Transferability in qualitative research is synonymous with generalizability, or external validity, in quantitative research. Transferability is established by providing readers with evidence that the findings of the research study could be applicable to other contexts, situations, epochs, and populations.

It is important to note that you, as a researcher, cannot prove that the findings of the research study are applicable. Instead, his job as a researcher is to provide evidence that it might be applicable.


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

In other words, they “transfer” the results of one study to another context. To do this effectively, readers should know as much as possible about the status of the original investigation to determine if it is similar to theirs. Therefore, researchers should 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 to qualitative research methods such as ethnography and case studies. Reports based on these research methods are detailed and specific. However, because they often consider only one topic or group, researchers who perform such studies rarely generalize 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 and recognize patterns between words to build a meaningful image without compromising its richness and dimensionality. Like quantitative research, qualitative research aims to look for answers to questions of “how, where, when, who and why.” It does so with a perspective to build a theory or refute an existing theory.

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

While the human emotions and 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 relentless controversies over the quality and reliability criteria of qualitative research results for health care.

Qualitative validity

Depending on their philosophical perspectives, some qualitative researchers reject the validity framework 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 regarding 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 strength of qualitative research and explicitly offered them as an alternative to more traditional quantitative orientation criteria. They considered that their four criteria better reflected the underlying assumptions involved in much of qualitative research.


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


Transferability refers to the extent to which the results of qualitative research can be generalized or transferred to other contexts or environments. From a qualitative perspective, transferability is primarily the responsibility of the person who performs generalization. The qualitative researcher can improve transferability by doing careful work by describing the context of research and assumptions that were fundamental to research. The person who wants 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’s about whether we would get the same results if we could observe the same thing twice. But we can’t really measure the same thing twice. By definition, if we’re measuring twice, we’re measuring two different things. To estimate reliability, quantitative researchers build several hypothetical notions. For example, the theory of true score to try to circumvent this fact.

The idea of reliability, on the other hand, emphasizes the need for the researcher to account for the constantly changing context within which research occurs. Research is responsible for describing the changes that occur in the environment and how these changes affected the way the research approached the study.


Qualitative research tends to assume that each researcher brings a unique perspective to the study. Confirmability refers to the extent to which the results could be confirmed or corroborated by others. There are a number of strategies to improve confirmability. The researcher can document procedures for verifying and re-verifying the data throughout the study. Another researcher may assume the role of “devil’s advocate” with respect to results, and this process can be documented.

The researcher can actively search for and describe negative instances that contradict previous observations. And, after studying, you can perform a data audit that examines 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 see the alternative criteria simply as a relabeling of the very successful quantitative criteria in order to obtain greater legitimacy for qualitative research.

They suggest that a correct reading of quantitative criteria would show that they are not limited only to quantitative research and that they can be applied equally well to qualitative data. Also, they argue that alternative criteria represent a different philosophical perspective that is subjective in nature larger than realistic. They discuss that the investigation 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 assume this assumption, you’d say, you’re just not involved in the investigation. That doesn’t mean what you’re doing isn’t valuable or useful.

Traditional Quantitative Criteria

Maybe there’s some legitimacy in this contraargument. Certainly, a broad reading of traditional quantitative criteria could also make them appropriate for the qualitative field. But historically traditional quantitative criteria have been described almost exclusively in terms of quantitative research. No one has yet done a complete job of translating how the same criteria could be applied in qualitative research contexts. For example, discussions on external validity have been dominated by the idea of statistical sampling as a basis for generalizing. And traditionally, reliability considerations have been inextricably linked to the notion of true scoring 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 for estimating the actual score? No one has adequately explained how the operational procedures used to assess validity and reliability in quantitative research can result in relevant 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 Lincoln and Guba’s (1985) recommendation to provide a detailed description of the phenomenon. The detailed description may sound familiar to those who have taken a methodology course that included an ethnography review. In fact, it is a technique that ethnographic researchers use widely, but it is a technique that can also be used by other qualitative researchers.

Specifically, dense description is a technique in which a qualitative researcher provides a solid and detailed account of their experiences during data collection. A qualitative researcher establishes explicit connections to the cultural and social contexts surrounding data collection. This means talking about where the interviews occurred, the possibility for participants to conduct the after-work interview, and other aspects of data collection that help provide a richer and more complete understanding of the research environment.

This information helps the reader build the scene surrounding the research studio, from the daily lives of participants to how implicit biases can affect their responses. It is useful to put what participants express to the researcher in the context of the surrounding social and cultural environments in which the research study is framed. This allows researchers and external 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 in-experience composition instructor and read a study in which a veteran writing instructor found that extensive pre-writing exercises helped students in your classes devise much more defined paper topics, you might wonder to what extent the instructor in the classroom resembled yours. If there were many similarities, you could try to draw conclusions about how increasing the amount of pre-write your students make would affect their ability to reach sufficiently narrow paper issues. In doing so, he would be trying to transfer the composition researcher’s techniques to his own class.

Example 2

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

It’s just a study of a person in a program. However, from the level of detail provided by researchers, readers can take certain aspects of Nate’s experience and apply them to other contexts and situations. This is transferability. Freshman graduate students who read Berkenhotter, Huckin, and Ackerman study can recognize similarities in their own situation. While teachers can recognize the difficulties their students have and understand them a little better. 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 eventual success. Readers then look at their own situation and decide whether these causes may or may not be relevant.

Consideration of Objectives

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

When writing the results of a study, it is important that the researcher provides specific information and a detailed description of their topic(s), location, methods, function in the study, etc. This is commonly referred to 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 performs ethnography of her writing class and discovers that her students’ writing improved dramatically after a series of writing lectures between students and teachers, she must describe in detail the classroom environment, the students she observed, and her 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 at a small, upper-class private school, readers can transfer the results to a large public school in the city center expecting a similar outcome.

The Reader’s Role in Transferability

Readers’ role 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 his own. If readers of Berkenhotter’s study, Huckin, and Ackerman know that the research was conducted at a small upper-class private school, but decide to try the method at a large public school in the city center, they should make adjustments to the different environments and be prepared for different outcomes.

Readers may also 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 a week resulted in a worse grade point average 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 full conclusion. For example, in berkenhotter, Huckin, and Ackerman’s study, researchers suggest a variety of reasons why the graduate student who studied experienced difficulties adjusting to his doctorate.

Potential limitations

Understanding the results of research 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 each other and because these differences change over time, it is not possible to conduct complete and definitive experiments in the social sciences.

Cziko’s point is important because transferability allows for “temporary understanding”. Instead of applying the results of the investigation to each 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 responses to certain situations. Rather, each individual must determine their own best practices. Transferring the results of research conducted by others can help us develop and modify these practices. However, it is important that research readers know that results cannot always be transferred. An outcome that occurs in a 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 for 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 generalized or externally valid. Therefore, it seems that they are not talking about transferability. However, in many cases these same researchers provide guidance on the points 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 a misinterpretation of the results of the investigation. The emphasis on the value of transferable results, as well as a clear understanding among researchers of 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 criticisms released 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.

You might also be interested in: Variability and its measures

Transferability in Quantitative Research

Transferability in Quantitative Research

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