Generalizability and Transferability

Applications of Transferability and Generalizability: Experimental Research

Research Design
A researcher working within this methodology creates an environment in which to observe and interpret the results of a research question. A key element in experimental research is that participants in a study are randomly assigned to groups. In an attempt to create a causal model (i.e., to discover the causal origin of a particular phenomenon), groups are treated differently and measurements are conducted to determine if different treatments appear to lead to different effects.

Experimental research is usually thought to be generalizable. This methodology explores cause/effect relationships through comparisons among groups (Lauer & Asher 152). Since participants are randomly assigned to groups, and since most experiments involve enough individuals to reasonably approximate the populations from which individual participants are drawn, generalization is justified because "over a large number of allocations, all the groups of subjects will be expected to be identical on all variables" (155).

A simplified example: Six composition classrooms are randomly chosen (as are the students and instructors) in which three instructors incorporate the use of electronic mail as a class activity and three do not. When students in the first three classes begin discussing their papers through e-mail and, as a result, make better revisions to their papers than students in the other three classes, a researcher is likely to conclude that incorporating e-mail within a writing classroom improves the quality of students' writing.

Results of a Study
Although experimental research is based on cause/effect relationships, "certainty" can never be obtained, but rather results are "probabilistic" (Lauer and Asher 161). Depending on how the researcher has presented the results, they are generalizable in that the students were selected randomly. Since the quality of writing improved with the use of e-mail within all three classrooms, it is probable that e-mail is the cause of the improvement. Readers of this study would transfer the results when they sorted out the details: Are these students representative of a group of students with which the reader is familiar? What types of previous writing experiences have these students had? What kind of writing was expected from these students? The researcher must have provided these details in order for the results to be transferable.

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