Generalizability and Transferability

Applications of Transferability and Generalizability: Ethnography

Research Design
Ethnographies study groups and/or cultures over a period of time. The goal of this type of research is to comprehend the particular group/culture through observer immersion into the culture or group. Research is completed through various methods, which are similar to those of case studies, but since the researcher is immersed within the group for an extended period of time, more detailed information is usually collected during the research. (Jonathon Kozol's "There Are No Children Here" is a good example of this.)

As with case studies, findings of ethnographies are also considered to be transferable. The main goals of an ethnography are to "identify, operationally define, and interrelate variables" within a particular context, which ultimately produce detailed accounts or "thick descriptions" (Lauer & Asher 39). Unlike a case study, the researcher here discovers many more details. Results of ethnographies should "suggest variables for further investigation" and not generalize beyond the participants of a study (Lauer & Asher 43). Also, since analysts completing this type of research tend to rely on multiple methods to collect information (a practice also referred to as triangulation), their results typically help create a detailed description of human behavior within a particular environment.

The Iowa Writing Program has a widespread reputation for producing excellent writers. In order to begin to understand their training, an ethnographer might observe students throughout their degree program. During this time, the ethnographer could examine the curriculum, follow the writing processes of individual writers, and become acquainted with the writers and their work. By the end of a two year study, the researcher would have a much deeper understanding of the unique and effective features of the program.

Results of a Study
Obviously, the Iowa Writing Program is unique, so generalizing any results to another writing program would be problematic. However, an ethnography would provide readers with insights into the program. Readers could ask questions such as: what qualities make it strong and what is unique about the writers who are trained within the program? At this point, readers could attempt to "transfer" applicable knowledge and observations to other writing environments.

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