Case study

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A tool that presents and illustrates detailed information about a particular participant, group, or instance of a phenomenon in order to draw lessons and conclusions from its interpretation


A case study is a presentation of detailed information about a particular participant or small group, or instance of a phenomenon. 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 behaviour is homogeneous and routine, case studies are needed to deal with creativity, innovation, and context. Detractors argue that case studies are difficult to generalise because of inherent subjectivity and because they are based on qualitative subjective data, generalizable only to a particular context.

By seeking to understand as much as possible about a single subject or small group of subjects, case studies specialise in 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 first-hand observations with the quantitative results obtained through other methods of research.

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 generalisable, 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.

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.

Case studies apply more analytical rigour than Storytelling and, by definition validate content, at least in the specific context of the case and the time is was study.

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 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. Collections of case studies can help to draw on more general conclusions.

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