Transferability in qualitative research is synonymous with generalizability, or external validity, in quantitative research. Transferability is established by providing readers with evidence that the research study findings might be applicable to other contexts, situations, times, and populations. It is important to note that you, as a researcher, cannot prove that the research study findings are applicable. Instead, your job as a researcher is to provide the evidence that it might be applicable.


In transferability, readers note the details of the research situation and compare them with the details of an environment or situation with which they are familiar. If there are sufficient similarities between the two situations, readers can infer that the research results would be the same or similar in their own situation.

In other words, they "transfer" the results of one study to another context. To do this effectively, readers need to know as much as possible about the original research situation to determine if it is similar to their own. Therefore, investigators must provide a very detailed description of their situation and research methods.

The results of any type of research method can be applied to other situations. But transferability is more relevant for qualitative research methods like ethnography and case studies. The reports based on these research methods are detailed and specific. However, because they often consider only one topic or group, researchers conducting such studies rarely generalize the results to other populations. However, the detailed nature of the results makes them ideal for transferability.

Nature of qualitative versus quantitative research

The essence of qualitative research is to make sense of and recognize patterns between words to build a meaningful image without compromising its richness and dimensionality. Like quantitative research, qualitative research aims to seek answers to "how, where, when, who, and why" questions. It does so with a perspective to build a theory or disprove an existing theory.

Unlike quantitative research that deals mainly with numerical data and their statistical interpretations under a reductionist, logical and strictly objective paradigm, qualitative research handles non-numerical information. Its phenomenological interpretation is inextricably linked with human senses and subjectivity.

While human emotions and the perspectives of both subjects and researchers are considered undesirable biases that confuse results in quantitative research, the same elements are considered essential and unavoidable, if not valuable, in qualitative research. They invariably add additional dimensions and colors to enrich the corpus of findings. However, the issue of subjectivity and contextual ramifications has fueled incessant controversy over the criteria for quality and reliability of qualitative research results for health care.

Qualitative validity

Depending on their philosophical perspectives, some qualitative researchers reject the validity framework that is commonly accepted in more quantitative research in the social sciences. They reject the basic realistic assumption that it is a reality external to our perception of it. Consequently, there is no point in worrying about the "truth" or "falsehood" of an observation with respect to an external reality. This is a primary concern of validity. Qualitative researchers advocate different standards for judging the quality of research. For example, Guba and Lincoln proposed four criteria for judging the robustness of qualitative research and explicitly offered them as an alternative to the more traditional quantitatively oriented criteria. They felt that their four criteria better reflected the underlying assumptions involved in much of the qualitative research.


The credibility criterion involves establishing that the results of qualitative research are credible or credible from the perspective of the research participant. Since from this perspective, the purpose of qualitative research is to describe or understand the phenomena of interest from the eyes of the participant. The participants are the only ones who can legitimately judge the credibility of the results.


Transferability refers to the degree to which the results of qualitative research can be generalized or transferred to other contexts or settings. From a qualitative perspective, transferability is primarily the responsibility of the generalizer. The qualitative researcher can improve transferability by doing a thorough job of describing the research context and the assumptions that were central to the research. The person who wishes to "transfer" the results to a different context is then responsible for judging how sensitive the transfer is.


The traditional quantitative view of reliability is based on the assumption of replicability or repeatability. Essentially, it is about whether we would get the same results if we could observe the same thing twice. But we can't actually measure the same thing twice.


Qualitative research tends to assume that each researcher brings a unique perspective to the study. Confirmability refers to the degree to which the results could be confirmed or corroborated by others. There are a number of strategies to improve confirmability. The investigator can document the procedures to verify and reverify the data throughout the study. Another investigator may take on the role of "devil's advocate" with respect to the results, and this process can be documented.

The researcher can actively seek out and describe negative instances that contradict previous observations. And, after studying, a data audit can be performed that examines the data collection and analysis procedures. You can also make judgments about the potential for bias or distortion. There has been considerable debate among methodologists about the value and legitimacy of this alternative set of standards for judging qualitative research.

On the one hand, many quantitative researchers view the alternative criteria simply as a relabeling of the very successful quantitative criteria in order to gain more legitimacy for qualitative research. They suggest that a correct reading of quantitative criteria would show that they are not limited to quantitative research alone and that they can be applied equally well to qualitative data.

Also, they argue that the alternative criteria represent a different philosophical perspective that is subjectivist rather than realistic in nature. They claim that research inherently assumes that there is some reality that is being observed and that it can be observed with greater or lesser precision or validity. If you don't make this assumption, they would say, you are simply not involved in the investigation. That does not mean that what you are doing is not valuable or useful.

Traditional Quantitative Criteria

Perhaps there is some legitimacy to this counterargument. Certainly, a broad reading of traditional quantitative criteria could make them appropriate for the qualitative domain as well. But historically traditional quantitative criteria have been described almost exclusively in terms of quantitative research. No one has yet done a full job to translate how the same criteria could be applied in qualitative research contexts.

For example, discussions of external validity have been dominated by the idea of ​​statistical sampling as the basis for generalization. And, traditionally, reliability considerations have been inextricably linked to the notion of true score theory. But qualitative researchers are right about the irrelevance of traditional quantitative criteria. How could we judge the external validity of a qualitative study that does not use formalized sampling methods? And how can we judge the reliability of qualitative data when there is no mechanism to estimate the actual score? No one has adequately explained how the operational procedures used to assess validity and reliability in quantitative research can be translated into corresponding legitimate operations for qualitative research.

The Schools of Transferability

Each school is different in terms of the techniques they allow to establish transferability. Here we will stick to the recommendation of Lincoln and Guba (1985) to provide a detailed description of the phenomenon. The detailed description may sound familiar to those who have taken a methodology course that included a review of ethnography. It is actually a technique widely used by ethnographic researchers, but it is a technique that other qualitative researchers can use as well.

Specifically, thick description is a technique in which a qualitative researcher provides a robust and detailed account of her experiences during data collection. A qualitative researcher makes explicit connections to the cultural and social contexts surrounding data collection. This means talking about where the interviews occurred, the ability for participants to interview after work, and other aspects of data collection that help provide a richer and more comprehensive understanding of the research environment.

This information helps the reader to construct the scene surrounding the research study, from the daily lives of the participants to how implicit biases can affect their responses. It is helpful to put what participants express to the researcher in the context of the surrounding social and cultural settings in which the research study is framed. This allows outside researchers and readers to make transferability judgments themselves.

Example 1

Transferability is easy to understand when you consider that we constantly apply this concept to aspects of our daily lives. If, for example, you are an inexperienced composition instructor and read a study in which a veteran writing instructor found that extensive pre-writing exercises helped students in your classes come up with much more defined paper themes, You might wonder how much the instructor's classroom resembled yours. If there were a lot of similarities, you could try to draw conclusions about how increasing the amount of prewriting your students do would affect their ability to get to narrow enough paper topics. In doing so, he would be attempting to transfer the techniques of the composition researcher to his own class.

Example 2

An example of transferable research in the field of English studies is the study by Berkenkotter, Huckin, and Ackerman (1988) of a graduate student for a doctorate in rhetoric. Program. In this case study, the researchers describe in detail the entry of a graduate student into the language community of their academic program. In particular, his struggle to learn the writing conventions of this community. They draw conclusions about why certain things might have affected graduate student "Nate" in certain ways, but are unable to generalize their findings to all graduate students in rhetoric.

It is simply a study of one person in a program. However, from the level of detail that researchers provide, readers can take certain aspects of Nate's experience and apply them to other contexts and situations. This is transferability. Freshmen graduate students who read Berkenhotter, Huckin, and Ackerman's study can recognize similarities in their own situation. While teachers can recognize the difficulties their students have and understand them a little better. The researchers do not claim that their results apply to other situations. Instead, they report their findings and make suggestions about the possible causes of Nate's difficulties and his eventual success. Then readers look at their own situation and decide whether these causes may be relevant or not.

Consideration of Objectives

When designing a study, researchers have to consider their goals: Do they want to provide limited information about a large group to indicate trends or patterns? Or do they want to provide detailed information about a person or a small group that can suggest reasons for a particular behavior? The method they choose will determine the extent to which their results can be transferred, as transferability is more applicable to certain types of research methods than others.

When writing the results of a study, it is important for the investigator to provide specific information and a detailed description of his / her topic (s), location, methods, role in the study, etc. This is commonly known as a "detailed description" of methods and findings. It is important because it allows readers to make an informed judgment about whether they can transfer the findings to their own situation.

For example, if an educator conducts an ethnography of her writing class and finds that her students' writing improved dramatically after a series of student-teacher writing conferences, she should describe in detail the classroom environment, the students she observed and his own studies. participation. If the researcher does not provide enough detail, it will be difficult for readers to try the same strategy in their own classrooms. If the researcher does not mention that she conducted this research in a small upper-class private school, readers can transfer the results to a large public school in the city center expecting a similar result.

The Reader's Role in Transferability

The role of readers in transferability is to apply the methods or results of a study to their own situation. In doing so, readers should take into account the differences between the situation described by the researcher and their own. If readers of the Berkenhotter, Huckin, and Ackerman study know that the research was carried out in a small, upper-class private school, but decide to test the method in a large, inner-city public school, they should make adjustments for the different environment and be prepared for different results. Also, readers may decide that the results of a study are not transferable to their own situation.

For example, if a study found that watching more than 30 hours of television per week resulted in a worse GPA for graduate students in physics, graduate students in television journalism may conclude that these results do not apply to them. Readers can also transfer only certain aspects of the study and not the entire conclusion. For example, in the Berkenhotter, Huckin, and Ackerman study, the researchers suggest a variety of reasons why the graduate student they studied experienced difficulty adjusting to their Ph.D.

Potential limitations

Understanding the research results can help us understand why and how something happens. They are too difficult to understand and often impossible to predict. Because of the many and varied ways in which individuals differ from one another and because these differences change over time, complete and definitive experiments in the social sciences are not possible. Cziko's point is important because transferability allows for "temporal understanding." Instead of applying the research results to every situation that may occur in the future, we can apply a similar method to another similar situation, observe the new results, apply a modified version to another situation, etc.

Transferability takes into account the fact that there are no absolute answers to given situations. Rather, each individual must determine their own best practices. Transferring the results of research done by others can help us develop and modify these practices. However, it is important for readers of the research to know that results cannot always be transferred. An outcome that occurs in one situation will not necessarily occur in a similar situation. Therefore, it is essential to take into account the differences between situations and modify the investigation process accordingly.

Transferability and Generalization

Although transferability appears to be an obvious, natural and important method of applying research results and conclusions, it is not perceived as a valid research approach in some academic circles. Perhaps partly in response to critics, in many modern research articles, researchers refer to their results as generalizable or externally valid.

Therefore, it seems that they are not talking about transferability. However, in many cases those same researchers provide guidance on points that readers may want to consider. But they hesitate to make general conclusions or statements. These are characteristics of transferable results. Generalization is actually, as we have seen, quite different from transferability.

Unfortunately, confusion around these two terms can lead to misinterpretation of research results. The emphasis on the value of transferable results, as well as a clear understanding among researchers of the critical differences between the conditions under which research can be generalized, transferred, or in some cases generalized and transferred. This could help qualitative researchers avoid some of the criticism thrown by skeptics who question the value of qualitative research methods.

Bibliographic References

Williams V, Price J, Hardinge M, Tarassenko L, Farmer A. Using a mobile health application to support self-management in COPD: A qualitative study. Br J Gen Pract. 2014;64:e392–400.

Egbunike JN, Shaw C, Porter A, Button LA, Kinnersley P, Hood K, et al. Streamline triage and manage user expectations: Lessons from a qualitative study of GP out-of-hours services. Br J Gen Pract. 2010;60:e83–97.

Also you might be interested in: Variability and its measures

Transferability in Quantitative Research

Transferability in Quantitative Research

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