Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-17, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 2 January, 2017 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2017.


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core definition

Generalisation is the process of extending a specific instance to a wider or universal set.

explanatory context

To generalise a concept is to identify how it relates more broadly with less specific criteria or constraints.


Generalsiation is a the root of much inductivist science.


A key issue for inductivism is how to verify whether a generalisation holds true.

analytical review

Colorado State University (1993–2013) defines:

Generalizability: The extent to which research findings and conclusions from a study conducted on a sample population can be applied to the population at large.

Level of Generalization: A researcher must decide whether concepts are to be coded exactly as they appear, or if they can be recorded in some altered or collapsed form. Using Horton as an example again, she could code profanity individually and code "damn" and "dammit" as two separate concepts. Or, by generalizing their meaning, i.e. they both express the same idea, she could group them together as one item, i.e. "damn words."



Williams (2000) made the following claims about generalistion:

I will initially consider two propositions:
Proposition 1: Interpretivists deny the possibility of generalisation, or they ignore the issue, but they do generalise and this is inevitable.
Proposition 2: Generalisation in interpretive research is impossible.
I will argue that the first proposition is correct and that the second proposition is incorrect. In order to show that the second proposition is incorrect, I will propose
some grounds upon which I think generalisation in interpretive research is justified. However, I will then argue that whilst generalisation is desirable and unavoidable in interpretive research, there are limits to its generalising possibilities. I will conclude that these limits imply a pluralistic approach to method....

associated issues


related areas

See also

Researching the Real World Section 1.10.1


Colorado State University, 1993–2013, Glossary of Key Terms available at, accessed 3 February 2013, still available 22 December 2016.

Williams, M., 2000, 'Interpretivism and generalisation', Sociology 34(2), pp. 209–24.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2017

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