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What Is a Case Study?
When you’re performing research as part of your job or for a school assignment, you’ll probably come across case studies that help you to learn more about the topic at hand. But what is a case study and why are they helpful? Read on to learn all about case studies.
Deep Dive into a Topic
At face value, a case study is a deep dive into a topic. Case studies can be found in many fields, particularly across the social sciences and medicine. When you conduct a case study, you create a body of research based on an inquiry and related data from analysis of a group, individual or controlled research environment.
As a researcher, you can benefit from the analysis of case studies similar to inquiries you’re currently studying. Researchers often rely on case studies to answer questions that basic information and standard diagnostics cannot address.
Study a Pattern
One of the main objectives of a case study is to find a pattern that answers whatever the initial inquiry seeks to find. This might be a question about why college students are prone to certain eating habits or what mental health problems afflict house fire survivors. The researcher then collects data, either through observation or data research, and starts connecting the dots to find underlying behaviors or impacts of the sample group’s behavior.
During the study period, the researcher gathers evidence to back the observed patterns and future claims that’ll be derived from the data. Since case studies are usually presented in the professional environment, it’s not enough to simply have a theory and observational notes to back up a claim. Instead, the researcher must provide evidence to support the body of study and the resulting conclusions.
As the study progresses, the researcher develops a solid case to present to peers or a governing body. Case study presentation is important because it legitimizes the body of research and opens the findings to a broader analysis that may end up drawing a conclusion that’s more true to the data than what one or two researchers might establish. The presentation might be formal or casual, depending on the case study itself.
Once the body of research is established, it’s time to draw conclusions from the case study. As with all social sciences studies, conclusions from one researcher shouldn’t necessarily be taken as gospel, but they’re helpful for advancing the body of knowledge in a given field. For that purpose, they’re an invaluable way of gathering new material and presenting ideas that others in the field can learn from and expand upon.
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How to write the conclusion of your case study
You worked on an amazing UX project. You documented every detail and deliverable and when the time came, you began to write a UX case study about it. In the case study, you highlighted how you worked through a Design Thinking process to get to the end result; so, can you stop there and now move on to the next thing? Well, no! There’s just one more bit left to finish up and make the perfect case study. So, get ready; we will now explore how you can write the perfect conclusion to wrap it all up and leave a lasting great impression.
Every start has an end – we’re not just repeating the famous quote here, because for case studies, a proper end is your last and final chance to leave a lasting great (at the very least, good) impression with whoever is reading your work (typically, recruiters!). Many junior UX designers often forget about the conclusion part of the case study, but this is a costly mistake to make. A well-written case study must end with an appropriate final section, in which you should summarize the key takeaways that you want others to remember about you and your work. Let’s see why.
Last impressions are just as important as first ones
We’ll go to some length here to convince you about the importance of last impressions, especially as we can understand the reason behind not wanting to pay very much attention to the end of your case study, after all the hard work you put into writing the process section. You are tired, and anyone who’s read your work should already have a good idea about your skills, anyway. Surely—you could be forgiven for thinking, at least—all that awesome material you put in the start and middle sections must have built up the momentum to take your work into orbit and make the recruiter’s last impression of you a lasting—and very good—one, and all you need to do now is take your leave. However, psychologist Saul McLeod (2008) explains how early work by experimental psychology pioneers Atkinson & Shriffin (1968) demonstrated that when humans are presented with information, they tend to remember the first and last elements and are more likely to forget the middle ones.
This is known as the “ serial position effect ” (more technically, the tendency to remember the first elements is known as the “ primacy effect ”, while the tendency to remember the last elements is known as the “ recency effect ”). Further work in human experiences discovered that the last few things we see or hear at the end of an experience can generate the most powerful memories that come back to us when we come across a situation or when we think about it. For example, let’s say you stayed in a hotel room that left a bit to be desired. Maybe the room was a little cramped, or the towels were not so soft. But if the receptionist, as you leave, shakes your hand warmly, smiles and thanks you sincerely for your custom, and goes out of his way to help you with your luggage, or to get you a taxi, you will remember that person’s kind demeanor more than you will remember the fact that the room facilities could be improved.
A good ending to your case study can help people forget some of the not-so-good points about your case study middle. For example, if you missed out a few crucial details but can demonstrate some truly interesting takeaways, they can always just ask you about these in an interview. Inversely, a bad ending leaves the recruiter with some doubt that will linger. Did this person learn nothing interesting from all this work? Did their work have no impact at all? Did they even write the case study themselves? A bad last impression can certainly undo much of the hard work you’ve put into writing the complicated middle part of your case study.
What to put in your case study conclusions
A case study ending is your opportunity to bring some closure to the story that you are writing. So, you can use it to mention the status of the project (e.g., is it ongoing or has it ended?) and then to demonstrate the impact that your work has had. By presenting some quantifiable results (e.g., data from end evaluations, analytics, key performance indicators), you can demonstrate this impact. You can also discuss what you learned from this project, making you wiser than the next applicant – for example, something about a special category of users that the company might be interested in developing products for, or something that is cutting-edge and that advances the frontiers of science or practice.
As you can see, there are a few good ways in which you can end your case study. Next, we will outline four options that can be part of your ending: lessons learned, the impact of the project, reflections, and acknowledgements.
A recruiter wants to see how you improve yourself by learning from the projects you work on. You can discuss interesting insights that you learned from user research or the evaluation of your designs – for example, surprising behaviors that you found out about the technology use in a group of users who are not typically considered to be big proponents of technology (e.g., older adults), or, perhaps, the reasons a particular design pattern didn’t work as well as expected under the context of your project.
Another thing you can discuss is your opinion on what the most difficult challenge of the project was, and comment on how you managed to overcome it. You can also discuss here things that you found out about yourself as a professional – for example, that you enjoyed taking on a UX role that you didn’t have previous experience with, or that you were able to overcome some personal limitations or build on your existing skills in a new way.
Impact of the project
Showing impact is always good. How did you measure the impact of your work? By using analytics, evaluation results, and even testimonials from your customers or users, or even your development or marketing team, you can demonstrate that your methodical approach to work brought about some positive change. Use before-after comparison data to demonstrate the extent of your impact. Verbatim positive quotes from your users or other project stakeholders are worth their weight (or rather, sentence length) in gold. Don’t go overboard, but mix and match the best evidence for the quality of your work to keep the end section brief and to the point.
Copyright holder: Andreas Komninos, Interaction Design Foundation. Copyright terms and license: CC BY-SA 3.0
User reviews from app stores are a great source of obtaining testimonials to include in your case studies. Overall app ratings and download volumes are also great bits of information to show impact.
Copyright holder: Andreas Komninos, Interaction Design Foundation . Copyright terms and license: CC BY-SA 3.0
An excerpt from a case study ending section. Here, text and accompanying charts are used to demonstrate the impact of the work done by the UX professional.
Reflections on your experiences
You can include some information that shows you have a clear understanding of how further work can build on the success of what you’ve already done. This demonstrates forward thinking and exploratory desire. Something else you can reflect on is your choices during the project. In every project, there might be things you could do differently or improve upon. But be aware that the natural question that follows such statements is this: “Well, so why haven’t you done it?”
Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by listing all the things you wish you could have done, but focus on what you’ve actually done and lay out future directions. For example, if you’ve done the user research in an ongoing project, don’t say, “ After all this user research, it would have been great to progress to a prototype, but it’s not yet done ”; instead, say, “ This user research is now enabling developers to quickly progress to the prototyping stage. ”
The end of the case study section is where you should put in your acknowledgments to any other members of your team, if this wasn’t a personal project. Your goal by doing so is to highlight your team spirit and humility in recognizing that great projects are most typically the result of collaboration . Be careful here, because it’s easy to make the waters muddy by not being explicit about what YOU did. So, for example, don’t write something like “ I couldn’t have done it without John X. and Jane Y. ”, but instead say this: “ My user research and prototype design fed into the development work carried out by John X. User testing was carried out by Jane Y., whose findings informed further re-design that I did on the prototypes. ”
What is a good length for a UX case study ending?
UX case studies must be kept short, and, when considering the length of your beginning, process and conclusion sections, it’s the beginning and the conclusion sections that should be the shortest of all. In some case studies, you can keep the ending to two or three short phrases. Other, longer case studies about more complex projects may require a slightly longer section.
Remember, though, that the end section is your chance for a last, short but impactful impression. If the hotel receptionist from our early example started to say goodbye and then went on and on to ask you about your experience, sharing with you the comments of other clients, or started talking to you about where you are going next, and why, and maybe if he had been there himself, started to tell you all about where to go and what to see, well… you get the point. Keep it short, sincere and focused. And certainly, don’t try to make the project sound more important than it was. Recruiters are not stupid – they’ve been there and done that, so they know.
Putting it all together
In the example below, we will show how you can address the points above using text. We are going to focus on the three main questions here, so you can see an example of this in action, for a longer case study.
An example ending section for a longer case study, addressing all aspects: Lessons, impact, reflection and acknowledgments.
Here is how we might structure the text for a shorter version of the same case study, focusing on the bare essentials:
An example ending section for a shorter case study, addressing the most critical aspects: Lessons, impact and reflection. Acknowledgments are being sacrificed for the sake of brevity here, but perhaps that’s OK – you might mention it in the middle part of the case study.
The Take Away
The end part of your case study needs as much care and attention as the rest of it does. You shouldn’t neglect it just because it’s the last thing in the case study. It’s not hard work if you know the basics, and here, we’ve given you the pointers you need to ensure that you don’t miss out anything important. The end part of the case study should leave your recruiters with a good (hopefully, very good) last impression of you and your work, so give it the thorough consideration it needs, to ensure it doesn’t undo all the hard work you’ve put into the case study.
References & Where to Learn More
Copyright holder: Andrew Hurley, Flickr. Copyright terms and license: CC BY-SA 2.0
Atkinson, R. C., & Shiffrin, R. M. (1968). Chapter: Human memory : A proposed system and its control processes. In Spence, K. W., & Spence, J. T. The psychology of learning and motivation (Volume 2). New York: Academic Press. pp. 89–195.
McLeod, S. (2008). Serial Position Effect
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Case study method
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A case study is a particular method of qualitative research . Rather than using large samples and following a rigid protocol to examine a limited number of variables, case study methods involve an in-depth, longitudinal examination of a single instance or event: a case . They provide a systematic way of looking at events, collecting data , analyzing information , and reporting the results. As a result the researcher may gain a sharpened understanding of why the instance happened as it did, and what might become important to look at more extensively in future research. Case studies lend themselves especially to generating (rather than testing ) hypotheses .
- 1 The scope and relevance of case studies
- 2.1 Illustrative case studies
- 2.2 Exploratory case studies
- 2.3 Critical instance case studies
- 2.4 Program implementation case studies
- 2.5 Program effects case studies
- 2.6 Cumulative case studies
- 2.7 Business school case studies
- 2.8 Medical case studies
- 3 History of the case study
- 4 Conclusions
- 5 Notable case studies
- 7 References
- 8 External links
The scope and relevance of case studies [ ]
Certain disciplines thrive on case studies: others find them less suitable in given situations. Compare usage and perceived validity in the humanities , natural sciences , social sciences , pseudoscience and business .
Rogers, in Business Analysis for Marketing Managers (1978) distinguishes case studies from case histories and projects. He describes a case history as an event or series of events set in an organisational framework with or without a related environment. The events are described in some detail with the main and subsidiary points highlighted. Actions taken by subjects in the case are described; reactions, responses and effects on other subjects are related, and events taken to a conclusion or to a point that is irreversible. Medical cases are typical of the category. Symptoms are described, probable and possible causes suggested, treatment recommended, prognosis recorded, and the date when the patient was discharged or buried.
He defined the case study as also describing events in a framework within an environment. The problems are not always highlighted or even made clear; they emerge as the case material is subjected to analysis. A conclusion is not necessarily stated nor is the situation reached in the case irreversible. It is usually possible to ‘take over’ operations at a suitable point in the role of an external adviser or from a position in the case. Most business cases fall into this category.
The case project is a series of diverse continuous events, set in an organizational framework and normally in a well-defined environment. Those studying the case are led to a specific point in time and circumstance where they become a ‘participant’ in the case. They may be asked to assume the role of a person in the case, appointed to a particular vacancy, or to advise from the position of an external consultant. The role is made explicit and it is from that viewpoint that analysis, views, arguments and recommendations must be made; there is thus a behavioural aspect introduced. If placed in the position of a newly appointed middle manager, responses and suggestions are likely to be different from those of an external consultant. Rogers developed the case project in 1966 for the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s diploma final open book examination. To avoid pre-prepared scripts being submitted, the examination paper progressed the case by several months from when it was published, introducing new material. This required candidates to modify the analyses and conclusions already reached and write a true examination room report.
Types of case study [ ]
Illustrative case studies [ ].
Illustrative case studies describe a domain; they use one or two instances to analyze a situation. This helps interpret other data, especially when researchers have reason to believe that readers know too little about a program. These case studies serve to make the unfamiliar familiar, and give readers a common language about the topic. The chosen site should typify important variations and contain a small number of cases to sustain readers' interest.
The presentation of illustrative case studies may involve some pitfalls. Such studies require presentation of in-depth information on each illustration; but the researcher may lack time on-site for in-depth examination. The most serious problem involves the selection of instances. The case(s) must adequately represent the situation or program. Where significant diversity exists, no single individual site may cover the field adequately..
Exploratory case studies [ ]
Exploratory case studies condense the case study process: researchers may undertake them before implementing a large-scale investigation. Where considerable uncertainty exists about program operations, goals, and results, exploratory case studies help identify questions, select measurement constructs, and develop measures; they also serve to safeguard investment in larger studies.
The greatest pitfall in the exploratory study involves premature conclusions: the findings may seem convincing enough for inappropriate release as conclusions. Other pitfalls include the tendency to extend the exploratory phase, and inadequate representation of diversity.
Critical instance case studies [ ]
Critical instance case studies examine one or a few sites for one of two purposes. A very frequent application involves the examination of a situation of unique interest, with little or no interest in generalizability. A second, rarer, application entails calling into question a highly generalized or universal assertion and testing it by examining one instance. This method particularly suits answering cause-and-effect questions about the instance of concern.
Inadequate specification of the evaluation question forms the most serious pitfall in this type of study. Correct application of the critical instance case study crucially involves probing the underlying concerns in a request.
Program implementation case studies [ ]
Program implementation case studies help discern whether implementation complies with intent. These case studies may also prove useful when concern exists about implementation problems. Extensive, longitudinal reports of what has happened over time can set a context for interpreting a finding of implementation variability. In either case, researchers aim for generalization and must carefully negotiate the evaluation questions with their customer .
Good program implementation case studies must invest sufficient time to obtain longitudinal data and breadth of information. They typically require multiple sites to answer program implementation questions; this imposes demands on training and supervision needed for quality control . The demands of data management , quality control, validation procedures, and analytic modelling (within site, cross-site, etc.) may lead to cutting too many corners to maintain quality.
Program effects case studies [ ]
Program effects case studies can determine the impact of programs and provide inferences about reasons for success or failure. As with program implementation case studies, the evaluation questions usually require generalizability and, for a highly diverse program, it may become difficult to answer the questions adequately and retain a manageable number of sites. But methodological solutions to this problem exist. One approach involves first conducting the case studies in sites chosen for their representativeness, then verifying these findings through examination of administrative data, prior reports, or a survey. Another solution involves using other methods first. After identifying findings of specific interest, researchers may then implement case studies in selected sites to maximize the usefulness of the information.
Cumulative case studies [ ]
Cumulative case studies aggregate information from several sites collected at different times. The cumulative case study can have a retrospective focus, collecting information across studies done in the past, or a prospective outlook, structuring a series of investigations for different times in the future. Retrospective cumulation allows generalization without cost and time of conducting numerous new case studies; prospective cumulation also allows generalization without unmanageably large numbers of cases in process at any one time.
The techniques for ensuring sufficient comparability and quality and for aggregating the information constitute the "cumulative" part of the methodology. Features of the cumulative case study include the case survey method (used as a means of aggregating findings) and backfill techniques. The latter aid in retrospective cumulation as a means of obtaining information from authors that permits use of otherwise insufficiently detailed case studies.
Opinions vary as to the credibility of cumulative case studies for answering program implementation and effects questions. One authority notes that publication biases may favor programs that seem to work, which could lead to a misleading positive view (Berger, 1983). Others raise concerns about problems in verifying the quality of the original data and analyses (Yin, 1989).
Business school case studies [ ]
Case studies have been used in graduate and undergraduate business education for nearly one hundred years. Business cases are historical descriptions of actual business situations. Typically, information is presented about a business firm's products, markets, competition, financial structure, sales volumes, management, employees and other factors affecting the firm's success. The length of a business case study may range from two or three pages to 30 pages, or more.
Leading exponents of the case study method of instruction include the Harvard Business School, the Darden School (University of Virginia), the Tuck School (Dartmouth), Stanford University Business School, Ivey School (University of Western Ontario) and INSEAD (France and Singapore). Examples of widely used case studies are "Lincoln Electric" and "Google, Inc.," both published by the Harvard Business School.
Students are expected to scrutinize the case study and prepare to discuss strategies and tactics that the firm should employ in the future.
Three different methods have been used in business case teaching: (1) prepared case-specific questions to be answered by the student, (2) problem-solving analysis and (3) a generally applicable strategic planning approach.
The first method listed above is used with short cases intended for undergraduate students. The underlying concept is that such students need specific guidance to be able to analyze case studies.
The second method, initiated by the Harvard Business School is by far the most widely used method in MBA and executive development programs. The underlying concept is that with enough practice (hundreds of case analyses) students develop intuitive skills for analyzing and resolving complex business situations. Click here for more information on the HBS case method. Successful implementation of this method depends heavily on the skills of the discussion leader. Only a few teachers are able to become truly great case discussion leaders. Jim Erskine at the Ivey School is a prime example of such a teacher.
The third method does not require students to analyze hundreds of cases. A strategic planning model is provided and students are instructed to apply the steps of the model to six to a dozen cases during a semester. This is sufficient to develop their ability to analyze a complex situation, generate a variety of possible strategies and to select the best ones. In effect, students learn a generally applicable approach to analyzing cases studies and real situations. This approach does not make any extraordinary demands on the artistic and dramatic talents of the teacher. Consequently most professors are capable of supervising application of this method.
Medical case studies [ ]
In medical science case studies are considered "Class V" evidence, and are thus the least suggestive of all forms of medical evidence. 
History of the case study [ ]
As a distinct approach to research, use of the case study originated only in the early 20th century. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the phrase case study or case-study back as far as 1934, after the establishment of the concept of a case history in medicine.
The use of case studies for the creation of new theory in social sciences has been further developed by the sociologists Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss who presented their research method, Grounded theory , in 1967.
The popularity of case studies as research tools has developed only in recent decades. One of the areas in which case studies have been gaining popularity is education and in particular educational evaluation. Some of the prominent scholars in educational case study are Robert Stake and Jan Nespor (see references). Case studies have, of course, also been used as a teaching method and as part of professional development. They are well-known in business and legal education. The problem-based learning (PBL) movement is one of the examples. When used in (non-business) education and professional development, case studies are often referred to as critical incidents (see David Tripp in references).
History of Business Cases . - When the Harvard Business School was started, the faculty quickly realized that there were no textbooks suitable to a graduate program in business. Their first solution to this problem was to interview leading practioners of business and to write detailed accounts of what these managers were doing. Of course the professors could not present these cases as practices to be emulated because there were no criteria available for determining what would succeed and what would not succeed. So the professors instructed their students to read the cases and to come to class prepared to discuss the cases and to offer recommendations for appropriate courses of action. Basically that is the model still being used. See a critique of this approach.
Conclusions [ ]
The case study offers a method of learning about a complex instance through extensive description and contextual analysis. The product articulates why the instance occurred as it did, and what one might usefully explore in similar situations.
Case studies can generate a great deal of data that may defy straightforward analysis. For details on conducting a case study, especially with regard to data collection and analysis, see the references listed below.
Notable case studies [ ]
- Street Corner Society by William Foote Whyte , 1943, a descriptive case study of an Italian slum district in Boston, Massachusetts in the late 1930s.
- Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis is an analysis by Graham T. Allison , 1971, an explanatory case study of the Cuban Missile Crisis contrasting three different theories of decision making: rational actor , organizational process, and governmental politics.
- Weick, Karl E. (1993). The Collapse of Sensemaking in Organizations: The Mann Gulch Disaster. Administrative Science Quarterly 38 : 628–652. — Analyzes various problems of group behavior under high pressure (e.g. group think ) based on the Mann Gulch fire .
See also [ ]
- Qualitative psychological research
- Research methods
- Single-subject research
- Scientific method
- Statistical study
References [ ]
- Berger, Michael A. "Studying Enrollment Decline (and Other Timely Issues) via the Case Survey." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis , 5:3 (1983), 307-317.
- Datta, Lois-ellin (1990). Case Study Evaluations . Washington, DC: U.S. General Accounting Office, Transfer paper 10.1.9.
- Miles, Matthew B., and Huberman, A.M. (1984). Qualitative Data Analysis: A Sourcebook of New Methods . Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
- Nespor, Jan (1994) Knowledge in motion: space, time, and curriculum in undergraduate physics and management . London, Falmer Press.
- Rogers, L.A. (1978) Business Analysis for Marketing Managers . London, Heinemann.
- Stake, Robert E. (1995) The art of case study research . Thousand Oaks, Calif., London, Sage.
- Tripp, David (1993) Critical incidents in teaching: developing professional judgement. London: Routledge.
- Yin, Robert K. (1989). Case Study Research: Design and Methods . Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
External links [ ]
- The Application of Case Study Evaluations
- 1 Five Temperaments
- 2 Race and intelligence (test data)
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How to Write Effective Case Study Conclusions
Table of Contents
Not many people realize that the conclusion is vital to writing your case study. It should summarize the entire study, clarify all the research points, and focus on a few key takeaways.
There are several ways how to write case study conclusion . And we’re here to guide you with some easy and effective steps.
A good conclusion is interesting and captures the essence of your case. It needs to reflect your information and help the reader adopt your conclusion and act on it. Keep reading to learn how to do just that.
Importance of Your Case Study Conclusion
Your conclusion is an opportunity for you to summarize your findings and highlight what this study has taught you.
It should also summarize and draw out the main points you’ve discussed and reinforce the importance of your work. Remember, your last impression needs to be just as good as your first. You want to leave readers with something to think about or act on.
Types of Case Studies
Before we proceed on how to write case study conclusion , let’s take a brief look at the different types of case studies.
There are different types of case studies depending on how they are structured, what is the target audience, and the research methodology used. And your conclusion may vary depending on the nature of the case study.
Some of the most common case studies are:
- Historical: Historical events have a multitude of sources offering different perspectives. These perspectives can be applied, compared, and thoroughly analyzed in the modern world.
- Problem-oriented: This type of case study is used for solving problems. You can use theoretical situations where you immerse yourself in a situation. Through this, you can thoroughly examine a problem and find ways to resolve it.
- Cumulative: In a cumulative study, you gather information and offer comparisons. An example of this is a business case study that tells people about a product’s value.
- Critical: Critical case studies focus on exploring the causes and effects of a particular situation. To do this, you can have varying amounts of research and various interviews.
- Illustrative: In this case study, certain events are described, as well as the lessons learned.
How to Write Case Study Conclusion Effectively
Writing your conclusion doesn’t need to be complicated. Follow these steps to help you get started on an effective conclusion.
1. Inform the reader precisely why your case study and your findings are relevant
Your conclusion is where you point out the significance of your study. You can cite a specific case in your work and explain how it applies to other relevant cases.
2. Restate your thesis and your main findings
Remind your readers of the thesis statement you made in your introduction but don’t just copy it directly. Also, make sure to mention your main findings to back up your thesis.
3. Give a summary of previous case studies you reviewed
What did you discover that was different about your case? How was previous research helpful? Include this in your conclusion so readers can understand your work and how it contributes to expanding current knowledge.
4. End with recommendations
Wrap up your paper by explaining how your case study and findings could form part of future research on the topic. You can also express your recommendations by commenting on how certain studies, programs, or policies could be improved.
Make sure everything you write in your conclusion section is convincing enough to tell the reader that your case is an effective solution. And if the purpose of your case is complicated, make sure to sum it up in point form. This will help the reader review the case again before approaching the conclusion.
How Long Should Your Conclusion Be?
The length of your conclusion may vary depending on whether you’re writing a thesis or a dissertation. At least 5-9 percent of your overall word count should be dedicated to your conclusion.
Often, empirical scientific studies have brief conclusions describing the main findings and recommendations for future research. On the other hand, humanities topics or systematic reviews may require more space to conclude their analysis. They will need to integrate all the previous sections into an overall argument.
Your conclusion is an opportunity to translate and amplify the information you have put in the body of the paper.
More importantly, it is an opportunity to leave a lasting positive impression . Make the right impression by following these quick steps on how to write case study conclusion effectively.
Abir is a data analyst and researcher. Among her interests are artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing. As a humanitarian and educator, she actively supports women in tech and promotes diversity.
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What Is a Case Study?
An in-depth study of one person, group, or event
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."
Cara Lustik is a fact-checker and copywriter.
Verywell / Colleen Tighe
Benefits and Limitations
Types of case studies, how to write a 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 various fields, including psychology, medicine, education, anthropology, political science, and social work.
The purpose 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, it is important to follow the rules of APA format .
A case study can have both 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 to impossible to replicate in a lab. Some other benefits of a case study:
- Allows researchers to collect a great deal of information
- Give researchers the chance to collect information on rare or unusual cases
- Permits researchers to develop hypotheses that can be explored in experimental research
On the negative side, a case study:
- Cannot necessarily be generalized to the larger population
- Cannot demonstrate cause and effect
- May not be scientifically rigorous
- Can lead to bias
Researchers may choose to perform a case study if they are interested in exploring a unique or recently discovered phenomenon. The insights gained from such research can help the researchers develop additional ideas and study questions that might be explored in future studies.
However, it is important to remember that the insights gained 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 the use of 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 could be taught even after critical periods for language development had been missed. 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 had denied her the opportunity to learn language at critical points in her development.
This is clearly not something that researchers could ethically replicate, but conducting a case study on Genie allowed researchers the chance to study phenomena that are otherwise impossible to reproduce.
There are a few different types of case studies that psychologists and other researchers might utilize:
- 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 living 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 cast 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 utilize depends on the unique characteristics of the situation as well as the case itself.
There are also different methods that can be used to conduct a case study, including prospective and retrospective case study methods.
Prospective case study methods are those in which an individual or group of people is observed in order to determine outcomes. For example, a group of individuals might be watched over an extended period of time to observe the progression of a particular disease.
Retrospective case study methods involve looking at historical information. For example, researchers might start with an outcome, such as a disease, and then work their way backward to look at information about the individual's life to determine risk factors that may have contributed to the onset of the illness.
Where to Find Data
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.
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?
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, 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 .
A Word From Verywell
Case studies can be a useful research tool, but they need to be used wisely. In many cases, they are best utilized in situations where conducting an experiment would be difficult or impossible. They are helpful for looking at unique situations and allow researchers to gather a great deal of information about a specific individual or group of people.
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 that you are required to follow. If you are writing your case study for professional publication, be sure to check with the publisher for their specific guidelines for submitting a case study.
Simply Psychology. Case Study Method .
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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Case Study Research Method in Psychology
Saul Mcleod, PhD
BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester
Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.
Learn about our Editorial Process
Olivia Guy-Evans, MSc
Associate Editor for Simply Psychology
BSc (Hons) Psychology, MSc Psychology of Education
Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.
On This Page:
Case studies are in-depth investigations of a person, group, event, or community. Typically, data is gathered from various sources and by using several different methods (e.g., observations & interviews).
The case study research method originated in clinical medicine (the case history, i.e., the patient’s personal history). In psychology, case studies are often confined to the study of a particular individual.
The information is mainly biographical and relates to events in the individual’s past (i.e., retrospective), as well as to significant events which are currently occurring in his or her everyday life.
The case study is not itself a research method, but researchers select methods of data collection and analysis that will generate material suitable for case studies.
Case studies are widely used in psychology, and amongst the best known were the ones carried out by Sigmund Freud, including Anna O and Little Hans .
Freud (1909a, 1909b) conducted very detailed investigations into the private lives of his patients in an attempt to both understand and help them overcome their illnesses.
Even today, case histories are one of the main methods of investigation in abnormal psychology and psychiatry.
This makes it clear that the case study is a method that should only be used by a psychologist, therapist, or psychiatrist, i.e., someone with a professional qualification.
There is an ethical issue of competence. Only someone qualified to diagnose and treat a person can conduct a formal case study relating to atypical (i.e., abnormal) behavior or atypical development.
The procedure used in a case study means that the researcher provides a description of the behavior. This comes from interviews and other sources, such as observation.
The client also reports detail of events from his or her point of view. The researcher then writes up the information from both sources above as the case study and interprets the information.
The research may also continue for an extended period of time, so processes and developments can be studied as they happen.
Amongst the sources of data the psychologist is likely to turn to when carrying out a case study are observations of a person’s daily routine, unstructured interviews with the participant herself (and with people who know her), diaries, personal notes (e.g., letters, photographs, notes) or official document (e.g., case notes, clinical notes, appraisal reports).
The case study method often involves simply observing what happens to or reconstructing ‘the case history’ of a single participant or group of individuals (such as a school class or a specific social group), i.e., the idiographic approach .
The interview is also an extremely effective procedure for obtaining information about an individual, and it may be used to collect comments from the person’s friends, parents, employer, workmates, and others who have a good knowledge of the person, as well as to obtain facts from the person him or herself.
Most of this information is likely to be qualitative (i.e., verbal description rather than measurement), but the psychologist might collect numerical data as well.
The data collected can be analyzed using different theories (e.g., grounded theory, interpretative phenomenological analysis, text interpretation, e.g., thematic coding).
All the approaches mentioned here use preconceived categories in the analysis, and they are ideographic in their approach, i.e., they focus on the individual case without reference to a comparison group.
Interpreting the information means the researcher decides what to include or leave out. A good case study should always clarify which information is the factual description and which is an inference or the researcher’s opinion.
- Provides detailed (rich qualitative) information.
- Provides insight for further research.
- Permitting investigation of otherwise impractical (or unethical) situations.
Case studies allow a researcher to investigate a topic in far more detail than might be possible if they were trying to deal with a large number of research participants (nomothetic approach) with the aim of ‘averaging’.
Because of their in-depth, multi-sided approach, case studies often shed light on aspects of human thinking and behavior that would be unethical or impractical to study in other ways.
Research that only looks into the measurable aspects of human behavior is not likely to give us insights into the subjective dimension of experience, which is important to psychoanalytic and humanistic psychologists.
Case studies are often used in exploratory research. They can help us generate new ideas (that might be tested by other methods). They are an important way of illustrating theories and can help show how different aspects of a person’s life are related to each other.
The method is, therefore, important for psychologists who adopt a holistic point of view (i.e., humanistic psychologists ).
- Lacking scientific rigor and providing little basis for generalization of results to the wider population.
- Researchers’ own subjective feeling may influence the case study (researcher bias).
- Difficult to replicate.
- Time-consuming and expensive.
- The volume of data, together with the time restrictions in place, impacted the depth of analysis that was possible within the available resources.
Because a case study deals with only one person/event/group, we can never be sure if the case study investigated is representative of the wider body of “similar” instances. This means the conclusions drawn from a particular case may not be transferable to other settings.
Because case studies are based on the analysis of qualitative (i.e., descriptive) data , a lot depends on the psychologist’s interpretation of the information she has acquired.
This means that there is a lot of scope for observer bias , and it could be that the subjective opinions of the psychologist intrude in the assessment of what the data means.
For example, Freud has been criticized for producing case studies in which the information was sometimes distorted to fit particular behavioral theories (e.g., Little Hans ).
This is also true of Money’s interpretation of the Bruce/Brenda case study (Diamond, 1997) when he ignored evidence that went against his theory.
Diamond, M., & Sigmundson, K. (1997). Sex Reassignment at Birth: Long-term Review and Clinical Implications. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine , 151(3), 298-304
Freud, S. (1909a). Analysis of a phobia of a five year old boy. In The Pelican Freud Library (1977), Vol 8, Case Histories 1, pages 169-306
Freud, S. (1909b). Bemerkungen über einen Fall von Zwangsneurose (Der “Rattenmann”). Jb. psychoanal. psychopathol. Forsch ., I, p. 357-421; GW, VII, p. 379-463; Notes upon a case of obsessional neurosis, SE , 10: 151-318.
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Writing a case study
What is a case study.
A case study requires you to analyse a specific situation and discuss how its different elements relate to theory. The case can refer to a real-life or hypothetical event, organisation, individual or group of people and/or issue. Depending upon your assignment, you will be asked to develop solutions to problems or recommendations for future action.
Generally, a case study is either formatted as an essay or a report. If it is the latter, your assignment is often divided into sections with headings and subheadings to ensure easy access to key points of interest.
There are different approaches to case studies, so always check the specific instructions you have been given. There are two main types of case studies: descriptive and problem-solving .
Case study types accordion
Descriptive case studies.
- ask you to explore a specific event or issue to identify the key facts, what happened and who was/is involved.
- can be used to compare two instances of an event to illustrate how one is similar to the other.
- generally does not include solutions or recommendations as its main purpose is to help the reader or stakeholder to gain greater insight into the different dimensions of the event, etc. and/or to make an informed decision about the event, etc.
- In Nursing, you could be asked to select a medical clinic or hospital as your case study and then apply what you have studied in class about wound care approaches. You would then identify and apply the relevant theories of wound care management discussed in class to your case.
Problem-solving case studies
- ask you to critically examine an issue related to a specific individual or group, and then recommend and justify solutions to the issue, integrating theory and practice.
- In Business and Economics, you could be asked to describe a critical incident in the workplace. Your role as the manager is to apply your knowledge and skills of key intercultural communication concepts and theories in management to determine the causes of the conflict and propose relevant communication strategies to avoid and/or resolve it.
Tips for undertaking a problem-based case study View
Writing to your audience.
Your language expression should be persuasive and user-centred communication. To do this, you need to carefully research your audience, or your stakeholders . Your stakeholders are not only those people who will read your writing, but also people who will be impacted by any decisions or recommendations you choose to include. In other words, your audience may be varied with different needs and perspectives. This applies to both your case study as an assessment task and a report in your workplace.
Understanding your audience will help you to edit how you express your information, including tailoring your language expression, tone and style to meet the expectations of your stakeholders. For example, if your case study is written for the Minister of Health, then your tone will need to be formal, ensuring that any technical terms are clearly and concisely explained with concrete examples.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Who will read my case study and why?
- What are the stakeholders’ needs, preferences, expectations and goals?
- How can I write clearly and concisely for this particular audience?
- How will the stakeholders use my case study in their work?
- What are the relevant technical terms and have I explained them in clear and concise language?
Writing up your case study
If your case study is in the form of a report, you can divide it into 8 main sections, as outlined below. However, these vary depending on discipline-specific requirements and assessment criteria.
1. Executive Summary/Synopsis
- Introduce the topic area of the report.
- Outline the purpose of the case study.
- Outline the key issue(s) and finding(s) without the specific details.
- Identify the theory used.
- Summarise recommendations.
- Summarise the your task
- Briefly outline the case to identify its significance.
- State the report's aim(s).
- Provide the organisation of the main ideas in the report.
- Briefly describe the key problem and its significance (You usually do not need to provide details of findings or recommendations. However, it is best to first check your assessment task instructions.)
- presenting the central issue(s) under analysis,
- providing your reasoning for your choices such as supporting your findings with facts given in the case, the relevant theory and course concepts
- highlighting any underlying problems.
- Identify and justify your methodology and analytical tools.This might not be applicable to your assessment, so you will need to check your assessment instructions.
This section is often divided into sub-sections. Your headings and subheadings need to be informative and concise as they act as a guide for the reader to the contents of that section.
- Summarise the major problem(s).
- Identify alternative solutions to these major problem(s).
- Briefly outline each alternative solution where necessary and evaluate the advantages and disadvantages.
- Depending on your assessment criteria, you might need to refer to theory or professional practice here.
Note that as a case study is based on a specific situation, it is difficult to generalise your findings to other situations. Make sure that your discussion focuses on your case and what can be learnt from your specific case analysis for your stakeholders.
- Restate the purpose of the report
- Sum up the main points from the findings, discussion and recommendations.
- Restate the limitations if required.
- Choose which of the alternative solutions should be adopted.
- Briefly justify your choice, explaining how it will solve the major problem/s.
- Remember to integrate theory and practice as discussed in your unit with respect to the case.
- If needed, suggest an action plan, including who should take action, when and what steps, and how to assess the action taken.
- If appropriate include a rough estimate of costs (both financial and time).
This section is sometimes divided into Recommendations and Implementation with details of the action plan placed in the Implementation section.
Recommendations should be written in a persuasive, audience-centred style that communicates your suggestions clearly, concisely and precisely .
- List in alphabetical order all the references cited in the report.
- Make sure to accurately format your references according to the specified referencing style for your unit.
8. Appendices (if any)
- Attach any original data that relates to your analysis and the case but which would have interrupted the flow of the main body.
Ivančević-Otanjac, M., & Milojević, I. (2015). Writing a case report in English. Srpski arhiv za celokupno lekarstvo , 143 (1-2), 116-118.
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