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What is Generalisability in Research Bias

Published by at August 7th, 2023 , Revised On October 6, 2023

In the research world, the quest for knowledge and understanding is paramount. Researchers aim to study various phenomena, explore intricate relationships, and draw meaningful conclusions. However, the validity of research findings is essential for their broader applicability and relevance. This is where the concept of generalisability comes into play.

In the context of both qualitative and quantitative research, generalisability refers to the extent to which research findings can be applied beyond the specific sample or context studied. It determines whether the observed effects and relationships hold in other populations, settings, or time frames. In this article, we will delve deeper into generalisability in research, its importance, and its impact on the validity of research outcomes.

Understanding Generalisability in Research

1. Generalisability in Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is characterised by its focus on exploring complex phenomena and gaining an in-depth understanding of the subjective experiences of individuals. Unlike quantitative research, which aims for statistical generalisation, qualitative research concerns transferability.

Transferability refers to the potential to transfer or apply the findings from one context or group to another similar context or group. In qualitative research, the goal is not to generalise findings to a larger population but to gain insights that resonate with other similar situations.

For instance, a study exploring cancer survivors’ experiences in a specific region may provide valuable insights that can be transferable to other communities with similar healthcare access and cultural factors. However, researchers must be cautious about assuming universal applicability, as qualitative research findings are context-dependent.

2. Generalisability in Quantitative Research

Quantitative research emphasises using numerical data and statistical analyses to make generalisations about the larger population from which the sample is drawn. The term generalisation is commonly used in this context, referring to the process of applying research findings to a broader population.

Researchers strive to ensure that their samples are representative of the target population to make valid generalisations. The selection of participants through random sampling methods, such as simple or stratified random sampling, enhances the likelihood of obtaining a representative sample.

Quantitative researchers use statistical techniques to assess confidence levels in their generalisations. Measures like confidence intervals and p-values help researchers determine the precision and significance of their findings.

3. Generalisability Definition in Research

The generalisability of research findings is formally defined as the extent to which the results of a study can be validly applied to a larger population beyond the study’s sample or context. It encompasses the ability of researchers to draw conclusions that hold for other populations, situations, and time frames.

The Interplay Between Generalisability and Research Bias

Exploring the potential consequences of over-generalisation and under-generalisation

How different types of research bias influence specific aspects of generalisability:

  1. Selection bias and external validity
  2. Measurement bias and internal validity
  3. Publication bias and statistical Validity

The Process of Generalisation

1. Generalisation in Qualitative Research

Generalisation in qualitative research is more focused on creating a rich description of a particular phenomenon that may have relevance in other similar contexts. Researchers employ several strategies to enhance the transferability of their findings:

Theoretical Sampling: Researchers using qualitative methods often engage in theoretical sampling, where new participants or cases are selected based on emerging themes or theoretical insights. This iterative process allows researchers to explore various perspectives and contexts, contributing to the transferability of the findings.

Thick Descriptions: Qualitative researchers strive to provide detailed and context-rich descriptions of their study settings, participants, and data analysis processes. These thick descriptions enable readers to assess the similarity of their own contexts to the study’s context, facilitating the decision of whether the findings are transferable.

2. Generalisation in Quantitative Research

Generalisation in quantitative research is achieved through statistical inference, which involves making predictions and generalisations about the larger population based on the results obtained from the sample.

Random Sampling: Random sampling techniques, such as simple random sampling and stratified random sampling, are commonly used to ensure that the sample is representative of the population. Random sampling minimises bias and enhances the generalisability of the findings.

Statistical Tests: Researchers employ various statistical tests, such as t-tests, ANOVA, and regression analysis, to assess the significance of relationships between variables. The results of these tests help researchers determine the level of confidence in their generalisations.

What are the Challenges of Generalisability in Research

Identifying Potential Challenges to Achieving High Generalisability

In research, attaining high generalisability is a paramount objective, regardless of the study’s nature. The process of generalisation in research differs between qualitative and quantitative approaches, each presenting its unique challenges. 

In quantitative research, ensuring high generalisability requires vigilant attention to the sample size and representativeness. A larger and more diverse sample enables more robust inferences about the wider population, bolstering the study’s external validity. However, challenges may arise when obtaining such a sample, especially when dealing with hard-to-reach populations or limited resources.

The Role of Sample Size and Diversity in Enhancing Generalisability

Sample size holds the key to the reliability and applicability of quantitative findings. Larger sample sizes increase statistical power and strengthen the likelihood of findings being relevant to the broader population. Moreover, incorporating diversity into the sample amplifies the generalisability of research outcomes, as it accounts for demographic, cultural, and regional variations.

In qualitative research, the focus shifts towards theoretical generalisation, where the transferability of findings to different contexts is paramount. Ensuring a diverse range of participants and contexts enhances the credibility of such generalisations.

Strategies to Minimise and Address Research Bias

Here are some of the strategies and solutions for Research bias;

Robust Research Designs

Employing robust research designs is paramount to achieving reliable findings and enhancing generalisability in research. By adopting rigorous methodologies and experimental controls, researchers can minimise bias and ensure the validity of their results.

For quantitative research, randomisation and well-defined sampling techniques promote generalisability in quantitative research. On the other hand, in qualitative research, diverse participant selection and rigorous data analysis techniques help enhance generalisation.

Transparent Reporting

Transparency in reporting plays a vital role in addressing research bias and enhancing generalisation in research. Clear and detailed documentation of research methods, data collection procedures, and analytical techniques allows other researchers to replicate the study.

For quantitative research, reporting effect sizes and confidence intervals aids in comprehending the study’s significance, while in qualitative research, providing rich descriptions of the context and participant characteristics promotes generalisation.

Meta-Analyses and Systematic Reviews

Meta-analyses and systematic reviews serve as potent tools to consolidate and synthesise existing research, fostering generalisation in both quantitative and qualitative research. By systematically assessing a broad range of studies, researchers can derive comprehensive insights, identify common patterns, and assess the consistency of findings across different contexts. Meta-analyses enable the quantification of effect sizes, further strengthening generalisability in quantitative research.

Importance of Generalisability in Research

Consider the following points to understand the importance of Generalisability in research;

1. External Validity

Generalisability is crucial for ensuring the external validity of research findings. External validity refers to the extent to which research results can be generalised beyond the specific sample or context studied. A study with high external validity has findings that are applicable to a larger population, making the research more relevant and valuable.

Researchers conducting studies with low external validity may need help in applying their findings to real-world situations, limiting the practical impact of their research.

2. Real-World Applications

Research that exhibits high generalisability has greater potential for real-world applications. Policymakers, practitioners, and other researchers can rely on such studies to inform their decisions and develop interventions that are likely to be effective across diverse situations.

For example, a healthcare intervention tested in a randomised controlled trial with a diverse and representative sample is more likely to be applicable to different patient populations, leading to improved healthcare outcomes on a broader scale.

3. Building Cumulative Knowledge

Researchers contribute to building a cumulative knowledge base in their respective fields by focusing on generalisability. The ability to replicate and generalise research findings enables the scientific community to verify and consolidate existing knowledge.

Replication studies, which aim to reproduce previous research results, are essential for confirming the robustness and generalisability of prior findings. Furthermore, meta-analyses, which synthesise data from multiple studies, rely on generalisable findings to draw comprehensive conclusions.

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Why is Generalisability Important in Research?

Here you can learn why generalisability is crucial for research;

1. Ethical Considerations

Conducting research involves the participation of individuals who invest their time and effort in contributing to the study. By striving for generalisability, researchers ensure that the outcomes of their studies benefit not only the participants but society at large.

If research findings have limited generalisability, participants may question the value of their participation and the ethical implications of the research. On the other hand, high generalisability provides a stronger ethical justification for the research endeavour.

2. Resource Optimisation

Research is often resource-intensive, requiring significant time, effort, and funding. Pursuing generalisability ensures that the knowledge gained from a study has a broader impact, maximising the return on investment.

If research findings have high generalisability, they can be used as a foundation for subsequent studies, allowing researchers to build upon existing knowledge and explore new research questions more efficiently.


Generalisability in research is a critical aspect of producing valuable and impactful knowledge. Researchers must carefully consider the transferability of qualitative findings and the generalisation of quantitative results to enhance the external validity of their research.

Understanding and striving for generalisability in research contributes to the credibility and usefulness of scientific research, fostering advancements in various fields. By applying research findings to diverse populations and contexts, researchers can make a meaningful impact on society.

Frequently Asked Questions

Generalisability refers to the extent to which research findings can be applied to other populations, settings, or contexts beyond the study sample, ensuring that the conclusions remain relevant and impactful.

Research bias, if unaddressed, can distort findings and limit their applicability. By minimising bias through robust methodologies and transparent reporting, generalisability can be enhanced.

Yes, qualitative research can achieve generalisation by employing diverse participant selection and rigorous analysis to identify broader patterns and themes that extend beyond the specific study group.

Quantitative research achieves generalisability by using random sampling and robust research designs, ensuring that the results are representative and can be applied to larger populations.

Meta-analyses and systematic reviews consolidate diverse studies, providing a comprehensive view of research findings. This strengthens generalisability by identifying common trends and patterns across multiple contexts.

About Alvin Nicolas

Avatar for Alvin NicolasNicolas has a master's degree in literature and a PhD degree in statistics. He is a content manager at ResearchProspect. He loves to write, cook and run. Nicolas is passionate about helping students at all levels.