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  • What Is a Case Study? | Definition, Examples & Methods

What Is a Case Study? | Definition, Examples & Methods

Published on May 8, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on November 20, 2023.

A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject, such as a person, group, place, event, organization, or phenomenon. Case studies are commonly used in social, educational, clinical, and business research.

A case study research design usually involves qualitative methods , but quantitative methods are sometimes also used. Case studies are good for describing , comparing, evaluating and understanding different aspects of a research problem .

Table of contents

When to do a case study, step 1: select a case, step 2: build a theoretical framework, step 3: collect your data, step 4: describe and analyze the case, other interesting articles.

A case study is an appropriate research design when you want to gain concrete, contextual, in-depth knowledge about a specific real-world subject. It allows you to explore the key characteristics, meanings, and implications of the case.

Case studies are often a good choice in a thesis or dissertation . They keep your project focused and manageable when you don’t have the time or resources to do large-scale research.

You might use just one complex case study where you explore a single subject in depth, or conduct multiple case studies to compare and illuminate different aspects of your research problem.

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Once you have developed your problem statement and research questions , you should be ready to choose the specific case that you want to focus on. A good case study should have the potential to:

  • Provide new or unexpected insights into the subject
  • Challenge or complicate existing assumptions and theories
  • Propose practical courses of action to resolve a problem
  • Open up new directions for future research

TipIf your research is more practical in nature and aims to simultaneously investigate an issue as you solve it, consider conducting action research instead.

Unlike quantitative or experimental research , a strong case study does not require a random or representative sample. In fact, case studies often deliberately focus on unusual, neglected, or outlying cases which may shed new light on the research problem.

Example of an outlying case studyIn the 1960s the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania was discovered to have extremely low rates of heart disease compared to the US average. It became an important case study for understanding previously neglected causes of heart disease.

However, you can also choose a more common or representative case to exemplify a particular category, experience or phenomenon.

Example of a representative case studyIn the 1920s, two sociologists used Muncie, Indiana as a case study of a typical American city that supposedly exemplified the changing culture of the US at the time.

While case studies focus more on concrete details than general theories, they should usually have some connection with theory in the field. This way the case study is not just an isolated description, but is integrated into existing knowledge about the topic. It might aim to:

  • Exemplify a theory by showing how it explains the case under investigation
  • Expand on a theory by uncovering new concepts and ideas that need to be incorporated
  • Challenge a theory by exploring an outlier case that doesn’t fit with established assumptions

To ensure that your analysis of the case has a solid academic grounding, you should conduct a literature review of sources related to the topic and develop a theoretical framework . This means identifying key concepts and theories to guide your analysis and interpretation.

There are many different research methods you can use to collect data on your subject. Case studies tend to focus on qualitative data using methods such as interviews , observations , and analysis of primary and secondary sources (e.g., newspaper articles, photographs, official records). Sometimes a case study will also collect quantitative data.

Example of a mixed methods case studyFor a case study of a wind farm development in a rural area, you could collect quantitative data on employment rates and business revenue, collect qualitative data on local people’s perceptions and experiences, and analyze local and national media coverage of the development.

The aim is to gain as thorough an understanding as possible of the case and its context.

In writing up the case study, you need to bring together all the relevant aspects to give as complete a picture as possible of the subject.

How you report your findings depends on the type of research you are doing. Some case studies are structured like a standard scientific paper or thesis , with separate sections or chapters for the methods , results and discussion .

Others are written in a more narrative style, aiming to explore the case from various angles and analyze its meanings and implications (for example, by using textual analysis or discourse analysis ).

In all cases, though, make sure to give contextual details about the case, connect it back to the literature and theory, and discuss how it fits into wider patterns or debates.

If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Normal distribution
  • Degrees of freedom
  • Null hypothesis
  • Discourse analysis
  • Control groups
  • Mixed methods research
  • Non-probability sampling
  • Quantitative research
  • Ecological validity

Research bias

  • Rosenthal effect
  • Implicit bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Selection bias
  • Negativity bias
  • Status quo bias

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What Is a Case Study?

Weighing the pros and cons of this method of research

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

case study definition by different authors

Cara Lustik is a fact-checker and copywriter.

case study definition by different authors

Verywell / Colleen Tighe

  • Pros and Cons

What Types of Case Studies Are Out There?

Where do you find data for a case study, how do i write a psychology case study.

A case study is an in-depth study of one person, group, or event. In a case study, nearly every aspect of the subject's life and history is analyzed to seek patterns and causes of behavior. Case studies can be used in many different fields, including psychology, medicine, education, anthropology, political science, and social work.

The point of a case study is to learn as much as possible about an individual or group so that the information can be generalized to many others. Unfortunately, case studies tend to be highly subjective, and it is sometimes difficult to generalize results to a larger population.

While case studies focus on a single individual or group, they follow a format similar to other types of psychology writing. If you are writing a case study, we got you—here are some rules of APA format to reference.  

At a Glance

A case study, or an in-depth study of a person, group, or event, can be a useful research tool when used wisely. In many cases, case studies are best used in situations where it would be difficult or impossible for you to conduct an experiment. They are helpful for looking at unique situations and allow researchers to gather a lot of˜ information about a specific individual or group of people. However, it's important to be cautious of any bias we draw from them as they are highly subjective.

What Are the Benefits and Limitations of Case Studies?

A case study can have its strengths and weaknesses. Researchers must consider these pros and cons before deciding if this type of study is appropriate for their needs.

One of the greatest advantages of a case study is that it allows researchers to investigate things that are often difficult or impossible to replicate in a lab. Some other benefits of a case study:

  • Allows researchers to capture information on the 'how,' 'what,' and 'why,' of something that's implemented
  • Gives researchers the chance to collect information on why one strategy might be chosen over another
  • Permits researchers to develop hypotheses that can be explored in experimental research

On the other hand, a case study can have some drawbacks:

  • It cannot necessarily be generalized to the larger population
  • Cannot demonstrate cause and effect
  • It may not be scientifically rigorous
  • It can lead to bias

Researchers may choose to perform a case study if they want to explore a unique or recently discovered phenomenon. Through their insights, researchers develop additional ideas and study questions that might be explored in future studies.

It's important to remember that the insights from case studies cannot be used to determine cause-and-effect relationships between variables. However, case studies may be used to develop hypotheses that can then be addressed in experimental research.

Case Study Examples

There have been a number of notable case studies in the history of psychology. Much of  Freud's work and theories were developed through individual case studies. Some great examples of case studies in psychology include:

  • Anna O : Anna O. was a pseudonym of a woman named Bertha Pappenheim, a patient of a physician named Josef Breuer. While she was never a patient of Freud's, Freud and Breuer discussed her case extensively. The woman was experiencing symptoms of a condition that was then known as hysteria and found that talking about her problems helped relieve her symptoms. Her case played an important part in the development of talk therapy as an approach to mental health treatment.
  • Phineas Gage : Phineas Gage was a railroad employee who experienced a terrible accident in which an explosion sent a metal rod through his skull, damaging important portions of his brain. Gage recovered from his accident but was left with serious changes in both personality and behavior.
  • Genie : Genie was a young girl subjected to horrific abuse and isolation. The case study of Genie allowed researchers to study whether language learning was possible, even after missing critical periods for language development. Her case also served as an example of how scientific research may interfere with treatment and lead to further abuse of vulnerable individuals.

Such cases demonstrate how case research can be used to study things that researchers could not replicate in experimental settings. In Genie's case, her horrific abuse denied her the opportunity to learn a language at critical points in her development.

This is clearly not something researchers could ethically replicate, but conducting a case study on Genie allowed researchers to study phenomena that are otherwise impossible to reproduce.

There are a few different types of case studies that psychologists and other researchers might use:

  • Collective case studies : These involve studying a group of individuals. Researchers might study a group of people in a certain setting or look at an entire community. For example, psychologists might explore how access to resources in a community has affected the collective mental well-being of those who live there.
  • Descriptive case studies : These involve starting with a descriptive theory. The subjects are then observed, and the information gathered is compared to the pre-existing theory.
  • Explanatory case studies : These   are often used to do causal investigations. In other words, researchers are interested in looking at factors that may have caused certain things to occur.
  • Exploratory case studies : These are sometimes used as a prelude to further, more in-depth research. This allows researchers to gather more information before developing their research questions and hypotheses .
  • Instrumental case studies : These occur when the individual or group allows researchers to understand more than what is initially obvious to observers.
  • Intrinsic case studies : This type of case study is when the researcher has a personal interest in the case. Jean Piaget's observations of his own children are good examples of how an intrinsic case study can contribute to the development of a psychological theory.

The three main case study types often used are intrinsic, instrumental, and collective. Intrinsic case studies are useful for learning about unique cases. Instrumental case studies help look at an individual to learn more about a broader issue. A collective case study can be useful for looking at several cases simultaneously.

The type of case study that psychology researchers use depends on the unique characteristics of the situation and the case itself.

There are a number of different sources and methods that researchers can use to gather information about an individual or group. Six major sources that have been identified by researchers are:

  • Archival records : Census records, survey records, and name lists are examples of archival records.
  • Direct observation : This strategy involves observing the subject, often in a natural setting . While an individual observer is sometimes used, it is more common to utilize a group of observers.
  • Documents : Letters, newspaper articles, administrative records, etc., are the types of documents often used as sources.
  • Interviews : Interviews are one of the most important methods for gathering information in case studies. An interview can involve structured survey questions or more open-ended questions.
  • Participant observation : When the researcher serves as a participant in events and observes the actions and outcomes, it is called participant observation.
  • Physical artifacts : Tools, objects, instruments, and other artifacts are often observed during a direct observation of the subject.

If you have been directed to write a case study for a psychology course, be sure to check with your instructor for any specific guidelines you need to follow. If you are writing your case study for a professional publication, check with the publisher for their specific guidelines for submitting a case study.

Here is a general outline of what should be included in a case study.

Section 1: A Case History

This section will have the following structure and content:

Background information : The first section of your paper will present your client's background. Include factors such as age, gender, work, health status, family mental health history, family and social relationships, drug and alcohol history, life difficulties, goals, and coping skills and weaknesses.

Description of the presenting problem : In the next section of your case study, you will describe the problem or symptoms that the client presented with.

Describe any physical, emotional, or sensory symptoms reported by the client. Thoughts, feelings, and perceptions related to the symptoms should also be noted. Any screening or diagnostic assessments that are used should also be described in detail and all scores reported.

Your diagnosis : Provide your diagnosis and give the appropriate Diagnostic and Statistical Manual code. Explain how you reached your diagnosis, how the client's symptoms fit the diagnostic criteria for the disorder(s), or any possible difficulties in reaching a diagnosis.

Section 2: Treatment Plan

This portion of the paper will address the chosen treatment for the condition. This might also include the theoretical basis for the chosen treatment or any other evidence that might exist to support why this approach was chosen.

  • Cognitive behavioral approach : Explain how a cognitive behavioral therapist would approach treatment. Offer background information on cognitive behavioral therapy and describe the treatment sessions, client response, and outcome of this type of treatment. Make note of any difficulties or successes encountered by your client during treatment.
  • Humanistic approach : Describe a humanistic approach that could be used to treat your client, such as client-centered therapy . Provide information on the type of treatment you chose, the client's reaction to the treatment, and the end result of this approach. Explain why the treatment was successful or unsuccessful.
  • Psychoanalytic approach : Describe how a psychoanalytic therapist would view the client's problem. Provide some background on the psychoanalytic approach and cite relevant references. Explain how psychoanalytic therapy would be used to treat the client, how the client would respond to therapy, and the effectiveness of this treatment approach.
  • Pharmacological approach : If treatment primarily involves the use of medications, explain which medications were used and why. Provide background on the effectiveness of these medications and how monotherapy may compare with an approach that combines medications with therapy or other treatments.

This section of a case study should also include information about the treatment goals, process, and outcomes.

When you are writing a case study, you should also include a section where you discuss the case study itself, including the strengths and limitiations of the study. You should note how the findings of your case study might support previous research. 

In your discussion section, you should also describe some of the implications of your case study. What ideas or findings might require further exploration? How might researchers go about exploring some of these questions in additional studies?

Need More Tips?

Here are a few additional pointers to keep in mind when formatting your case study:

  • Never refer to the subject of your case study as "the client." Instead, use their name or a pseudonym.
  • Read examples of case studies to gain an idea about the style and format.
  • Remember to use APA format when citing references .

Crowe S, Cresswell K, Robertson A, Huby G, Avery A, Sheikh A. The case study approach .  BMC Med Res Methodol . 2011;11:100.

Crowe S, Cresswell K, Robertson A, Huby G, Avery A, Sheikh A. The case study approach . BMC Med Res Methodol . 2011 Jun 27;11:100. doi:10.1186/1471-2288-11-100

Gagnon, Yves-Chantal.  The Case Study as Research Method: A Practical Handbook . Canada, Chicago Review Press Incorporated DBA Independent Pub Group, 2010.

Yin, Robert K. Case Study Research and Applications: Design and Methods . United States, SAGE Publications, 2017.

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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Encyclopedia of Case Study Research

  • Edited by: Albert J. Mills , Gabrielle Durepos & Elden Wiebe
  • Publisher: SAGE Publications, Inc.
  • Publication year: 2010
  • Online pub date: December 27, 2012
  • Discipline: Anthropology
  • Methods: Case study research
  • DOI: https:// doi. org/10.4135/9781412957397
  • Print ISBN: 9781412956703
  • Online ISBN: 9781412957397
  • Buy the book icon link

Reader's guide

Entries a-z, subject index.

Case study research has a long history within the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, dating back to the early 1920's. At first it was a useful way for researchers to make valid inferences from events outside the laboratory in ways consistent with the rigorous practices of investigation inside the lab. Over time, case study approaches garnered interest in multiple disciplines as scholars studied phenomena in context. Despite widespread use, case study research has received little attention among the literature on research strategies.

The Encyclopedia of Case Study Research provides a compendium on the important methodological issues in conducting case study research and explores both the strengths and weaknesses of different paradigmatic approaches. These two volumes focus on the distinctive characteristics of case study research and its place within and alongside other research methodologies.

Key Features

Presents a definition of case study research that can be used in different fields of study; Describes case study as a research strategy rather than as a single tool for decision making and inquiry; Guides rather than dictates, readers understanding and applications of case study research; Includes a critical summary in each entry, which raises additional matters for reflection; Makes case study relevant to researchers at various stages of their careers, across philosophic divides, and throughout diverse disciplines

Academic Disciplines; Case Study Research Design; Conceptual Issues; Data Analysis; Data Collection; Methodological Approaches; Theoretical Traditions; Theory Development and Contributions

From Case Study Research

Types of Case Study Research

Front Matter

  • Editorial Board
  • List of Entries
  • Reader's Guide
  • About the Editors
  • Contributors
  • Introduction

Reader’s Guide

Back matter.

  • Selected Bibliography: Case Study Publications by Contributing Authors
  • Case Study Research in Anthropology
  • Before-and-After Case Study Design
  • Action-Based Data Collection
  • Activity Theory
  • Case Study and Theoretical Science
  • Analytic Generalization
  • ANTi-History
  • Case Study Research in Business and Management
  • Blended Research Design
  • Bayesian Inference and Boolean Logic
  • Analysis of Visual Data
  • Actor-Network Theory
  • Chicago School
  • Case Study as a Teaching Tool
  • Case Study Research in Business Ethics
  • Bounding the Case
  • Authenticity and Bad Faith
  • Anonymity and Confidentiality
  • Colonialism
  • Authenticity
  • Case Study in Creativity Research
  • Case Study Research in Education
  • Case Selection
  • Author Intentionality
  • Case-to-Case Synthesis
  • Anonymizing Data for Secondary Use
  • Autoethnography
  • Constructivism
  • Concatenated Theory
  • Case Study Research in Tourism
  • Case Study Research in Feminism
  • Causal Case Study: Explanatory Theories
  • Archival Records as Evidence
  • Base and Superstructure
  • Critical Realism
  • Conceptual Argument
  • Case Study With the Elderly
  • Case Study Research in Medicine
  • Case Within a Case
  • Contentious Issues in Case Study Research
  • Chronological Order
  • Audiovisual Recording
  • Case Study as a Methodological Approach
  • Critical Theory
  • Conceptual Model: Causal Model
  • Collective Case Study
  • Case Study Research in Political Science
  • Comparative Case Study
  • Cultural Sensitivity and Case Study
  • Coding: Axial Coding
  • Autobiography
  • Dialectical Materialism
  • Conceptual Model: Operationalization
  • Configurative-Ideographic Case Study
  • Case Study Research in Psychology
  • Critical Incident Case Study
  • Dissertation Proposal
  • Coding: Open Coding
  • Case Study Database
  • Class Analysis
  • Epistemology
  • Conceptual Model in a Qualitative Research Project
  • Critical Pedagogy and Digital Technology
  • Case Study Research in Public Policy
  • Cross-Sectional Design
  • Ecological Perspectives
  • Coding: Selective Coding
  • Case Study Protocol
  • Existentialism
  • Conceptual Model in a Quantitative Research Project
  • Diagnostic Case Study Research
  • Decision Making Under Uncertainty
  • Cognitive Biases
  • Case Study Surveys
  • Codifying Social Practices
  • Contribution, Theoretical
  • Explanatory Case Study
  • Deductive-Nomological Model of Explanation
  • Masculinity and Femininity
  • Cognitive Mapping
  • Consent, Obtaining Participant
  • Communicative Action
  • Formative Context
  • Credibility
  • Exploratory Case Study
  • Deviant Case Analysis
  • Objectivism
  • Communicative Framing Analysis
  • Contextualization
  • Community of Practice
  • Frame Analysis
  • Docile Bodies
  • Inductivism
  • Discursive Frame
  • Comparing the Case Study With Other Methodologies
  • Historical Materialism
  • Equifinality
  • Institutional Ethnography
  • Healthcare Practice Guidelines
  • Computer-Based Analysis of Qualitative Data: ATLAS.ti
  • Consciousness Raising
  • Interpretivism
  • Instrumental Case Study
  • Pedagogy and Case Study
  • Pluralism and Case Study
  • Computer-Based Analysis of Qualitative Data: CAITA (Computer-Assisted Interpretive Textual Analysis)
  • Data Resources
  • Contradiction
  • Liberal Feminism
  • Explanation Building
  • Intercultural Performance
  • Event-Driven Research
  • Computer-Based Analysis of Qualitative Data: Kwalitan
  • Depth of Data
  • Critical Discourse Analysis
  • Managerialism
  • Extension of Theory
  • Intrinsic Case Study
  • Exemplary Case Design
  • Power/Knowledge
  • Computer-Based Analysis of Qualitative Data: MAXQDA 2007
  • Diaries and Journals
  • Critical Sensemaking
  • Falsification
  • Limited-Depth Case Study
  • Extended Case Method
  • Computer-Based Analysis of Qualitative Data: NVIVO
  • Direct Observation as Evidence
  • North American Case Research Association
  • Functionalism
  • Multimedia Case Studies
  • Extreme Cases
  • Researcher as Research Tool
  • Concept Mapping
  • Discourse Analysis
  • Decentering Texts
  • Generalizability
  • Participatory Action Research
  • Congruence Analysis
  • Documentation as Evidence
  • Deconstruction
  • Paradigm Plurality in Case Study Research
  • Genericization
  • Participatory Case Study
  • Holistic Designs
  • Utilitarianism
  • Constant Causal Effects Assumption
  • Ethnostatistics
  • Dialogic Inquiry
  • Philosophy of Science
  • Indeterminacy
  • Content Analysis
  • Fiction Analysis
  • Discourse Ethics
  • Indexicality
  • Pracademics
  • Integrating Independent Case Studies
  • Conversation Analysis
  • Field Notes
  • Double Hermeneutic
  • Postcolonialism
  • Processual Case Research
  • Cross-Case Synthesis and Analysis
  • Postmodernism
  • Macrolevel Social Mechanisms
  • Program Evaluation and Case Study
  • Longitudinal Research
  • Going Native
  • Ethnographic Memoir
  • Postpositivism
  • Middle-Range Theory
  • Program-Logic Model
  • Mental Framework
  • Document Analysis
  • Informant Bias
  • Ethnography
  • Poststructuralism
  • Naturalistic Generalization
  • Prospective Case Study
  • Mixed Methods in Case Study Research
  • Factor Analysis
  • Ethnomethodology
  • Poststructuralist Feminism
  • Overdetermination
  • Real-Time Cases
  • Most Different Systems Design
  • Eurocentrism
  • Radical Empiricism
  • Plausibility
  • Retrospective Case Study
  • High-Quality Analysis
  • Iterative Nodes
  • Radical Feminism
  • Probabilistic Explanation
  • Re-Use of Qualitative Data
  • Multiple-Case Designs
  • Language and Cultural Barriers
  • Process Tracing
  • Single-Case Designs
  • Multi-Site Case Study
  • Interactive Methodology, Feminist
  • Multiple Sources of Evidence
  • Scientific Method
  • Spiral Case Study
  • Naturalistic Inquiry
  • Interpreting Results
  • Narrative Analysis
  • Front Stage and Back Stage
  • Scientific Realism
  • Reporting Case Study Research
  • Storyselling
  • Natural Science Model
  • Socialist Feminism
  • Rhetoric in Research Reporting
  • Number of Cases
  • Naturalistic Context
  • Symbolic Interactionism
  • Statistical Generalization
  • Outcome-Driven Research
  • Knowledge Production
  • Nonparticipant Observation
  • Governmentality
  • Substantive Theory
  • Paradigmatic Cases
  • Method of Agreement
  • Objectivity
  • Grounded Theory
  • Theory-Building With Cases
  • Method of Difference
  • Over-Rapport
  • Hermeneutics
  • Theory-Testing With Cases
  • Multicollinearity
  • Participant Observation
  • Underdetermination
  • Multidimensional Scaling
  • Imperialism
  • Polar Types
  • Institutional Theory, Old and New
  • Problem Formulation
  • Pattern Matching
  • Personality Tests
  • Intertextuality
  • Quantitative Single-Case Research Design
  • Re-Analysis of Previous Data
  • Isomorphism
  • Quasi-Experimental Design
  • Regulating Group Mind
  • Questionnaires
  • Langue and Parôle
  • Quick Start to Case Study Research
  • Relational Analysis
  • Reflexivity
  • Layered Nature of Texts
  • Random Assignment
  • Replication
  • Life History
  • Research Framework
  • Reliability
  • Logocentrism
  • Research Objectives
  • Rival Explanations
  • Repeated Observations
  • Management of Impressions
  • Research Proposals
  • Secondary Data as Primary
  • Researcher-Participant Relationship
  • Means of Production
  • Research Questions, Types of Retrospective Case Study
  • Serendipity Pattern
  • Situational Analysis
  • Sensitizing Concepts
  • Modes of Production
  • Standpoint Analysis
  • Subjectivism
  • Multimethod Research Program
  • Socially Distributed Knowledge
  • Statistical Analysis
  • Subject Rights
  • Multiple Selfing
  • Theoretical Saturation
  • Native Points of View
  • Statistics, Use of in Case Study
  • Temporal Bracketing
  • Triangulation
  • Negotiated Order
  • Textual Analysis
  • Use of Digital Data
  • Network Analysis
  • Thematic Analysis
  • Utilization
  • One-Dimensional Culture
  • Visual Research Methods
  • Ordinary Troubles
  • Theory, Role of
  • Organizational Culture
  • Webs of Significance
  • Within-Case Analysis
  • Performativity
  • Phenomenology
  • Practice-Oriented Research
  • Primitivism
  • Qualitative Analysis in Case Study
  • Qualitative Comparative Analysis
  • Self-Confrontation Method
  • Self-Presentation
  • Sensemaking
  • Signifier and Signified
  • Sign System
  • Social-Interaction Theory
  • Storytelling
  • Structuration
  • Symbolic Value
  • Symbolic Violence
  • Thick Description
  • Writing and Difference

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  • Fam Med Community Health
  • v.7(2); 2019

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Fundamentals of case study research in family medicine and community health

Sergi fàbregues.

1 Department of Psychology and Education, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain

Michael D Fetters

2 Department of Family Medicine, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA

The aim of this article is to introduce family medicine researchers to case study research, a rigorous research methodology commonly used in the social and health sciences and only distantly related to clinical case reports. The article begins with an overview of case study in the social and health sciences, including its definition, potential applications, historical background and core features. This is followed by a 10-step description of the process of conducting a case study project illustrated using a case study conducted about a teaching programme executed to teach international family medicine resident learners sensitive examination skills. Steps for conducting a case study include (1) conducting a literature review; (2) formulating the research questions; (3) ensuring that a case study is appropriate; (4) determining the type of case study design; (5) defining boundaries of the case(s) and selecting the case(s); (6) preparing for data collection; (7) collecting and organising the data; (8) analysing the data; (9) writing the case study report; and (10) appraising the quality. Case study research is a highly flexible and powerful research tool available to family medicine researchers for a variety of applications.

Significance statement

Given their potential for answering ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions about complex issues in their natural setting, case study designs are being increasingly used in the health sciences. Conducting a case study can, however, be a complex task because of the possibility of combining multiple methods and the need to choose between different types of case study designs. In order to introduce family medicine and community health researchers to the fundamentals of case study research, this article reviews its definition, potential applications, historical background and main characteristics. It follows on with a practical, step-by-step description of the case study process that will be useful to researchers interested in implementing this research design in their own practice.


This article provides family medicine and community health researchers a concise resource to conduct case study research. The article opens with an overview of case study in the social and health sciences, including its definition, potential applications, historical background and core features. This is followed by a 10-step description of the process of conducting a case study project, as described in the literature. These steps are illustrated using a case study about a teaching programme executed to teach international medical learners sensitive examination skills. The article ends with recommendations of useful articles and textbooks on case study research.

Origins of case study research

Case study is a research design that involves an intensive and holistic examination of a contemporary phenomenon in a real-life setting. 1–3 It uses a variety of methods and multiple data sources to explore, describe or explain a single case bounded in time and place (ie, an event, individual, group, organisation or programme). A distinctive feature of case study is its focus on the particular characteristics of the case being studied and the contextual aspects, relationships and processes influencing it. 4 Here we do not include clinical case reports as these are beyond the scope of this article. While distantly related to clinical case reports commonly used to report unusual clinical case presentations or findings, case study is a research approach that is frequently used in the social sciences and health sciences. In contrast to other research designs, such as surveys or experiments, a key strength of case study is that it allows the researcher to adopt a holistic approach—rather than an isolated approach—to the study of social phenomena. As argued by Yin, 3 case studies are particularly suitable for answering ‘how’ research questions (ie, how a treatment was received) as well as ‘why’ research questions (ie, why the treatment produced the observed outcomes).

Given its potential for understanding complex processes as they occur in their natural setting, case study increasingly is used in a wide range of health-related disciplines and fields, including medicine, 5 nursing, 6 health services research 1 and health communication. 7 With regard to clinical practice and research, a number of authors 1 5 8 have highlighted how insights gained from case study designs can be used to describe patients’ experiences regarding care, explore health professionals’ perceptions regarding a policy change, and understand why medical treatments and complex interventions succeed or fail.

In anthropology and sociology, case study as a research design was introduced as a response to the prevailing view of quantitative research as the primary way of undertaking research. 9 From its beginnings, social scientists saw case study as a method to obtain comprehensive accounts of social phenomena from participants. In addition, it could complement the findings of survey research. Between the 1920s and 1960s, case study became the predominant research approach among the members of the Department of Sociology of the University of Chicago, widely known as ‘The Chicago School’. 10 11 During this period, prominent sociologists, such as Florian Znaniecki, William Thomas, Everett C Hughes and Howard S Becker, undertook a series of innovative case studies (including classical works such as The Polish peasant in Europe and America or Boys in White ), which laid the foundations of case study designs as implemented today.

In the 1970s, case study increasingly was adopted in the USA and UK in applied disciplines and fields, such as education, programme evaluation and public policy research. 12 As a response to the limitations of quasi-experimental designs for undertaking comprehensive programme evaluations, researchers in these disciplines saw in case studies—either alone or in combination with experimental designs—an opportunity to gain additional insights into the outcomes of programme implementation. In the mid-1980s and early 1990s, the case study approach became recognised as having its own ‘logic of design’ (p46). 13 This period coincides with the publication of a considerable number of influential articles 14–16 and textbooks 4 17 18 on case study research.

These publications were instrumental in shaping contemporary case study practice, yet they reflected divergent views about the nature of case study, including how it should be defined, designed and implemented (see Yazan 19 for a comparison of the perspectives of Yin, Merriam and Stake, three leading case study methodologists). What these publications have in common is that case study revolves around four key features.

First, case study examines a specific phenomenon in detail by performing an indepth and intensive analysis of the selected case. The rationale for case study designs, rather than more expansive designs such as surveys, is that the researcher is interested in investigating the particularity of a case, that is, the unique attributes that define an event, individual, group, organisation or programme. 2 Second, case study is conducted in natural settings where people meet, interact and change their perceptions over time. The use of the case study design is a choice in favour of ‘maintaining the naturalness of the research situation and the natural course of events’ (p177). 20

Third, case study assumes that a case under investigation is entangled with the context in which it is embedded. This context entails a number of interconnected processes that cannot be disassociated from the case, but rather are part of the study. The case study researcher is interested in understanding how and why such processes take place and, consequently, uncovering the interactions between a case and its context. Research questions concerning how and why phenomena occur are particularly appropriate in case study research. 3

Fourth, case study encourages the researcher to use a variety of methods and data types in a single study. 20 21 These can be solely qualitative, solely quantitative or a mixture of both. The latter option allows the researcher to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the case and improve the accuracy of the findings. The four above-mentioned key features of case study are shown in table 1 , using the example of a mixed methods case study evaluation. 22

Key features of case study as presented by Shultz et al 22

There are many potential applications for case study research. While often misconstrued as having only an exploratory role, case study research can be used for descriptive and explanatory research (p7–9). 3 Family medicine and community health researchers can use case study research for evaluating a variety of educational programmes, clinical programmes or community programmes.

Case study illustration from family medicine

In the featured study, Japanese family medicine residents received standardised patient instructor-based training in female breast, pelvic, male genital and prostate examinations as part of an international training collaboration to launch a new family medicine residency programme. 22 From family medicine residents, trainers and staff, the authors collected and analysed data from post-training feedback, semistructured interviews and a web-based questionnaire. While the programme was perceived favourably, they noted barriers to reinforcement in their home training programme, and taboos regarding gender-specific healthcare appear as barriers to implementing a similar programme in the home institution.

A step-by-step description of the process of carrying out a case study

As shown in table 2 and illustrated using the article by Shultz et al , 22 case study research generally includes 10 steps. While commonly conducted in this order, the steps do not always occur linearly as data collection and analysis may occur over several iterations or implemented with a slightly different order.

Ten steps for conducting a case study

SPI, standardised patient instructor.

Step 1. Conduct a literature review

During the literature review, researchers systematically search for publications, select those most relevant to the study’s purpose, critically appraise them and summarise the major themes. The literature review helps researchers ascertain what is and is not known about the phenomenon under study, delineate the scope and research questions of the study, and develop an academic or practical justification for the study. 23

Step 2. Formulate the research questions

Research questions critically define in operational terms what will be researched and how. They focus the study and play a key role in guiding design decisions. Key decisions include the case selection and choice of a case study design most suitable for the study. According to Fraenkel et al , 24 the key attributes of good research questions are (1) feasibility, (2) clarity, (3) significance, (4) connection to previous research identified in the literature and (5) compliance with ethical research standards.

Step 3. Ensure that a case study is appropriate

Before commencing the study, researchers should ensure that case study design embodies the most appropriate strategy for answering the study questions. The above-noted four key features—in depth examination of phenomena, naturalness, a focus on context and the use of a combination of methods—should be reflected in the research questions as well as subsequent design decisions.

Step 4. Determine the type of case study design

Researchers need to choose a specific case study design. Sometimes, researchers may define the case first (step 5), for example, in a programme evaluation, and the case may need to be defined before determining the type. Yin’s 3 typology is based on two dimensions, whether the study will examine a single case or multiple cases, and whether the study will focus on a single or multiple units of analysis. Figure 1 illustrates these four types of design using a hypothetical example of a programme evaluation. Table 3 shows an example of each type from the literature.

Examples of published studies using the four types of case study designs suggested by Yin 3

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Types of case study designs. 3 21

In type 1 holistic single case design , researchers examine a single programme as the sole unit of analysis. In type 2 embedded single case design , the interest is not exclusively in the programme, but also in its different subunits, including sites, staff and participants. These subunits constitute the range of units of analysis. In type 3 holistic multiple case design , researchers conduct a within and cross-case comparison of two or more programmes, each of which constitutes a single unit of analysis. A major strength of multiple case designs is that they enable researchers to develop an in depth description of each case and to identify patterns of variation and similarity between the cases. Multiple case designs are likely to have stronger internal validity and generate more insightful findings than single case designs. They do this by allowing ‘examination of processes and outcomes across many cases, identification of how individual cases might be affected by different environments, and the specific conditions under which a finding may occur’ (p583). 25 In type 4 embedded multiple case design , a variant of the holistic multiple case design, researchers perform a detailed examination of the subunits of each programme, rather than just examining each case as a whole.

Step 5. Define the boundaries of the case(s) and select the case(s)

Miles et al 26 define a case as ‘a phenomenon of some sort occurring in a bounded context’ (p28). What is and is not the case and how the case fits within its broader context should be explicitly defined. As noted in step 4, this step may occur before choice of the case study type, and the process may actually occur in a back-and-forth fashion. A case can entail an individual, a group, an organisation, an institution or a programme. In this step, researchers delineate the spatial and temporal boundaries of the case, that is, ‘when and where it occurred, and when and what was of interest’ (p390). 9 Aside from ensuring the coherence and consistency of the study, bounding the case ensures that the planned research project is feasible in terms of time and resources. Having access to the case and ensuring ethical research practice are two central considerations in case selection. 1

Step 6. Prepare to collect data

Before beginning the data collection, researchers need a study protocol that describes in detail the methods of data collection. The protocol should emphasise the coherence between the data collection methods and the research questions. According to Yin, 3 a case study protocol should include (1) an overview of the case study, (2) data collection procedures, (3) data collection questions and (4) a guide for the case study report. The protocol should be sufficiently flexible to allow researchers to make changes depending on the context and specific circumstances surrounding each data collection method.

Step 7. Collect and organise the data

While case study is often portrayed as a qualitative approach to research (eg, interviews, focus groups or observations), case study designs frequently rely on multiple data sources, including quantitative data (eg, surveys or statistical databases). A growing number of authors highlight the ways in which the use of mixed methods within case study designs might contribute to developing ‘a more complete understanding of the case’ (p902), 21 shedding light on ‘the complexity of a case’ (p118) 27 or increasing ‘the internal validity of a study’ (p6). 1 Guetterman and Fetters 21 explain how a qualitative case study can also be nested within a mixed methods design (ie, be considered the qualitative component of the design). An interesting strategy for organising multiple data sources is suggested by Yin. 3 He recommends using a case study database in which different data sources (eg, audio files, notes, documents or photographs) are stored for later retrieval or inspection. See guidance from Creswell and Hirose 28 for conducting a survey and qualitative data collection in mixed methods and DeJonckheere 29 on semistructured interviewing.

Step 8. Analyse the data

Bernard and Ryan 30 define data analysis as ‘the search for patterns in data and for ideas that help explain why these patterns are there in the first place’ (p109). Depending on the case study design, analysis of the qualitative and quantitative data can be done concurrently or sequentially. For the qualitative data, the first step of the analysis involves segmenting the data into coding units, ascribing codes to data segments and organising the codes in a coding scheme. 31 Depending on the role of theory in the study, an inductive, data-driven approach can be used where meaning is found in the data, or a deductive, concept-driven approach can be adopted where predefined concepts derived from the literature, or previous research, are used to code the data. 32 The second step involves searching for patterns across codes and subsets of respondents, so major themes are identified to describe, explain or predict the phenomenon under study. Babchuk 33 provides a step-by-step guidance for qualitative analysis in this issue. When conducting a single case study, the within-case analysis yields an in depth, thick description of the case. When the study involves multiple cases, the cross-comparison analysis elicits a description of similarities and divergence between cases and may generate explanations and theoretical predictions regarding other cases. 26

For the quantitative part of the case study, data are entered in statistical software packages for conducting descriptive or inferential analysis. Guetterman 34 provides a step-by-step guidance on basic statistics. In case study designs where both data strands are analysed simultaneously, analytical techniques include pattern matching, explanation building, time-series analysis and creating logic models (p142–167). 3

Step 9. Write the case study report

The case study report should have the following three characteristics. First, the description of the case and its context should be sufficiently comprehensive to allow the reader to understand the complexity of the phenomena under study. 35 Second, the data should be presented in a concise and transparent manner to enable the reader to question, or to re-examine, the findings. 36 Third, the report should be adapted to the interests and needs of its primary audience or audiences (eg, academics, practitioners, policy-makers or funders of research). Yin 3 suggests six formats for organising case study reports, namely linear-analytic, comparative, chronological, theory building, suspense and unsequenced structures. To facilitate case transferability and applicability to other similar contexts, the case study report must include a detailed description of the case.

Step 10. Appraise quality

Although presented as the final step of the case study process, quality appraisal should be considered throughout the study. Multiple criteria and frameworks for appraising the quality of case study research have been suggested in the literature. Yin 3 suggests the following four criteria: construct validity (ie, the extent to which a study accurately measures the concepts that it claims to investigate), internal validity (ie, the strength of the relationship between variables and findings), external validity (ie, the extent to which the findings can be generalised) and reliability (ie, the extent to which the findings can be replicated by other researchers conducting the same study). Yin 37 also suggests using two separate sets of guidelines for conducting case study research and for appraising the quality of case study proposals. Stake 4 presents a 20-item checklist for critiquing case study reports, and Creswell and Poth 38 and Denscombe 39 outline a number of questions to consider. Since these quality frameworks have evolved from different disciplinary and philosophical backgrounds, the researcher’s approach should be coherent with the epistemology of the study. Figure 2 provides a quality appraisal checklist adapted from Creswell and Poth 38 and Denscombe. 39

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Checklist for evaluating the quality of a case study. 38 39

The challenges to conducting case study research include rationalising the literature based on literature review, writing the research questions, determining how to bound the case, and choosing among various case study purposes and designs. Factors held in common with other methods include analysing and presenting the findings, particularly with multiple data sources.

Other resources

Resources with more in depth guidance on case study research include Merriam, 17 Stake 4 and Yin. 3 While each reflects a different perspective on case study research, they all provide useful guidance for designing and conducting case studies. Other resources include Creswell and Poth, 38 Swanborn 2 and Tight. 40 For mixed methods case study designs, Creswell and Plano Clark, 27 Guetterman and Fetters, 21 Luck et al , 6 and Plano Clark et al 41 provide guidance. Byrne and Ragin’s 42 The SAGE Handbook of Case-Based Methods and Mills et al ’s 43 Encyclopedia of case study research provide guidance for experienced case study researchers.


Family medicine and community health researchers engage in a wide variety of clinical, educational, research and administrative programmes. Case study research provides a highly flexible and powerful research tool to evaluate rigorously many of these endeavours and disseminate this information.


The authors would like to acknowledge the help of Dick Edelstein and Marie-Hélène Paré in editing the final manuscript.

Correction notice: This article has been corrected. Reference details have been updated.

Contributors: SF and MDF conceived and drafted the manuscript, and approved the final version of the manuscript.

Funding: The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Competing interests: None declared.

Patient consent for publication: Not required.

Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Assignments

  • Annotated Bibliography
  • Analyzing a Scholarly Journal Article
  • Group Presentations
  • Dealing with Nervousness
  • Using Visual Aids
  • Grading Someone Else's Paper
  • Types of Structured Group Activities
  • Group Project Survival Skills
  • Leading a Class Discussion
  • Multiple Book Review Essay
  • Reviewing Collected Works
  • Writing a Case Analysis Paper
  • Writing a Case Study
  • About Informed Consent
  • Writing Field Notes
  • Writing a Policy Memo
  • Writing a Reflective Paper
  • Writing a Research Proposal
  • Generative AI and Writing
  • Acknowledgments

A case study research paper examines a person, place, event, condition, phenomenon, or other type of subject of analysis in order to extrapolate  key themes and results that help predict future trends, illuminate previously hidden issues that can be applied to practice, and/or provide a means for understanding an important research problem with greater clarity. A case study research paper usually examines a single subject of analysis, but case study papers can also be designed as a comparative investigation that shows relationships between two or more subjects. The methods used to study a case can rest within a quantitative, qualitative, or mixed-method investigative paradigm.

Case Studies. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Mills, Albert J. , Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010 ; “What is a Case Study?” In Swanborn, Peter G. Case Study Research: What, Why and How? London: SAGE, 2010.

How to Approach Writing a Case Study Research Paper

General information about how to choose a topic to investigate can be found under the " Choosing a Research Problem " tab in the Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper writing guide. Review this page because it may help you identify a subject of analysis that can be investigated using a case study design.

However, identifying a case to investigate involves more than choosing the research problem . A case study encompasses a problem contextualized around the application of in-depth analysis, interpretation, and discussion, often resulting in specific recommendations for action or for improving existing conditions. As Seawright and Gerring note, practical considerations such as time and access to information can influence case selection, but these issues should not be the sole factors used in describing the methodological justification for identifying a particular case to study. Given this, selecting a case includes considering the following:

  • The case represents an unusual or atypical example of a research problem that requires more in-depth analysis? Cases often represent a topic that rests on the fringes of prior investigations because the case may provide new ways of understanding the research problem. For example, if the research problem is to identify strategies to improve policies that support girl's access to secondary education in predominantly Muslim nations, you could consider using Azerbaijan as a case study rather than selecting a more obvious nation in the Middle East. Doing so may reveal important new insights into recommending how governments in other predominantly Muslim nations can formulate policies that support improved access to education for girls.
  • The case provides important insight or illuminate a previously hidden problem? In-depth analysis of a case can be based on the hypothesis that the case study will reveal trends or issues that have not been exposed in prior research or will reveal new and important implications for practice. For example, anecdotal evidence may suggest drug use among homeless veterans is related to their patterns of travel throughout the day. Assuming prior studies have not looked at individual travel choices as a way to study access to illicit drug use, a case study that observes a homeless veteran could reveal how issues of personal mobility choices facilitate regular access to illicit drugs. Note that it is important to conduct a thorough literature review to ensure that your assumption about the need to reveal new insights or previously hidden problems is valid and evidence-based.
  • The case challenges and offers a counter-point to prevailing assumptions? Over time, research on any given topic can fall into a trap of developing assumptions based on outdated studies that are still applied to new or changing conditions or the idea that something should simply be accepted as "common sense," even though the issue has not been thoroughly tested in current practice. A case study analysis may offer an opportunity to gather evidence that challenges prevailing assumptions about a research problem and provide a new set of recommendations applied to practice that have not been tested previously. For example, perhaps there has been a long practice among scholars to apply a particular theory in explaining the relationship between two subjects of analysis. Your case could challenge this assumption by applying an innovative theoretical framework [perhaps borrowed from another discipline] to explore whether this approach offers new ways of understanding the research problem. Taking a contrarian stance is one of the most important ways that new knowledge and understanding develops from existing literature.
  • The case provides an opportunity to pursue action leading to the resolution of a problem? Another way to think about choosing a case to study is to consider how the results from investigating a particular case may result in findings that reveal ways in which to resolve an existing or emerging problem. For example, studying the case of an unforeseen incident, such as a fatal accident at a railroad crossing, can reveal hidden issues that could be applied to preventative measures that contribute to reducing the chance of accidents in the future. In this example, a case study investigating the accident could lead to a better understanding of where to strategically locate additional signals at other railroad crossings so as to better warn drivers of an approaching train, particularly when visibility is hindered by heavy rain, fog, or at night.
  • The case offers a new direction in future research? A case study can be used as a tool for an exploratory investigation that highlights the need for further research about the problem. A case can be used when there are few studies that help predict an outcome or that establish a clear understanding about how best to proceed in addressing a problem. For example, after conducting a thorough literature review [very important!], you discover that little research exists showing the ways in which women contribute to promoting water conservation in rural communities of east central Africa. A case study of how women contribute to saving water in a rural village of Uganda can lay the foundation for understanding the need for more thorough research that documents how women in their roles as cooks and family caregivers think about water as a valuable resource within their community. This example of a case study could also point to the need for scholars to build new theoretical frameworks around the topic [e.g., applying feminist theories of work and family to the issue of water conservation].

Eisenhardt, Kathleen M. “Building Theories from Case Study Research.” Academy of Management Review 14 (October 1989): 532-550; Emmel, Nick. Sampling and Choosing Cases in Qualitative Research: A Realist Approach . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2013; Gerring, John. “What Is a Case Study and What Is It Good for?” American Political Science Review 98 (May 2004): 341-354; Mills, Albert J. , Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010; Seawright, Jason and John Gerring. "Case Selection Techniques in Case Study Research." Political Research Quarterly 61 (June 2008): 294-308.

Structure and Writing Style

The purpose of a paper in the social sciences designed around a case study is to thoroughly investigate a subject of analysis in order to reveal a new understanding about the research problem and, in so doing, contributing new knowledge to what is already known from previous studies. In applied social sciences disciplines [e.g., education, social work, public administration, etc.], case studies may also be used to reveal best practices, highlight key programs, or investigate interesting aspects of professional work.

In general, the structure of a case study research paper is not all that different from a standard college-level research paper. However, there are subtle differences you should be aware of. Here are the key elements to organizing and writing a case study research paper.

I.  Introduction

As with any research paper, your introduction should serve as a roadmap for your readers to ascertain the scope and purpose of your study . The introduction to a case study research paper, however, should not only describe the research problem and its significance, but you should also succinctly describe why the case is being used and how it relates to addressing the problem. The two elements should be linked. With this in mind, a good introduction answers these four questions:

  • What is being studied? Describe the research problem and describe the subject of analysis [the case] you have chosen to address the problem. Explain how they are linked and what elements of the case will help to expand knowledge and understanding about the problem.
  • Why is this topic important to investigate? Describe the significance of the research problem and state why a case study design and the subject of analysis that the paper is designed around is appropriate in addressing the problem.
  • What did we know about this topic before I did this study? Provide background that helps lead the reader into the more in-depth literature review to follow. If applicable, summarize prior case study research applied to the research problem and why it fails to adequately address the problem. Describe why your case will be useful. If no prior case studies have been used to address the research problem, explain why you have selected this subject of analysis.
  • How will this study advance new knowledge or new ways of understanding? Explain why your case study will be suitable in helping to expand knowledge and understanding about the research problem.

Each of these questions should be addressed in no more than a few paragraphs. Exceptions to this can be when you are addressing a complex research problem or subject of analysis that requires more in-depth background information.

II.  Literature Review

The literature review for a case study research paper is generally structured the same as it is for any college-level research paper. The difference, however, is that the literature review is focused on providing background information and  enabling historical interpretation of the subject of analysis in relation to the research problem the case is intended to address . This includes synthesizing studies that help to:

  • Place relevant works in the context of their contribution to understanding the case study being investigated . This would involve summarizing studies that have used a similar subject of analysis to investigate the research problem. If there is literature using the same or a very similar case to study, you need to explain why duplicating past research is important [e.g., conditions have changed; prior studies were conducted long ago, etc.].
  • Describe the relationship each work has to the others under consideration that informs the reader why this case is applicable . Your literature review should include a description of any works that support using the case to investigate the research problem and the underlying research questions.
  • Identify new ways to interpret prior research using the case study . If applicable, review any research that has examined the research problem using a different research design. Explain how your use of a case study design may reveal new knowledge or a new perspective or that can redirect research in an important new direction.
  • Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies . This refers to synthesizing any literature that points to unresolved issues of concern about the research problem and describing how the subject of analysis that forms the case study can help resolve these existing contradictions.
  • Point the way in fulfilling a need for additional research . Your review should examine any literature that lays a foundation for understanding why your case study design and the subject of analysis around which you have designed your study may reveal a new way of approaching the research problem or offer a perspective that points to the need for additional research.
  • Expose any gaps that exist in the literature that the case study could help to fill . Summarize any literature that not only shows how your subject of analysis contributes to understanding the research problem, but how your case contributes to a new way of understanding the problem that prior research has failed to do.
  • Locate your own research within the context of existing literature [very important!] . Collectively, your literature review should always place your case study within the larger domain of prior research about the problem. The overarching purpose of reviewing pertinent literature in a case study paper is to demonstrate that you have thoroughly identified and synthesized prior studies in relation to explaining the relevance of the case in addressing the research problem.

III.  Method

In this section, you explain why you selected a particular case [i.e., subject of analysis] and the strategy you used to identify and ultimately decide that your case was appropriate in addressing the research problem. The way you describe the methods used varies depending on the type of subject of analysis that constitutes your case study.

If your subject of analysis is an incident or event . In the social and behavioral sciences, the event or incident that represents the case to be studied is usually bounded by time and place, with a clear beginning and end and with an identifiable location or position relative to its surroundings. The subject of analysis can be a rare or critical event or it can focus on a typical or regular event. The purpose of studying a rare event is to illuminate new ways of thinking about the broader research problem or to test a hypothesis. Critical incident case studies must describe the method by which you identified the event and explain the process by which you determined the validity of this case to inform broader perspectives about the research problem or to reveal new findings. However, the event does not have to be a rare or uniquely significant to support new thinking about the research problem or to challenge an existing hypothesis. For example, Walo, Bull, and Breen conducted a case study to identify and evaluate the direct and indirect economic benefits and costs of a local sports event in the City of Lismore, New South Wales, Australia. The purpose of their study was to provide new insights from measuring the impact of a typical local sports event that prior studies could not measure well because they focused on large "mega-events." Whether the event is rare or not, the methods section should include an explanation of the following characteristics of the event: a) when did it take place; b) what were the underlying circumstances leading to the event; and, c) what were the consequences of the event in relation to the research problem.

If your subject of analysis is a person. Explain why you selected this particular individual to be studied and describe what experiences they have had that provide an opportunity to advance new understandings about the research problem. Mention any background about this person which might help the reader understand the significance of their experiences that make them worthy of study. This includes describing the relationships this person has had with other people, institutions, and/or events that support using them as the subject for a case study research paper. It is particularly important to differentiate the person as the subject of analysis from others and to succinctly explain how the person relates to examining the research problem [e.g., why is one politician in a particular local election used to show an increase in voter turnout from any other candidate running in the election]. Note that these issues apply to a specific group of people used as a case study unit of analysis [e.g., a classroom of students].

If your subject of analysis is a place. In general, a case study that investigates a place suggests a subject of analysis that is unique or special in some way and that this uniqueness can be used to build new understanding or knowledge about the research problem. A case study of a place must not only describe its various attributes relevant to the research problem [e.g., physical, social, historical, cultural, economic, political], but you must state the method by which you determined that this place will illuminate new understandings about the research problem. It is also important to articulate why a particular place as the case for study is being used if similar places also exist [i.e., if you are studying patterns of homeless encampments of veterans in open spaces, explain why you are studying Echo Park in Los Angeles rather than Griffith Park?]. If applicable, describe what type of human activity involving this place makes it a good choice to study [e.g., prior research suggests Echo Park has more homeless veterans].

If your subject of analysis is a phenomenon. A phenomenon refers to a fact, occurrence, or circumstance that can be studied or observed but with the cause or explanation to be in question. In this sense, a phenomenon that forms your subject of analysis can encompass anything that can be observed or presumed to exist but is not fully understood. In the social and behavioral sciences, the case usually focuses on human interaction within a complex physical, social, economic, cultural, or political system. For example, the phenomenon could be the observation that many vehicles used by ISIS fighters are small trucks with English language advertisements on them. The research problem could be that ISIS fighters are difficult to combat because they are highly mobile. The research questions could be how and by what means are these vehicles used by ISIS being supplied to the militants and how might supply lines to these vehicles be cut off? How might knowing the suppliers of these trucks reveal larger networks of collaborators and financial support? A case study of a phenomenon most often encompasses an in-depth analysis of a cause and effect that is grounded in an interactive relationship between people and their environment in some way.

NOTE:   The choice of the case or set of cases to study cannot appear random. Evidence that supports the method by which you identified and chose your subject of analysis should clearly support investigation of the research problem and linked to key findings from your literature review. Be sure to cite any studies that helped you determine that the case you chose was appropriate for examining the problem.

IV.  Discussion

The main elements of your discussion section are generally the same as any research paper, but centered around interpreting and drawing conclusions about the key findings from your analysis of the case study. Note that a general social sciences research paper may contain a separate section to report findings. However, in a paper designed around a case study, it is common to combine a description of the results with the discussion about their implications. The objectives of your discussion section should include the following:

Reiterate the Research Problem/State the Major Findings Briefly reiterate the research problem you are investigating and explain why the subject of analysis around which you designed the case study were used. You should then describe the findings revealed from your study of the case using direct, declarative, and succinct proclamation of the study results. Highlight any findings that were unexpected or especially profound.

Explain the Meaning of the Findings and Why They are Important Systematically explain the meaning of your case study findings and why you believe they are important. Begin this part of the section by repeating what you consider to be your most important or surprising finding first, then systematically review each finding. Be sure to thoroughly extrapolate what your analysis of the case can tell the reader about situations or conditions beyond the actual case that was studied while, at the same time, being careful not to misconstrue or conflate a finding that undermines the external validity of your conclusions.

Relate the Findings to Similar Studies No study in the social sciences is so novel or possesses such a restricted focus that it has absolutely no relation to previously published research. The discussion section should relate your case study results to those found in other studies, particularly if questions raised from prior studies served as the motivation for choosing your subject of analysis. This is important because comparing and contrasting the findings of other studies helps support the overall importance of your results and it highlights how and in what ways your case study design and the subject of analysis differs from prior research about the topic.

Consider Alternative Explanations of the Findings Remember that the purpose of social science research is to discover and not to prove. When writing the discussion section, you should carefully consider all possible explanations revealed by the case study results, rather than just those that fit your hypothesis or prior assumptions and biases. Be alert to what the in-depth analysis of the case may reveal about the research problem, including offering a contrarian perspective to what scholars have stated in prior research if that is how the findings can be interpreted from your case.

Acknowledge the Study's Limitations You can state the study's limitations in the conclusion section of your paper but describing the limitations of your subject of analysis in the discussion section provides an opportunity to identify the limitations and explain why they are not significant. This part of the discussion section should also note any unanswered questions or issues your case study could not address. More detailed information about how to document any limitations to your research can be found here .

Suggest Areas for Further Research Although your case study may offer important insights about the research problem, there are likely additional questions related to the problem that remain unanswered or findings that unexpectedly revealed themselves as a result of your in-depth analysis of the case. Be sure that the recommendations for further research are linked to the research problem and that you explain why your recommendations are valid in other contexts and based on the original assumptions of your study.

V.  Conclusion

As with any research paper, you should summarize your conclusion in clear, simple language; emphasize how the findings from your case study differs from or supports prior research and why. Do not simply reiterate the discussion section. Provide a synthesis of key findings presented in the paper to show how these converge to address the research problem. If you haven't already done so in the discussion section, be sure to document the limitations of your case study and any need for further research.

The function of your paper's conclusion is to: 1) reiterate the main argument supported by the findings from your case study; 2) state clearly the context, background, and necessity of pursuing the research problem using a case study design in relation to an issue, controversy, or a gap found from reviewing the literature; and, 3) provide a place to persuasively and succinctly restate the significance of your research problem, given that the reader has now been presented with in-depth information about the topic.

Consider the following points to help ensure your conclusion is appropriate:

  • If the argument or purpose of your paper is complex, you may need to summarize these points for your reader.
  • If prior to your conclusion, you have not yet explained the significance of your findings or if you are proceeding inductively, use the conclusion of your paper to describe your main points and explain their significance.
  • Move from a detailed to a general level of consideration of the case study's findings that returns the topic to the context provided by the introduction or within a new context that emerges from your case study findings.

Note that, depending on the discipline you are writing in or the preferences of your professor, the concluding paragraph may contain your final reflections on the evidence presented as it applies to practice or on the essay's central research problem. However, the nature of being introspective about the subject of analysis you have investigated will depend on whether you are explicitly asked to express your observations in this way.

Problems to Avoid

Overgeneralization One of the goals of a case study is to lay a foundation for understanding broader trends and issues applied to similar circumstances. However, be careful when drawing conclusions from your case study. They must be evidence-based and grounded in the results of the study; otherwise, it is merely speculation. Looking at a prior example, it would be incorrect to state that a factor in improving girls access to education in Azerbaijan and the policy implications this may have for improving access in other Muslim nations is due to girls access to social media if there is no documentary evidence from your case study to indicate this. There may be anecdotal evidence that retention rates were better for girls who were engaged with social media, but this observation would only point to the need for further research and would not be a definitive finding if this was not a part of your original research agenda.

Failure to Document Limitations No case is going to reveal all that needs to be understood about a research problem. Therefore, just as you have to clearly state the limitations of a general research study , you must describe the specific limitations inherent in the subject of analysis. For example, the case of studying how women conceptualize the need for water conservation in a village in Uganda could have limited application in other cultural contexts or in areas where fresh water from rivers or lakes is plentiful and, therefore, conservation is understood more in terms of managing access rather than preserving access to a scarce resource.

Failure to Extrapolate All Possible Implications Just as you don't want to over-generalize from your case study findings, you also have to be thorough in the consideration of all possible outcomes or recommendations derived from your findings. If you do not, your reader may question the validity of your analysis, particularly if you failed to document an obvious outcome from your case study research. For example, in the case of studying the accident at the railroad crossing to evaluate where and what types of warning signals should be located, you failed to take into consideration speed limit signage as well as warning signals. When designing your case study, be sure you have thoroughly addressed all aspects of the problem and do not leave gaps in your analysis that leave the reader questioning the results.

Case Studies. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Gerring, John. Case Study Research: Principles and Practices . New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007; Merriam, Sharan B. Qualitative Research and Case Study Applications in Education . Rev. ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1998; Miller, Lisa L. “The Use of Case Studies in Law and Social Science Research.” Annual Review of Law and Social Science 14 (2018): TBD; Mills, Albert J., Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010; Putney, LeAnn Grogan. "Case Study." In Encyclopedia of Research Design , Neil J. Salkind, editor. (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010), pp. 116-120; Simons, Helen. Case Study Research in Practice . London: SAGE Publications, 2009;  Kratochwill,  Thomas R. and Joel R. Levin, editors. Single-Case Research Design and Analysis: New Development for Psychology and Education .  Hilldsale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1992; Swanborn, Peter G. Case Study Research: What, Why and How? London : SAGE, 2010; Yin, Robert K. Case Study Research: Design and Methods . 6th edition. Los Angeles, CA, SAGE Publications, 2014; Walo, Maree, Adrian Bull, and Helen Breen. “Achieving Economic Benefits at Local Events: A Case Study of a Local Sports Event.” Festival Management and Event Tourism 4 (1996): 95-106.

Writing Tip

At Least Five Misconceptions about Case Study Research

Social science case studies are often perceived as limited in their ability to create new knowledge because they are not randomly selected and findings cannot be generalized to larger populations. Flyvbjerg examines five misunderstandings about case study research and systematically "corrects" each one. To quote, these are:

Misunderstanding 1 :  General, theoretical [context-independent] knowledge is more valuable than concrete, practical [context-dependent] knowledge. Misunderstanding 2 :  One cannot generalize on the basis of an individual case; therefore, the case study cannot contribute to scientific development. Misunderstanding 3 :  The case study is most useful for generating hypotheses; that is, in the first stage of a total research process, whereas other methods are more suitable for hypotheses testing and theory building. Misunderstanding 4 :  The case study contains a bias toward verification, that is, a tendency to confirm the researcher’s preconceived notions. Misunderstanding 5 :  It is often difficult to summarize and develop general propositions and theories on the basis of specific case studies [p. 221].

While writing your paper, think introspectively about how you addressed these misconceptions because to do so can help you strengthen the validity and reliability of your research by clarifying issues of case selection, the testing and challenging of existing assumptions, the interpretation of key findings, and the summation of case outcomes. Think of a case study research paper as a complete, in-depth narrative about the specific properties and key characteristics of your subject of analysis applied to the research problem.

Flyvbjerg, Bent. “Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research.” Qualitative Inquiry 12 (April 2006): 219-245.

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Issue Cover

Article Contents

1. introduction, what is meant by impact, 2. why evaluate research impact, 3. evaluating research impact, 4. impact and the ref, 5. the challenges of impact evaluation, 6. developing systems and taxonomies for capturing impact, 7. indicators, evidence, and impact within systems, 8. conclusions and recommendations.

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Assessment, evaluations, and definitions of research impact: A review

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Teresa Penfield, Matthew J. Baker, Rosa Scoble, Michael C. Wykes, Assessment, evaluations, and definitions of research impact: A review, Research Evaluation , Volume 23, Issue 1, January 2014, Pages 21–32, https://doi.org/10.1093/reseval/rvt021

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This article aims to explore what is understood by the term ‘research impact’ and to provide a comprehensive assimilation of available literature and information, drawing on global experiences to understand the potential for methods and frameworks of impact assessment being implemented for UK impact assessment. We take a more focused look at the impact component of the UK Research Excellence Framework taking place in 2014 and some of the challenges to evaluating impact and the role that systems might play in the future for capturing the links between research and impact and the requirements we have for these systems.

When considering the impact that is generated as a result of research, a number of authors and government recommendations have advised that a clear definition of impact is required ( Duryea, Hochman, and Parfitt 2007 ; Grant et al. 2009 ; Russell Group 2009 ). From the outset, we note that the understanding of the term impact differs between users and audiences. There is a distinction between ‘academic impact’ understood as the intellectual contribution to one’s field of study within academia and ‘external socio-economic impact’ beyond academia. In the UK, evaluation of academic and broader socio-economic impact takes place separately. ‘Impact’ has become the term of choice in the UK for research influence beyond academia. This distinction is not so clear in impact assessments outside of the UK, where academic outputs and socio-economic impacts are often viewed as one, to give an overall assessment of value and change created through research.

an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia

Impact is assessed alongside research outputs and environment to provide an evaluation of research taking place within an institution. As such research outputs, for example, knowledge generated and publications, can be translated into outcomes, for example, new products and services, and impacts or added value ( Duryea et al. 2007 ). Although some might find the distinction somewhat marginal or even confusing, this differentiation between outputs, outcomes, and impacts is important, and has been highlighted, not only for the impacts derived from university research ( Kelly and McNicol 2011 ) but also for work done in the charitable sector ( Ebrahim and Rangan, 2010 ; Berg and Månsson 2011 ; Kelly and McNicoll 2011 ). The Social Return on Investment (SROI) guide ( The SROI Network 2012 ) suggests that ‘The language varies “impact”, “returns”, “benefits”, “value” but the questions around what sort of difference and how much of a difference we are making are the same’. It is perhaps assumed here that a positive or beneficial effect will be considered as an impact but what about changes that are perceived to be negative? Wooding et al. (2007) adapted the terminology of the Payback Framework, developed for the health and biomedical sciences from ‘benefit’ to ‘impact’ when modifying the framework for the social sciences, arguing that the positive or negative nature of a change was subjective and can also change with time, as has commonly been highlighted with the drug thalidomide, which was introduced in the 1950s to help with, among other things, morning sickness but due to teratogenic effects, which resulted in birth defects, was withdrawn in the early 1960s. Thalidomide has since been found to have beneficial effects in the treatment of certain types of cancer. Clearly the impact of thalidomide would have been viewed very differently in the 1950s compared with the 1960s or today.

In viewing impact evaluations it is important to consider not only who has evaluated the work but the purpose of the evaluation to determine the limits and relevance of an assessment exercise. In this article, we draw on a broad range of examples with a focus on methods of evaluation for research impact within Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). As part of this review, we aim to explore the following questions:

What are the reasons behind trying to understand and evaluate research impact?

What are the methodologies and frameworks that have been employed globally to assess research impact and how do these compare?

What are the challenges associated with understanding and evaluating research impact?

What indicators, evidence, and impacts need to be captured within developing systems

What are the reasons behind trying to understand and evaluate research impact? Throughout history, the activities of a university have been to provide both education and research, but the fundamental purpose of a university was perhaps described in the writings of mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1929) .

‘The justification for a university is that it preserves the connection between knowledge and the zest of life, by uniting the young and the old in the imaginative consideration of learning. The university imparts information, but it imparts it imaginatively. At least, this is the function which it should perform for society. A university which fails in this respect has no reason for existence. This atmosphere of excitement, arising from imaginative consideration transforms knowledge.’

In undertaking excellent research, we anticipate that great things will come and as such one of the fundamental reasons for undertaking research is that we will generate and transform knowledge that will benefit society as a whole.

One might consider that by funding excellent research, impacts (including those that are unforeseen) will follow, and traditionally, assessment of university research focused on academic quality and productivity. Aspects of impact, such as value of Intellectual Property, are currently recorded by universities in the UK through their Higher Education Business and Community Interaction Survey return to Higher Education Statistics Agency; however, as with other public and charitable sector organizations, showcasing impact is an important part of attracting and retaining donors and support ( Kelly and McNicoll 2011 ).

The reasoning behind the move towards assessing research impact is undoubtedly complex, involving both political and socio-economic factors, but, nevertheless, we can differentiate between four primary purposes.

HEIs overview. To enable research organizations including HEIs to monitor and manage their performance and understand and disseminate the contribution that they are making to local, national, and international communities.

Accountability. To demonstrate to government, stakeholders, and the wider public the value of research. There has been a drive from the UK government through Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Research Councils ( HM Treasury 2004 ) to account for the spending of public money by demonstrating the value of research to tax payers, voters, and the public in terms of socio-economic benefits ( European Science Foundation 2009 ), in effect, justifying this expenditure ( Davies Nutley, and Walter 2005 ; Hanney and González-Block 2011 ).

Inform funding. To understand the socio-economic value of research and subsequently inform funding decisions. By evaluating the contribution that research makes to society and the economy, future funding can be allocated where it is perceived to bring about the desired impact. As Donovan (2011) comments, ‘Impact is a strong weapon for making an evidence based case to governments for enhanced research support’.

Understand. To understand the method and routes by which research leads to impacts to maximize on the findings that come out of research and develop better ways of delivering impact.

The growing trend for accountability within the university system is not limited to research and is mirrored in assessments of teaching quality, which now feed into evaluation of universities to ensure fee-paying students’ satisfaction. In demonstrating research impact, we can provide accountability upwards to funders and downwards to users on a project and strategic basis ( Kelly and McNicoll 2011 ). Organizations may be interested in reviewing and assessing research impact for one or more of the aforementioned purposes and this will influence the way in which evaluation is approached.

It is important to emphasize that ‘Not everyone within the higher education sector itself is convinced that evaluation of higher education activity is a worthwhile task’ ( Kelly and McNicoll 2011 ). The University and College Union ( University and College Union 2011 ) organized a petition calling on the UK funding councils to withdraw the inclusion of impact assessment from the REF proposals once plans for the new assessment of university research were released. This petition was signed by 17,570 academics (52,409 academics were returned to the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise), including Nobel laureates and Fellows of the Royal Society ( University and College Union 2011 ). Impact assessments raise concerns over the steer of research towards disciplines and topics in which impact is more easily evidenced and that provide economic impacts that could subsequently lead to a devaluation of ‘blue skies’ research. Johnston ( Johnston 1995 ) notes that by developing relationships between researchers and industry, new research strategies can be developed. This raises the questions of whether UK business and industry should not invest in the research that will deliver them impacts and who will fund basic research if not the government? Donovan (2011) asserts that there should be no disincentive for conducting basic research. By asking academics to consider the impact of the research they undertake and by reviewing and funding them accordingly, the result may be to compromise research by steering it away from the imaginative and creative quest for knowledge. Professor James Ladyman, at the University of Bristol, a vocal adversary of awarding funding based on the assessment of research impact, has been quoted as saying that ‘…inclusion of impact in the REF will create “selection pressure,” promoting academic research that has “more direct economic impact” or which is easier to explain to the public’ ( Corbyn 2009 ).

Despite the concerns raised, the broader socio-economic impacts of research will be included and count for 20% of the overall research assessment, as part of the REF in 2014. From an international perspective, this represents a step change in the comprehensive nature to which impact will be assessed within universities and research institutes, incorporating impact from across all research disciplines. Understanding what impact looks like across the various strands of research and the variety of indicators and proxies used to evidence impact will be important to developing a meaningful assessment.

What are the methodologies and frameworks that have been employed globally to evaluate research impact and how do these compare? The traditional form of evaluation of university research in the UK was based on measuring academic impact and quality through a process of peer review ( Grant 2006 ). Evidence of academic impact may be derived through various bibliometric methods, one example of which is the H index, which has incorporated factors such as the number of publications and citations. These metrics may be used in the UK to understand the benefits of research within academia and are often incorporated into the broader perspective of impact seen internationally, for example, within the Excellence in Research for Australia and using Star Metrics in the USA, in which quantitative measures are used to assess impact, for example, publications, citation, and research income. These ‘traditional’ bibliometric techniques can be regarded as giving only a partial picture of full impact ( Bornmann and Marx 2013 ) with no link to causality. Standard approaches actively used in programme evaluation such as surveys, case studies, bibliometrics, econometrics and statistical analyses, content analysis, and expert judgment are each considered by some (Vonortas and Link, 2012) to have shortcomings when used to measure impacts.

Incorporating assessment of the wider socio-economic impact began using metrics-based indicators such as Intellectual Property registered and commercial income generated ( Australian Research Council 2008 ). In the UK, more sophisticated assessments of impact incorporating wider socio-economic benefits were first investigated within the fields of Biomedical and Health Sciences ( Grant 2006 ), an area of research that wanted to be able to justify the significant investment it received. Frameworks for assessing impact have been designed and are employed at an organizational level addressing the specific requirements of the organization and stakeholders. As a result, numerous and widely varying models and frameworks for assessing impact exist. Here we outline a few of the most notable models that demonstrate the contrast in approaches available.

The Payback Framework is possibly the most widely used and adapted model for impact assessment ( Wooding et al. 2007 ; Nason et al. 2008 ), developed during the mid-1990s by Buxton and Hanney, working at Brunel University. It incorporates both academic outputs and wider societal benefits ( Donovan and Hanney 2011 ) to assess outcomes of health sciences research. The Payback Framework systematically links research with the associated benefits ( Scoble et al. 2010 ; Hanney and González-Block 2011 ) and can be thought of in two parts: a model that allows the research and subsequent dissemination process to be broken into specific components within which the benefits of research can be studied, and second, a multi-dimensional classification scheme into which the various outputs, outcomes, and impacts can be placed ( Hanney and Gonzalez Block 2011 ). The Payback Framework has been adopted internationally, largely within the health sector, by organizations such as the Canadian Institute of Health Research, the Dutch Public Health Authority, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, and the Welfare Bureau in Hong Kong ( Bernstein et al. 2006 ; Nason et al. 2008 ; CAHS 2009; Spaapen et al. n.d. ). The Payback Framework enables health and medical research and impact to be linked and the process by which impact occurs to be traced. For more extensive reviews of the Payback Framework, see Davies et al. (2005) , Wooding et al. (2007) , Nason et al. (2008) , and Hanney and González-Block (2011) .

A very different approach known as Social Impact Assessment Methods for research and funding instruments through the study of Productive Interactions (SIAMPI) was developed from the Dutch project Evaluating Research in Context and has a central theme of capturing ‘productive interactions’ between researchers and stakeholders by analysing the networks that evolve during research programmes ( Spaapen and Drooge, 2011 ; Spaapen et al. n.d. ). SIAMPI is based on the widely held assumption that interactions between researchers and stakeholder are an important pre-requisite to achieving impact ( Donovan 2011 ; Hughes and Martin 2012 ; Spaapen et al. n.d. ). This framework is intended to be used as a learning tool to develop a better understanding of how research interactions lead to social impact rather than as an assessment tool for judging, showcasing, or even linking impact to a specific piece of research. SIAMPI has been used within the Netherlands Institute for health Services Research ( SIAMPI n.d. ). ‘Productive interactions’, which can perhaps be viewed as instances of knowledge exchange, are widely valued and supported internationally as mechanisms for enabling impact and are often supported financially for example by Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, which aims to support knowledge exchange (financially) with a view to enabling long-term impact. In the UK, UK Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills provided funding of £150 million for knowledge exchange in 2011–12 to ‘help universities and colleges support the economic recovery and growth, and contribute to wider society’ ( Department for Business, Innovation and Skills 2012 ). While valuing and supporting knowledge exchange is important, SIAMPI perhaps takes this a step further in enabling these exchange events to be captured and analysed. One of the advantages of this method is that less input is required compared with capturing the full route from research to impact. A comprehensive assessment of impact itself is not undertaken with SIAMPI, which make it a less-suitable method where showcasing the benefits of research is desirable or where this justification of funding based on impact is required.

The first attempt globally to comprehensively capture the socio-economic impact of research across all disciplines was undertaken for the Australian Research Quality Framework (RQF), using a case study approach. The RQF was developed to demonstrate and justify public expenditure on research, and as part of this framework, a pilot assessment was undertaken by the Australian Technology Network. Researchers were asked to evidence the economic, societal, environmental, and cultural impact of their research within broad categories, which were then verified by an expert panel ( Duryea et al. 2007 ) who concluded that the researchers and case studies could provide enough qualitative and quantitative evidence for reviewers to assess the impact arising from their research ( Duryea et al. 2007 ). To evaluate impact, case studies were interrogated and verifiable indicators assessed to determine whether research had led to reciprocal engagement, adoption of research findings, or public value. The RQF pioneered the case study approach to assessing research impact; however, with a change in government in 2007, this framework was never implemented in Australia, although it has since been taken up and adapted for the UK REF.

In developing the UK REF, HEFCE commissioned a report, in 2009, from RAND to review international practice for assessing research impact and provide recommendations to inform the development of the REF. RAND selected four frameworks to represent the international arena ( Grant et al. 2009 ). One of these, the RQF, they identified as providing a ‘promising basis for developing an impact approach for the REF’ using the case study approach. HEFCE developed an initial methodology that was then tested through a pilot exercise. The case study approach, recommended by the RQF, was combined with ‘significance’ and ‘reach’ as criteria for assessment. The criteria for assessment were also supported by a model developed by Brunel for ‘measurement’ of impact that used similar measures defined as depth and spread. In the Brunel model, depth refers to the degree to which the research has influenced or caused change, whereas spread refers to the extent to which the change has occurred and influenced end users. Evaluation of impact in terms of reach and significance allows all disciplines of research and types of impact to be assessed side-by-side ( Scoble et al. 2010 ).

The range and diversity of frameworks developed reflect the variation in purpose of evaluation including the stakeholders for whom the assessment takes place, along with the type of impact and evidence anticipated. The most appropriate type of evaluation will vary according to the stakeholder whom we are wishing to inform. Studies ( Buxton, Hanney and Jones 2004 ) into the economic gains from biomedical and health sciences determined that different methodologies provide different ways of considering economic benefits. A discussion on the benefits and drawbacks of a range of evaluation tools (bibliometrics, economic rate of return, peer review, case study, logic modelling, and benchmarking) can be found in the article by Grant (2006) .

Evaluation of impact is becoming increasingly important, both within the UK and internationally, and research and development into impact evaluation continues, for example, researchers at Brunel have developed the concept of depth and spread further into the Brunel Impact Device for Evaluation, which also assesses the degree of separation between research and impact ( Scoble et al. working paper ).

Although based on the RQF, the REF did not adopt all of the suggestions held within, for example, the option of allowing research groups to opt out of impact assessment should the nature or stage of research deem it unsuitable ( Donovan 2008 ). In 2009–10, the REF team conducted a pilot study for the REF involving 29 institutions, submitting case studies to one of five units of assessment (in clinical medicine, physics, earth systems and environmental sciences, social work and social policy, and English language and literature) ( REF2014 2010 ). These case studies were reviewed by expert panels and, as with the RQF, they found that it was possible to assess impact and develop ‘impact profiles’ using the case study approach ( REF2014 2010 ).

From 2014, research within UK universities and institutions will be assessed through the REF; this will replace the Research Assessment Exercise, which has been used to assess UK research since the 1980s. Differences between these two assessments include the removal of indicators of esteem and the addition of assessment of socio-economic research impact. The REF will therefore assess three aspects of research:


Research impact is assessed in two formats, first, through an impact template that describes the approach to enabling impact within a unit of assessment, and second, using impact case studies that describe the impact taking place following excellent research within a unit of assessment ( REF2014 2011a ). HEFCE indicated that impact should merit a 25% weighting within the REF ( REF2014 2011b ); however, this has been reduced for the 2014 REF to 20%, perhaps as a result of feedback and lobbying, for example, from the Russell Group and Million + group of Universities who called for impact to count for 15% ( Russell Group 2009 ; Jump 2011 ) and following guidance from the expert panels undertaking the pilot exercise who suggested that during the 2014 REF, impact assessment would be in a developmental phase and that a lower weighting for impact would be appropriate with the expectation that this would be increased in subsequent assessments ( REF2014 2010 ).

The quality and reliability of impact indicators will vary according to the impact we are trying to describe and link to research. In the UK, evidence and research impacts will be assessed for the REF within research disciplines. Although it can be envisaged that the range of impacts derived from research of different disciplines are likely to vary, one might question whether it makes sense to compare impacts within disciplines when the range of impact can vary enormously, for example, from business development to cultural changes or saving lives? An alternative approach was suggested for the RQF in Australia, where it was proposed that types of impact be compared rather than impact from specific disciplines.

Providing advice and guidance within specific disciplines is undoubtedly helpful. It can be seen from the panel guidance produced by HEFCE to illustrate impacts and evidence that it is expected that impact and evidence will vary according to discipline ( REF2014 2012 ). Why should this be the case? Two areas of research impact health and biomedical sciences and the social sciences have received particular attention in the literature by comparison with, for example, the arts. Reviews and guidance on developing and evidencing impact in particular disciplines include the London School of Economics (LSE) Public Policy Group’s impact handbook (LSE n.d.), a review of the social and economic impacts arising from the arts produced by Reeve ( Reeves 2002 ), and a review by Kuruvilla et al. (2006) on the impact arising from health research. Perhaps it is time for a generic guide based on types of impact rather than research discipline?

What are the challenges associated with understanding and evaluating research impact? In endeavouring to assess or evaluate impact, a number of difficulties emerge and these may be specific to certain types of impact. Given that the type of impact we might expect varies according to research discipline, impact-specific challenges present us with the problem that an evaluation mechanism may not fairly compare impact between research disciplines.

5.1 Time lag

The time lag between research and impact varies enormously. For example, the development of a spin out can take place in a very short period, whereas it took around 30 years from the discovery of DNA before technology was developed to enable DNA fingerprinting. In development of the RQF, The Allen Consulting Group (2005) highlighted that defining a time lag between research and impact was difficult. In the UK, the Russell Group Universities responded to the REF consultation by recommending that no time lag be put on the delivery of impact from a piece of research citing examples such as the development of cardiovascular disease treatments, which take between 10 and 25 years from research to impact ( Russell Group 2009 ). To be considered for inclusion within the REF, impact must be underpinned by research that took place between 1 January 1993 and 31 December 2013, with impact occurring during an assessment window from 1 January 2008 to 31 July 2013. However, there has been recognition that this time window may be insufficient in some instances, with architecture being granted an additional 5-year period ( REF2014 2012 ); why only architecture has been granted this dispensation is not clear, when similar cases could be made for medicine, physics, or even English literature. Recommendations from the REF pilot were that the panel should be able to extend the time frame where appropriate; this, however, poses difficult decisions when submitting a case study to the REF as to what the view of the panel will be and whether if deemed inappropriate this will render the case study ‘unclassified’.

5.2 The developmental nature of impact

Impact is not static, it will develop and change over time, and this development may be an increase or decrease in the current degree of impact. Impact can be temporary or long-lasting. The point at which assessment takes place will therefore influence the degree and significance of that impact. For example, following the discovery of a new potential drug, preclinical work is required, followed by Phase 1, 2, and 3 trials, and then regulatory approval is granted before the drug is used to deliver potential health benefits. Clearly there is the possibility that the potential new drug will fail at any one of these phases but each phase can be classed as an interim impact of the original discovery work on route to the delivery of health benefits, but the time at which an impact assessment takes place will influence the degree of impact that has taken place. If impact is short-lived and has come and gone within an assessment period, how will it be viewed and considered? Again the objective and perspective of the individuals and organizations assessing impact will be key to understanding how temporal and dissipated impact will be valued in comparison with longer-term impact.

5.3 Attribution

Impact is derived not only from targeted research but from serendipitous findings, good fortune, and complex networks interacting and translating knowledge and research. The exploitation of research to provide impact occurs through a complex variety of processes, individuals, and organizations, and therefore, attributing the contribution made by a specific individual, piece of research, funding, strategy, or organization to an impact is not straight forward. Husbands-Fealing suggests that to assist identification of causality for impact assessment, it is useful to develop a theoretical framework to map the actors, activities, linkages, outputs, and impacts within the system under evaluation, which shows how later phases result from earlier ones. Such a framework should be not linear but recursive, including elements from contextual environments that influence and/or interact with various aspects of the system. Impact is often the culmination of work within spanning research communities ( Duryea et al. 2007 ). Concerns over how to attribute impacts have been raised many times ( The Allen Consulting Group 2005 ; Duryea et al. 2007 ; Grant et al. 2009 ), and differentiating between the various major and minor contributions that lead to impact is a significant challenge.

Figure 1 , replicated from Hughes and Martin (2012) , illustrates how the ease with which impact can be attributed decreases with time, whereas the impact, or effect of complementary assets, increases, highlighting the problem that it may take a considerable amount of time for the full impact of a piece of research to develop but because of this time and the increase in complexity of the networks involved in translating the research and interim impacts, it is more difficult to attribute and link back to a contributing piece of research.

Time, attribution, impact. Replicated from (Hughes and Martin 2012).

Time, attribution, impact. Replicated from ( Hughes and Martin 2012 ).

This presents particular difficulties in research disciplines conducting basic research, such as pure mathematics, where the impact of research is unlikely to be foreseen. Research findings will be taken up in other branches of research and developed further before socio-economic impact occurs, by which point, attribution becomes a huge challenge. If this research is to be assessed alongside more applied research, it is important that we are able to at least determine the contribution of basic research. It has been acknowledged that outstanding leaps forward in knowledge and understanding come from immersing in a background of intellectual thinking that ‘one is able to see further by standing on the shoulders of giants’.

5.4 Knowledge creep

It is acknowledged that one of the outcomes of developing new knowledge through research can be ‘knowledge creep’ where new data or information becomes accepted and gets absorbed over time. This is particularly recognized in the development of new government policy where findings can influence policy debate and policy change, without recognition of the contributing research ( Davies et al. 2005 ; Wooding et al. 2007 ). This is recognized as being particularly problematic within the social sciences where informing policy is a likely impact of research. In putting together evidence for the REF, impact can be attributed to a specific piece of research if it made a ‘distinctive contribution’ ( REF2014 2011a ). The difficulty then is how to determine what the contribution has been in the absence of adequate evidence and how we ensure that research that results in impacts that cannot be evidenced is valued and supported.

5.5 Gathering evidence

Gathering evidence of the links between research and impact is not only a challenge where that evidence is lacking. The introduction of impact assessments with the requirement to collate evidence retrospectively poses difficulties because evidence, measurements, and baselines have, in many cases, not been collected and may no longer be available. While looking forward, we will be able to reduce this problem in the future, identifying, capturing, and storing the evidence in such a way that it can be used in the decades to come is a difficulty that we will need to tackle.

Collating the evidence and indicators of impact is a significant task that is being undertaken within universities and institutions globally. Decker et al. (2007) surveyed researchers in the US top research institutions during 2005; the survey of more than 6000 researchers found that, on average, more than 40% of their time was spent doing administrative tasks. It is desirable that the assignation of administrative tasks to researchers is limited, and therefore, to assist the tracking and collating of impact data, systems are being developed involving numerous projects and developments internationally, including Star Metrics in the USA, the ERC (European Research Council) Research Information System, and Lattes in Brazil ( Lane 2010 ; Mugabushaka and Papazoglou 2012 ).

Ideally, systems within universities internationally would be able to share data allowing direct comparisons, accurate storage of information developed in collaborations, and transfer of comparable data as researchers move between institutions. To achieve compatible systems, a shared language is required. CERIF (Common European Research Information Format) was developed for this purpose, first released in 1991; a number of projects and systems across Europe such as the ERC Research Information System ( Mugabushaka and Papazoglou 2012 ) are being developed as CERIF-compatible.

In the UK, there have been several Jisc-funded projects in recent years to develop systems capable of storing research information, for example, MICE (Measuring Impacts Under CERIF), UK Research Information Shared Service, and Integrated Research Input and Output System, all based on the CERIF standard. To allow comparisons between institutions, identifying a comprehensive taxonomy of impact, and the evidence for it, that can be used universally is seen to be very valuable. However, the Achilles heel of any such attempt, as critics suggest, is the creation of a system that rewards what it can measure and codify, with the knock-on effect of directing research projects to deliver within the measures and categories that reward.

Attempts have been made to categorize impact evidence and data, for example, the aim of the MICE Project was to develop a set of impact indicators to enable impact to be fed into a based system. Indicators were identified from documents produced for the REF, by Research Councils UK, in unpublished draft case studies undertaken at King’s College London or outlined in relevant publications (MICE Project n.d.). A taxonomy of impact categories was then produced onto which impact could be mapped. What emerged on testing the MICE taxonomy ( Cooke and Nadim 2011 ), by mapping impacts from case studies, was that detailed categorization of impact was found to be too prescriptive. Every piece of research results in a unique tapestry of impact and despite the MICE taxonomy having more than 100 indicators, it was found that these did not suffice. It is perhaps worth noting that the expert panels, who assessed the pilot exercise for the REF, commented that the evidence provided by research institutes to demonstrate impact were ‘a unique collection’. Where quantitative data were available, for example, audience numbers or book sales, these numbers rarely reflected the degree of impact, as no context or baseline was available. Cooke and Nadim (2011) also noted that using a linear-style taxonomy did not reflect the complex networks of impacts that are generally found. The Goldsmith report ( Cooke and Nadim 2011 ) recommended making indicators ‘value free’, enabling the value or quality to be established in an impact descriptor that could be assessed by expert panels. The Goldsmith report concluded that general categories of evidence would be more useful such that indicators could encompass dissemination and circulation, re-use and influence, collaboration and boundary work, and innovation and invention.

While defining the terminology used to understand impact and indicators will enable comparable data to be stored and shared between organizations, we would recommend that any categorization of impacts be flexible such that impacts arising from non-standard routes can be placed. It is worth considering the degree to which indicators are defined and provide broader definitions with greater flexibility.

It is possible to incorporate both metrics and narratives within systems, for example, within the Research Outcomes System and Researchfish, currently used by several of the UK research councils to allow impacts to be recorded; although recording narratives has the advantage of allowing some context to be documented, it may make the evidence less flexible for use by different stakeholder groups (which include government, funding bodies, research assessment agencies, research providers, and user communities) for whom the purpose of analysis may vary ( Davies et al. 2005 ). Any tool for impact evaluation needs to be flexible, such that it enables access to impact data for a variety of purposes (Scoble et al. n.d.). Systems need to be able to capture links between and evidence of the full pathway from research to impact, including knowledge exchange, outputs, outcomes, and interim impacts, to allow the route to impact to be traced. This database of evidence needs to establish both where impact can be directly attributed to a piece of research as well as various contributions to impact made during the pathway.

Baselines and controls need to be captured alongside change to demonstrate the degree of impact. In many instances, controls are not feasible as we cannot look at what impact would have occurred if a piece of research had not taken place; however, indications of the picture before and after impact are valuable and worth collecting for impact that can be predicted.

It is now possible to use data-mining tools to extract specific data from narratives or unstructured data ( Mugabushaka and Papazoglou 2012 ). This is being done for collation of academic impact and outputs, for example, Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools, which uses PubMed and text mining to cluster research projects, and STAR Metrics in the US, which uses administrative records and research outputs and is also being implemented by the ERC using data in the public domain ( Mugabushaka and Papazoglou 2012 ). These techniques have the potential to provide a transformation in data capture and impact assessment ( Jones and Grant 2013 ). It is acknowledged in the article by Mugabushaka and Papazoglou (2012) that it will take years to fully incorporate the impacts of ERC funding. For systems to be able to capture a full range of systems, definitions and categories of impact need to be determined that can be incorporated into system development. To adequately capture interactions taking place between researchers, institutions, and stakeholders, the introduction of tools to enable this would be very valuable. If knowledge exchange events could be captured, for example, electronically as they occur or automatically if flagged from an electronic calendar or a diary, then far more of these events could be recorded with relative ease. Capturing knowledge exchange events would greatly assist the linking of research with impact.

The transition to routine capture of impact data not only requires the development of tools and systems to help with implementation but also a cultural change to develop practices, currently undertaken by a few to be incorporated as standard behaviour among researchers and universities.

What indicators, evidence, and impacts need to be captured within developing systems? There is a great deal of interest in collating terms for impact and indicators of impact. Consortia for Advancing Standards in Research Administration Information, for example, has put together a data dictionary with the aim of setting the standards for terminology used to describe impact and indicators that can be incorporated into systems internationally and seems to be building a certain momentum in this area. A variety of types of indicators can be captured within systems; however, it is important that these are universally understood. Here we address types of evidence that need to be captured to enable an overview of impact to be developed. In the majority of cases, a number of types of evidence will be required to provide an overview of impact.

7.1 Metrics

Metrics have commonly been used as a measure of impact, for example, in terms of profit made, number of jobs provided, number of trained personnel recruited, number of visitors to an exhibition, number of items purchased, and so on. Metrics in themselves cannot convey the full impact; however, they are often viewed as powerful and unequivocal forms of evidence. If metrics are available as impact evidence, they should, where possible, also capture any baseline or control data. Any information on the context of the data will be valuable to understanding the degree to which impact has taken place.

Perhaps, SROI indicates the desire to be able to demonstrate the monetary value of investment and impact by some organizations. SROI aims to provide a valuation of the broader social, environmental, and economic impacts, providing a metric that can be used for demonstration of worth. This is a metric that has been used within the charitable sector ( Berg and Månsson 2011 ) and also features as evidence in the REF guidance for panel D ( REF2014 2012 ). More details on SROI can be found in ‘A guide to Social Return on Investment’ produced by The SROI Network (2012) .

Although metrics can provide evidence of quantitative changes or impacts from our research, they are unable to adequately provide evidence of the qualitative impacts that take place and hence are not suitable for all of the impact we will encounter. The main risks associated with the use of standardized metrics are that

The full impact will not be realized, as we focus on easily quantifiable indicators

We will focus attention towards generating results that enable boxes to be ticked rather than delivering real value for money and innovative research.

They risk being monetized or converted into a lowest common denominator in an attempt to compare the cost of a new theatre against that of a hospital.

7.2 Narratives

Narratives can be used to describe impact; the use of narratives enables a story to be told and the impact to be placed in context and can make good use of qualitative information. They are often written with a reader from a particular stakeholder group in mind and will present a view of impact from a particular perspective. The risk of relying on narratives to assess impact is that they often lack the evidence required to judge whether the research and impact are linked appropriately. Where narratives are used in conjunction with metrics, a complete picture of impact can be developed, again from a particular perspective but with the evidence available to corroborate the claims made. Table 1 summarizes some of the advantages and disadvantages of the case study approach.

The advantages and disadvantages of the case study approach

By allowing impact to be placed in context, we answer the ‘so what?’ question that can result from quantitative data analyses, but is there a risk that the full picture may not be presented to demonstrate impact in a positive light? Case studies are ideal for showcasing impact, but should they be used to critically evaluate impact?

7.3 Surveys and testimonies

One way in which change of opinion and user perceptions can be evidenced is by gathering of stakeholder and user testimonies or undertaking surveys. This might describe support for and development of research with end users, public engagement and evidence of knowledge exchange, or a demonstration of change in public opinion as a result of research. Collecting this type of evidence is time-consuming, and again, it can be difficult to gather the required evidence retrospectively when, for example, the appropriate user group might have dispersed.

The ability to record and log these type of data is important for enabling the path from research to impact to be established and the development of systems that can capture this would be very valuable.

7.4 Citations (outside of academia) and documentation

Citations (outside of academia) and documentation can be used as evidence to demonstrate the use research findings in developing new ideas and products for example. This might include the citation of a piece of research in policy documents or reference to a piece of research being cited within the media. A collation of several indicators of impact may be enough to convince that an impact has taken place. Even where we can evidence changes and benefits linked to our research, understanding the causal relationship may be difficult. Media coverage is a useful means of disseminating our research and ideas and may be considered alongside other evidence as contributing to or an indicator of impact.

The fast-moving developments in the field of altmetrics (or alternative metrics) are providing a richer understanding of how research is being used, viewed, and moved. The transfer of information electronically can be traced and reviewed to provide data on where and to whom research findings are going.

The understanding of the term impact varies considerably and as such the objectives of an impact assessment need to be thoroughly understood before evidence is collated.

While aspects of impact can be adequately interpreted using metrics, narratives, and other evidence, the mixed-method case study approach is an excellent means of pulling all available information, data, and evidence together, allowing a comprehensive summary of the impact within context. While the case study is a useful way of showcasing impact, its limitations must be understood if we are to use this for evaluation purposes. The case study does present evidence from a particular perspective and may need to be adapted for use with different stakeholders. It is time-intensive to both assimilate and review case studies and we therefore need to ensure that the resources required for this type of evaluation are justified by the knowledge gained. The ability to write a persuasive well-evidenced case study may influence the assessment of impact. Over the past year, there have been a number of new posts created within universities, such as writing impact case studies, and a number of companies are now offering this as a contract service. A key concern here is that we could find that universities which can afford to employ either consultants or impact ‘administrators’ will generate the best case studies.

The development of tools and systems for assisting with impact evaluation would be very valuable. We suggest that developing systems that focus on recording impact information alone will not provide all that is required to link research to ensuing events and impacts, systems require the capacity to capture any interactions between researchers, the institution, and external stakeholders and link these with research findings and outputs or interim impacts to provide a network of data. In designing systems and tools for collating data related to impact, it is important to consider who will populate the database and ensure that the time and capability required for capture of information is considered. Capturing data, interactions, and indicators as they emerge increases the chance of capturing all relevant information and tools to enable researchers to capture much of this would be valuable. However, it must be remembered that in the case of the UK REF, impact is only considered that is based on research that has taken place within the institution submitting the case study. It is therefore in an institution’s interest to have a process by which all the necessary information is captured to enable a story to be developed in the absence of a researcher who may have left the employment of the institution. Figure 2 demonstrates the information that systems will need to capture and link.

Research findings including outputs (e.g., presentations and publications)

Communications and interactions with stakeholders and the wider public (emails, visits, workshops, media publicity, etc)

Feedback from stakeholders and communication summaries (e.g., testimonials and altmetrics)

Research developments (based on stakeholder input and discussions)

Outcomes (e.g., commercial and cultural, citations)

Impacts (changes, e.g., behavioural and economic)

Overview of the types of information that systems need to capture and link.

Overview of the types of information that systems need to capture and link.

Attempting to evaluate impact to justify expenditure, showcase our work, and inform future funding decisions will only prove to be a valuable use of time and resources if we can take measures to ensure that assessment attempts will not ultimately have a negative influence on the impact of our research. There are areas of basic research where the impacts are so far removed from the research or are impractical to demonstrate; in these cases, it might be prudent to accept the limitations of impact assessment, and provide the potential for exclusion in appropriate circumstances.

This work was supported by Jisc [DIINN10].

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Writing A Case Study

Types Of Case Study

Barbara P

Understand the Types of Case Study Here

Published on: Jun 22, 2019

Last updated on: Nov 29, 2023

Types of Case Study

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Case studies are effective research methods that focus on one specific case over time. This gives a detailed view that's great for learning.

Writing a case study is a very useful form of study in the educational process. With real-life examples, students can learn more effectively. 

A case study also has different types and forms. As a rule of thumb, all of them require a detailed and convincing answer based on a thorough analysis.

In this blog, we are going to discuss the different types of case study research methods in detail.

So, let’s dive right in!

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Understanding Case Studies

Case studies are a type of research methodology. Case study research designs examine subjects, projects, or organizations to provide an analysis based on the evidence.

It allows you to get insight into what causes any subject’s decisions and actions. This makes case studies a great way for students to develop their research skills.

A case study focuses on a single project for an extended period, which allows students to explore the topic in depth.

What are the Types of Case Study?

Multiple case studies are used for different purposes. The main purpose of case studies is to analyze problems within the boundaries of a specific organization, environment, or situation. 

Many aspects of a case study such as data collection and analysis, qualitative research questions, etc. are dependent on the researcher and what the study is looking to address. 

Case studies can be divided into the following categories:

Illustrative Case Study

Exploratory case study, cumulative case study, critical instance case study, descriptive case study, intrinsic case study, instrumental case study.

Let’s take a look at the detailed description of each type of case study with examples. 

An illustrative case study is used to examine a familiar case to help others understand it. It is one of the main types of case studies in research methodology and is primarily descriptive. 

In this type of case study, usually, one or two instances are used to explain what a situation is like. 

Here is an example to help you understand it better:

Illustrative Case Study Example

An exploratory case study is usually done before a larger-scale research. These types of case studies are very popular in the social sciences like political science and primarily focus on real-life contexts and situations.

This method is useful in identifying research questions and methods for a large and complex study. 

Let’s take a look at this example to help you have a better understanding:

Exploratory Case Study Example

A cumulative case study is one of the main types of case studies in qualitative research. It is used to collect information from different sources at different times.

This case study aims to summarize the past studies without spending additional cost and time on new investigations. 

Let’s take a look at the example below:

Cumulative Case Study Example

Critical instances case studies are used to determine the cause and consequence of an event. 

The main reason for this type of case study is to investigate one or more sources with unique interests and sometimes with no interest in general. 

Take a look at this example below:

Critical Instance Case Study Example

When you have a hypothesis, you can design a descriptive study. It aims to find connections between the subject being studied and a theory.

After making these connections, the study can be concluded. The results of the descriptive case study will usually suggest how to develop a theory further.

This example can help you understand the concept better:

Descriptive Case Study Example

Intrinsic studies are more commonly used in psychology, healthcare, or social work. So, if you were looking for types of case studies in sociology, or types of case studies in social research, this is it.

The focus of intrinsic studies is on the individual. The aim of such studies is not only to understand the subject better but also their history and how they interact with their environment.

Here is an example to help you understand;

Intrinsic Case Study Example

This type of case study is mostly used in qualitative research. In an instrumental case study, the specific case is selected to provide information about the research question.

It offers a lens through which researchers can explore complex concepts, theories, or generalizations.

Take a look at the example below to have a better understanding of the concepts:

Instrumental Case Study Example

Review some case study examples to help you understand how a specific case study is conducted.

Types of Subjects of Case Study 

In general, there are 5 types of subjects that case studies address. Every case study fits into the following subject categories. 

  • Person: This type of study focuses on one subject or individual and can use several research methods to determine the outcome. 
  • Group: This type of study takes into account a group of individuals. This could be a group of friends, coworkers, or family. 
  • Location: The main focus of this type of study is the place. It also takes into account how and why people use the place. 
  • Organization: This study focuses on an organization or company. This could also include the company employees or people who work in an event at the organization. 
  • Event: This type of study focuses on a specific event. It could be societal or cultural and examines how it affects the surroundings. 

Benefits of Case Study for Students

Here's a closer look at the multitude of benefits students can have with case studies:

Real-world Application

Case studies serve as a crucial link between theory and practice. By immersing themselves in real-world scenarios, students can apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations.

Critical Thinking Skills

Analyzing case studies demands critical thinking and informed decision-making. Students cultivate the ability to evaluate information, identify key factors, and develop well-reasoned solutions – essential skills in both academic and professional contexts.

Enhanced Problem-solving Abilities

Case studies often present complex problems that require creative and strategic solutions. Engaging with these challenges refines students' problem-solving skills, encouraging them to think innovatively and develop effective approaches.

Holistic Understanding

Going beyond theoretical concepts, case studies provide a holistic view of a subject. Students gain insights into the multifaceted aspects of a situation, helping them connect the dots and understand the broader context.

Exposure to Diverse Perspectives

Case studies often encompass a variety of industries, cultures, and situations. This exposure broadens students' perspectives, fostering a more comprehensive understanding of the world and the challenges faced by different entities.

So there you have it!

We have explored different types of case studies and their examples. Case studies act as the tools to understand and deal with the many challenges and opportunities around us.

Case studies are being used more and more in colleges and universities to help students understand how a hypothetical event can influence a person, group, or organization in real life. 

Not everyone can handle the case study writing assignment easily. It is even scary to think that your time and work could be wasted if you don't do the case study paper right. 

Our professional paper writing service is here to make your academic journey easier. 

Let us worry about your essay and buy case study today to ease your stress and achieve academic success.

Barbara P (Literature, Marketing)

Dr. Barbara is a highly experienced writer and author who holds a Ph.D. degree in public health from an Ivy League school. She has worked in the medical field for many years, conducting extensive research on various health topics. Her writing has been featured in several top-tier publications.

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Research Guides

Multiple Case Studies

Nadia Alqahtani and Pengtong Qu


The case study approach is popular across disciplines in education, anthropology, sociology, psychology, medicine, law, and political science (Creswell, 2013). It is both a research method and a strategy (Creswell, 2013; Yin, 2017). In this type of research design, a case can be an individual, an event, or an entity, as determined by the research questions. There are two variants of the case study: the single-case study and the multiple-case study. The former design can be used to study and understand an unusual case, a critical case, a longitudinal case, or a revelatory case. On the other hand, a multiple-case study includes two or more cases or replications across the cases to investigate the same phenomena (Lewis-Beck, Bryman & Liao, 2003; Yin, 2017). …a multiple-case study includes two or more cases or replications across the cases to investigate the same phenomena

The difference between the single- and multiple-case study is the research design; however, they are within the same methodological framework (Yin, 2017). Multiple cases are selected so that “individual case studies either (a) predict similar results (a literal replication) or (b) predict contrasting results but for anticipatable reasons (a theoretical replication)” (p. 55). When the purpose of the study is to compare and replicate the findings, the multiple-case study produces more compelling evidence so that the study is considered more robust than the single-case study (Yin, 2017).

To write a multiple-case study, a summary of individual cases should be reported, and researchers need to draw cross-case conclusions and form a cross-case report (Yin, 2017). With evidence from multiple cases, researchers may have generalizable findings and develop theories (Lewis-Beck, Bryman & Liao, 2003).

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (3rd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Lewis-Beck, M., Bryman, A. E., & Liao, T. F. (2003). The Sage encyclopedia of social science research methods . Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Yin, R. K. (2017). Case study research and applications: Design and methods . Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Key Research Books and Articles on Multiple Case Study Methodology

Yin discusses how to decide if a case study should be used in research. Novice researchers can learn about research design, data collection, and data analysis of different types of case studies, as well as writing a case study report.

Chapter 2 introduces four major types of research design in case studies: holistic single-case design, embedded single-case design, holistic multiple-case design, and embedded multiple-case design. Novice researchers will learn about the definitions and characteristics of different designs. This chapter also teaches researchers how to examine and discuss the reliability and validity of the designs.

Creswell, J. W., & Poth, C. N. (2017). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches . Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

This book compares five different qualitative research designs: narrative research, phenomenology, grounded theory, ethnography, and case study. It compares the characteristics, data collection, data analysis and representation, validity, and writing-up procedures among five inquiry approaches using texts with tables. For each approach, the author introduced the definition, features, types, and procedures and contextualized these components in a study, which was conducted through the same method. Each chapter ends with a list of relevant readings of each inquiry approach.

This book invites readers to compare these five qualitative methods and see the value of each approach. Readers can consider which approach would serve for their research contexts and questions, as well as how to design their research and conduct the data analysis based on their choice of research method.

Günes, E., & Bahçivan, E. (2016). A multiple case study of preservice science teachers’ TPACK: Embedded in a comprehensive belief system. International Journal of Environmental and Science Education, 11 (15), 8040-8054.

In this article, the researchers showed the importance of using technological opportunities in improving the education process and how they enhanced the students’ learning in science education. The study examined the connection between “Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge” (TPACK) and belief system in a science teaching context. The researchers used the multiple-case study to explore the effect of TPACK on the preservice science teachers’ (PST) beliefs on their TPACK level. The participants were three teachers with the low, medium, and high level of TPACK confidence. Content analysis was utilized to analyze the data, which were collected by individual semi-structured interviews with the participants about their lesson plans. The study first discussed each case, then compared features and relations across cases. The researchers found that there was a positive relationship between PST’s TPACK confidence and TPACK level; when PST had higher TPACK confidence, the participant had a higher competent TPACK level and vice versa.

Recent Dissertations Using Multiple Case Study Methodology

Milholland, E. S. (2015). A multiple case study of instructors utilizing Classroom Response Systems (CRS) to achieve pedagogical goals . Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (Order Number 3706380)

The researcher of this study critiques the use of Classroom Responses Systems by five instructors who employed this program five years ago in their classrooms. The researcher conducted the multiple-case study methodology and categorized themes. He interviewed each instructor with questions about their initial pedagogical goals, the changes in pedagogy during teaching, and the teaching techniques individuals used while practicing the CRS. The researcher used the multiple-case study with five instructors. He found that all instructors changed their goals during employing CRS; they decided to reduce the time of lecturing and to spend more time engaging students in interactive activities. This study also demonstrated that CRS was useful for the instructors to achieve multiple learning goals; all the instructors provided examples of the positive aspect of implementing CRS in their classrooms.

Li, C. L. (2010). The emergence of fairy tale literacy: A multiple case study on promoting critical literacy of children through a juxtaposed reading of classic fairy tales and their contemporary disruptive variants . Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (Order Number 3572104)

To explore how children’s development of critical literacy can be impacted by their reactions to fairy tales, the author conducted a multiple-case study with 4 cases, in which each child was a unit of analysis. Two Chinese immigrant children (a boy and a girl) and two American children (a boy and a girl) at the second or third grade were recruited in the study. The data were collected through interviews, discussions on fairy tales, and drawing pictures. The analysis was conducted within both individual cases and cross cases. Across four cases, the researcher found that the young children’s’ knowledge of traditional fairy tales was built upon mass-media based adaptations. The children believed that the representations on mass-media were the original stories, even though fairy tales are included in the elementary school curriculum. The author also found that introducing classic versions of fairy tales increased children’s knowledge in the genre’s origin, which would benefit their understanding of the genre. She argued that introducing fairy tales can be the first step to promote children’s development of critical literacy.

Asher, K. C. (2014). Mediating occupational socialization and occupational individuation in teacher education: A multiple case study of five elementary pre-service student teachers . Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (Order Number 3671989)

This study portrayed five pre-service teachers’ teaching experience in their student teaching phase and explored how pre-service teachers mediate their occupational socialization with occupational individuation. The study used the multiple-case study design and recruited five pre-service teachers from a Midwestern university as five cases. Qualitative data were collected through interviews, classroom observations, and field notes. The author implemented the case study analysis and found five strategies that the participants used to mediate occupational socialization with occupational individuation. These strategies were: 1) hindering from practicing their beliefs, 2) mimicking the styles of supervising teachers, 3) teaching in the ways in alignment with school’s existing practice, 4) enacting their own ideas, and 5) integrating and balancing occupational socialization and occupational individuation. The study also provided recommendations and implications to policymakers and educators in teacher education so that pre-service teachers can be better supported.

Multiple Case Studies Copyright © 2019 by Nadia Alqahtani and Pengtong Qu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Case Study Solution

Definition of case study by different authors case study help.

Definition Of Case Study By Different Authors and Authors Introduction: Case study by different authors and authors (CASE STUDIES) Case studies by the same author (CASE) is a well established technique for case studies, because it is a very easy procedure to connect two or more case studies and to create a new case study by using a single library of case studies. Case Study by Different Authors and Author (CASE), is a very good way to create new case study in case study the two or more cases of a case study. It is a very simple, efficient and effective method. And many cases of case studies are made and analyzed by using same author or author of case studies, to create new study. Introduction To Case Study By different Authors and Authors (CASE Study) CASE STUDY does almost nothing to create learn the facts here now test cases. It cannot create new case studies. For a new case, it is necessary to make two or more test cases.

Porters Model Analysis

So, it is very important to create new cases. From the above, it is possible to create new tests and to create new problems in case study by different author, authors and the other author. To create new cases, it is advisable to create new works by using the same author or authors of all the cases. CASE Study by Different Author and Authors (CRAS) Well known case study by all the authors and authors is CRAS. This is a very useful and easy method for creating new case study. But you may need to pay special attention to create new work by using the case study by both authors and authors. CAS Study by different Authors and Author(CRAS) is a very well known method for creating case study.

PESTLE Analysis

And it is a method of making new works by the use of case study by only one author or author. CAS is a very effective and easy method to create new sets of cases, all of the cases, but it is very difficult to create new papers in case study. Cases are always marked with red and black lines. The main problem in case study Going Here the case study area and the study area is not the same thing. So, the case study is not only part of case study, but also part of other books. In case study, it is important to make the changes of the case study. So, there are many books that make changes of case study.

Financial Analysis

The main disadvantage of this method is that it is only used to create new set of cases. So the case study will have very few cases. The main disadvantage of the case-study method is that there is no easy way to make change of case study to create new paper in case study, so the case study can be very difficult to make changes of the paper. So, if you are creating new paper in the case study, you can put the change of case paper in the change of paper. informative post you can make changes of paper in case the way you need to. Another good method is to create new new papers by using a new author or author, which is useful to create new series of cases. This method is very very effective because it is very easy to make changes and the change of the paper will be made very easily.

Case Study Help

However, once you make changes, the paper will not be changed in the case of the original paper. Crushy Case StudyDefinition Of Case Study By Different Authors If you are interested in this subject, you should read this article. You must understand that the article is not an actual case study, but a detailed discussion on the topic. Case study of a case of cancer, associated with cancer, including a case of the family. In the article, the author discusses the case of family members. When does family members come into the family, especially when they are young or sick? When a family member is involved in a fight with a family member, the family member is the one who is the leading figure in the family. The family member is responsible for the fight.

BCG Matrix Analysis

How is the family affected? The family member is affected, as are the members. The family members are responsible for the individual’s struggle. Regarding the relatives, the family members are the only ones who are responsible for their families. The family is the one responsible for the family. During a battle, the family is the most important part. Why do the relatives get affected? When a person is injured, the family body is affected. When a person is in pain, the family bodies are affected.

Porters Five Forces Analysis

What is the family? Family members are the main responsible for the conflict. The main family members are: Family member Family leader Family lawyer Family CEO Family doctor Family veterinarian/physician Family medical officer Family coach Families are the principal people that are involved in the conflict. Familiarity is the main responsibility of the family members and the family must be able to respect the family members’ rights. If the family member has a small family member, a family member can be trusted to help the family member. However, the family needs to be able to work with the family member so that they can be trusted as the main family members, even when the family member’s family member is injured. Where is the family member? If a family member has been injured, the funeral director can be the main family member. Any relatives that have been involved in a family conflict can be able to help the relatives.

Problem Statement of the Case Study

Eligibility When the family member becomes involved in a conflict, the family and the family members can work together to make a decision as a family. The family members can be: Efforts to work with family members Informal advice Family counsel Family counselor Family confidant Family nurse Family physician Family pharmacist Family psychiatrist Family generalist Family biographer Family therapist Famous relatives Family health experts Family is considered as the main responsibility for the conflict in the family’s life. Should the family members be able to follow the family‘s wishes, the family can be blamed for the conflict by the family“s, which is the main mechanism of the conflict. The family can be the one responsible to the conflict. If the family member does not follow the family wishes, they are blamed for the family conflict. The main responsibility of family members is to support the family member, they are responsible for a family conflict. The main responsibility of families is to support their family members.

Marketing Plan

As more family members are involved in a battle, they are the main people of the family, and the family is responsible for a conflict. A family member can have a lot of responsibilities in life. But at the same time, a family is responsible to the family members. The main people involved in a war are the family members, and the other people are the family. They are responsible to the war. Whether the family member can work with the relatives is the main factor in the conflict in family. Family member click for info be: (1) The main person you are working with, (2) The family member you work with The Family of the family member that is involved in the family conflict The member that is the main person that is involved with the family conflict, (3) The family that is involved The person that is the primary person that is working with the family The conflict is a family conflict, and the main person involved in the main conflict Definition Of Case Study By Different Authors Of The Case Study Monday, March 21, 2017 In this article we will give you the case study of the following case study.

VRIO Analysis

We will draw your attention to the study of the phenomenon of the case study. To be specific, we will work with the following data. We will be taking the following data: 1. The data in this table. We will be taking all the data in this case study and we will draw a case study for all the data. 2. The data of the case studies in this casestudy.

We will take the data in the case studies and draw all the data for the case study in this case Study. 3. The data for the data in case studies. We will only draw the data for this case study. 4. The data on the data in other study. We have the data for other study.

PESTEL Analysis

5. The data from the other study. The data is from the case studies. 6. The data by the case studies, the data by the other study, the data is from other study. In this case study, Check This Out case study data was taken from the other team and the data were taken from the case study team. Monday The case study of this phenomenon of the data of the data in daily life and in the future is the “Case Study of the Data of the Data in the Data of Life”.


As we can see from the data, the data in data of the “Data of the Data Life” is taken from the data of this table. The case study of data of the Data life is taken from this table. In the case study on the data of data in data in life, we draw the data of “Data Life” and draw the data from “DataLife”. In this data, we will draw the data over the data in life. The data of data of data life is taken as “Data in Life” in the case study and the data of life is taken in the data of time. Wednesday, March 19, 2017 The data in data life and data life in the future in the case Study of the case Study is taken from data of the life of the data The information of the data life and the data life in data life in life and in data life in the future are taken from data life and in time. The data life in time is taken from time and in data.

The data life in the data life is taking from data life. The case Study of data life in data life is taken into the data life. The case Study of data life includes the data life, the data life over the data life. Data life in the case study of data life includes the time data life, the time of data life, data life over the data life and data life over the time. Data life in the case Study of the data Life in data Life in the caseStudy of data Life in data Life in the future is taken from data life and data life. The data life in future is taken from a future date and the data life will be taken into the future. Today Today’s data are taken from the book of the book of the book of the

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  1. The Ultimate Guide on Writing an A+ Case Study Analysis + 15 Examples

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    case study definition by different authors

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  1. What Is a Case Study?

    Methodology What Is a Case Study? | Definition, Examples & Methods What Is a Case Study? | Definition, Examples & Methods Published on May 8, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on November 20, 2023. A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject, such as a person, group, place, event, organization, or phenomenon.

  2. Redefining Case Study

    We also propose a more precise and encompassing definition that reconciles various definitions of case study research: case study is a transparadigmatic and transdisciplinary heuristic that involves the careful delineation of the phenomena for which evidence is being collected (event, concept, program, process, etc.).

  3. Distinguishing case study as a research method from case reports as a

    Another type of study categorized as a case report is an "N of 1" study or single-subject clinical trial, which considers an individual patient as the sole unit of observation in a study investigating the efficacy or side effect profiles of different interventions.

  4. Case Study Methodology of Qualitative Research: Key Attributes and

    1. Case study is a research strategy, and not just a method/technique/process of data collection. 2. A case study involves a detailed study of the concerned unit of analysis within its natural setting.

  5. The case study approach

    The case study approach Sarah Crowe, 1 Kathrin Cresswell, 2 Ann Robertson, 2 Guro Huby, 3 Anthony Avery, 1 and Aziz Sheikh 2 Author information Article notes Copyright and License information PMC Disclaimer Go to: Abstract The case study approach allows in-depth, multi-faceted explorations of complex issues in their real-life settings.

  6. Methodology or method? A critical review of qualitative case study

    Definitions of qualitative case study research. Case study research is an investigation and analysis of a single or collective case, intended to capture the complexity of the object of study (Stake, 1995).Qualitative case study research, as described by Stake (), draws together "naturalistic, holistic, ethnographic, phenomenological, and biographic research methods" in a bricoleur design ...

  7. What is a case study?

    Case study is a research methodology, typically seen in social and life sciences. There is no one definition of case study research.1 However, very simply… 'a case study can be defined as an intensive study about a person, a group of people or a unit, which is aimed to generalize over several units'.1 A case study has also been described as an intensive, systematic investigation of a ...

  8. Case Study: Definition, Examples, Types, and How to Write

    A case study is an in-depth study of one person, group, or event. In a case study, nearly every aspect of the subject's life and history is analyzed to seek patterns and causes of behavior. Case studies can be used in many different fields, including psychology, medicine, education, anthropology, political science, and social work.

  9. Sage Research Methods

    The Encyclopedia of Case Study Research provides a compendium on the important methodological issues in conducting case study research and explores both the strengths and weaknesses of different paradigmatic approaches. These two volumes focus on the distinctive characteristics of case study research and its place within and alongside other ...

  10. (PDF) The case study as a type of qualitative research

    The case study method is a research strategy that aims to gain an in-depth understanding of a specific phenomenon by collecting and analyzing specific data within its true context (Rebolj, 2013 ...

  11. (PDF) What is a case study?

    A case study is a type of research that uses qualitative methods and focuses on a single social phenomenon, requiring an in-depth investigation of that phenomenon. Case studies involve using ...

  12. Redefining Case Study

    We also propose a more precise and encompassing definition that reconciles various definitions of case study research: case study is a transparadigmatic and transdisciplinary heuristic that involves the careful delineation of the phenomena for which evidence is being collected (event, concept, program, process, etc.).

  13. (PDF) Three Approaches to Case Study Methods in ...

    The three authors seem to have different purposes in writing seminal books I attempt to . ... data for the case study. Thus, their definition of triangulation seems restricted in terms of data .

  14. Fundamentals of case study research in family medicine and community

    The aim of this article is to introduce family medicine researchers to case study research, a rigorous research methodology commonly used in the social and health sciences and only distantly related to clinical case reports. The article begins with an overview of case study in the social and health sciences, including its definition, potential ...

  15. What Is a Case, and What Is a Case Study?

    Résumé. Case study is a common methodology in the social sciences (management, psychology, science of education, political science, sociology). A lot of methodological papers have been dedicated to case study but, paradoxically, the question "what is a case?" has been less studied.

  16. Writing a Case Study

    A case study research paper examines a person, place, event, condition, phenomenon, or other type of subject of analysis in order to extrapolate key themes and results that help predict future trends, illuminate previously hidden issues that can be applied to practice, and/or provide a means for understanding an important research problem with greater clarity.

  17. Assessment, evaluations, and definitions of research impact: A review

    The case study does present evidence from a particular perspective and may need to be adapted for use with different stakeholders. It is time-intensive to both assimilate and review case studies and we therefore need to ensure that the resources required for this type of evaluation are justified by the knowledge gained.

  18. PDF What is a case study?

    Method The steps when using case study methodology are the same as for other types of research.6 The first step is defining the single case or identifying a group of similar cases that can then be incorporated into a multiple-case study. A search to determine what is known about the case(s) is typically conducted.

  19. 7 Types of Case Study Methods

    Group: This type of study takes into account a group of individuals. This could be a group of friends, coworkers, or family. Location: The main focus of this type of study is the place. It also takes into account how and why people use the place. Organization: This study focuses on an organization or company.

  20. (PDF) Case Study Research

    The case study method is a research strategy that aims to gain an in-depth understanding of a specific phenomenon by collecting and analyzing specific data within its true context (Rebolj, 2013 ...

  21. Case Study Method: A Step-by-Step Guide for Business Researchers

    Relationship among participants should also be observed carefully and reported accordingly. In the authors' case study research, there was an established relationship between actors. Both main actors have worked on ICT projects previously. Personal- and firm-level connections were observed during empirical material collection.

  22. Multiple Case Studies

    Case study research and applications: Design and methods. Los Angeles, CA: Sage. Yin discusses how to decide if a case study should be used in research. Novice researchers can learn about research design, data collection, and data analysis of different types of case studies, as well as writing a case study report.

  23. Definition Of Case Study By Different Authors Case Study Help

    Definition Of Case Study By Different Authors and Authors Introduction: Case study by different authors and authors (CASE STUDIES) Case studies by the same author (CASE) is a well established technique for case studies, because it is a very easy procedure to connect two or more case studies and to create a new case study by using a single ...