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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.

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case study results definition

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 results definition

Cara Lustik is a fact-checker and copywriter.

case study results definition

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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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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What Is a Case Study and Why You Should Use Them

Case studies can provide more insights into your business while helping you conduct further research with robust qualitative data analysis to learn more.

If you're in charge of running a company, then you're likely always looking for new ways to run your business more efficiently and increase your customer base while streamlining as many processes as possible.

Unfortunately, it can sometimes be difficult to determine how to go about implementing the proper program in order to be successful. This is why many business owners opt to conduct a case study, which can help significantly. Whether you've been struggling with brand consistency or some other problem, the right case study can identify why your problem exists as well as provide a way to rectify it.

A case study is a great tool that many businesses aren't even aware exists, and there are marketing experts like Mailchimp who can provide you with step-by-step assistance with implementing a plan with a case study. Many companies discover that not only do they need to start a blog in order to improve business, but they also need to create specific and relevant blog titles.

If your company already has a blog, then optimizing your blog posts may be helpful. Regardless of the obstacles that are preventing you from achieving all your professional goals, a case study can work wonders in helping you reverse this issue.

case study results definition

What is a case study?

A case study is a comprehensive report of the results of theory testing or examining emerging themes of a business in real life context. Case studies are also often used in the healthcare industry, conducting health services research with primary research interest around routinely collected healthcare data.

However, for businesses, the purpose of a case study is to help small business owners or company leaders identify the issues and conduct further research into what may be preventing success through information collection, client or customer interviews, and in-depth data analysis.

Knowing the case study definition is crucial for any business owner. By identifying the issues that are hindering a company from achieving all its goals, it's easier to make the necessary corrections to promote success through influenced data collection.

Why are case studies important?

Now that we've answered the questions, "what is a case study?" Why are case studies important? Some of the top reasons why case studies are important include:

 Importance of case studies

  • Understand complex issues: Even after you conduct a significant amount of market research , you might have a difficult time understanding exactly what it means. While you might have the basics down, conducting a case study can help you see how that information is applied. Then, when you see how the information can make a difference in business decisions, it could make it easier to understand complex issues.
  • Collect data: A case study can also help with data tracking . A case study is a data collection method that can help you describe the information that you have available to you. Then, you can present that information in a way the reader can understand.
  • Conduct evaluations: As you learn more about how to write a case study, remember that you can also use a case study to conduct evaluations of a specific situation. A case study is a great way to learn more about complex situations, and you can evaluate how various people responded in that situation. By conducting a case study evaluation, you can learn more about what has worked well, what has not, and what you might want to change in the future.
  • Identify potential solutions: A case study can also help you identify solutions to potential problems. If you have an issue in your business that you are trying to solve, you may be able to take a look at a case study where someone has dealt with a similar situation in the past. For example, you may uncover data bias in a specific solution that you would like to address when you tackle the issue on your own. If you need help solving a difficult problem, a case study may be able to help you.

Remember that you can also use case studies to target your audience . If you want to show your audience that you have a significant level of expertise in a field, you may want to publish some case studies that you have handled in the past. Then, when your audience sees that you have had success in a specific area, they may be more likely to provide you with their business. In essence, case studies can be looked at as the original method of social proof, showcasing exactly how you can help someone solve their problems.

What are the benefits of writing a business case study?

Although writing a case study can seem like a tedious task, there are many benefits to conducting one through an in depth qualitative research process.

Benefits of Case Studies

  • Industry understanding: First of all, a case study can give you an in-depth understanding of your industry through a particular conceptual framework and help you identify hidden problems that are preventing you from transcending into the business world.
  • Develop theories: If you decide to write a business case study, it provides you with an opportunity to develop new theories. You might have a theory about how to solve a specific problem, but you need to write a business case study to see exactly how that theory has unfolded in the past. Then, you can figure out if you want to apply your theory to a similar issue in the future.
  • Evaluate interventions: When you write a business case study that focuses on a specific situation you have been through in the past, you can uncover whether that intervention was truly helpful. This can make it easier to figure out whether you want to use the same intervention in a similar situation in the future.
  • Identify best practices: If you want to stay on top of the best practices in your field, conducting case studies can help by allowing you to identify patterns and trends and develop a new list of best practices that you can follow in the future.
  • Versatility: Writing a case study also provides you with more versatility. If you want to expand your business applications, you need to figure out how you respond to various problems. When you run a business case study, you open the door to new opportunities, new applications, and new techniques that could help you make a difference in your business down the road.
  • Solve problems: Writing a great case study can dramatically improve your chances of reversing your problem and improving your business.
  • These are just a few of the biggest benefits you might experience if you decide to publish your case studies. They can be an effective tool for learning, showcasing your talents, and teaching some of your other employees. If you want to grow your audience , you may want to consider publishing some case studies.

What are the limitations of case studies?

Case studies can be a wonderful tool for any business of any size to use to gain an in-depth understanding of their clients, products, customers, or services, but there are limitations.

One limitation of case studies is the fact that, unless there are other recently published examples, there is nothing to compare them to since, most of the time, you are conducting a single, not multiple, case studies.

Another limitation is the fact that most case studies can lack scientific evidence.

case study results definition

Types of case studies

There are specific types of case studies to choose from, and each specific type will yield different results. Some case study types even overlap, which is sometimes more favorable, as they provide even more pertinent data.

Here are overviews of the different types of case studies, each with its own theoretical framework, so you can determine which type would be most effective for helping you meet your goals.

Explanatory case studies

Explanatory case studies are pretty straightforward, as they're not difficult to interpret. This type of case study is best if there aren't many variables involved because explanatory case studies can easily answer questions like "how" and "why" through theory development.

Exploratory case studies

An exploratory case study does exactly what its name implies: it goes into specific detail about the topic at hand in a natural, real-life context with qualitative research.

The benefits of exploratory case studies are limitless, with the main one being that it offers a great deal of flexibility. Having flexibility when writing a case study is important because you can't always predict what obstacles might arise during the qualitative research process.

Collective case studies

Collective case studies require you to study many different individuals in order to obtain usable data.

Case studies that involve an investigation of people will involve many different variables, all of which can't be predicted. Despite this fact, there are many benefits of collective case studies, including the fact that it allows an ongoing analysis of the data collected.

Intrinsic case studies

This type of study differs from the others as it focuses on the inquiry of one specific instance among many possibilities.

Many people prefer these types of case studies because it allows them to learn about the particular instance that they wish to investigate further.

Instrumental case studies

An instrumental case study is similar to an intrinsic one, as it focuses on a particular instance, whether it's a person, organization, or something different.

One thing that differentiates instrumental case studies from intrinsic ones is the fact that instrumental case studies aren't chosen merely because a person is interested in learning about a specific instance.

case study results definition

Tips for writing a case study

If you have decided to write case studies for your company, then you may be unsure of where to start or which type to conduct.

However, it doesn't have to be difficult or confusing to begin conducting a case study that will help you identify ways to improve your business.

Here are some helpful tips for writing your case studies:

1. Your case study must be written in the proper format

When writing a case study, the format that you should be similar to this:

Case study format

Administrative summary

The executive summary is an overview of what your report will contain, written in a concise manner while providing real-life context.

Despite the fact that the executive summary should appear at the beginning of your case studies, it shouldn't be written until you've completed the entire report because if you write it before you finish the report, this summary may not be completely accurate.

Key problem statement

In this section of your case study, you will briefly describe the problem that you hope to solve by conducting the study. You will have the opportunity to elaborate on the problem that you're focusing on as you get into the breadth of the report.

Problem exploration

This part of the case study isn't as brief as the other two, and it goes into more detail about the problem at hand. Your problem exploration must include why the identified problem needs to be solved as well as the urgency of solving it.

Additionally, it must include justification for conducting the problem-solving, as the benefits must outweigh the efforts and costs.

Proposed resolution

This case study section will also be lengthier than the first two. It must include how you propose going about rectifying the problem. The "recommended solution" section must also include potential obstacles that you might experience, as well as how these will be managed.

Furthermore, you will need to list alternative solutions and explain the reason the chosen solution is best. Charts can enhance your report and make it easier to read, and provide as much proof to substantiate your claim as possible.

Overview of monetary consideration

An overview of monetary consideration is essential for all case studies, as it will be used to convince all involved parties why your project should be funded. You must successfully convince them that the cost is worth the investment it will require. It's important that you stress the necessity for this particular case study and explain the expected outcome.

Execution timeline

In the execution times of case studies, you explain how long you predict it will take to implement your study. The shorter the time it will take to implement your plan, the more apt it is to be approved. However, be sure to provide a reasonable timeline, taking into consideration any additional time that might be needed due to obstacles.

Always include a conclusion in your case study. This is where you will briefly wrap up your entire proposal, stressing the benefits of completing the data collection and data analysis in order to rectify your problem.

2. Make it clear and comprehensive

You want to write your case studies with as much clarity as possible so that every aspect of the report is understood. Be sure to double-check your grammar, spelling, punctuation, and more, as you don't want to submit a poorly-written document.

Not only would a poorly-written case study fail to prove that what you are trying to achieve is important, but it would also increase the chances that your report will be tossed aside and not taken seriously.

3. Don't rush through the process

Writing the perfect case study takes time and patience. Rushing could result in your forgetting to include information that is crucial to your entire study. Don't waste your time creating a study that simply isn't ready. Take the necessary time to perform all the research necessary to write the best case study possible.

Depending on the case study, conducting case study research could mean using qualitative methods, quantitative methods, or both. Qualitative research questions focus on non-numerical data, such as how people feel, their beliefs, their experiences, and so on.

Meanwhile, quantitative research questions focus on numerical or statistical data collection to explain causal links or get an in-depth picture.

It is also important to collect insightful and constructive feedback. This will help you better understand the outcome as well as any changes you need to make to future case studies. Consider using formal and informal ways to collect feedback to ensure that you get a range of opinions and perspectives.

4. Be confident in your theory development

While writing your case study or conducting your formal experimental investigation, you should have confidence in yourself and what you're proposing in your report. If you took the time to gather all the pertinent data collected to complete the report, don't second-guess yourself or doubt your abilities. If you believe your report will be amazing, then it likely will be.

5. Case studies and all qualitative research are long

It's expected that multiple case studies are going to be incredibly boring, and there is no way around this. However, it doesn't mean you can choose your language carefully in order to keep your audience as engaged as possible.

If your audience loses interest in your case study at the beginning, for whatever reason, then this increases the likelihood that your case study will not be funded.

Case study examples

If you want to learn more about how to write a case study, it might be beneficial to take a look at a few case study examples. Below are a few interesting case study examples you may want to take a closer look at.

  • Phineas Gage by John Martin Marlow : One of the most famous case studies comes from the medical field, and it is about the story of Phineas Gage, a man who had a railroad spike driven through his head in 1848. As he was working on a railroad, an explosive charge went off prematurely, sending a railroad rod through his head. Even though he survived this incident, he lost his left eye. However, Phineas Gage was studied extensively over the years because his experiences had a significant, lasting impact on his personality. This served as a case study because his injury showed different parts of the brain have different functions.
  • Kitty Genovese and the bystander effect : This is a tragic case study that discusses the murder of Kitty Genovese, a woman attacked and murdered in Queens, New York City. Shockingly, while numerous neighbors watched the scene, nobody called for help because they assumed someone else would. This case study helped to define the bystander effect, which is when a person fails to intervene during an emergency because other people are around.
  • Henry Molaison and the study of memory : Henry Molaison lost his memory and suffered from debilitating amnesia. He suffered from childhood epilepsy, and medical professionals attempted to remove the part of his brain that was causing his seizures. He had a portion of his brain removed, but it completely took away his ability to hold memories. Even though he went on to live until the age of 82, he was always forced to live in the present moment, as he was completely unable to form new memories.

Case study FAQs

When should you do a case study.

There are several scenarios when conducting a case study can be beneficial. Case studies are often used when there's a "why" or "how" question that needs to be answered. Case studies are also beneficial when trying to understand a complex phenomenon, there's limited research on a topic, or when you're looking for practical solutions to a problem.

How can case study results be used to make business decisions?

You can use the results from a case study to make future business decisions if you find yourself in a similar situation. As you assess the results of a case study, you can identify best practices, evaluate the effectiveness of an intervention, generate new and creative ideas, or get a better understanding of customer needs.

How are case studies different from other research methodologies?

When compared to other research methodologies, such as experimental or qualitative research methodology, a case study does not require a representative sample. For example, if you are performing quantitative research, you have a lot of subjects that expand your sample size. If you are performing experimental research, you may have a random sample in front of you. A case study is usually designed to deliberately focus on unusual situations, which allows it to shed new light on a specific business research problem.

Writing multiple case studies for your business

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the idea of writing a case study and it seems completely foreign, then you aren't alone. Writing a case study for a business is a very big deal, but fortunately, there is help available because an example of a case study doesn't always help.

Mailchimp, a well-known marketing company that provides comprehensive marketing support for all sorts of businesses, can assist you with your case study, or you can review one of their own recently published examples.

Mailchimp can assist you with developing the most effective content strategy to increase your chances of being as successful as possible. Mailchimp's content studio is a great tool that can help your business immensely.

Case Study Research Method in Psychology

Saul Mcleod, PhD

Editor-in-Chief for Simply Psychology

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 using several 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 that are currently occurring in his or her everyday life.

The case study is not a research method, but researchers select methods of data collection and analysis that will generate material suitable for case studies.

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.

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.

case study

 Famous Case Studies

  • Anna O – One of the most famous case studies, documenting psychoanalyst Josef Breuer’s treatment of “Anna O” (real name Bertha Pappenheim) for hysteria in the late 1800s using early psychoanalytic theory.
  • Little Hans – A child psychoanalysis case study published by Sigmund Freud in 1909 analyzing his five-year-old patient Herbert Graf’s house phobia as related to the Oedipus complex.
  • Bruce/Brenda – Gender identity case of the boy (Bruce) whose botched circumcision led psychologist John Money to advise gender reassignment and raise him as a girl (Brenda) in the 1960s.
  • Genie Wiley – Linguistics/psychological development case of the victim of extreme isolation abuse who was studied in 1970s California for effects of early language deprivation on acquiring speech later in life.
  • Phineas Gage – One of the most famous neuropsychology case studies analyzes personality changes in railroad worker Phineas Gage after an 1848 brain injury involving a tamping iron piercing his skull.

Clinical Case Studies

  • Studying the effectiveness of psychotherapy approaches with an individual patient
  • Assessing and treating mental illnesses like depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD
  • Neuropsychological cases investigating brain injuries or disorders

Child Psychology Case Studies

  • Studying psychological development from birth through adolescence
  • Cases of learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, ADHD
  • Effects of trauma, abuse, deprivation on development

Types of Case Studies

  • Explanatory case studies : Used to explore causation in order to find underlying principles. Helpful for doing qualitative analysis to explain presumed causal links.
  • Exploratory case studies : Used to explore situations where an intervention being evaluated has no clear set of outcomes. It helps define questions and hypotheses for future research.
  • Descriptive case studies : Describe an intervention or phenomenon and the real-life context in which it occurred. It is helpful for illustrating certain topics within an evaluation.
  • Multiple-case studies : Used to explore differences between cases and replicate findings across cases. Helpful for comparing and contrasting specific cases.
  • Intrinsic : Used to gain a better understanding of a particular case. Helpful for capturing the complexity of a single case.
  • Collective : Used to explore a general phenomenon using multiple case studies. Helpful for jointly studying a group of cases in order to inquire into the phenomenon.

Where Do You Find Data for a Case Study?

There are several places to find data for a case study. The key is to gather data from multiple sources to get a complete picture of the case and corroborate facts or findings through triangulation of evidence. Most of this information is likely qualitative (i.e., verbal description rather than measurement), but the psychologist might also collect numerical data.

1. Primary sources

  • Interviews – Interviewing key people related to the case to get their perspectives and insights. The interview is 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.
  • Observations – Observing behaviors, interactions, processes, etc., related to the case as they unfold in real-time.
  • Documents & Records – Reviewing private documents, diaries, public records, correspondence, meeting minutes, etc., relevant to the case.

2. Secondary sources

  • News/Media – News coverage of events related to the case study.
  • Academic articles – Journal articles, dissertations etc. that discuss the case.
  • Government reports – Official data and records related to the case context.
  • Books/films – Books, documentaries or films discussing the case.

3. Archival records

Searching historical archives, museum collections and databases to find relevant documents, visual/audio records related to the case history and context.

Public archives like newspapers, organizational records, photographic collections could all include potentially relevant pieces of information to shed light on attitudes, cultural perspectives, common practices and historical contexts related to psychology.

4. Organizational records

Organizational records offer the advantage of often having large datasets collected over time that can reveal or confirm psychological insights.

Of course, privacy and ethical concerns regarding confidential data must be navigated carefully.

However, with proper protocols, organizational records can provide invaluable context and empirical depth to qualitative case studies exploring the intersection of psychology and organizations.

  • Organizational/industrial psychology research : Organizational records like employee surveys, turnover/retention data, policies, incident reports etc. may provide insight into topics like job satisfaction, workplace culture and dynamics, leadership issues, employee behaviors etc.
  • Clinical psychology : Therapists/hospitals may grant access to anonymized medical records to study aspects like assessments, diagnoses, treatment plans etc. This could shed light on clinical practices.
  • School psychology : Studies could utilize anonymized student records like test scores, grades, disciplinary issues, and counseling referrals to study child development, learning barriers, effectiveness of support programs, and more.

How do I Write a Case Study in Psychology?

Follow specified case study guidelines provided by a journal or your psychology tutor. General components of clinical case studies include: background, symptoms, assessments, diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes. 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.

1. Introduction

  • Provide background on the case context and why it is of interest, presenting background information like demographics, relevant history, and presenting problem.
  • Compare briefly to similar published cases if applicable. Clearly state the focus/importance of the case.

2. Case Presentation

  • Describe the presenting problem in detail, including symptoms, duration,and impact on daily life.
  • Include client demographics like age and gender, information about social relationships, and mental health history.
  • Describe all physical, emotional, and/or sensory symptoms reported by the client.
  • Use patient quotes to describe the initial complaint verbatim. Follow with full-sentence summaries of relevant history details gathered, including key components that led to a working diagnosis.
  • Summarize clinical exam results, namely orthopedic/neurological tests, imaging, lab tests, etc. Note actual results rather than subjective conclusions. Provide images if clearly reproducible/anonymized.
  • Clearly state the working diagnosis or clinical impression before transitioning to management.

3. Management and Outcome

  • Indicate the total duration of care and number of treatments given over what timeframe. Use specific names/descriptions for any therapies/interventions applied.
  • Present the results of the intervention,including any quantitative or qualitative data collected.
  • For outcomes, utilize visual analog scales for pain, medication usage logs, etc., if possible. Include patient self-reports of improvement/worsening of symptoms. Note the reason for discharge/end of care.

4. Discussion

  • Analyze the case, exploring contributing factors, limitations of the study, and connections to existing research.
  • Analyze the effectiveness of the intervention,considering factors like participant adherence, limitations of the study, and potential alternative explanations for the results.
  • Identify any questions raised in the case analysis and relate insights to established theories and current research if applicable. Avoid definitive claims about physiological explanations.
  • Offer clinical implications, and suggest future research directions.

5. Additional Items

  • Thank specific assistants for writing support only. No patient acknowledgments.
  • References should directly support any key claims or quotes included.
  • Use tables/figures/images only if substantially informative. Include permissions and legends/explanatory notes.
  • 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 ).

Limitations

  • Lacking scientific rigor and providing little basis for generalization of results to the wider population.
  • Researchers’ own subjective feelings 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 Anna O , 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.

Breuer, J., & Freud, S. (1895).  Studies on hysteria . Standard Edition 2: London.

Curtiss, S. (1981). Genie: The case of a modern wild child .

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.

Harlow J. M. (1848). Passage of an iron rod through the head.  Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, 39 , 389–393.

Harlow, J. M. (1868).  Recovery from the Passage of an Iron Bar through the Head .  Publications of the Massachusetts Medical Society. 2  (3), 327-347.

Money, J., & Ehrhardt, A. A. (1972).  Man & Woman, Boy & Girl : The Differentiation and Dimorphism of Gender Identity from Conception to Maturity. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Money, J., & Tucker, P. (1975). Sexual signatures: On being a man or a woman.

Further Information

  • Case Study Approach
  • Case Study Method
  • Enhancing the Quality of Case Studies in Health Services Research
  • “We do things together” A case study of “couplehood” in dementia
  • Using mixed methods for evaluating an integrative approach to cancer care: a case study

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How to Write a Case Study: The Compelling Step-by-Step Guide

How to write a case study the compelling step by step guide

Is there a poignant pain point that needs to be addressed in your company or industry? Do you have a possible solution but want to test your theory? Why not turn this drive into a transformative learning experience and an opportunity to produce a high-quality business case study? However, before that occurs, you may wonder how to write a case study.

You may also be thinking about why you should produce one at all. Did you know that case studies are impactful and the fifth most used type of content in marketing , despite being more resource-intensive to produce?

Below, we’ll delve into what a case study is, its benefits, and how to approach business case study writing:

Definition of a Written case study and its Purpose

A case study is a research method that involves a detailed and comprehensive examination of a specific real-life situation. It’s often used in various fields, including business, education, economics, and sociology, to understand a complex issue better. 

It typically includes an in-depth analysis of the subject and an examination of its context and background information, incorporating data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and existing literature. 

The ultimate aim is to provide a rich and detailed account of a situation to identify patterns and relationships, generate new insights and understanding, illustrate theories, or test hypotheses.

Importance of Business Case Study Writing

As such an in-depth exploration into a subject with potentially far-reaching consequences, a case study has benefits to offer various stakeholders in the organisation leading it.

  • Business Founders: Use business case study writing to highlight real-life examples of companies or individuals who have benefited from their products or services, providing potential customers with a tangible demonstration of the value their business can bring. It can be effective for attracting new clients or investors by showcasing thought leadership and building trust and credibility.
  • Marketers through case studies and encourage them to take action: Marketers use a case studies writer to showcase the success of a particular product, service, or marketing campaign. They can use persuasive storytelling to engage the reader, whether it’s consumers, clients, or potential partners.
  • Researchers: They allow researchers to gain insight into real-world scenarios, explore a variety of perspectives, and develop a nuanced understanding of the factors that contribute to success or failure. Additionally, case studies provide practical business recommendations and help build a body of knowledge in a particular field.

How to Write a Case Study – The Key Elements 

How to Write a Case Study – The Key Elements

Considering how to write a case study can seem overwhelming at first. However, looking at it in terms of its constituent parts will help you to get started, focus on the key issue(s), and execute it efficiently and effectively.

Problem or Challenge Statement

A problem statement concisely describes a specific issue or problem that a written case study aims to address. It sets the stage for the rest of the case study and provides context for the reader. 

Here are some steps to help you write a case study problem statement:

  • Identify the problem or issue that the case study will focus on.
  • Research the problem to better understand its context, causes, and effects.
  • Define the problem clearly and concisely. Be specific and avoid generalisations.
  • State the significance of the problem: Explain why the issue is worth solving. Consider the impact it has on the individual, organisation, or industry.
  • Provide background information that will help the reader understand the context of the problem.
  • Keep it concise: A problem statement should be brief and to the point. Avoid going into too much detail – leave this for the body of the case study!

Here is an example of a problem statement for a case study:

“ The XYZ Company is facing a problem with declining sales and increasing customer complaints. Despite improving the customer experience, the company has yet to reverse the trend . This case study will examine the causes of the problem and propose solutions to improve sales and customer satisfaction. “

Solutions and interventions

Here are some steps to help you write a case study solution or intervention

Business case study writing provides a solution or intervention that identifies the best course of action to address the problem or issue described in the problem statement. 

Here are some steps to help you write a case study solution or intervention:

  • Identify the objective , which should be directly related to the problem statement.
  • Analyse the data, which could include data from interviews, observations, and existing literature.
  • Evaluate alternatives that have been proposed or implemented in similar situations, considering their strengths, weaknesses, and impact.
  • Choose the best solution based on the objective and data analysis. Remember to consider factors such as feasibility, cost, and potential impact.
  • Justify the solution by explaining how it addresses the problem and why it’s the best solution with supportive evidence.
  • Provide a detailed, step-by-step plan of action that considers the resources required, timeline, and expected outcomes.

Example of a solution or intervention for a case study:

“ To address the problem of declining sales and increasing customer complaints at the XYZ Company, we propose a comprehensive customer experience improvement program. “

“ This program will involve the following steps:

  • Conducting customer surveys to gather feedback and identify areas for improvement
  • Implementing training programs for employees to improve customer service skills
  • Revising the company’s product offerings to meet customer needs better
  • Implementing a customer loyalty program to encourage repeat business “

“ These steps will improve customer satisfaction and increase sales. We expect a 10% increase in sales within the first year of implementation, based on similar programs implemented by other companies in the industry. “

Possible Results and outcomes

Writing case study results and outcomes

Writing case study results and outcomes involves presenting the impact of the proposed solution or intervention. 

Here are some steps to help you write case study results and outcomes:

  • Evaluate the solution by measuring its effectiveness in addressing the problem statement. That could involve collecting data, conducting surveys, or monitoring key performance indicators.
  • Present the results clearly and concisely, using graphs, charts, and tables to represent the data where applicable visually. Be sure to include both quantitative and qualitative results.
  • Compare the results to the expectations set in the solution or intervention section. Explain any discrepancies and why they occurred.
  • Discuss the outcomes and impact of the solution, considering the benefits and drawbacks and what lessons can be learned.
  • Provide recommendations for future action based on the results. For example, what changes should be made to improve the solution, or what additional steps should be taken?

Example of results and outcomes for a case study:

“ The customer experience improvement program implemented at the XYZ Company was successful. We found significant improvement in employee health and productivity. The program, which included on-site exercise classes and healthy food options, led to a 25% decrease in employee absenteeism and a 15% increase in productivity . “

“ Employee satisfaction with the program was high, with 90% reporting an improved work-life balance. Despite initial costs, the program proved to be cost-effective in the long run, with decreased healthcare costs and increased employee retention. The company plans to continue the program and explore expanding it to other offices .”

Case Study Key takeaways

Key takeaways are the most important and relevant insights and lessons

Key takeaways are the most important and relevant insights and lessons that can be drawn from a case study. Key takeaways can help readers understand the most significant outcomes and impacts of the solution or intervention. 

Here are some steps to help you write case study key takeaways:

  • Summarise the problem that was addressed and the solution that was proposed.
  • Highlight the most significant results from the case study.
  • Identify the key insights and lessons , including what makes the case study unique and relevant to others.
  • Consider the broader implications of the outcomes for the industry or field.
  • Present the key takeaways clearly and concisely , using bullet points or a list format to make the information easy to understand.

Example of key takeaways for a case study:

  • The customer experience improvement program at XYZ Company successfully increased customer satisfaction and sales.
  • Employee training and product development were critical components of the program’s success.
  • The program resulted in a 20% increase in repeat business, demonstrating the value of a customer loyalty program.
  • Despite some initial challenges, the program proved cost-effective in the long run.
  • The case study results demonstrate the importance of investing in customer experience to improve business outcomes.

Steps for a Case Study Writer to Follow

Steps for a Case Study Writer to Follow

If you still feel lost, the good news is as a case studies writer; there is a blueprint you can follow to complete your work. It may be helpful at first to proceed step-by-step and let your research and analysis guide the process:

  • Select a suitable case study subject: Ask yourself what the purpose of the business case study is. Is it to illustrate a specific problem and solution, showcase a success story, or demonstrate best practices in a particular field? Based on this, you can select a suitable subject by researching and evaluating various options.
  • Research and gather information: We have already covered this in detail above. However, always ensure all data is relevant, valid, and comes from credible sources. Research is the crux of your written case study, and you can’t compromise on its quality.
  • Develop a clear and concise problem statement: Follow the guide above, and don’t rush to finalise it. It will set the tone and lay the foundation for the entire study.
  • Detail the solution or intervention: Follow the steps above to detail your proposed solution or intervention.
  • Present the results and outcomes: Remember that a case study is an unbiased test of how effectively a particular solution addresses an issue. Not all case studies are meant to end in a resounding success. You can often learn more from a loss than a win.
  • Include key takeaways and conclusions: Follow the steps above to detail your proposed business case study solution or intervention.

Tips for How to Write a Case Study

Here are some bonus tips for how to write a case study. These tips will help improve the quality of your work and the impact it will have on readers:

  • Use a storytelling format: Just because a case study is research-based doesn’t mean it has to be boring and detached. Telling a story will engage readers and help them better identify with the problem statement and see the value in the outcomes. Framing it as a narrative in a real-world context will make it more relatable and memorable.
  • Include quotes and testimonials from stakeholders: This will add credibility and depth to your written case study. It also helps improve engagement and will give your written work an emotional impact.
  • Use visuals and graphics to support your narrative: Humans are better at processing visually presented data than endless walls of black-on-white text. Visual aids will make it easier to grasp key concepts and make your case study more engaging and enjoyable. It breaks up the text and allows readers to identify key findings and highlights quickly.
  • Edit and revise your case study for clarity and impact: As a long and involved project, it can be easy to lose your narrative while in the midst of it. Multiple rounds of editing are vital to ensure your narrative holds, that your message gets across, and that your spelling and grammar are correct, of course!

Our Final Thoughts

A written case study can be a powerful tool in your writing arsenal. It’s a great way to showcase your knowledge in a particular business vertical, industry, or situation. Not only is it an effective way to build authority and engage an audience, but also to explore an important problem and the possible solutions to it. It’s a win-win, even if the proposed solution doesn’t have the outcome you expect. So now that you know more about how to write a case study, try it or talk to us for further guidance.

Are you ready to write your own case study?

Begin by bookmarking this article, so you can come back to it. And for more writing advice and support, read our resource guides  and  blog content . If you are unsure, please reach out with questions, and we will provide the answers or assistance you need.

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  • Case Study | Definition, Examples & Methods

Case Study | Definition, Examples & Methods

Published on 5 May 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on 30 January 2023.

A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject, such as a person, group, place, event, organisation, 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 analyse the case.

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.

Prevent plagiarism, run a free check.

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

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.

If you find yourself aiming to simultaneously investigate and solve an issue, consider conducting action research . As its name suggests, action research conducts research and takes action at the same time, and is highly iterative and flexible. 

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

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 .

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 analyse 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.

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Case Studies

This guide examines case studies, a form of qualitative descriptive research that is used to look at individuals, a small group of participants, or a group as a whole. Researchers collect data about participants using participant and direct observations, interviews, protocols, tests, examinations of records, and collections of writing samples. Starting with a definition of the case study, the guide moves to a brief history of this research method. Using several well documented case studies, the guide then looks at applications and methods including data collection and analysis. A discussion of ways to handle validity, reliability, and generalizability follows, with special attention to case studies as they are applied to composition studies. Finally, this guide examines the strengths and weaknesses of case studies.

Definition and Overview

Case study refers to the collection and presentation of detailed information about a particular participant or small group, frequently including the accounts of subjects themselves. A form of qualitative descriptive research, the case study looks intensely at an individual or small participant pool, drawing conclusions only about that participant or group and only in that specific context. Researchers do not focus on the discovery of a universal, generalizable truth, nor do they typically look for cause-effect relationships; instead, emphasis is placed on exploration and description.

Case studies typically examine the interplay of all variables in order to provide as complete an understanding of an event or situation as possible. This type of comprehensive understanding is arrived at through a process known as thick description, which involves an in-depth description of the entity being evaluated, the circumstances under which it is used, the characteristics of the people involved in it, and the nature of the community in which it is located. Thick description also involves interpreting the meaning of demographic and descriptive data such as cultural norms and mores, community values, ingrained attitudes, and motives.

Unlike quantitative methods of research, like the survey, which focus on the questions of who, what, where, how much, and how many, and archival analysis, which often situates the participant in some form of historical context, case studies are the preferred strategy when how or why questions are asked. Likewise, they are the preferred method when the researcher has little control over the events, and when there is a contemporary focus within a real life context. In addition, unlike more specifically directed experiments, case studies require a problem that seeks a holistic understanding of the event or situation in question using inductive logic--reasoning from specific to more general terms.

In scholarly circles, case studies are frequently discussed within the context of qualitative research and naturalistic inquiry. Case studies are often referred to interchangeably with ethnography, field study, and participant observation. The underlying philosophical assumptions in the case are similar to these types of qualitative research because each takes place in a natural setting (such as a classroom, neighborhood, or private home), and strives for a more holistic interpretation of the event or situation under study.

Unlike more statistically-based studies which search for quantifiable data, the goal of a case study is to offer new variables and questions for further research. F.H. Giddings, a sociologist in the early part of the century, compares statistical methods to the case study on the basis that the former are concerned with the distribution of a particular trait, or a small number of traits, in a population, whereas the case study is concerned with the whole variety of traits to be found in a particular instance" (Hammersley 95).

Case studies are not a new form of research; naturalistic inquiry was the primary research tool until the development of the scientific method. The fields of sociology and anthropology are credited with the primary shaping of the concept as we know it today. However, case study research has drawn from a number of other areas as well: the clinical methods of doctors; the casework technique being developed by social workers; the methods of historians and anthropologists, plus the qualitative descriptions provided by quantitative researchers like LePlay; and, in the case of Robert Park, the techniques of newspaper reporters and novelists.

Park was an ex-newspaper reporter and editor who became very influential in developing sociological case studies at the University of Chicago in the 1920s. As a newspaper professional he coined the term "scientific" or "depth" reporting: the description of local events in a way that pointed to major social trends. Park viewed the sociologist as "merely a more accurate, responsible, and scientific reporter." Park stressed the variety and value of human experience. He believed that sociology sought to arrive at natural, but fluid, laws and generalizations in regard to human nature and society. These laws weren't static laws of the kind sought by many positivists and natural law theorists, but rather, they were laws of becoming--with a constant possibility of change. Park encouraged students to get out of the library, to quit looking at papers and books, and to view the constant experiment of human experience. He writes, "Go and sit in the lounges of the luxury hotels and on the doorsteps of the flophouses; sit on the Gold Coast settees and on the slum shakedowns; sit in the Orchestra Hall and in the Star and Garter Burlesque. In short, gentlemen [sic], go get the seats of your pants dirty in real research."

But over the years, case studies have drawn their share of criticism. In fact, the method had its detractors from the start. In the 1920s, the debate between pro-qualitative and pro-quantitative became quite heated. Case studies, when compared to statistics, were considered by many to be unscientific. From the 1930's on, the rise of positivism had a growing influence on quantitative methods in sociology. People wanted static, generalizable laws in science. The sociological positivists were looking for stable laws of social phenomena. They criticized case study research because it failed to provide evidence of inter subjective agreement. Also, they condemned it because of the few number of cases studied and that the under-standardized character of their descriptions made generalization impossible. By the 1950s, quantitative methods, in the form of survey research, had become the dominant sociological approach and case study had become a minority practice.

Educational Applications

The 1950's marked the dawning of a new era in case study research, namely that of the utilization of the case study as a teaching method. "Instituted at Harvard Business School in the 1950s as a primary method of teaching, cases have since been used in classrooms and lecture halls alike, either as part of a course of study or as the main focus of the course to which other teaching material is added" (Armisted 1984). The basic purpose of instituting the case method as a teaching strategy was "to transfer much of the responsibility for learning from the teacher on to the student, whose role, as a result, shifts away from passive absorption toward active construction" (Boehrer 1990). Through careful examination and discussion of various cases, "students learn to identify actual problems, to recognize key players and their agendas, and to become aware of those aspects of the situation that contribute to the problem" (Merseth 1991). In addition, students are encouraged to "generate their own analysis of the problems under consideration, to develop their own solutions, and to practically apply their own knowledge of theory to these problems" (Boyce 1993). Along the way, students also develop "the power to analyze and to master a tangled circumstance by identifying and delineating important factors; the ability to utilize ideas, to test them against facts, and to throw them into fresh combinations" (Merseth 1991).

In addition to the practical application and testing of scholarly knowledge, case discussions can also help students prepare for real-world problems, situations and crises by providing an approximation of various professional environments (i.e. classroom, board room, courtroom, or hospital). Thus, through the examination of specific cases, students are given the opportunity to work out their own professional issues through the trials, tribulations, experiences, and research findings of others. An obvious advantage to this mode of instruction is that it allows students the exposure to settings and contexts that they might not otherwise experience. For example, a student interested in studying the effects of poverty on minority secondary student's grade point averages and S.A.T. scores could access and analyze information from schools as geographically diverse as Los Angeles, New York City, Miami, and New Mexico without ever having to leave the classroom.

The case study method also incorporates the idea that students can learn from one another "by engaging with each other and with each other's ideas, by asserting something and then having it questioned, challenged and thrown back at them so that they can reflect on what they hear, and then refine what they say" (Boehrer 1990). In summary, students can direct their own learning by formulating questions and taking responsibility for the study.

Types and Design Concerns

Researchers use multiple methods and approaches to conduct case studies.

Types of Case Studies

Under the more generalized category of case study exist several subdivisions, each of which is custom selected for use depending upon the goals and/or objectives of the investigator. These types of case study include the following:

Illustrative Case Studies These are primarily descriptive studies. They typically utilize one or two instances of an event to show what a situation is like. Illustrative case studies serve primarily to make the unfamiliar familiar and to give readers a common language about the topic in question.

Exploratory (or pilot) Case Studies These are condensed case studies performed before implementing a large scale investigation. Their basic function is to help identify questions and select types of measurement prior to the main investigation. The primary pitfall of this type of study is that initial findings may seem convincing enough to be released prematurely as conclusions.

Cumulative Case Studies These serve to aggregate information from several sites collected at different times. The idea behind these studies is the collection of past studies will allow for greater generalization without additional cost or time being expended on new, possibly repetitive studies.

Critical Instance Case Studies These examine one or more sites for either the purpose of examining a situation of unique interest with little to no interest in generalizability, or to call into question or challenge a highly generalized or universal assertion. This method is useful for answering cause and effect questions.

Identifying a Theoretical Perspective

Much of the case study's design is inherently determined for researchers, depending on the field from which they are working. In composition studies, researchers are typically working from a qualitative, descriptive standpoint. In contrast, physicists will approach their research from a more quantitative perspective. Still, in designing the study, researchers need to make explicit the questions to be explored and the theoretical perspective from which they will approach the case. The three most commonly adopted theories are listed below:

Individual Theories These focus primarily on the individual development, cognitive behavior, personality, learning and disability, and interpersonal interactions of a particular subject.

Organizational Theories These focus on bureaucracies, institutions, organizational structure and functions, or excellence in organizational performance.

Social Theories These focus on urban development, group behavior, cultural institutions, or marketplace functions.

Two examples of case studies are used consistently throughout this chapter. The first, a study produced by Berkenkotter, Huckin, and Ackerman (1988), looks at a first year graduate student's initiation into an academic writing program. The study uses participant-observer and linguistic data collecting techniques to assess the student's knowledge of appropriate discourse conventions. Using the pseudonym Nate to refer to the subject, the study sought to illuminate the particular experience rather than to generalize about the experience of fledgling academic writers collectively.

For example, in Berkenkotter, Huckin, and Ackerman's (1988) study we are told that the researchers are interested in disciplinary communities. In the first paragraph, they ask what constitutes membership in a disciplinary community and how achieving membership might affect a writer's understanding and production of texts. In the third paragraph they state that researchers must negotiate their claims "within the context of his sub specialty's accepted knowledge and methodology." In the next paragraph they ask, "How is literacy acquired? What is the process through which novices gain community membership? And what factors either aid or hinder students learning the requisite linguistic behaviors?" This introductory section ends with a paragraph in which the study's authors claim that during the course of the study, the subject, Nate, successfully makes the transition from "skilled novice" to become an initiated member of the academic discourse community and that his texts exhibit linguistic changes which indicate this transition. In the next section the authors make explicit the sociolinguistic theoretical and methodological assumptions on which the study is based (1988). Thus the reader has a good understanding of the authors' theoretical background and purpose in conducting the study even before it is explicitly stated on the fourth page of the study. "Our purpose was to examine the effects of the educational context on one graduate student's production of texts as he wrote in different courses and for different faculty members over the academic year 1984-85." The goal of the study then, was to explore the idea that writers must be initiated into a writing community, and that this initiation will change the way one writes.

The second example is Janet Emig's (1971) study of the composing process of a group of twelfth graders. In this study, Emig seeks to answer the question of what happens to the self as a result educational stimuli in terms of academic writing. The case study used methods such as protocol analysis, tape-recorded interviews, and discourse analysis.

In the case of Janet Emig's (1971) study of the composing process of eight twelfth graders, four specific hypotheses were made:

  • Twelfth grade writers engage in two modes of composing: reflexive and extensive.
  • These differences can be ascertained and characterized through having the writers compose aloud their composition process.
  • A set of implied stylistic principles governs the writing process.
  • For twelfth grade writers, extensive writing occurs chiefly as a school-sponsored activity, or reflexive, as a self-sponsored activity.

In this study, the chief distinction is between the two dominant modes of composing among older, secondary school students. The distinctions are:

  • The reflexive mode, which focuses on the writer's thoughts and feelings.
  • The extensive mode, which focuses on conveying a message.

Emig also outlines the specific questions which guided the research in the opening pages of her Review of Literature , preceding the report.

Designing a Case Study

After considering the different sub categories of case study and identifying a theoretical perspective, researchers can begin to design their study. Research design is the string of logic that ultimately links the data to be collected and the conclusions to be drawn to the initial questions of the study. Typically, research designs deal with at least four problems:

  • What questions to study
  • What data are relevant
  • What data to collect
  • How to analyze that data

In other words, a research design is basically a blueprint for getting from the beginning to the end of a study. The beginning is an initial set of questions to be answered, and the end is some set of conclusions about those questions.

Because case studies are conducted on topics as diverse as Anglo-Saxon Literature (Thrane 1986) and AIDS prevention (Van Vugt 1994), it is virtually impossible to outline any strict or universal method or design for conducting the case study. However, Robert K. Yin (1993) does offer five basic components of a research design:

  • A study's questions.
  • A study's propositions (if any).
  • A study's units of analysis.
  • The logic that links the data to the propositions.
  • The criteria for interpreting the findings.

In addition to these five basic components, Yin also stresses the importance of clearly articulating one's theoretical perspective, determining the goals of the study, selecting one's subject(s), selecting the appropriate method(s) of collecting data, and providing some considerations to the composition of the final report.

Conducting Case Studies

To obtain as complete a picture of the participant as possible, case study researchers can employ a variety of approaches and methods. These approaches, methods, and related issues are discussed in depth in this section.

Method: Single or Multi-modal?

To obtain as complete a picture of the participant as possible, case study researchers can employ a variety of methods. Some common methods include interviews , protocol analyses, field studies, and participant-observations. Emig (1971) chose to use several methods of data collection. Her sources included conversations with the students, protocol analysis, discrete observations of actual composition, writing samples from each student, and school records (Lauer and Asher 1988).

Berkenkotter, Huckin, and Ackerman (1988) collected data by observing classrooms, conducting faculty and student interviews, collecting self reports from the subject, and by looking at the subject's written work.

A study that was criticized for using a single method model was done by Flower and Hayes (1984). In this study that explores the ways in which writers use different forms of knowing to create space, the authors used only protocol analysis to gather data. The study came under heavy fire because of their decision to use only one method.

Participant Selection

Case studies can use one participant, or a small group of participants. However, it is important that the participant pool remain relatively small. The participants can represent a diverse cross section of society, but this isn't necessary.

For example, the Berkenkotter, Huckin, and Ackerman (1988) study looked at just one participant, Nate. By contrast, in Janet Emig's (1971) study of the composition process of twelfth graders, eight participants were selected representing a diverse cross section of the community, with volunteers from an all-white upper-middle-class suburban school, an all-black inner-city school, a racially mixed lower-middle-class school, an economically and racially mixed school, and a university school.

Often, a brief "case history" is done on the participants of the study in order to provide researchers with a clearer understanding of their participants, as well as some insight as to how their own personal histories might affect the outcome of the study. For instance, in Emig's study, the investigator had access to the school records of five of the participants, and to standardized test scores for the remaining three. Also made available to the researcher was the information that three of the eight students were selected as NCTE Achievement Award winners. These personal histories can be useful in later stages of the study when data are being analyzed and conclusions drawn.

Data Collection

There are six types of data collected in case studies:

  • Archival records.
  • Interviews.
  • Direct observation.
  • Participant observation.

In the field of composition research, these six sources might be:

  • A writer's drafts.
  • School records of student writers.
  • Transcripts of interviews with a writer.
  • Transcripts of conversations between writers (and protocols).
  • Videotapes and notes from direct field observations.
  • Hard copies of a writer's work on computer.

Depending on whether researchers have chosen to use a single or multi-modal approach for the case study, they may choose to collect data from one or any combination of these sources.

Protocols, that is, transcriptions of participants talking aloud about what they are doing as they do it, have been particularly common in composition case studies. For example, in Emig's (1971) study, the students were asked, in four different sessions, to give oral autobiographies of their writing experiences and to compose aloud three themes in the presence of a tape recorder and the investigator.

In some studies, only one method of data collection is conducted. For example, the Flower and Hayes (1981) report on the cognitive process theory of writing depends on protocol analysis alone. However, using multiple sources of evidence to increase the reliability and validity of the data can be advantageous.

Case studies are likely to be much more convincing and accurate if they are based on several different sources of information, following a corroborating mode. This conclusion is echoed among many composition researchers. For example, in her study of predrafting processes of high and low-apprehensive writers, Cynthia Selfe (1985) argues that because "methods of indirect observation provide only an incomplete reflection of the complex set of processes involved in composing, a combination of several such methods should be used to gather data in any one study." Thus, in this study, Selfe collected her data from protocols, observations of students role playing their writing processes, audio taped interviews with the students, and videotaped observations of the students in the process of composing.

It can be said then, that cross checking data from multiple sources can help provide a multidimensional profile of composing activities in a particular setting. Sharan Merriam (1985) suggests "checking, verifying, testing, probing, and confirming collected data as you go, arguing that this process will follow in a funnel-like design resulting in less data gathering in later phases of the study along with a congruent increase in analysis checking, verifying, and confirming."

It is important to note that in case studies, as in any qualitative descriptive research, while researchers begin their studies with one or several questions driving the inquiry (which influence the key factors the researcher will be looking for during data collection), a researcher may find new key factors emerging during data collection. These might be unexpected patterns or linguistic features which become evident only during the course of the research. While not bearing directly on the researcher's guiding questions, these variables may become the basis for new questions asked at the end of the report, thus linking to the possibility of further research.

Data Analysis

As the information is collected, researchers strive to make sense of their data. Generally, researchers interpret their data in one of two ways: holistically or through coding. Holistic analysis does not attempt to break the evidence into parts, but rather to draw conclusions based on the text as a whole. Flower and Hayes (1981), for example, make inferences from entire sections of their students' protocols, rather than searching through the transcripts to look for isolatable characteristics.

However, composition researchers commonly interpret their data by coding, that is by systematically searching data to identify and/or categorize specific observable actions or characteristics. These observable actions then become the key variables in the study. Sharan Merriam (1988) suggests seven analytic frameworks for the organization and presentation of data:

  • The role of participants.
  • The network analysis of formal and informal exchanges among groups.
  • Historical.
  • Thematical.
  • Ritual and symbolism.
  • Critical incidents that challenge or reinforce fundamental beliefs, practices, and values.

There are two purposes of these frameworks: to look for patterns among the data and to look for patterns that give meaning to the case study.

As stated above, while most researchers begin their case studies expecting to look for particular observable characteristics, it is not unusual for key variables to emerge during data collection. Typical variables coded in case studies of writers include pauses writers make in the production of a text, the use of specific linguistic units (such as nouns or verbs), and writing processes (planning, drafting, revising, and editing). In the Berkenkotter, Huckin, and Ackerman (1988) study, for example, researchers coded the participant's texts for use of connectives, discourse demonstratives, average sentence length, off-register words, use of the first person pronoun, and the ratio of definite articles to indefinite articles.

Since coding is inherently subjective, more than one coder is usually employed. In the Berkenkotter, Huckin, and Ackerman (1988) study, for example, three rhetoricians were employed to code the participant's texts for off-register phrases. The researchers established the agreement among the coders before concluding that the participant used fewer off-register words as the graduate program progressed.

Composing the Case Study Report

In the many forms it can take, "a case study is generically a story; it presents the concrete narrative detail of actual, or at least realistic events, it has a plot, exposition, characters, and sometimes even dialogue" (Boehrer 1990). Generally, case study reports are extensively descriptive, with "the most problematic issue often referred to as being the determination of the right combination of description and analysis" (1990). Typically, authors address each step of the research process, and attempt to give the reader as much context as possible for the decisions made in the research design and for the conclusions drawn.

This contextualization usually includes a detailed explanation of the researchers' theoretical positions, of how those theories drove the inquiry or led to the guiding research questions, of the participants' backgrounds, of the processes of data collection, of the training and limitations of the coders, along with a strong attempt to make connections between the data and the conclusions evident.

Although the Berkenkotter, Huckin, and Ackerman (1988) study does not, case study reports often include the reactions of the participants to the study or to the researchers' conclusions. Because case studies tend to be exploratory, most end with implications for further study. Here researchers may identify significant variables that emerged during the research and suggest studies related to these, or the authors may suggest further general questions that their case study generated.

For example, Emig's (1971) study concludes with a section dedicated solely to the topic of implications for further research, in which she suggests several means by which this particular study could have been improved, as well as questions and ideas raised by this study which other researchers might like to address, such as: is there a correlation between a certain personality and a certain composing process profile (e.g. is there a positive correlation between ego strength and persistence in revising)?

Also included in Emig's study is a section dedicated to implications for teaching, which outlines the pedagogical ramifications of the study's findings for teachers currently involved in high school writing programs.

Sharan Merriam (1985) also offers several suggestions for alternative presentations of data:

  • Prepare specialized condensations for appropriate groups.
  • Replace narrative sections with a series of answers to open-ended questions.
  • Present "skimmer's" summaries at beginning of each section.
  • Incorporate headlines that encapsulate information from text.
  • Prepare analytic summaries with supporting data appendixes.
  • Present data in colorful and/or unique graphic representations.

Issues of Validity and Reliability

Once key variables have been identified, they can be analyzed. Reliability becomes a key concern at this stage, and many case study researchers go to great lengths to ensure that their interpretations of the data will be both reliable and valid. Because issues of validity and reliability are an important part of any study in the social sciences, it is important to identify some ways of dealing with results.

Multi-modal case study researchers often balance the results of their coding with data from interviews or writer's reflections upon their own work. Consequently, the researchers' conclusions become highly contextualized. For example, in a case study which looked at the time spent in different stages of the writing process, Berkenkotter concluded that her participant, Donald Murray, spent more time planning his essays than in other writing stages. The report of this case study is followed by Murray's reply, wherein he agrees with some of Berkenkotter's conclusions and disagrees with others.

As is the case with other research methodologies, issues of external validity, construct validity, and reliability need to be carefully considered.

Commentary on Case Studies

Researchers often debate the relative merits of particular methods, among them case study. In this section, we comment on two key issues. To read the commentaries, choose any of the items below:

Strengths and Weaknesses of Case Studies

Most case study advocates point out that case studies produce much more detailed information than what is available through a statistical analysis. Advocates will also hold that while statistical methods might be able to deal with situations where behavior is homogeneous and routine, case studies are needed to deal with creativity, innovation, and context. Detractors argue that case studies are difficult to generalize because of inherent subjectivity and because they are based on qualitative subjective data, generalizable only to a particular context.

Flexibility

The case study approach is a comparatively flexible method of scientific research. Because its project designs seem to emphasize exploration rather than prescription or prediction, researchers are comparatively freer to discover and address issues as they arise in their experiments. In addition, the looser format of case studies allows researchers to begin with broad questions and narrow their focus as their experiment progresses rather than attempt to predict every possible outcome before the experiment is conducted.

Emphasis on Context

By seeking to understand as much as possible about a single subject or small group of subjects, case studies specialize in "deep data," or "thick description"--information based on particular contexts that can give research results a more human face. This emphasis can help bridge the gap between abstract research and concrete practice by allowing researchers to compare their firsthand observations with the quantitative results obtained through other methods of research.

Inherent Subjectivity

"The case study has long been stereotyped as the weak sibling among social science methods," and is often criticized as being too subjective and even pseudo-scientific. Likewise, "investigators who do case studies are often regarded as having deviated from their academic disciplines, and their investigations as having insufficient precision (that is, quantification), objectivity and rigor" (Yin 1989). Opponents cite opportunities for subjectivity in the implementation, presentation, and evaluation of case study research. The approach relies on personal interpretation of data and inferences. Results may not be generalizable, are difficult to test for validity, and rarely offer a problem-solving prescription. Simply put, relying on one or a few subjects as a basis for cognitive extrapolations runs the risk of inferring too much from what might be circumstance.

High Investment

Case studies can involve learning more about the subjects being tested than most researchers would care to know--their educational background, emotional background, perceptions of themselves and their surroundings, their likes, dislikes, and so on. Because of its emphasis on "deep data," the case study is out of reach for many large-scale research projects which look at a subject pool in the tens of thousands. A budget request of $10,000 to examine 200 subjects sounds more efficient than a similar request to examine four subjects.

Ethical Considerations

Researchers conducting case studies should consider certain ethical issues. For example, many educational case studies are often financed by people who have, either directly or indirectly, power over both those being studied and those conducting the investigation (1985). This conflict of interests can hinder the credibility of the study.

The personal integrity, sensitivity, and possible prejudices and/or biases of the investigators need to be taken into consideration as well. Personal biases can creep into how the research is conducted, alternative research methods used, and the preparation of surveys and questionnaires.

A common complaint in case study research is that investigators change direction during the course of the study unaware that their original research design was inadequate for the revised investigation. Thus, the researchers leave unknown gaps and biases in the study. To avoid this, researchers should report preliminary findings so that the likelihood of bias will be reduced.

Concerns about Reliability, Validity, and Generalizability

Merriam (1985) offers several suggestions for how case study researchers might actively combat the popular attacks on the validity, reliability, and generalizability of case studies:

  • Prolong the Processes of Data Gathering on Site: This will help to insure the accuracy of the findings by providing the researcher with more concrete information upon which to formulate interpretations.
  • Employ the Process of "Triangulation": Use a variety of data sources as opposed to relying solely upon one avenue of observation. One example of such a data check would be what McClintock, Brannon, and Maynard (1985) refer to as a "case cluster method," that is, when a single unit within a larger case is randomly sampled, and that data treated quantitatively." For instance, in Emig's (1971) study, the case cluster method was employed, singling out the productivity of a single student named Lynn. This cluster profile included an advanced case history of the subject, specific examination and analysis of individual compositions and protocols, and extensive interview sessions. The seven remaining students were then compared with the case of Lynn, to ascertain if there are any shared, or unique dimensions to the composing process engaged in by these eight students.
  • Conduct Member Checks: Initiate and maintain an active corroboration on the interpretation of data between the researcher and those who provided the data. In other words, talk to your subjects.
  • Collect Referential Materials: Complement the file of materials from the actual site with additional document support. For example, Emig (1971) supports her initial propositions with historical accounts by writers such as T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, and D.H. Lawrence. Emig also cites examples of theoretical research done with regards to the creative process, as well as examples of empirical research dealing with the writing of adolescents. Specific attention is then given to the four stages description of the composing process delineated by Helmoltz, Wallas, and Cowley, as it serves as the focal point in this study.
  • Engage in Peer Consultation: Prior to composing the final draft of the report, researchers should consult with colleagues in order to establish validity through pooled judgment.

Although little can be done to combat challenges concerning the generalizability of case studies, "most writers suggest that qualitative research should be judged as credible and confirmable as opposed to valid and reliable" (Merriam 1985). Likewise, it has been argued that "rather than transplanting statistical, quantitative notions of generalizability and thus finding qualitative research inadequate, it makes more sense to develop an understanding of generalization that is congruent with the basic characteristics of qualitative inquiry" (1985). After all, criticizing the case study method for being ungeneralizable is comparable to criticizing a washing machine for not being able to tell the correct time. In other words, it is unjust to criticize a method for not being able to do something which it was never originally designed to do in the first place.

Annotated Bibliography

Armisted, C. (1984). How Useful are Case Studies. Training and Development Journal, 38 (2), 75-77.

This article looks at eight types of case studies, offers pros and cons of using case studies in the classroom, and gives suggestions for successfully writing and using case studies.

Bardovi-Harlig, K. (1997). Beyond Methods: Components of Second Language Teacher Education . New York: McGraw-Hill.

A compilation of various research essays which address issues of language teacher education. Essays included are: "Non-native reading research and theory" by Lee, "The case for Psycholinguistics" by VanPatten, and "Assessment and Second Language Teaching" by Gradman and Reed.

Bartlett, L. (1989). A Question of Good Judgment; Interpretation Theory and Qualitative Enquiry Address. 70th Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. San Francisco.

Bartlett selected "quasi-historical" methodology, which focuses on the "truth" found in case records, as one that will provide "good judgments" in educational inquiry. He argues that although the method is not comprehensive, it can try to connect theory with practice.

Baydere, S. et. al. (1993). Multimedia conferencing as a tool for collaborative writing: a case study in Computer Supported Collaborative Writing. New York: Springer-Verlag.

The case study by Baydere et. al. is just one of the many essays in this book found in the series "Computer Supported Cooperative Work." Denley, Witefield and May explore similar issues in their essay, "A case study in task analysis for the design of a collaborative document production system."

Berkenkotter, C., Huckin, T., N., & Ackerman J. (1988). Conventions, Conversations, and the Writer: Case Study of a Student in a Rhetoric Ph.D. Program. Research in the Teaching of English, 22, 9-44.

The authors focused on how the writing of their subject, Nate or Ackerman, changed as he became more acquainted or familiar with his field's discourse community.

Berninger, V., W., and Gans, B., M. (1986). Language Profiles in Nonspeaking Individuals of Normal Intelligence with Severe Cerebral Palsy. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 2, 45-50.

Argues that generalizations about language abilities in patients with severe cerebral palsy (CP) should be avoided. Standardized tests of different levels of processing oral language, of processing written language, and of producing written language were administered to 3 male participants (aged 9, 16, and 40 yrs).

Bockman, J., R., and Couture, B. (1984). The Case Method in Technical Communication: Theory and Models. Texas: Association of Teachers of Technical Writing.

Examines the study and teaching of technical writing, communication of technical information, and the case method in terms of those applications.

Boehrer, J. (1990). Teaching With Cases: Learning to Question. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 42 41-57.

This article discusses the origins of the case method, looks at the question of what is a case, gives ideas about learning in case teaching, the purposes it can serve in the classroom, the ground rules for the case discussion, including the role of the question, and new directions for case teaching.

Bowman, W. R. (1993). Evaluating JTPA Programs for Economically Disadvantaged Adults: A Case Study of Utah and General Findings . Washington: National Commission for Employment Policy.

"To encourage state-level evaluations of JTPA, the Commission and the State of Utah co-sponsored this report on the effectiveness of JTPA Title II programs for adults in Utah. The technique used is non-experimental and the comparison group was selected from registrants with Utah's Employment Security. In a step-by-step approach, the report documents how non-experimental techniques can be applied and several specific technical issues can be addressed."

Boyce, A. (1993) The Case Study Approach for Pedagogists. Annual Meeting of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. (Address). Washington DC.

This paper addresses how case studies 1) bridge the gap between teaching theory and application, 2) enable students to analyze problems and develop solutions for situations that will be encountered in the real world of teaching, and 3) helps students to evaluate the feasibility of alternatives and to understand the ramifications of a particular course of action.

Carson, J. (1993) The Case Study: Ideal Home of WAC Quantitative and Qualitative Data. Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication. (Address). San Diego.

"Increasingly, one of the most pressing questions for WAC advocates is how to keep [WAC] programs going in the face of numerous difficulties. Case histories offer the best chance for fashioning rhetorical arguments to keep WAC programs going because they offer the opportunity to provide a coherent narrative that contextualizes all documents and data, including what is generally considered scientific data. A case study of the WAC program, . . . at Robert Morris College in Pittsburgh demonstrates the advantages of this research method. Such studies are ideal homes for both naturalistic and positivistic data as well as both quantitative and qualitative information."

---. (1991). A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing. College Composition and Communication. 32. 365-87.

No abstract available.

Cromer, R. (1994) A Case Study of Dissociations Between Language and Cognition. Constraints on Language Acquisition: Studies of Atypical Children . Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 141-153.

Crossley, M. (1983) Case Study in Comparative and International Education: An Approach to Bridging the Theory-Practice Gap. Proceedings of the 11th Annual Conference of the Australian Comparative and International Education Society. Hamilton, NZ.

Case study research, as presented here, helps bridge the theory-practice gap in comparative and international research studies of education because it focuses on the practical, day-to-day context rather than on the national arena. The paper asserts that the case study method can be valuable at all levels of research, formation, and verification of theories in education.

Daillak, R., H., and Alkin, M., C. (1982). Qualitative Studies in Context: Reflections on the CSE Studies of Evaluation Use . California: EDRS

The report shows how the Center of the Study of Evaluation (CSE) applied qualitative techniques to a study of evaluation information use in local, Los Angeles schools. It critiques the effectiveness and the limitations of using case study, evaluation, field study, and user interview survey methodologies.

Davey, L. (1991). The Application of Case Study Evaluations. ERIC/TM Digest.

This article examines six types of case studies, the type of evaluation questions that can be answered, the functions served, some design features, and some pitfalls of the method.

Deutch, C. E. (1996). A course in research ethics for graduate students. College Teaching, 44, 2, 56-60.

This article describes a one-credit discussion course in research ethics for graduate students in biology. Case studies are focused on within the four parts of the course: 1) major issues, 2 )practical issues in scholarly work, 3) ownership of research results, and 4) training and personal decisions.

DeVoss, G. (1981). Ethics in Fieldwork Research. RIE 27p. (ERIC)

This article examines four of the ethical problems that can happen when conducting case study research: acquiring permission to do research, knowing when to stop digging, the pitfalls of doing collaborative research, and preserving the integrity of the participants.

Driscoll, A. (1985). Case Study of a Research Intervention: the University of Utah’s Collaborative Approach . San Francisco: Far West Library for Educational Research Development.

Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, Denver, CO, March 1985. Offers information of in-service training, specifically case studies application.

Ellram, L. M. (1996). The Use of the Case Study Method in Logistics Research. Journal of Business Logistics, 17, 2, 93.

This article discusses the increased use of case study in business research, and the lack of understanding of when and how to use case study methodology in business.

Emig, J. (1971) The Composing Processes of Twelfth Graders . Urbana: NTCE.

This case study uses observation, tape recordings, writing samples, and school records to show that writing in reflexive and extensive situations caused different lengths of discourse and different clusterings of the components of the writing process.

Feagin, J. R. (1991). A Case For the Case Study . Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

This book discusses the nature, characteristics, and basic methodological issues of the case study as a research method.

Feldman, H., Holland, A., & Keefe, K. (1989) Language Abilities after Left Hemisphere Brain Injury: A Case Study of Twins. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 9, 32-47.

"Describes the language abilities of 2 twin pairs in which 1 twin (the experimental) suffered brain injury to the left cerebral hemisphere around the time of birth and1 twin (the control) did not. One pair of twins was initially assessed at age 23 mo. and the other at about 30 mo.; they were subsequently evaluated in their homes 3 times at about 6-mo intervals."

Fidel, R. (1984). The Case Study Method: A Case Study. Library and Information Science Research, 6.

The article describes the use of case study methodology to systematically develop a model of online searching behavior in which study design is flexible, subject manner determines data gathering and analyses, and procedures adapt to the study's progressive change.

Flower, L., & Hayes, J. R. (1984). Images, Plans and Prose: The Representation of Meaning in Writing. Written Communication, 1, 120-160.

Explores the ways in which writers actually use different forms of knowing to create prose.

Frey, L. R. (1992). Interpreting Communication Research: A Case Study Approach Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

The book discusses research methodologies in the Communication field. It focuses on how case studies bridge the gap between communication research, theory, and practice.

Gilbert, V. K. (1981). The Case Study as a Research Methodology: Difficulties and Advantages of Integrating the Positivistic, Phenomenological and Grounded Theory Approaches . The Annual Meeting of the Canadian Association for the Study of Educational Administration. (Address) Halifax, NS, Can.

This study on an innovative secondary school in England shows how a "low-profile" participant-observer case study was crucial to the initial observation, the testing of hypotheses, the interpretive approach, and the grounded theory.

Gilgun, J. F. (1994). A Case for Case Studies in Social Work Research. Social Work, 39, 4, 371-381.

This article defines case study research, presents guidelines for evaluation of case studies, and shows the relevance of case studies to social work research. It also looks at issues such as evaluation and interpretations of case studies.

Glennan, S. L., Sharp-Bittner, M. A. & Tullos, D. C. (1991). Augmentative and Alternative Communication Training with a Nonspeaking Adult: Lessons from MH. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 7, 240-7.

"A response-guided case study documented changes in a nonspeaking 36-yr-old man's ability to communicate using 3 trained augmentative communication modes. . . . Data were collected in videotaped interaction sessions between the nonspeaking adult and a series of adult speaking."

Graves, D. (1981). An Examination of the Writing Processes of Seven Year Old Children. Research in the Teaching of English, 15, 113-134.

Hamel, J. (1993). Case Study Methods . Newbury Park: Sage. .

"In a most economical fashion, Hamel provides a practical guide for producing theoretically sharp and empirically sound sociological case studies. A central idea put forth by Hamel is that case studies must "locate the global in the local" thus making the careful selection of the research site the most critical decision in the analytic process."

Karthigesu, R. (1986, July). Television as a Tool for Nation-Building in the Third World: A Post-Colonial Pattern, Using Malaysia as a Case-Study. International Television Studies Conference. (Address). London, 10-12.

"The extent to which Television Malaysia, as a national mass media organization, has been able to play a role in nation building in the post-colonial period is . . . studied in two parts: how the choice of a model of nation building determines the character of the organization; and how the character of the organization influences the output of the organization."

Kenny, R. (1984). Making the Case for the Case Study. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 16, (1), 37-51.

The article looks at how and why the case study is justified as a viable and valuable approach to educational research and program evaluation.

Knirk, F. (1991). Case Materials: Research and Practice. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 4 (1 ), 73-81.

The article addresses the effectiveness of case studies, subject areas where case studies are commonly used, recent examples of their use, and case study design considerations.

Klos, D. (1976). Students as Case Writers. Teaching of Psychology, 3.2, 63-66.

This article reviews a course in which students gather data for an original case study of another person. The task requires the students to design the study, collect the data, write the narrative, and interpret the findings.

Leftwich, A. (1981). The Politics of Case Study: Problems of Innovation in University Education. Higher Education Review, 13.2, 38-64.

The article discusses the use of case studies as a teaching method. Emphasis is on the instructional materials, interdisciplinarity, and the complex relationships within the university that help or hinder the method.

Mabrito, M. (1991, Oct.). Electronic Mail as a Vehicle for Peer Response: Conversations of High and Low Apprehensive Writers. Written Communication, 509-32.

McCarthy, S., J. (1955). The Influence of Classroom Discourse on Student Texts: The Case of Ella . East Lansing: Institute for Research on Teaching.

A look at how students of color become marginalized within traditional classroom discourse. The essay follows the struggles of one black student: Ella.

Matsuhashi, A., ed. (1987). Writing in Real Time: Modeling Production Processes Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation.

Investigates how writers plan to produce discourse for different purposes to report, to generalize, and to persuade, as well as how writers plan for sentence level units of language. To learn about planning, an observational measure of pause time was used" (ERIC).

Merriam, S. B. (1985). The Case Study in Educational Research: A Review of Selected Literature. Journal of Educational Thought, 19.3, 204-17.

The article examines the characteristics of, philosophical assumptions underlying the case study, the mechanics of conducting a case study, and the concerns about the reliability, validity, and generalizability of the method.

---. (1988). Case Study Research in Education: A Qualitative Approach San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Merry, S. E., & Milner, N. eds. (1993). The Possibility of Popular Justice: A Case Study of Community Mediation in the United States . Ann Arbor: U of Michigan.

". . . this volume presents a case study of one experiment in popular justice, the San Francisco Community Boards. This program has made an explicit claim to create an alternative justice, or new justice, in the midst of a society ordered by state law. The contributors to this volume explore the history and experience of the program and compare it to other versions of popular justice in the United States, Europe, and the Third World."

Merseth, K. K. (1991). The Case for Cases in Teacher Education. RIE. 42p. (ERIC).

This monograph argues that the case method of instruction offers unique potential for revitalizing the field of teacher education.

Michaels, S. (1987). Text and Context: A New Approach to the Study of Classroom Writing. Discourse Processes, 10, 321-346.

"This paper argues for and illustrates an approach to the study of writing that integrates ethnographic analysis of classroom interaction with linguistic analysis of written texts and teacher/student conversational exchanges. The approach is illustrated through a case study of writing in a single sixth grade classroom during a single writing assignment."

Milburn, G. (1995). Deciphering a Code or Unraveling a Riddle: A Case Study in the Application of a Humanistic Metaphor to the Reporting of Social Studies Teaching. Theory and Research in Education, 13.

This citation serves as an example of how case studies document learning procedures in a senior-level economics course.

Milley, J. E. (1979). An Investigation of Case Study as an Approach to Program Evaluation. 19th Annual Forum of the Association for Institutional Research. (Address). San Diego.

The case study method merged a narrative report focusing on the evaluator as participant-observer with document review, interview, content analysis, attitude questionnaire survey, and sociogram analysis. Milley argues that case study program evaluation has great potential for widespread use.

Minnis, J. R. (1985, Sept.). Ethnography, Case Study, Grounded Theory, and Distance Education Research. Distance Education, 6.2.

This article describes and defines the strengths and weaknesses of ethnography, case study, and grounded theory.

Nunan, D. (1992). Collaborative language learning and teaching . New York: Cambridge University Press.

Included in this series of essays is Peter Sturman’s "Team Teaching: a case study from Japan" and David Nunan’s own "Toward a collaborative approach to curriculum development: a case study."

Nystrand, M., ed. (1982). What Writers Know: The Language, Process, and Structure of Written Discourse . New York: Academic Press.

Owenby, P. H. (1992). Making Case Studies Come Alive. Training, 29, (1), 43-46. (ERIC)

This article provides tips for writing more effective case studies.

---. (1981). Pausing and Planning: The Tempo of Writer Discourse Production. Research in the Teaching of English, 15 (2),113-34.

Perl, S. (1979). The Composing Processes of Unskilled College Writers. Research in the Teaching of English, 13, 317-336.

"Summarizes a study of five unskilled college writers, focusing especially on one of the five, and discusses the findings in light of current pedagogical practice and research design."

Pilcher J. and A. Coffey. eds. (1996). Gender and Qualitative Research . Brookfield: Aldershot, Hants, England.

This book provides a series of essays which look at gender identity research, qualitative research and applications of case study to questions of gendered pedagogy.

Pirie, B. S. (1993). The Case of Morty: A Four Year Study. Gifted Education International, 9 (2), 105-109.

This case study describes a boy from kindergarten through third grade with above average intelligence but difficulty in learning to read, write, and spell.

Popkewitz, T. (1993). Changing Patterns of Power: Social Regulation and Teacher Education Reform. Albany: SUNY Press.

Popkewitz edits this series of essays that address case studies on educational change and the training of teachers. The essays vary in terms of discipline and scope. Also, several authors include case studies of educational practices in countries other than the United States.

---. (1984). The Predrafting Processes of Four High- and Four Low Apprehensive Writers. Research in the Teaching of English, 18, (1), 45-64.

Rasmussen, P. (1985, March) A Case Study on the Evaluation of Research at the Technical University of Denmark. International Journal of Institutional Management in Higher Education, 9 (1).

This is an example of a case study methodology used to evaluate the chemistry and chemical engineering departments at the University of Denmark.

Roth, K. J. (1986). Curriculum Materials, Teacher Talk, and Student Learning: Case Studies in Fifth-Grade Science Teaching . East Lansing: Institute for Research on Teaching.

Roth offers case studies on elementary teachers, elementary school teaching, science studies and teaching, and verbal learning.

Selfe, C. L. (1985). An Apprehensive Writer Composes. When a Writer Can't Write: Studies in Writer's Block and Other Composing-Process Problems . (pp. 83-95). Ed. Mike Rose. NMY: Guilford.

Smith-Lewis, M., R. and Ford, A. (1987). A User's Perspective on Augmentative Communication. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 3, 12-7.

"During a series of in-depth interviews, a 25-yr-old woman with cerebral palsy who utilized augmentative communication reflected on the effectiveness of the devices designed for her during her school career."

St. Pierre, R., G. (1980, April). Follow Through: A Case Study in Metaevaluation Research . 64th Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. (Address).

The three approaches to metaevaluation are evaluation of primary evaluations, integrative meta-analysis with combined primary evaluation results, and re-analysis of the raw data from a primary evaluation.

Stahler, T., M. (1996, Feb.) Early Field Experiences: A Model That Worked. ERIC.

"This case study of a field and theory class examines a model designed to provide meaningful field experiences for preservice teachers while remaining consistent with the instructor's beliefs about the role of teacher education in preparing teachers for the classroom."

Stake, R. E. (1995). The Art of Case Study Research. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

This book examines case study research in education and case study methodology.

Stiegelbauer, S. (1984) Community, Context, and Co-curriculum: Situational Factors Influencing School Improvements in a Study of High Schools. Presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.

Discussion of several case studies: one looking at high school environments, another examining educational innovations.

Stolovitch, H. (1990). Case Study Method. Performance And Instruction, 29, (9), 35-37.

This article describes the case study method as a form of simulation and presents guidelines for their use in professional training situations.

Thaller, E. (1994). Bibliography for the Case Method: Using Case Studies in Teacher Education. RIE. 37 p.

This bibliography presents approximately 450 citations on the use of case studies in teacher education from 1921-1993.

Thrane, T. (1986). On Delimiting the Senses of Near-Synonyms in Historical Semantics: A Case Study of Adjectives of 'Moral Sufficiency' in the Old English Andreas. Linguistics Across Historical and Geographical Boundaries: In Honor of Jacek Fisiak on the Occasion of his Fiftieth Birthday . Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

United Nations. (1975). Food and Agriculture Organization. Report on the FAO/UNFPA Seminar on Methodology, Research and Country: Case Studies on Population, Employment and Productivity . Rome: United Nations.

This example case study shows how the methodology can be used in a demographic and psychographic evaluation. At the same time, it discusses the formation and instigation of the case study methodology itself.

Van Vugt, J. P., ed. (1994). Aids Prevention and Services: Community Based Research . Westport: Bergin and Garvey.

"This volume has been five years in the making. In the process, some of the policy applications called for have met with limited success, such as free needle exchange programs in a limited number of American cities, providing condoms to prison inmates, and advertisements that depict same-sex couples. Rather than dating our chapters that deal with such subjects, such policy applications are verifications of the type of research demonstrated here. Furthermore, they indicate the critical need to continue community based research in the various communities threatened by acquired immuno-deficiency syndrome (AIDS) . . . "

Welch, W., ed. (1981, May). Case Study Methodology in Educational Evaluation. Proceedings of the Minnesota Evaluation Conference. Minnesota. (Address).

The four papers in these proceedings provide a comprehensive picture of the rationale, methodology, strengths, and limitations of case studies.

Williams, G. (1987). The Case Method: An Approach to Teaching and Learning in Educational Administration. RIE, 31p.

This paper examines the viability of the case method as a teaching and learning strategy in instructional systems geared toward the training of personnel of the administration of various aspects of educational systems.

Yin, R. K. (1993). Advancing Rigorous Methodologies: A Review of 'Towards Rigor in Reviews of Multivocal Literatures.' Review of Educational Research, 61, (3).

"R. T. Ogawa and B. Malen's article does not meet its own recommended standards for rigorous testing and presentation of its own conclusions. Use of the exploratory case study to analyze multivocal literatures is not supported, and the claim of grounded theory to analyze multivocal literatures may be stronger."

---. (1989). Case Study Research: Design and Methods. London: Sage Publications Inc.

This book discusses in great detail, the entire design process of the case study, including entire chapters on collecting evidence, analyzing evidence, composing the case study report, and designing single and multiple case studies.

Related Links

Consider the following list of related Web sites for more information on the topic of case study research. Note: although many of the links cover the general category of qualitative research, all have sections that address issues of case studies.

  • Sage Publications on Qualitative Methodology: Search here for a comprehensive list of new books being published about "Qualitative Methodology" http://www.sagepub.co.uk/
  • The International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education: An on-line journal "to enhance the theory and practice of qualitative research in education." On-line submissions are welcome. http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/tf/09518398.html
  • Qualitative Research Resources on the Internet: From syllabi to home pages to bibliographies. All links relate somehow to qualitative research. http://www.nova.edu/ssss/QR/qualres.html

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Bronwyn Becker, Patrick Dawson, Karen Devine, Carla Hannum, Steve Hill, Jon Leydens, Debbie Matuskevich, Carol Traver, and Mike Palmquist. (1994-2024). Case Studies. The WAC Clearinghouse. Colorado State University. Available at https://wac.colostate.edu/repository/writing/guides/.

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This chapter reviews the strengths and limitations of case study as a research method in social sciences. It provides an account of an evidence base to justify why a case study is best suitable for some research questions and why not for some other research questions. Case study designing around the research context, defining the structure and modality, conducting the study, collecting the data through triangulation mode, analysing the data, and interpreting the data and theory building at the end give a holistic view of it. In addition, the chapter also focuses on the types of case study and when and where to use case study as a research method in social science research.

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Research Method

Home » Case Study – Methods, Examples and Guide

Case Study – Methods, Examples and Guide

Table of Contents

Case Study Research

A case study is a research method that involves an in-depth examination and analysis of a particular phenomenon or case, such as an individual, organization, community, event, or situation.

It is a qualitative research approach that aims to provide a detailed and comprehensive understanding of the case being studied. Case studies typically involve multiple sources of data, including interviews, observations, documents, and artifacts, which are analyzed using various techniques, such as content analysis, thematic analysis, and grounded theory. The findings of a case study are often used to develop theories, inform policy or practice, or generate new research questions.

Types of Case Study

Types and Methods of Case Study are as follows:

Single-Case Study

A single-case study is an in-depth analysis of a single case. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to understand a specific phenomenon in detail.

For Example , A researcher might conduct a single-case study on a particular individual to understand their experiences with a particular health condition or a specific organization to explore their management practices. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as content analysis or thematic analysis. The findings of a single-case study are often used to generate new research questions, develop theories, or inform policy or practice.

Multiple-Case Study

A multiple-case study involves the analysis of several cases that are similar in nature. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to identify similarities and differences between the cases.

For Example, a researcher might conduct a multiple-case study on several companies to explore the factors that contribute to their success or failure. The researcher collects data from each case, compares and contrasts the findings, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as comparative analysis or pattern-matching. The findings of a multiple-case study can be used to develop theories, inform policy or practice, or generate new research questions.

Exploratory Case Study

An exploratory case study is used to explore a new or understudied phenomenon. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to generate hypotheses or theories about the phenomenon.

For Example, a researcher might conduct an exploratory case study on a new technology to understand its potential impact on society. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as grounded theory or content analysis. The findings of an exploratory case study can be used to generate new research questions, develop theories, or inform policy or practice.

Descriptive Case Study

A descriptive case study is used to describe a particular phenomenon in detail. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to provide a comprehensive account of the phenomenon.

For Example, a researcher might conduct a descriptive case study on a particular community to understand its social and economic characteristics. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as content analysis or thematic analysis. The findings of a descriptive case study can be used to inform policy or practice or generate new research questions.

Instrumental Case Study

An instrumental case study is used to understand a particular phenomenon that is instrumental in achieving a particular goal. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to understand the role of the phenomenon in achieving the goal.

For Example, a researcher might conduct an instrumental case study on a particular policy to understand its impact on achieving a particular goal, such as reducing poverty. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as content analysis or thematic analysis. The findings of an instrumental case study can be used to inform policy or practice or generate new research questions.

Case Study Data Collection Methods

Here are some common data collection methods for case studies:

Interviews involve asking questions to individuals who have knowledge or experience relevant to the case study. Interviews can be structured (where the same questions are asked to all participants) or unstructured (where the interviewer follows up on the responses with further questions). Interviews can be conducted in person, over the phone, or through video conferencing.

Observations

Observations involve watching and recording the behavior and activities of individuals or groups relevant to the case study. Observations can be participant (where the researcher actively participates in the activities) or non-participant (where the researcher observes from a distance). Observations can be recorded using notes, audio or video recordings, or photographs.

Documents can be used as a source of information for case studies. Documents can include reports, memos, emails, letters, and other written materials related to the case study. Documents can be collected from the case study participants or from public sources.

Surveys involve asking a set of questions to a sample of individuals relevant to the case study. Surveys can be administered in person, over the phone, through mail or email, or online. Surveys can be used to gather information on attitudes, opinions, or behaviors related to the case study.

Artifacts are physical objects relevant to the case study. Artifacts can include tools, equipment, products, or other objects that provide insights into the case study phenomenon.

How to conduct Case Study Research

Conducting a case study research involves several steps that need to be followed to ensure the quality and rigor of the study. Here are the steps to conduct case study research:

  • Define the research questions: The first step in conducting a case study research is to define the research questions. The research questions should be specific, measurable, and relevant to the case study phenomenon under investigation.
  • Select the case: The next step is to select the case or cases to be studied. The case should be relevant to the research questions and should provide rich and diverse data that can be used to answer the research questions.
  • Collect data: Data can be collected using various methods, such as interviews, observations, documents, surveys, and artifacts. The data collection method should be selected based on the research questions and the nature of the case study phenomenon.
  • Analyze the data: The data collected from the case study should be analyzed using various techniques, such as content analysis, thematic analysis, or grounded theory. The analysis should be guided by the research questions and should aim to provide insights and conclusions relevant to the research questions.
  • Draw conclusions: The conclusions drawn from the case study should be based on the data analysis and should be relevant to the research questions. The conclusions should be supported by evidence and should be clearly stated.
  • Validate the findings: The findings of the case study should be validated by reviewing the data and the analysis with participants or other experts in the field. This helps to ensure the validity and reliability of the findings.
  • Write the report: The final step is to write the report of the case study research. The report should provide a clear description of the case study phenomenon, the research questions, the data collection methods, the data analysis, the findings, and the conclusions. The report should be written in a clear and concise manner and should follow the guidelines for academic writing.

Examples of Case Study

Here are some examples of case study research:

  • The Hawthorne Studies : Conducted between 1924 and 1932, the Hawthorne Studies were a series of case studies conducted by Elton Mayo and his colleagues to examine the impact of work environment on employee productivity. The studies were conducted at the Hawthorne Works plant of the Western Electric Company in Chicago and included interviews, observations, and experiments.
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment: Conducted in 1971, the Stanford Prison Experiment was a case study conducted by Philip Zimbardo to examine the psychological effects of power and authority. The study involved simulating a prison environment and assigning participants to the role of guards or prisoners. The study was controversial due to the ethical issues it raised.
  • The Challenger Disaster: The Challenger Disaster was a case study conducted to examine the causes of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986. The study included interviews, observations, and analysis of data to identify the technical, organizational, and cultural factors that contributed to the disaster.
  • The Enron Scandal: The Enron Scandal was a case study conducted to examine the causes of the Enron Corporation’s bankruptcy in 2001. The study included interviews, analysis of financial data, and review of documents to identify the accounting practices, corporate culture, and ethical issues that led to the company’s downfall.
  • The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster : The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster was a case study conducted to examine the causes of the nuclear accident that occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan in 2011. The study included interviews, analysis of data, and review of documents to identify the technical, organizational, and cultural factors that contributed to the disaster.

Application of Case Study

Case studies have a wide range of applications across various fields and industries. Here are some examples:

Business and Management

Case studies are widely used in business and management to examine real-life situations and develop problem-solving skills. Case studies can help students and professionals to develop a deep understanding of business concepts, theories, and best practices.

Case studies are used in healthcare to examine patient care, treatment options, and outcomes. Case studies can help healthcare professionals to develop critical thinking skills, diagnose complex medical conditions, and develop effective treatment plans.

Case studies are used in education to examine teaching and learning practices. Case studies can help educators to develop effective teaching strategies, evaluate student progress, and identify areas for improvement.

Social Sciences

Case studies are widely used in social sciences to examine human behavior, social phenomena, and cultural practices. Case studies can help researchers to develop theories, test hypotheses, and gain insights into complex social issues.

Law and Ethics

Case studies are used in law and ethics to examine legal and ethical dilemmas. Case studies can help lawyers, policymakers, and ethical professionals to develop critical thinking skills, analyze complex cases, and make informed decisions.

Purpose of Case Study

The purpose of a case study is to provide a detailed analysis of a specific phenomenon, issue, or problem in its real-life context. A case study is a qualitative research method that involves the in-depth exploration and analysis of a particular case, which can be an individual, group, organization, event, or community.

The primary purpose of a case study is to generate a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the case, including its history, context, and dynamics. Case studies can help researchers to identify and examine the underlying factors, processes, and mechanisms that contribute to the case and its outcomes. This can help to develop a more accurate and detailed understanding of the case, which can inform future research, practice, or policy.

Case studies can also serve other purposes, including:

  • Illustrating a theory or concept: Case studies can be used to illustrate and explain theoretical concepts and frameworks, providing concrete examples of how they can be applied in real-life situations.
  • Developing hypotheses: Case studies can help to generate hypotheses about the causal relationships between different factors and outcomes, which can be tested through further research.
  • Providing insight into complex issues: Case studies can provide insights into complex and multifaceted issues, which may be difficult to understand through other research methods.
  • Informing practice or policy: Case studies can be used to inform practice or policy by identifying best practices, lessons learned, or areas for improvement.

Advantages of Case Study Research

There are several advantages of case study research, including:

  • In-depth exploration: Case study research allows for a detailed exploration and analysis of a specific phenomenon, issue, or problem in its real-life context. This can provide a comprehensive understanding of the case and its dynamics, which may not be possible through other research methods.
  • Rich data: Case study research can generate rich and detailed data, including qualitative data such as interviews, observations, and documents. This can provide a nuanced understanding of the case and its complexity.
  • Holistic perspective: Case study research allows for a holistic perspective of the case, taking into account the various factors, processes, and mechanisms that contribute to the case and its outcomes. This can help to develop a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of the case.
  • Theory development: Case study research can help to develop and refine theories and concepts by providing empirical evidence and concrete examples of how they can be applied in real-life situations.
  • Practical application: Case study research can inform practice or policy by identifying best practices, lessons learned, or areas for improvement.
  • Contextualization: Case study research takes into account the specific context in which the case is situated, which can help to understand how the case is influenced by the social, cultural, and historical factors of its environment.

Limitations of Case Study Research

There are several limitations of case study research, including:

  • Limited generalizability : Case studies are typically focused on a single case or a small number of cases, which limits the generalizability of the findings. The unique characteristics of the case may not be applicable to other contexts or populations, which may limit the external validity of the research.
  • Biased sampling: Case studies may rely on purposive or convenience sampling, which can introduce bias into the sample selection process. This may limit the representativeness of the sample and the generalizability of the findings.
  • Subjectivity: Case studies rely on the interpretation of the researcher, which can introduce subjectivity into the analysis. The researcher’s own biases, assumptions, and perspectives may influence the findings, which may limit the objectivity of the research.
  • Limited control: Case studies are typically conducted in naturalistic settings, which limits the control that the researcher has over the environment and the variables being studied. This may limit the ability to establish causal relationships between variables.
  • Time-consuming: Case studies can be time-consuming to conduct, as they typically involve a detailed exploration and analysis of a specific case. This may limit the feasibility of conducting multiple case studies or conducting case studies in a timely manner.
  • Resource-intensive: Case studies may require significant resources, including time, funding, and expertise. This may limit the ability of researchers to conduct case studies in resource-constrained settings.

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Guidelines To Writing A Clinical Case Report

What is a clinical case report.

A case report is a detailed report of the symptoms, signs, diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up of an individual patient. Case reports usually describe an unusual or novel occurrence and as such, remain one of the cornerstones of medical progress and provide many new ideas in medicine. Some reports contain an extensive review of the relevant literature on the topic. The case report is a rapid short communication between busy clinicians who may not have time or resources to conduct large scale research.

WHAT ARE THE REASONS FOR PUBLISHING A CASE REPORT?

The most common reasons for publishing a case are the following: 1) an unexpected association between diseases or symptoms; 2) an unexpected event in the course observing or treating a patient; 3) findings that shed new light on the possible pathogenesis of a disease or an adverse effect; 4) unique or rare features of a disease; 5) unique therapeutic approaches; variation of anatomical structures.

Most journals publish case reports that deal with one or more of the following:

  • Unusual observations
  • Adverse response to therapies
  • Unusual combination of conditions leading to confusion
  • Illustration of a new theory
  • Question regarding a current theory
  • Personal impact.

STRUCTURE OF A CASE REPORT[ 1 , 2 ]

Different journals have slightly different formats for case reports. It is always a good idea to read some of the target jiurnals case reports to get a general idea of the sequence and format.

In general, all case reports include the following components: an abstract, an introduction, a case, and a discussion. Some journals might require literature review.

The abstract should summarize the case, the problem it addresses, and the message it conveys. Abstracts of case studies are usually very short, preferably not more than 150 words.

Introduction

The introduction gives a brief overview of the problem that the case addresses, citing relevant literature where necessary. The introduction generally ends with a single sentence describing the patient and the basic condition that he or she is suffering from.

This section provides the details of the case in the following order:

  • Patient description
  • Case history
  • Physical examination results
  • Results of pathological tests and other investigations
  • Treatment plan
  • Expected outcome of the treatment plan
  • Actual outcome.

The author should ensure that all the relevant details are included and unnecessary ones excluded.

This is the most important part of the case report; the part that will convince the journal that the case is publication worthy. This section should start by expanding on what has been said in the introduction, focusing on why the case is noteworthy and the problem that it addresses.

This is followed by a summary of the existing literature on the topic. (If the journal specifies a separate section on literature review, it should be added before the Discussion). This part describes the existing theories and research findings on the key issue in the patient's condition. The review should narrow down to the source of confusion or the main challenge in the case.

Finally, the case report should be connected to the existing literature, mentioning the message that the case conveys. The author should explain whether this corroborates with or detracts from current beliefs about the problem and how this evidence can add value to future clinical practice.

A case report ends with a conclusion or with summary points, depending on the journal's specified format. This section should briefly give readers the key points covered in the case report. Here, the author can give suggestions and recommendations to clinicians, teachers, or researchers. Some journals do not want a separate section for the conclusion: it can then be the concluding paragraph of the Discussion section.

Notes on patient consent

Informed consent in an ethical requirement for most studies involving humans, so before you start writing your case report, take a written consent from the patient as all journals require that you provide it at the time of manuscript submission. In case the patient is a minor, parental consent is required. For adults who are unable to consent to investigation or treatment, consent of closest family members is required.

Patient anonymity is also an important requirement. Remember not to disclose any information that might reveal the identity of the patient. You need to be particularly careful with pictures, and ensure that pictures of the affected area do not reveal the identity of the patient.

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  • Integrating large language models in systematic reviews: a framework and case study using ROBINS-I for risk of bias assessment
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  • http://orcid.org/0000-0001-9531-4990 Bashar Hasan 1 , 2 ,
  • http://orcid.org/0000-0001-9225-1197 Samer Saadi 1 , 2 ,
  • Noora S Rajjoub 1 ,
  • Moustafa Hegazi 1 , 2 ,
  • Mohammad Al-Kordi 1 , 2 ,
  • Farah Fleti 1 , 2 ,
  • Magdoleen Farah 1 , 2 ,
  • Irbaz B Riaz 3 ,
  • Imon Banerjee 4 , 5 ,
  • http://orcid.org/0000-0002-9368-6149 Zhen Wang 1 , 6 ,
  • http://orcid.org/0000-0001-5502-5975 Mohammad Hassan Murad 1 , 2
  • 1 Kern Center for the Science of Healthcare Delivery , Mayo Clinic , Rochester , Minnesota , USA
  • 2 Public Health, Infectious Diseases and Occupational Medicine , Mayo Clinic , Rochester , Minnesota , USA
  • 3 Division of Hematology-Oncology Department of Medicine , Mayo Clinic , Rochester , Minnesota , USA
  • 4 Department of Radiology , Mayo Clinic Arizona , Scottsdale , Arizona , USA
  • 5 School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence , Arizona State University , Tempe , Arizona , USA
  • 6 Health Care Policy and Research , Mayo Clinic Minnesota , Rochester , Minnesota , USA
  • Correspondence to Dr Bashar Hasan, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN 55905, USA; Hasan.Bashar{at}mayo.edu

Large language models (LLMs) may facilitate and expedite systematic reviews, although the approach to integrate LLMs in the review process is unclear. This study evaluates GPT-4 agreement with human reviewers in assessing the risk of bias using the Risk Of Bias In Non-randomised Studies of Interventions (ROBINS-I) tool and proposes a framework for integrating LLMs into systematic reviews. The case study demonstrated that raw per cent agreement was the highest for the ROBINS-I domain of ‘Classification of Intervention’. Kendall agreement coefficient was highest for the domains of ‘Participant Selection’, ‘Missing Data’ and ‘Measurement of Outcomes’, suggesting moderate agreement in these domains. Raw agreement about the overall risk of bias across domains was 61% (Kendall coefficient=0.35). The proposed framework for integrating LLMs into systematic reviews consists of four domains: rationale for LLM use, protocol (task definition, model selection, prompt engineering, data entry methods, human role and success metrics), execution (iterative revisions to the protocol) and reporting. We identify five basic task types relevant to systematic reviews: selection, extraction, judgement, analysis and narration. Considering the agreement level with a human reviewer in the case study, pairing artificial intelligence with an independent human reviewer remains required.

  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Systematic Reviews as Topic

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. Search strategy, selection process flowchart, prompts and boxes containing included SRs and studies are available in the appendix. Analysed datasheet is available upon request.

https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjebm-2023-112597

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WHAT IS ALREADY KNOWN ON THIS TOPIC

Risk of bias assessment in systematic reviews is a time-consuming task associated with inconsistency. Large language models’ (LLMs) utilisation in systematic reviews may be helpful but largely unexplored.

WHAT THIS STUDY ADDS

This study introduces a structured framework for integrating LLMs into systematic reviews with four domains: rationale, protocol, execution and reporting.

The framework defines five possible task types for LLMs in systematic reviews: selection, data extraction, judgement, analysis and narration.

A case study about using LLMs for risk of bias assessments using Risk Of Bias In Non-randomised Studies of Interventions demonstrates fair agreement between LLM and human reviewers.

HOW THIS STUDY MIGHT AFFECT RESEARCH, PRACTICE OR POLICY

The proposed framework can serve as a blueprint for future systematic reviewers planning to integrate LLMs into their workflow.

The case study suggests the need to pair LLMs assessing the risk of bias with a human reviewer.

Introduction

Systematic reviews are the key initial step in decision-making in healthcare. However, they are costly, require a long time to complete and become outdated, especially in areas of rapidly evolving evidence. Semi-automating systematic reviews and transitioning to living systematic reviews using the best contemporary available evidence are key priority areas of current evidence synthesis. 1–4 Recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI) have ushered in a new era of possibilities in healthcare practice and medical research, 5–7 including evidence synthesis and living systematic reviews. 8 9 By learning from human data analysis patterns (supervision), AI technologies offer the ability to automate, accelerate and enhance the accuracy of a wide array of research tasks, from data collection to analysis and even interpretation. 10

A recent AI advancement, large language models (LLMs) such as Meta AI LLaMA2 and OpenAI’s GPT-4, 11 are considered foundational models pre-trained in a self-supervised manner by leveraging a tremendous amount of free text data. The pre-training process allows them to acquire generic knowledge, and afterward, they can be fine-tuned on downstream tasks. With increasing model size, larger training data sets and longer training time, LLMs evolve emergent abilities such as zero-shot and few-shot in-context learning generalisation and have demonstrated significant capabilities in understanding and generating human-like text and processing data with minimal supervision, which may lead to meaningful participation in a systematic review. 12 13

Risk of bias (RoB) assessment is a significant step in systematic reviews that requires time, introduces inconsistencies and may be amenable to using AI and LLMs. 14 In this exposition, we propose a framework for incorporating LLMs into systematic reviews and employ GPT-4 for RoB assessment in a case study using the Cochrane Collaboration’s Risk Of Bias In Non-randomised Studies of Interventions (ROBINS-I) tool. 15 We chose the ROBINS-I tool for this case study because it is a modern tool that is quite detailed, relatively complicated, and requires a long time to apply, 16 which makes it an ideal candidate to explore whether models such as GPT-4 can improve its consistency and time requirements.

The reporting of this case study adheres to the guidelines of methodological research. 17

Search strategy and study identification

We searched Scopus to identify all systematic reviews (SRs) from the Cochrane Collaboration that cited the original publication of the ROBINS-I tool. 15 We limited our search to SRs conducted by Cochrane in the field of medicine that were fully published. All original non-randomised studies included in the identified SRs were included as long as the ROBINS-I tool was used for their RoB assessment in the SR.

Data entry into ChatGPT

We conducted several pilot tests to determine the most effective method of obtaining RoB assessments using ChatGPT (GPT-4). The initial approach involved directly uploading the study PDFs to GPT-4 via the Code Interpreter tool available to Plus users. However, the tool was unable to interpret the fragmented pieces of text from the PDFs. We then attempted to paste the full text of individual studies in the prompt, however, this was unsuccessful due to the current estimated 2500-word limit for GPT-4 prompts. Finally, we converted the PDF to a Word file and extracted only the Methods and Results sections from each study for RoB assessment because these are the sections on which human reviewers focus for RoB assessments. Prompts used to instruct ChatGPT are presented in the appendix. The processes of data entry and prompt development were done iteratively until data were appropriately uploaded and a sensical output was obtained (ie, these processes were not prespecified). Foreign-language studies were provided in their original language to GPT-4.

Statistical analysis

One reviewer extracted RoB judgements from each Cochrane SR and a second reviewer verified the extraction. We measured the agreement between Cochrane reviewers and GPT-4 comparing the ordinal judgements about RoB using raw per cent agreement, weighted Cohen’s kappa and Kendall’s τ for correlation. The magnitude of agreement based on values of a correlation or kappa coefficient was considered to be slight (0–0.20), fair (0.21–0.40), moderate (0.41–60), substantial (0.61–0.80) and almost perfect (0.81–1.0).

Analysis was conducted using R software package (R Core Team (2022). R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria URL https://www.R-project.org ).

Initial screening and inclusion

The initial search yielded 98 SRs, from which 36 provided full ROBINS-I assessment. After deduplicating studies that appeared in multiple SRs, we finalised our sample with 307 unique individual studies ( online supplemental figure; box 1 and box 2 ).

Supplemental material

Agreement between cochrane reviewers and gpt-4.

Agreement measures are summarised in table 1 for each ROBINS-I domain and for overall judgements. Raw per cent agreement was the highest for the domain of ‘Classification of Intervention’. Kendall agreement coefficient was highest for the domains of ‘Participant Selection’, ‘Missing Data’ and ‘Measurement of Outcomes’, suggesting moderate agreement in these domains. Kappa coefficient was low across all domains. Agreement about the overall RoB across domains was fair (61% raw agreement, Kendall coefficient 0.35).

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Performance metrics

Framework for incorporating LLM’s in a systematic review

Figure 1 outlines the proposed framework for integrating LLMs into a systematic review workflow. The framework has four domains that relate to establishing a rationale, incorporating LLM in the protocol of the systematic review, execution and reporting.

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Framework for incorporating large language models in systematic reviews. LLM, large language model; RoB, risk of bias; SR, systematic review.

The first step is to establish the rationale (ie, why LLMs are needed, and whether they are capable of doing this specific task). In the protocol, the LLM model should be described with its version and whether it was off the shelf or used via other tools, applications or interfaces. For example, code interpreters or AI agents can be used. An LLM agent, such as a generative pre-trained transformer (GPT) agent, is a specialised system designed to execute complex, multistep tasks and can adapt to new tools not included in the general model’s training data or recently published tools.

The prompts for LLM need to be iteratively tested and refined and described in the protocol to the extent possible, realising that it will not be possible to prespecify or anticipate every step. The method of data entry (copy/paste vs uploading a file) also needs to be tested and described in the protocol. Metrics of success depend on the task type that is assigned to LLM. We identify five basic task types: selection (eg, of included studies), extraction (eg, of study characteristics and outcomes), judgement (eg, RoB assessment), analysis (quantitative and qualitative) and narration/editing (eg, writing a manuscript, abstract or a lay person or executive summary). The metrics of success and the extent of human interaction and supervision should also be specified in the protocol.

The execution of LLM engagement will likely lead to changes in some of the approaches specified in the protocol, which should be explicitly mentioned as revisions to the protocol. Reporting is the last part of the framework and is vital. The items mentioned above, which are beyond the usual reporting requirements from the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses statement and its extensions, should all be included in the manuscript. 18 19 Importantly, the AI model and interface used need to be explicitly reported along with a timestamp of when AI was used because the output may vary over time for the same input and prompts. The transparency in reporting and informing peer reviewers and journal editors about the details of using LLMs are critical for the credibility of the systematic review process and subsequent decisions made based on the evidence. The proposed framework is applied to the current case study in table 2 .

Applying the proposed framework to the case study

The current case study suggests an overall fair agreement between Cochrane reviewers and ChatGPT-4 in using ROBINS-I for assessing RoB in non-randomised studies of intervention. This work identifies several challenges for using general utility LLM models, such as handling file types, word token limits and the quality of prompt engineering. Nonetheless, our study provides an assessment of zero-shot performance and a rationale for training RoB-specific systematic review models. The proposed framework is just a starting point since this field is very dynamic.

The current study also provides insight into evaluating inter-rater agreement on ordinal variables. We found that the weighted kappa coefficient was low across all domains which likely reflects the skewed distribution of the ratings. Kappa accounts for agreement occurring by chance, while Kendall’s τ measures the strength and direction of the association between two ranked variables. A recent comparison of reliability coefficients for ordinal rating scales suggested that the differences between these measures can vary at different agreement levels. 20 Thus, using more than one measure is helpful to assess the robustness of results. While our findings suggest the potential of LLMs like GPT-4 to be used in systematic reviews, it is obvious that there is a certain rate of error and that duplication of RoB assessment is needed.

Some limitations of the case study should be mentioned. This study was feasible because of the availability of comprehensive systematic reviews from the Cochrane Collaboration that used the ROBINS-I tool and reported detailed judgements. While their RoB assessment is certainly not a reference standard and can be quite poor for some domains such as confounding, 21 the rigorous and multidomain evaluation conducted by pairs of independent reviewers in these reviews makes them a reasonable comparison for novel LLM application. It is possible also that some systematic reviews used ROBINS-I but did not cite its original paper and were not included in our sample. We also had to use ChatGPT to translate a few studies published in languages other than English, truncate text when it was too lengthy and convert files format, all may have affected RoB judgements.

Practical implications

Given its current capabilities, GPT-4 is arguably a very advanced text-analysing tool. A major advantage is its availability as a universal language model—one model that can perform any language-based extraction, retrieval or even reasoning-based tasks. However, this approach may not be suitable for application in every domain. Sensitive domains like medicine require precise use of language in a consistent manner. LLMs have displayed trends of inconsistency in performance—different output for the same input. LLMs have the propensity to generate favourable answers and to hallucinate. Hallucination is a major threat to the use of LLMs in research. In table 3 , we describe the phenomenon of artificial hallucinations in terms of definition, types and plausible causes. 22–24

The phenomenon of artificial hallucinations: definition, types and causes

Additional applications in systematic reviews can extend to other tasks such as aiding in screening studies, translating foreign-language studies in real-time, data extraction, meta-analysis and even generating decision aids or translational products. 25 However, a human reviewer remains needed as a duplicate independent reviewer.

This exploration of LLMs application in systematic reviews is a step toward integrating AI as a dynamic adjunct in research. The proposed framework, coupled with a case study on RoB assessment, underscores the potential of LLMs to facilitate research tasks. While GPT-4 is not without its limitations, its ability to assist in complex tasks under human supervision makes it a promising tool for assessing RoB in systematic reviews. Considering the agreement level with a human reviewer in the case study, pairing AI with an independent human reviewer remains required at present.

Ethics statements

Patient consent for publication.

Not applicable.

Ethics approval

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Supplementary materials

Supplementary data.

This web only file has been produced by the BMJ Publishing Group from an electronic file supplied by the author(s) and has not been edited for content.

  • Data supplement 1

Twitter @BasharHasanMD, @M_Hassan_Murad

Contributors MHM and BH conceived this study. BH, SS, MH, MA-K, FF, MF, ZW, IBR, IB and NSR participated in data identification, extraction and analysis. MHM, SS, IBR and IB wrote the first draft. All authors critically revised the manuscript and approved the final version. BH is the guarantor.

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 and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.

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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Writing a Case Study

  • Purpose of Guide
  • Design Flaws to Avoid
  • Independent and Dependent Variables
  • Glossary of Research Terms
  • Narrowing a Topic Idea
  • Broadening a Topic Idea
  • Extending the Timeliness of a Topic Idea
  • Academic Writing Style
  • Choosing a Title
  • Making an Outline
  • Paragraph Development
  • Executive Summary
  • The C.A.R.S. Model
  • Background Information
  • The Research Problem/Question
  • Theoretical Framework
  • Citation Tracking
  • Content Alert Services
  • Evaluating Sources
  • Reading Research Effectively
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • Tiertiary Sources
  • What Is Scholarly vs. Popular?
  • Qualitative Methods
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Using Non-Textual Elements
  • Limitations of the Study
  • Common Grammar Mistakes
  • Writing Concisely
  • Avoiding Plagiarism
  • Footnotes or Endnotes?
  • Further Readings
  • Annotated Bibliography
  • Dealing with Nervousness
  • Using Visual Aids
  • Grading Someone Else's Paper
  • Types of Structured Group Activities
  • Group Project Survival Skills
  • Multiple Book Review Essay
  • Reviewing Collected Essays
  • Writing a Case Study
  • About Informed Consent
  • Writing Field Notes
  • Writing a Policy Memo
  • Writing a Research Proposal
  • Bibliography

The term case study refers to both a method of analysis and a specific research design for examining a problem, both of which are used in most circumstances to generalize across populations. This tab focuses on the latter--how to design and organize a research paper in the social sciences that analyzes a specific case.

A case study research paper examines a person, place, event, 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 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 among more than two 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 this writing guide. Review this page because it may help you identify a subject of analysis that can be investigated using a single 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:

  • Does the case represent 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.
  • Does the case provide 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.
  • Does the case challenge and offer 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 practice. A case may offer you 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 the study a case in order 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.
  • Does the case provide 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 in order to better warn drivers of an approaching train, particularly when visibility is hindered by heavy rain, fog, or at night.
  • Does the case offer a new direction in future research? A case study can be used as a tool for exploratory research that points to a need for further examination of the research 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 Uganda. A case study of how women contribute to saving water in a particular village 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 throughout rural regions of east Africa. The case could also point to the need for scholars to apply 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 was I studying? Describe the research problem and describe the subject of analysis 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 was 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 research 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 include 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 study 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 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 the context of explaining the relevance of the case in addressing the research problem.

III.  Method

In this section, you explain why you selected a particular subject of analysis to study 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 frames 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; c) what were the consequences of the event.

If your subject of analysis is a person. Explain why you selected this particular individual to be studied and describe what experience he or she has had that provides 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 his/her 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 him or her 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.

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, cultural, economic, political, etc.], 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, why study 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 reveals 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? How might knowing the suppliers of these trucks from overseas 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 be linked to the findings from the literature review. Be sure to cite any prior studies that helped you determine that the case you chose was appropriate for investigating the research 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 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 more common to combine a description of the findings 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 to 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 It is important to 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 for 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.

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 needs for further research.

The function of your paper's conclusion is to: 1)  restate the main argument supported by the findings from the analysis of your case; 2) clearly state 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 for you 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 and your professor's preferences, the concluding paragraph may contain your final reflections on the evidence presented applied 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 on 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 differently 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.

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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  • Published: 12 February 2024

Plasma proteomic profiles predict future dementia in healthy adults

  • Yu Guo 1   na1 ,
  • Jia You   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-7079-8041 1 , 2   na1 ,
  • Yi Zhang 1   na1 ,
  • Wei-Shi Liu 1 ,
  • Yu-Yuan Huang 1 ,
  • Ya-Ru Zhang 1 ,
  • Wei Zhang 2 ,
  • Qiang Dong   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-3874-0130 1 ,
  • Jian-Feng Feng   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-5987-2258 2 , 3 ,
  • Wei Cheng   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-1118-1743 1 , 2 , 3 &
  • Jin-Tai Yu   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-2532-383X 1  

Nature Aging volume  4 ,  pages 247–260 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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  • Neurodegeneration
  • Predictive markers

The advent of proteomics offers an unprecedented opportunity to predict dementia onset. We examined this in data from 52,645 adults without dementia in the UK Biobank, with 1,417 incident cases and a follow-up time of 14.1 years. Of 1,463 plasma proteins, GFAP, NEFL, GDF15 and LTBP2 consistently associated most with incident all-cause dementia (ACD), Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and vascular dementia (VaD), and ranked high in protein importance ordering. Combining GFAP (or GDF15) with demographics produced desirable predictions for ACD (area under the curve (AUC) = 0.891) and AD (AUC = 0.872) (or VaD (AUC = 0.912)). This was also true when predicting over 10-year ACD, AD and VaD. Individuals with higher GFAP levels were 2.32 times more likely to develop dementia. Notably, GFAP and LTBP2 were highly specific for dementia prediction. GFAP and NEFL began to change at least 10 years before dementia diagnosis. Our findings strongly highlight GFAP as an optimal biomarker for dementia prediction, even more than 10 years before the diagnosis, with implications for screening people at high risk for dementia and for early intervention.

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case study results definition

Data availability

The data used in the present study are available from UK Biobank with restrictions applied. Data were used under license and are thus not publicly available. Access to the UK Biobank data can be requested through a standard protocol ( https://www.ukbiobank.ac.uk/register-apply/ ). Data used in this study are available in the UK Biobank under application number 19542. All data supporting the findings described in this manuscript are available in the article and in the supplementary materials and from the corresponding author upon request. Source data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

All software used in this study is publicly available. The code used in this study can be accessed at https://github.com/jasonHKU0907/DementiaProteomicPrediction .

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Acknowledgements

We thank all the participants and researchers from the UK Biobank. W.C. was funded by National Key Research and Development Program of China (grant no. 2023YFC3605400). J.T.-Y. was funded by grants from the Science and Technology Innovation 2030 Major Projects (grant no. 2022ZD0211600), National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant nos. 82071201, 92249305), Research Start-up Fund of Huashan Hospital (grant no. 2022QD002) and Excellence 2025 Talent Cultivation Program at Fudan University (grant no. 3030277001). J.F.-F. was funded by National Key R&D Program of China (grant nos. 2018YFC1312904, 2019YFA0709502), Shanghai Municipal Science and Technology Major Project (grant no. 2018SHZDZX01) and the 111 Project (no. B18015). J.Y. was funded by Shanghai Pujiang Talent Program (grant no. 23PJD006). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis; decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript. Further, we would like to thank the support from the ZHANGJIANG LAB, Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute, and the State Key Laboratory of Neurobiology and Frontiers Center for Brain Science of Ministry of Education, Fudan University.

Author information

These authors contributed equally: Yu Guo, Jia You, Yi Zhang.

Authors and Affiliations

Department of Neurology and National Center for Neurological Disorders, Huashan Hospital, State Key Laboratory of Medical Neurobiology and MOE Frontiers Center for Brain Science, Shanghai Medical College, Fudan University, Shanghai, China

Yu Guo, Jia You, Yi Zhang, Wei-Shi Liu, Yu-Yuan Huang, Ya-Ru Zhang, Qiang Dong, Wei Cheng & Jin-Tai Yu

Institute of Science and Technology for Brain-inspired Intelligence, Fudan University, Shanghai, China

Jia You, Wei Zhang, Jian-Feng Feng & Wei Cheng

Key Laboratory of Computational Neuroscience and Brain-inspired Intelligence, Fudan University, Ministry of Education, Shanghai, China

Jian-Feng Feng & Wei Cheng

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Contributions

J.-T.Y. undertook conceptualization and design of the study, interpretation of the data and revision of the manuscript. Y.G., J.Y. and Y.Z. collected, analyzed and interpreted the data, and drafted and revised the manuscript. J.-F.F., W.C. and J.-T.Y. were responsible for funding, administrative, technical or material support. All authors carried out revision of the manuscript. All authors had full access to all the study data and accepted responsibility for submitting it for publication.

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Correspondence to Jian-Feng Feng , Wei Cheng or Jin-Tai Yu .

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Nature Aging thanks Keenan Walker and Alexa Pichet Binette for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data

Extended data fig. 1 flowchart for participants’ enrollment..

From the UK Biobank cohort, we excluded individuals with dementia at baseline or with self-reported dementia and those who did not undergo plasma proteomic assay. The remaining participants were classified based on their first reported years of ACD or AD or VaD after baseline. Abbreviations: ACD, all-cause dementia; AD, Alzheimer’s disease; VaD, vascular dementia.

Supplementary information

Supplementary information.

Supplementary Figs. 1–6.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary tables 1–13., source data, source data fig. 1.

Data used to plot Fig. 1.

Source Data Fig. 2

Data used to plot Fig. 2.

Source Data Fig. 3

Data used to plot Fig. 3.

Source Data Fig. 4

Data used to plot Fig. 4.

Source Data Fig. 5

Data used to plot Fig. 5.

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Guo, Y., You, J., Zhang, Y. et al. Plasma proteomic profiles predict future dementia in healthy adults. Nat Aging 4 , 247–260 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43587-023-00565-0

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99 million people included in largest global vaccine safety study

19 February 2024

Health and medicine , Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences

The Global Vaccine Data Network, hosted at the University of Auckland, utilises vast data sets to detect potential vaccine safety signals

Global Vaccine Data Network co-director Dr Helen Petousis-Harris: Latest study uses vast data sets to ensure vaccine safety.

The Global Vaccine Data Network (GVDN) assessed 13 neurological, blood, and heart related medical conditions to see if there was a greater risk of them occurring after receiving a Covid-19 vaccine in the latest of eight studies in the Global COVID Vaccine Safety (GCoVS) Project.

Recently published in the journal Vaccine , this observed versus expected rates study included 99 million people (over 23 million person-years of follow-up) from 10 collaborator sites across eight countries. The study identified the pre-established safety signals for myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the thin sac covering the heart) after mRNA vaccines, and Guillain-Barré syndrome (muscle weakness and changed sensation (feeling)), and cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (type of blood clot in the brain) after viral vector vaccines.

Possible safety signals for transverse myelitis (inflammation of part of the spinal cord) after viral vector vaccines and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (inflammation and swelling in the brain and spinal cord) after viral vector and mRNA vaccines were identified.

So far, these findings were further investigated by the GVDN site in Victoria, Australia. Their study and results are described in the accompanying paper. Results are available for public review on GVDN’s interactive data dashboards .

Observed versus expected analyses are used to detect potential vaccine safety signals. These studies look at all people who received a vaccine and examine if there is a greater risk for developing a medical condition in various time periods after getting a vaccine compared with a period before the vaccine became available.

Lead author Kristýna Faksová of the Department of Epidemiology Research, Statens Serum Institut, Copenhagen, Denmark, remarked that use of a common protocol and aggregation of the data through the GVDN makes studies like this possible. “The size of the population in this study increased the possibility of identifying rare potential vaccine safety signals,” she explains. “Single sites or regions are unlikely to have a large enough population to detect very rare signals.”

By making the data dashboards publicly available, we are able to support greater transparency, and stronger communications to the health sector and public.

Associate Professor Helen Petousis-Harris Co-Director, Global Vaccine Data Network hosted at University of Auckland

GVDN Co-Director Dr Steven Black said, “GVDN supports a coordinated global effort to assess vaccine safety and effectiveness so that vaccine questions can be addressed in a more rapid, efficient, and cost-effective manner. We have a number of studies underway to build upon our understanding of vaccines and how we understand vaccine safety using big data.”

GVDN Co-Director Dr. Helen Petousis-Harris said, “By making the data dashboards publicly available, we are able to support greater transparency, and stronger communications to the health sector and public.”

The GCoVS Project was made possible with support by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to allow the comparison of the safety of vaccines across diverse global populations.

About the Global Data Vaccine Network

Established in 2019 and with data sourced from millions of individuals across six continents, the GVDN collaborates with renowned research institutions, policy makers, and vaccine related organisations to establish a harmonised and evidence-based approach to vaccine safety and effectiveness.

The GVDN is supported by the Global Coordinating Centre based at Auckland UniServices Ltd, a not-for-profit, stand-alone company that provides support to researchers and is wholly owned by the University of Auckland. Aiming to gain a comprehensive understanding of vaccine safety and effectiveness profiles, the GVDN strives to create a safer immunisation landscape that empowers decision making for the global community. For further information, visit globalvaccinedatanetwork.org.

Disclaimer: This news release summarises the key findings of the GVDN observed versus expected study. To view the full publication in Vaccine, visit doi.org/10.1016/j.vaccine.2024.01.100.

This project is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totalling US$10,108,491 with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit cdc.gov

Media enquiries: gvdn@auckland.ac.nz and communications@uniservices.co.nz

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  • Largest Covid Vaccine Study Yet Finds Links to Health Conditions

(Bloomberg) -- Vaccines that protect against severe illness, death and lingering long Covid symptoms from a coronavirus infection were linked to small increases in neurological, blood, and heart-related conditions in the largest global vaccine safety study to date.

The rare events — identified early in the pandemic — included a higher risk of heart-related inflammation from mRNA shots made by Pfizer Inc., BioNTech SE, and Moderna Inc., and an increased risk of a type of blood clot in the brain after immunization with viral-vector vaccines such as the one developed by the University of Oxford and made by AstraZeneca Plc. 

The viral-vector jabs were also tied to an increased risk of Guillain-Barre syndrome , a neurological disorder in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the peripheral nervous system.

More than 13.5 billion doses of Covid vaccines have been administered globally over the past three years, saving over 1 million lives in Europe alone. Still, a small proportion of people immunized were injured by the shots, stoking debate about their benefits versus harms.

The new research, by the Global Vaccine Data Network, was published in the journal Vaccine last week, with the data made available via interactive dashboards to show methodology and specific findings. 

Read More: Covid Test Failures Highlight Evolving Relationship With Virus

The research looked for 13 medical conditions that the group considered “adverse events of special interest” among 99 million vaccinated individuals in eight countries, aiming to identify higher-than-expected cases after a Covid shot. The use of aggregated data increased the possibility of identifying rare safety signals that might have been missed when looking only at smaller populations.

Myocarditis , or inflammation of the heart muscle, was consistently identified following a first, second and third dose of mRNA vaccines, the study found. The highest increase in the observed-to-expected ratio was seen after a second jab with the Moderna shot. A first and fourth dose of the same vaccine was also tied to an increase in pericarditis, or inflammation of the thin sac covering the heart. 

Safety Signals

Researchers found a statistically significant increase in cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome within 42 days of an initial Oxford-developed ChAdOx1 or “Vaxzevria” shot that wasn’t observed with mRNA vaccines. Based on the background incidence of the condition, 66 cases were expected — but 190 events were observed. 

ChAdOx1 was linked to a threefold increase in cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, a type of blood clot in the brain, identified in 69 events, compared with an expected 21. The small risk led to the vaccine’s withdrawal or restriction in Denmark and multiple other countries. Myocarditis was also linked to a third dose of ChAdOx1 in some, but not all, populations studied.

Possible safety signals for transverse myelitis — spinal cord inflammation — after viral-vector vaccines were identified in the study. So was acute disseminated encephalomyelitis — inflammation and swelling in the brain and spinal cord — after both viral-vector and mRNA vaccines. 

Listen to the  Big Take  podcast on  iHeart ,  Apple Podcasts ,  Spotify  and the Bloomberg Terminal.  Read the transcript .

Seven cases of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis after vaccination with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were observed, versus an expectation of two.  

The adverse events of special interest were selected based on pre-established associations with immunization, what was already known about immune-related conditions and pre-clinical research. The study didn’t monitor for postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome , or POTS, that some research has linked with Covid vaccines.

Exercise intolerance, excessive fatigue, numbness and “brain fog” were among common symptoms identified in more than 240 adults experiencing chronic post-vaccination syndrome in a separate study conducted by the Yale School of Medicine. The cause of the syndrome isn’t yet known, and it has no diagnostic tests or proven remedies.

Read More: Strenuous Exercise May Harm Long Covid Sufferers, Study Shows

The Yale research aims to understand the condition to relieve the suffering of those affected and improve the safety of vaccines, said Harlan Krumholz, a principal investigator of the study, and director of the Yale New Haven Hospital Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation. 

Read this next :  Why Driving a Few Miles Can Save Patients a Fortune on Health Care

“Both things can be true,” Krumholz said in an interview. “They can save millions of lives, and there can be a small number of people who’ve been adversely affected.” 

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How alabama's ruling that frozen embryos are 'children' could impact ivf.

Ailsa Chang

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The decision stems from a case brought by three couples that had pursued in vitro fertilization treatment. Sang Tan/AP hide caption

The decision stems from a case brought by three couples that had pursued in vitro fertilization treatment.

Frozen embryos are people and you can be held legally responsible if you destroy them, according to a ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court on Friday .

The decision could have wide-ranging implications for in vitro fertilization clinics and for hopeful parents.

All Things Considered host Ailsa Chang speaks to UC Davis Professor of Law Mary Ziegler, who breaks down the possible downstream legal implication for how IVF is performed.

Abortion pills that patients got via telehealth and the mail are safe, study finds

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Abortion pills that patients got via telehealth and the mail are safe, study finds.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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Ailsa Chang: Before we get to the actual ruling, can you just briefly explain the situation that led to the lawsuit, which was eventually brought to the state supreme court in Alabama?

Mary Ziegler: Absolutely. There were three couples that had pursued in vitro fertilization treatment at a clinic in Mobile, Alabama. And at a point in 2020, a hospital patient — the hospital was operated by the same clinic — entered the place where frozen embryos were stored, handled some of the embryos, burned his hand, dropped the embryos and destroyed them. And this led to a lawsuit from the three couples. They had a variety of theories in the suit, one of which was that the state's "wrongful death of a minor" law treated those frozen embryos as children or persons. And the Alabama Supreme Court agreed with them in this Friday decision.

Alabama Supreme Court rules frozen embryos are 'children' under state law

Alabama Supreme Court rules frozen embryos are 'children' under state law

Chang: It's worth noting that this lawsuit, it was a wrongful death lawsuit, meaning it was brought by couples who are mourning the accidental destruction of the embryos and wanting to hold someone responsible for that destruction. That said, what do you see as the wider-ranging or perhaps unintended consequences for IVF clinics in Alabama?

Ziegler: Well, if embryos are persons under this ruling, that could have pretty profound downstream complications for how IVF is performed. So, in IVF, generally more embryos are created than are implanted — they're stored, sometimes they're donated or destroyed, depending on the wishes of the people pursuing IVF. If an embryo is a person, it's obviously not clear that it's permissible to donate that embryo for research, or to destroy it. It may not even be possible to create embryos you don't implant in a particular IVF cycle.

So in other words, some anti-abortion groups argue that if an embryo was a person, every single embryo created has to be implanted, either in that person who's pursuing IVF, or some other person who "adopts the embryo." So as a result of that, it may radically change how IVF works, how cost effective it is, and how effective it is in allowing people to achieve their dream of parenthood.

'Something needs to change.' Woman denied abortion in South Carolina challenges ban

'Something needs to change.' Woman denied abortion in South Carolina challenges ban

Chang: Can you offer some examples, some expectations that you think we might see in how IVF providers in Alabama might change the way they operate?

Ziegler: Well, if Alabama IVF providers feel obligated to implant every embryo they create, that's likely to both reduce the chances that any IVF cycle will be successful. It also might make it a lot more expensive. IVF is already very expensive. I think the average being between about $15,000 and $20,000 per IVF cycle. Many patients don't succeed with IVF after one cycle. But if you were not allowed to create more than one embryo per cycle, that's likely to make IVF even more financially out of reach for people who don't have insurance coverage, and who struggle to pay that hefty price tag.

Chang: And what is the likelihood of this case heading to the U.S. Supreme Court?

Ziegler: It's pretty low, because of the way the Alabama Supreme Court framed its decision. It grounded very firmly in Alabama state constitutional law. And so I think this is the kind of ruling that could eventually have some reverberation at the U.S. Supreme Court, but it's very unlikely to be appealed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bayer makes a deal on popular contraceptive with Mark Cuban's online pharmacy

Bayer makes a deal on popular contraceptive with Mark Cuban's online pharmacy

Chang: If the ruling in this case was very much confined to Alabama state law, as you describe, what are the wider implications of this ruling for people who don't live in Alabama? What do you see?

Ziegler: I think there's been a broader strategy — the sort of next Roe v. Wade , if you will — for the anti-abortion movement. It is a recognition that a fetus or embryo is a person for all purposes, particularly for the purposes of the federal constitution. And while this isn't a case about the federal constitution, I think you'll see the anti-abortion movement making a gradual case that the more state courts — the more state laws — recognize a fetus or embryo as a person for different circumstances and reasons, the more compelling they can say is the case for fetal personhood under the constitution. The more compelling is their argument that a fetus is a rights holder and that liberal abortion laws or state abortion rights are impermissible.

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    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.

  13. PDF DEFINING THE CASE STUDY

    Case study can accommodate a variety of epistemological orientations, but these will influence research design . positivist: there is a single reality, independent of any observer ... demonstrate that study (same procedures) can be repeated with the same results . 4. Single case typologies p. 51 . critical: test whether the study's ...

  14. Case Study Research Method in Psychology

    Case studies are in-depth investigations of a person, group, event, or community. Typically, data is gathered from various sources using several 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 ...

  15. How to Write a Case Study: The Compelling Step-by-Step Guide

    Definition of a Written case study and its Purpose. A case study is a research method that involves a detailed and comprehensive examination of a specific real-life situation. It's often used in various fields, including business, education, economics, and sociology, to understand a complex issue better. ... Writing case study results and ...

  16. Case Study

    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 analyse the case When to do a case study A case study is an appropriate research design when you want to gain concrete, contextual, in-depth knowledge about a specific real-world subject.

  17. Case Studies

    Research Glossary Citation Information This guide examines case studies, a form of qualitative descriptive research that is used to look at individuals, a small group of participants, or a group as a whole.

  18. Case Study

    The definitions of case study evolved over a period of time. Case study is defined as "a systematic inquiry into an event or a set of related events which aims to describe and explain the phenomenon of interest" (Bromley, 1990).Stoecker defined a case study as an "intensive research in which interpretations are given based on observable concrete interconnections between actual properties ...

  19. How To Write a Case Study: Definition, Tips and Example

    A case study is a document that focuses on a business problem and provides a clear solution. Marketers use case studies to tell a story about a customer's journey or how a product or service solves a specific issue. Case studies can be used in all levels of business and in many industries. A thorough case study often uses metrics, such as key ...

  20. Case Study

    Defnition: A case study is a research method that involves an in-depth examination and analysis of a particular phenomenon or case, such as an individual, organization, community, event, or situation. It is a qualitative research approach that aims to provide a detailed and comprehensive understanding of the case being studied.

  21. Guidelines To Writing A Clinical Case Report

    A case report is a detailed report of the symptoms, signs, diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up of an individual patient. Case reports usually describe an unusual or novel occurrence and as such, remain one of the cornerstones of medical progress and provide many new ideas in medicine. Some reports contain an extensive review of the relevant ...

  22. Integrating large language models in systematic reviews: a framework

    The case study demonstrated that raw per cent agreement was the highest for the ROBINS-I domain of 'Classification of Intervention'. ... protocol (task definition, model selection, prompt engineering, data entry methods, human role and success metrics), execution (iterative revisions to the protocol) and reporting. We identify five basic ...

  23. Case study

    Definition There are multiple definitions of case studies, which may emphasize the number of observations (a small N), the method ( qualitative ), the thickness of the research (a comprehensive examination of a phenomenon and its context), and the naturalism (a "real-life context" is being examined) involved in the research. [12]

  24. Writing a Case Study

    Definition. The term case study refers to both a method of analysis and a specific research design for examining a problem, both of which are used in most circumstances to generalize across populations. ... Another way to think about choosing a case to study is to consider how the results from investigating a particular case may result in ...

  25. Plasma proteomic profiles predict future dementia in healthy adults

    The main results we obtained from the total population largely remained in APOE ε4 carrier and noncarrier subgroups ... To achieve this, a nested case-control study design was carried out.

  26. 99 million people included in largest global vaccine safety study

    Their study and results are described in the accompanying paper. Results are available for public review on GVDN's interactive data dashboards. Observed versus expected analyses are used to detect potential vaccine safety signals. These studies look at all people who received a vaccine and examine if there is a greater risk for developing a ...

  27. Largest Covid Vaccine Study Yet Finds Links to Health Conditions

    The study didn't monitor for postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, that some research has linked with Covid vaccines. Exercise intolerance, excessive fatigue, ...

  28. How Alabama's ruling that frozen embryos are 'children' could ...

    Frozen embryos are people and you can be held legally responsible if you destroy them, according to the Alabama Supreme Court. The decision could have wide-ranging implications for IVF clinics.