Two kinds of generalization in research

Every research work is intended to provide an explanation of how or why things happen the way they do, why they happened they way they did, or why and how they are likely to happen in future. Research findings explain phenomena, that is, they explain facts and events in the society. But in most cases, you can’t study everyone or everything involved in an event before you can explain that event. So you have to study a sample of the population, after which the findings and conclusion of the study are extended or applied to the entire population of that study, and in some cases, to the larger world. This is where the concept of generalization in research comes in.

What is generalization in research?

Generalization refers to extension of the findings and conclusion of a study to an entire population of that study. It consists of relating observations from a study on a small group (sample size) to a larger group (population of study). Generalization means to extrapolate the results of a study to a larger population. Simply put, it means to apply or extend what a researcher observed by studying a sample group to the larger population from where that sample was selected or to environments, situations or populations with similar characteristics.

Approaches to generalization

There are two major kinds of generalization. They are generalization to a population and generalization to a theory.

Population-based generalization

This is when you extend or apply the findings and conclusion of a study on a sample to the entire population of that study. This is the one commonly done by most researchers after their study. This could be described as micro-generalization, since it deals with extending results to the population of a specific study; and here, often times, you’re generalizing from a single study to the lager population of that study.

Theory-based generalization

This is a broader kind of generalization. It refers to extending the findings and conclusion of a study to become hypothesis or theory. This is generalizing to a theory. It is often not based on a single study but confirmations from series of similar studies. This could be described as macro-generalization. For instance, let’s say a study done on television viewing habits of children in Nigeria during COVID-19 lock down showed they least preferred educational contents. If this study leads to other studies on children in other countries, some of them using higher sample sizes, and the results show consistency across persons, time and place, such observations could be generalized into a theory that suggests as follows: “unintended holiday makes children uninterested in educational contents on television.”


Generalizability is an important factor in every research work. It is crucial to the consideration of how the findings and conclusion of a study can be used in predicting the future or predicting what is likely to happen in other study areas.

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The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

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