The case study method is another common qualitative research technique.
A case study uses as many data sources as possible to systematically
investigate individuals, groups, organizations, or events.
Case studies are conducted when a researcher needs to understand or explain a phenomenon. They are frequently used in anthropology, psychology, management science, and history. Sigmund Freud wrote case studies of his patients; economists wrote case studies of the cable TV industry for the FCC; and the list goes on and on.
Yin (2003) defines a case study as an empirical inquiry that uses multiple sources of evidence to investigate a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context.
Case study research includes both single cases and multiple cases. Comparative case study research, frequently used in political science, is an example of the multiple case study technique.
Merriam (1988) lists four essential characteristics of case study research:
1. Particularistic. This means that the case study focuses on a particular situation, event, program, or phenomenon, making it a good method for studying practical, real-life problems.
2. Descriptive. The final product of a case study is a detailed description of the topic under study.
3. Heuristic. A case study helps people to understand what's being studied. New interpretations, new perspectives, new meaning, and fresh insights are all goals of a case study.
4. Inductive. Most case studies depend on inductive reasoning. Principles and generalizations emerge from an examination of the data. Many case studies attempt to discover new relationships rather than verify existing hypotheses.
Advantages of Case Studies
1. The case study method is most valuable when the researcher wants to obtain a wealth of information about the research topic.
2. Case studies provide tremendous detail.
3. The case study is particularly advantageous to the researcher who is trying to find clues and ideas for further research (Simon, 1985).
4. The method can also be used to gather descriptive and explanatory data.
5. Case studies should be used in combination with theory to achieve maximum understanding.
6. The case study method also affords the researcher the ability to deal with a wide spectrum of evidence. Documents, historical artifacts, systematic interviews, direct observations, and even traditional surveys can all be incorporated into a case study.
Data Collection and Storage
If you are storing data on your computer, make sure you save a copy to a second internal hard drive or to some external source such as an external hard drive, a USB drive, or a network attached storage device.
Disadvantages of Case Studies
There are three main criticisms of case studies.
Ø The first has to do with a general lack of scientific rigor in many case studies. It is easy to do a sloppy case study; rigorous case studies require a good deal of time and effort.
Ø The second criticism is that the case study is not amenable(agreeable) to generalization. If the main goal of the researcher is to make statistically based normative statements about the frequency of occurrence of a phenomenon in a defined population, some other method may be more appropriate.
Ø Finally, like participant observation, case studies are often time consuming and may occasionally produce massive quantities of data that are hard to summarize.
Ø Consequently, fellow researchers are forced to wait years for the results of the research, which too often are poorly presented.
Conducting a Case Study
There appear to be five distinct stages in carrying out a case study: design, pilot study, data collection, data analysis, and report writing.
Design. The first concern in case study design is what to ask. The case study is most appropriate for questions that begin with "how" or "why." A research question that is clear and precise focuses the remainder of the efforts in a case study.
A second design concern is what to analyze. What constitutes a "case"? In many instances, a case is an individual, several individuals, or an event or events. If information is gathered about each relevant individual, the results are reported in the single or multiple case study format; in other instances, however, the precise boundaries of the case are harder to pinpoint.
Pilot Study. A good case study protocol contains the procedures necessary for gaining access to a particular person or organization and the methods for accessing records. It also contains the schedule for data collection and addresses logistical problems. If interviews are to be used in the case study, the protocol should specify the questions to be asked. Once the protocol has been developed, the researcher is ready to begin the pilot study.
A pilot study is used to refine both the research design and the field procedures. The pilot study also allows the researchers to try different data-gathering approaches and to observe different activities from several trial perspectives. The results of the pilot study are used to revise and polish the study protocol.
Data Collection. At least four sources of data can be used in case studies.
Ø Documents, which represent a rich data source, may take the form of letters, memos, minutes, agendas, historical records, brochures, pamphlets, posters, and so on.
Ø A second source is the interview. Some case studies make use of survey research methods and ask respondents to fill out questionnaires; others may use intensive interviewing.
Ø Observation/participation is the third data collection technique.
Ø The fourth source of evidence used in case studies is the physical artifact—a tool, a piece of furniture, or even a computer printout.
Ø Most case study researchers recommend using multiple sources of data, thus permitting triangulation of the phenomenon under study (Rubin, 1984). an examination of the case study method found that the ones that used multiple sources of evidence were rated as more convincing than those that relied on a single source (Yin, Bateman, & Moore, 1983).
Data Analysis. There are no specific formulas or "cookbook" techniques to guide the researcher in analyzing the data. Consequently, this stage is probably the most difficult in the case study method. Although it is impossible to generalize to all case study situations.
Report Writing. The case study report can take several forms. The report can follow the traditional research study format—problem, methods, findings, and discussion—or it can use a nontraditional technique. A case study report for policy makers is written in a style different from one to be published in a scholarly journal.
Examples of Case Studies
His case study involved personal interviews with the staff, direct observation, and examination of archival materials. interviews, and content analysis to conclude that the meaning of "local" news was hard to distinguish.A traditional case study, however, may have an online component as one or more of its data sources. A researcher might be able to analyze the content of email, blogs, or other online documents as part of a traditional case study.