The Importance of Appropriate Generalizing

By January 18, 2018Peer Writing Tutoring

Psychologists often engage in a method of research called case studies. These are one-on-one sessions conducted to develop in-depth profiles of a singular individual in order to understand their psyche. Similarly, at The UCWbL in each tutoring session, the tutor strives to engage the writer in one-on-one interactions that help them develop their writing capabilities. While both of these practices provide thorough insight on one person, the findings collected from these studies are often inapplicable to the general public, or at least can’t be generalized thoughtlessly.

The Danger of Generalization

Generalizations are often used to further understanding of how methods or strategies can be applied effectively. But, there are things to watch out for when using generalizations. Often times, using generalizations “strips phenomena of their inherent contradictions and complexity while wresting them from their historical and political context” (Saint-George, 4). They can ignore the uniqueness of situations and contexts, which is what core practice 8 at the UCWbL strongly suggests not doing. It is important as peer tutors to use specific methods for each context and individual, as “to interpret in the context of one’s own experience is both legitimate and valid” (Thomas, 225). Basically, if we ignore the situation in favor of overarching methods, we run the chance of delegitimizing the writer and their work.

Creating General Theories

On the other hand, there are things we can learn from generalizing the tutoring experience, just as generalizations can be made from case studies. Examining how effective methods of tutoring were, seeing how responsive writers were to suggestions, and noticing how the work progressed over the session are all things that can be applied to other sessions. These patterns “can be regarded as a theory of sorts…and therefore yield a better understanding of an intervention and its outcomes” (Yin, 327), creating a model for how to work within other individual sessions. This critical generalization can be constructed through “conceptualizing a gradient of similarity for times, people, settings, and contexts, from most closely similar to least similar” (Poilt and Beck, 1453). Taking effective techniques from one session to another can be truly beneficial, as long as the uniqueness of each individual is still recognized.

Appropriate Generalization

Although we work one-on-one with writers to help them develop their own work and their writer-ly selves, there are ways to extend what we learn beyond the individual. This can be helpful to the personal growth of both the tutor and writer. As long as the context and individual are both acknowledged, generalization can be an effective tool for learning and tutoring.


Works Referenced

Polit, Denise F. and Cheryl Tatano Beck. (2010). “Genralization in quantitative and qualitative research: Myths and strategies”. International Journal of Nursing Studies v47. Elsevier.

de Saint-Georges, Ingrid. (2017). “Generalizing from case-studies: A commentary”. Cross Mark. Springer Science+Business Media.

Thomas, Gary. (2016). “Progress in social and educational inquiry through case study: Generalization or explanation?”. Springerlink.

Yin, Robert K. (2013). “Validity and generalization in future case study evaluations”. Evaluation. Sage Publishing.