Qualitative is NOT the new Quantitative

By Marilyn Simon and Jim Goes

Despite the many positive aspects of qualitative research, there is a lack of objectivity and generalizability inherent in the qualitative paradigm. The word generalizability is defined as the degree to which the findings can be generalized from the study sample to the entire population (Polit & Hungler, 1991, p. 645). While qualitative studies are not generalizable, and should never claim to be generalizable, they have other redeeming features that make them highly useful in social science research [see resources listed below that are available on dissertationrecipes.com.]

We find that dissertation students are sometimes confused over when and when not to claim their results are generalizable. Although the ability to generalize applies only to certain types of quantitative methods, transferability can apply in varying degrees to most types of scholarly research. Unlike generalizability, transferability does not involve broad claims, but invites readers to make connections between elements of a study and their own experience.  Transferability can be enhanced by doing a thorough job describing the research context and the assumptions that were central to the study. The person who wishes to ‘transfer’ the results to a different context is responsible for making the judgment of how applicable the transfer is.

On a similar note, dependability is to qualitative research what is reliability to quantitative research; and trustworthiness is to qualitative research as validity is to quantitative research. Your results cannot be dependable if they are not also credible. If you are doing a qualitative study, you need to explain how you will, or did, assure trustworthiness, dependability, and credibility for the data collected.

If you plan to create your own qualitative instrument to be used in structured or semi-structured interviews, or you use open-ended surveys, you will need to make certain that the instrument does what it purports to do, and allows you to answer the research questions and resolve the specific problem you frame. It is important to note that the human person (usually the researcher) is the primary collection instrument. It is the researcher or a research assistant that gathers words (from interviews or open-ended surveys) or pictures, videos, archival documents, etc. and then analyzes them inductively, focusing on the meaning of the data. This is the very reason that qualitative results are not generalizable, because they are subject to human differences and error in interpretation.   

Make sure you check out these related resources on dissertionrecipes.com:

Validity and Reliability in a Qualitative Study

Paradigm Assumptions

Qualitative Research

Analysis of Qualitative Data

Survey/Interview Validation Rubric for Expert Panel


Polit, D., & Hungler, B. (1991). Nursing research: Principles and methods. New York: JB Lippincott.