor, or by the publisher. Peer review is however not without flaws but if the right person reviews the research the impact will also be good.

The other methods to improve data analysis approach in qualitative research is rigor. Unlike the kind of rigor that researchers apply in the quantitative research a qualitative research has different criteria for rigor. In qualitative research the researcher uses accuracy and precision in data analysis to improve the rigor over the conclusions drawn.

In qualitative research the conventional generalizability that is required of the quantitative research cannot be achieved. The reason being that qualitative research is conducted on a particular set of population that has their own unique demographic, psychological, sociological, and cultural characteristics. However, generalizability can be improved through the use of accuracy and precision in the conduction of the research. Several researchers believe that qualitative research can be generalized to other cultural settings with caution. By caution they mean that the researcher should know the situation, hindrances, cultural norms, values, beliefs of the population on which the study was conducted. This will help other researcher understand to what extent they can generalize the findings to other similar situations globally.


  • “Qualitative Generalizability”. Editorial.
  • Barbour R. S. (2001). Checklists for improving rigour in qualitative research: a case of the tail wagging the dog?. BMJ (Clinical research ed.)322(7294), 1115–1117.
  • Gannon F. (2001). The essential role of peer review. EMBO reports2(9), 743. doi:10.1093/embo-reports/kve188
  • E.G. Guba, Criteria for assessing the trustworthiness of naturalistic inquiries, Educational Communication and Technology Journal 29 (1981), 75–91.
  • Shenton A. K. (2004). Strategies for ensuring trustworthiness in qualitative research projects. Education for Information, 22. 63–75



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