Applications of Transferability and Generalizability: Survey
The goal of a survey is to gain specific information about either a specific group or a representative sample of a particular group. Survey respondents are asked to respond to one or more of the following kinds of items: open-ended questions, true-false questions, agree-disagree (or Likert) questions, rankings, ratings, and so on. Results are typically used to understand the attitudes, beliefs, or knowledge of a particular group.
Assuming that care has been taken in the development of the survey items and selection of the survey sample and that adequate response rates have been achieved, surveys results are generalizable. Note, however, that results from surveys should be generalized only to the population from which the survey results were drawn.
For instance, a survey of Colorado State University English graduate students undertaken to determine how well French philosopher/critic Jacques Derrida is understood before and after students take a course in critical literary theory might inform professors that, overall, Derrida's concepts are understood and that CSU's literary theory class, E615, has helped students grasp Derrida's ideas.
Results of a Study
The generalizability of surveys depends on several factors. Whether distributed to a mass of people or a select few, surveys are of a "personal nature and subject to distortion." Survey respondents may or may not understand the questions being asked of them. Depending on whether or not the survey designer is nearby, respondents may or may not have the opportunity to clarify their misunderstandings.
It is also important to keep in mind that errors can occur at the development and processing levels. A researcher may inadequately pose questions (that is, not ask the right questions for the information being sought), disrupt the data collection (surveying certain people and not others), and distort the results during the processing (misreading responses and not being able to question the participant, etc.). One way to avoid these kinds of errors is for researchers to examine other studies of a similar nature and compare their results with results that have been obtained in previous studies. This way, any large discrepancies will be exposed. Depending on how large those discrepancies are and what the context of the survey is, the results may or may not be generalizable. For example, if an improved understanding of Derrida is apparent after students complete E615, it can be theorized that E615 effectively teaches students the concepts of Derrida. Issues of transferability might be visible in the actual survey questions themselves; that is, they could provide critical background information readers might need to know in order to transfer the results to another context.