Case Study Research Method-Definition, Guide, and Examples

A case study is a research method in which the researcher collects data by observing and interviewing people. Often, the study is guided by a specific question or problem that needs to be answered.

The goal of this type of research is not to answer broad questions about human behavior. It investigates a more narrow issue with an in-depth examination. Case studies can help provide insights into how individuals think and feel about themselves and their world.

A case study will also offer new information on an individual’s strengths and weaknesses when faced with particular situations. The purposes of these investigations are twofold:

  • They may uncover previously unknown facts about some aspect of life they have been observing.
  • They may simply reveal what has always been there but never before noticed because no one had thought to look.

A perfect case study allows most people to identify with and apply what is learned from it.

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Considerations for Case Study Research

When conducting a case study, there are several important factors to keep in mind. These are:

Sample size

The number of individuals in a study is often limited. For example, researchers might look at the behavior patterns of only one person or one family.

Other times, groups of people are the focus of the study. However, these participants must be compared to others in different situations or settings.

A case study conducted with a very small number of participants may not provide enough information for the researchers to draw their conclusions.

Research settings

The setting of a case study can be an important piece of information. For example, the researcher might observe behavior at work, school, home, or other places.

Often, settings are selected because they vary in some way that will affect the behavior of the people being observed. For example, a researcher might compare behavior at home and school.

In many cases, the setting plays a significant role in the study because it shapes people’s behavior.

Interaction between participants

The interactions among individuals can play a crucial role in a case study. These interactions are important to consider because they can help shape people’s behavior within a specific setting.

For example, the interactions between parents and their children may change depending on whether the setting is home or daycare.

For this reason, it is necessary to study people who are in similar settings with similar people.

Data collection methods

People are often the data collectors of a case study. They use interviews, observations, or some other method to gather information.

It is important to consider how much time will be needed for this data collection, especially if the study includes many interviews.

If many individuals are involved in the research, it may not be easy to collect data from everyone. Because of this, some researchers rely on a smaller number of people for their information.

The goal is to collect as much data as possible from each person without overwhelming them by making the process too long or in-depth. Therefore, it is also important to consider how personal information will be stored and securely so.

How Do You Conduct a Case Study?

The process of conducting a case study involves:

Asking your research question

Determining your research question is a critical first step. It helps guide the rest of the process and enables you to decide which participants should be included in the case study.

Defining your assumptions

Before beginning a case study, it is crucial to make sure the participants and settings are clearly defined. These definitions are called assumptions, and it is important to make sure they are clear to everyone involved.

Determining the population your study population

This step includes deciding how many people you’d like to study and their geographic areas. Also, it is necessary to determine how they are all related to your case study.

Choosing a representative sample

The actual number depends on the size of the total population and what you can afford in terms of time and money. Sample size should always be determined before the research begins.

Developing a data collection plan

This step involves choosing which data collection methods will be used. Also, decide when and where you will collect your data and how long it will take.

Data collection

The final step in a case study is the actual data collection. During this time, the researcher is collecting information from all of their participants. In some cases, the researcher witnesses events as they occur. The common data collection methods are interviews, questionnaires, and direct observations.

Data analysis

This step involves conducting a thematic analysis of all data collected. You can also identify themes emerging from the data or suggested by the topic literature. This may involve several readings and rewrites to make sense of what you’ve been learning.

Data interpretation

Interpreting your data means explaining what the data reveals. There are generally four ways to look at your data:

Explanation of phenomena

You can explain what has happened in the past, what is happening right now, or what will happen in the future.

Patterns and trends

Interpretations can also be based on changes that have taken place. For example, an increase or decrease in a particular behavior may be related to something else that has happened in the past or is happening right now.

Comparisons between group members

When looking at relationships, comparisons are made between different individuals or groups. For example, you may compare statistics for a group of people before and after a certain event or compare two distinct groups.

Implications for future research

Interpretations may also be based on a lack of data or a gap in the literature. This gap can be used to suggest future research for other people to complete.

Compare studies

The last step is understanding how your findings compare to other studies on the subject and how they fit with previous knowledge. This involves comparing your themes and conclusions to relevant theories.

What are the Benefits of Conducting a Case Study?

There are several key advantages of using case studies in research. These include:

  • Case studies are used in research because they are helpful for data collection.
  • They are also helpful when looking at specific people living in a particular situation or environment instead of larger populations. This type of study is often guided by a question or problem that needs to be answered.
  • They provide insights into how individuals think and feel about themselves and their world.
  • Case studies offer new information on an individual’s strengths and weaknesses when faced with particular situations
  • They can help answer specific questions which would otherwise be challenging to answer
  • Case studies allow the researcher to gain an in-depth understanding of a person or event that is not available through other types of studies
  • They help the researcher learn about a contemporary problem that has never been investigated before, gathering new information.

What are the Downsides of Case Studies?

There are also several disadvantages associated with using this type of research method. These include:

  • They can be time-consuming and expensive to conduct
  • Subjects in case studies are often few, limiting the study’s ability to make definitive generalizations about a larger population.
  • They can present ethical problems; they involve studying individual people who may not be aware of the details surrounding their treatment, actions, or responses. This means that certain aspects of their private lives are observed and recorded without consent.
  • Case studies often require highly skilled researchers since the study involves in-depth interviews and observations
  • Case studies are qualitative, which means they provide an explanatory account of how people feel or think about certain situations. They do not allow for testing hypotheses through gathering numerical data.

Types of Case Studies

There are four main case studies types: cumulative, illustrative, exploratory, and critical instance case studies.

Cumulative case study

This type of case study is designed to build up a picture over time. It is often used to observe patterns in behavior over an extended duration. It can show how people or events develop, change or interact with others.

The findings from this type of research do not reveal the reasons for the observed phenomena. Instead, they show how things happen over some time.

This type of case study involves collecting data from the same group or organization over a long period. It relies on multiple sources to collect information and draw conclusions about individuals and groups.

Illustrative case study

Researchers use it to understand how people work with each other and solve problems. The information gathered is not intended to generalize to other cases and contexts. It also doesn’t show how things develop over time.

This type of study provides an in-depth understanding of a particular case and the feelings and thoughts experienced by those involved. It may also provide insights into how one person or group responds to certain situations. The data collected may be quantitative or qualitative.

Exploratory case study

Researchers use this type to investigate a particular setting. This investigation reveals the factors that affect people’s lives and experiences. There’s no time limit on when the findings will be completed.

An exploratory case study starts without any specific hypothesis or aim. It focuses on discovering new information about a particular case or topic rather than answering specific questions.

This type of case study attempts to identify current problems or issues in society but has not been studied before.

Critical instance case study

Researchers use it to understand how people work with each other and solve problems. The findings from this type of research do not reveal the reasons for the observed phenomena. Also, the findings do not show how things happen over a while.

This type of case study is designed to help prevent future incidents by identifying their causes and exploring behavior that could occur again in the future.

Case Studies and Quantitative Research Methods

Quantitative case studies allow researchers to use statistical analysis to prove or disprove a hypothesis. They can provide numerical data that is used to show cause and effect and make generalizations.

This type of research is often used to produce information about a population rather than a single individual.

Quantitative methods are most often used in surveys and experiments, but they can also be used with observational data.

Quantitative data can be used to show how many participants have a certain characteristic or attribute.

Qualitative Research Methods and Case Studies

They involve collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data from various sources to help answer the study questions. Qualitative methods do not allow for testing hypotheses through gathering numerical data.

This type of research is best suited to exploring new concepts or phenomena rather than proving or disproving hypotheses.

Qualitative data can be used to show a variety of perspectives and viewpoints from within a group.

Comparing Qualitative and Quantitative research case studies

  • Qualitative studies aim to discover and explore. Quantitative studies aim to measure and analyze.
  • Quantitative studies can use statistical methods, such as descriptive statistics, to summarize the data collected. Qualitative studies cannot do this because they are not designed to test hypotheses or generalize the findings.
  • Qualitative research aims to understand people’s experiences on their terms. Quantitative research is concerned with objective measurements and testing hypotheses.
  • In qualitative studies, the research questions drive the data collection process. The researcher asks the participants what information they require to answer their research questions, e.g., through interviews, focus groups, or observations. In quantitative studies, the data collection process is driven by the measurements required to answer the research questions.

Case Designs

Some of the case study designs researchers use are the single case, multiple cases, embedded, and holistic case designs.

Single case studies

This case method is used to understand the impact of an event or phenomenon on a single individual. The findings from this type of research cannot be generalized to a larger group.

Single case research is often used to study a phenomenon that is difficult to observe and measure. For example, it may be unethical to experiment on a person’s mental illness, but a researcher can observe and document what is happening to them.

This design is also often used in the early stages of a research project. At this point, it’s important to understand a phenomenon from the participants’ perspective. As the study develops, the researcher may then look at other cases related to the original case.

Multiple case studies

Researchers use it to understand how groups of people behave and interact together or how different systems function.

This type of case study is designed to identify patterns and commonalities among a group of individuals.

Multiple case studies allow for greater generalizability than single-case research. However, it is more difficult to make comparisons between cases because they are all different.

Embedded design

This case study method is designed to explore a phenomenon within its real-world context.

For example, as part of the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis, doctors must rule out all other potential causes of the symptoms before making a positive diagnosis.

The embedded design is used in this example to rule out other potential causes of Autism Spectrum Disorder symptoms.

Sometimes it is difficult to identify the unique impact a certain factor has on a research topic. To solve this problem, researchers use embedded case study designs in their research studies.

Holistic design

This case study method is used when the focus is on a whole system, such as a family.

Like the embedded design, this case study method allows the researcher to explore a phenomenon within its real-world context. The findings cannot be generalized to different contexts.

The holistic design is used in the case study about infant feeding and behavior problems. It brings an understanding of how breastfeeding mothers may be more sensitive to their infant’s hunger cues.

How to Build a Theoretical Framework for a Case Study

To understand why certain factors may influence some behavior, you can apply a theoretical framework to your case study. A theoretical framework is a set of related concepts that are used to explain or interpret an event.

The purpose of a theoretical framework is to develop your understanding of why people have certain behaviors.

A theoretical framework for a case study example

This theoretical framework is used to understand why mothers who breastfeed and have certain factors may be more sensitive to their infant’s hunger cues:

Some factors that can contribute to breastfeeding mothers being more sensitive to their infant’s hunger cues are:

  • Being exposed to more television advertisements about breastfeeding
  • Having an infant that is considered at risk for obesity and later in life hence the need to feed less.
  • Having experienced previous breastfeeding challenges with other babies.
  • Being exposed to greater risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes later in life and considering breastfeeding a preventive measure.
  • Having more behavior problems with their infant.

The breastfeeding mothers will be compared to breastfeeding mothers who do not have these factors. They will be evaluated on things like their attentiveness to their infant’s hunger cues.

How are Case Studies Reported?

After data collection, the researcher has to write a report. In general, there are four main components of a case study:

1. Introduction
2. Methodology
3. Results
4. Conclusion

The case study report should include all relevant facts about the case and related to each other. Also, the report explains what the facts mean concerning the research problem.

The report is structured around these four parts.

  1. The introduction includes a statement of the problem, research questions/hypotheses, and the overall objective of the case study.
  2. Methodology in which you explain how you collected and analyzed your data.
  3. Results in which you present the findings from your study, organized by each research question.
  4. Conclusions and recommendations. These reflect on the overall goal of your study and discuss if your questions/hypotheses were supported or refuted. They also suggest ways the study may be improved.

Examples of Case Studies

Example 1

Objective: To assess the impact of a state-wide breastfeeding promotion campaign on breastfeeding among mothers at 16 months postpartum.

Methods: A quasi-experimental design was used to study a cohort of mothers from Uttar Pradesh, India. The mothers were interviewed at six points since the birth of their child. Those in the intervention group reported receiving breastfeeding promotion through a state-wide campaign. The control group did not receive any breastfeeding promotion.

Results: The study found that women in the intervention group were more likely to exclusively breastfeed at all time points. They would go up to 16 months, and this difference was statistically significant (P=.004). Furthermore, at 16 months after birth, women in the control group were less likely to breastfeed their children exclusively.

Conclusion: The breastfeeding promotion campaign played a significant role in increasing breastfeeding rates. This simple and inexpensive intervention has great potential in improving the health status of infants and children in developing countries.

Example 2

Objective: To investigate how schools promote the food environment and the resulting changes in healthy eating status among students.

Methods: A case study using both quantitative and qualitative methods was conducted. The quantitative data consisted of food environment assessment questionnaires. The questionnaires were distributed to 758 students in 18 school clusters located in Qazvin, Iran. The qualitative data were collected through in-depth interviews with study participants.

Results: The results demonstrated that students frequently ate fast food outside the school and their knowledge and awareness about nutrition was weak. These gaps were significantly related to unhealthy eating behaviors among students.

Conclusion: The study concluded that many students are not eating healthy food during school hours. This is because there are no facilities outside the school for them to eat healthy food. All the eating places around are fast-food restaurants, so the students don’t have healthy options. The school should educate the students on proper nutrition. Also, providing healthy meals that the students love can help solve the issue.

Example 3

Objective: To understand how an older person in rehabilitation is treated within their family when they are transferred back home.

Methods: The study was conducted in Northern Ireland. Researchers selected 14 participants in total to interview in four different settings. The settings included homes and care facilities. During the interview, the participants were asked about their experiences in completing day-to-day tasks after discharge from the rehabilitation centers.

Results: The study’s results suggest that families and caregivers expect people from rehabilitation to act as they did before their illness or disability. The researcher noted that this might cause the person to feel less of themselves and possibly more frustrated.

Results also indicated that health care professionals did not consider any family member’s perspectives and circumstances before discharge. The health workers made decisions about a patient’s discharge from rehabilitation from a medical perspective only.

Conclusion: This case study research method helped us to understand that these people are being treated differently in their homes when they are transferred back.

It might be helpful to focus on directing the rehabilitation program to improve a person’s level of independence. This is as opposed to just maintaining or improving their physical and cognitive capabilities.

Also, health care professionals’ decision-making processes can be enhanced to consider the range of perspectives and circumstances of the patient’s family members.

Example 4

Objective: To examine the differences between students’ achievement levels and their approaches to learning during math classes taught in English versus Arabic.

Methods: Researchers conducted a case study inquiry that included observations and interviews. The participants were three first-grade teachers and 166 students attending public schools in Kuwait. During the interviews, the students were asked to talk about their experiences during math class.

Results: Results revealed that students from English-medium schools performed significantly better than their counterparts in Arabic-medium schools.

In addition, researchers found a difference between the two groups of students concerning learning approaches. Students in English-medium schools demonstrated more positive approaches to learning.

Compared with their counterparts, the students in English-medium schools reported more enjoyment.

Conclusion: The study concludes that this approach could provide a basis for developing and implementing an effective mathematics curriculum. Also, this study serves as evidence that students’ academic achievement can be improved simply by teaching math in English.

Example 5

Objective: To explain the changes in mental health services in an elderly care unit of a hospital.

Methods: Researchers conducted a case study inquiry by doing observations and interviews. The participants were five nurses, two care assistants, and one administrator from a hospital in Norway.

To provide a comprehensive view of the situation, the researchers conducted one-on-one interviews with each participant. During each interview, participants were asked about their experiences with mental health services in their work unit.

Results: The study revealed that the mental health services had been revised in the elderly care unit of the hospital. In addition, results indicated that the changes in mental health services on this unit resulted in an improved work environment. The changes had positively affected the unit’s ability to fulfill its tasks.

Conclusion: The researchers conclude that this case study approach has shown how changes in mental health services can improve the work environment of an elderly care unit. In addition, it has been demonstrated that changes in mental health services require a detailed analysis of the work situation.

Example 6

Objective: To find out how school-based health promotion programs could improve the knowledge and behavior among adolescents. It also assessed whether or not programs should be promoted in schools as an effective way to enhance adolescents’ health.

Methods: A quasi-experimental design was used for this case study research, which helped assess the impact of a school-based health promotion program.

During the experiment, the researchers compared the knowledge and behavior of adolescents. There were two groups of adolescents: those who participated in the health promotion program and those who did not.

Results: Results showed that the intervention effectively increased the adolescent’s knowledge and positive attitudes toward comprehensive school health programs. The intervention also significantly improved self-reported behavior among students to eat at least five pieces of fruit or vegetables daily. Those who weren’t part of the health promotion program didn’t adopt any healthy eating habits.

Conclusion: The study concluded that school-based health promotion programs improve adolescents’ knowledge and behavior. Also, school professionals need to appreciate the negative impact that hands-off treatment has on adolescents. Deliberately involving them in matters of their health will be beneficial.

Example 7

Objective: To work out the influence of the students’ motivational characteristics on their academic achievement in mathematics.

Methods: The main research questions are: What is the nature of the relationship between motivational characteristics and academic achievement in mathematics? How does this relationship vary according to variables that affect academic achievement or specific motivational characteristics?

The study used a case study design with an interpretive nature with educational psychology students as the participants. The data collection instrument was a two-part questionnaire consisting of a demographic and a motivational characteristics questionnaire.

Results: The researchers found a significant positive correlation between intrinsic goal orientation and academic achievement in mathematics. In addition, the correlation was not affected by gender, age, or field of study.

The findings suggest that intrinsic goal orientation is significantly correlated with students’ academic achievement in mathematics.

Conclusion: The results confirm the hypothesis that students’ motivational characteristics significantly affect their performance in mathematics. In addition, this effect does not depend on gender, age, or educational field. The results also suggest that intrinsic goal orientation is a predictor of students’ achievement in mathematics.

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Summary

The goal of case study research is to understand a phenomenon and its context better. This type of research does not randomly assign units. It collects detailed information on a specific group, event, issue, or phenomenon. A case study often begins with a research question and investigates the problem by gathering data from multiple sources.

Participants are typically individuals and can include firsthand knowledge of the topic. Case studies give researchers the chance to learn about a particular behavior or event by analyzing information in depth.

Results are descriptive rather than experimental, so case studies do not test hypotheses or establish cause and effect.

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