Case Study Method
Saul McLeod published 2008
Case studies are in-depth investigations of a single person, group, event or community. Typically, data are gathered from a variety of sources and by using several different methods (e.g. observations & interviews). The research may also continue for an extended period of time, so processes and developments can be studied as they happen.
The case study research method originated in clinical medicine (the case history, i.e. the patient’s personal history).
The case study method often involves simply observing what happens to, or reconstructing ‘the case history’ of a single participant or group of individuals (such as a school class or a specific social group), i.e. the idiographic approach. 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’.
The case study is not itself a research method, but researchers select methods of data collection and analysis that will generate material suitable for case studies. Amongst the sources of data the psychologist is likely to turn to when carrying out a case study are observations of a person’s daily routine, unstructured interviews with the participant herself (and with people who know her), diaries, personal notes (e.g. letters, photographs, notes) or official document (e.g. case notes, clinical notes, appraisal reports). Most of this information is likely to be qualitative (i.e. verbal description rather than measurement) but the psychologist might collect numerical data as well.
The data collected can be analyzed using different theories (e.g. grounded theory, interpretative phenomenological analysis, text interpretation, e.g. thematic coding) etc. All the approaches mentioned here use preconceived categories in the analysis and they are ideographic in their approach, i.e. they focus on the individual case without reference to a comparison group.
Case studies are widely used in psychology and amongst the best known were the ones carried out by Sigmund Freud. He conducted very detailed investigations into the private lives of his patients in an attempt to both understand and help them overcome their illnesses.
Freud's most famous case studies include Little Hans (1909a) and The Rat Man (1909b). Even today case histories are one of the main methods of investigation in abnormal psychology and psychiatry. For students of these disciplines they can give a vivid insight into what those who suffer from mental illness often have to endure.
Case studies are often conducted in clinical medicine and involve collecting and reporting descriptive information about a particular person or specific environment, such as a school. In psychology, case studies are often confined to the study of a particular individual. The information is mainly biographical and relates to events in the individual's past (i.e. retrospective), as well as to significant events which are currently occurring in his or her everyday life.
In order to produce a fairly detailed and comprehensive profile of the person, the psychologist may use various types of accessible data, such as medical records, employer's reports, school reports or psychological test results. The interview is also an extremely effective procedure for obtaining information about an individual, and it may be used to collect comments from the person's friends, parents, employer, work mates and others who have a good knowledge of the person, as well as to obtain facts from the person him or herself.
This makes it clear that the case study is a method that should only be used by a psychologist, therapist or psychiatrist, i.e. someone with a professional qualification. There is an ethical issue of competence. Only someone qualified to diagnose and treat a person can conduct a formal case study relating to atypical (i.e. abnormal) behavior or atypical development.
The procedure used in a case study means that the researcher provides a description of the behavior. This comes from interviews and other sources, such as observation. The client also reports detail of events from his or her point of view. The researcher then writes up the information from both sources above as the case study, and interprets the information.
Interpreting the information means the researcher decides what to include or leave out. A good case study should always make clear which information is factual description and which is an inference or the opinion of the researcher.
Strengths of Case Studies
- Provides detailed (rich qualitative) information.
- Provides insight for further research.
- Permitting investigation of otherwise impractical (or unethical) situations.
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 which only looks into the measurable aspects of human behavior is not likely to give us insights into the subjective dimension to experience which is so 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 of Case Studies
- Can’t generalize the results to the wider population.
- Researchers' own subjective feeling may influence the case study (researcher bias).
- Difficult to replicate.
- Time consuming.
Because a case study deals with only one person/event/group we can never be sure whether the conclusions drawn from this particular case apply elsewhere. The results of the study are not generalizable because we can never know whether the case we have investigated is representative of the wider body of "similar" instances
Because they are based on the analysis of qualitative (i.e. descriptive) data a lot depends on the interpretation the psychologist places on the information she has acquired. This means that there is a lot of scope for observer bias and it could be that the subjective opinions of the psychologist intrude in the assessment of what the data means.
For example, Freud has been criticized for producing case studies in which the information was sometimes distorted to fit the particular theories about behavior (e.g. Little Hans). This is also true of Money’s interpretation of the Bruce/Brenda case study (Diamond, 1997) when he ignored evidence that went against his theory.
Diamond, M., & Sigmundson, K. (1997). Sex Reassignment at Birth: Long-term Review and Clinical Implications. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 151(3), 298-304
Freud, S. (1909a). Analysis of a phobia of a five year old boy. In The Pelican Freud Library (1977), Vol 8, Case Histories 1, pages 169-306
Freud, S. (1909b). Bemerkungen über einen Fall von Zwangsneurose (Der "Rattenmann"). Jb. psychoanal. psychopathol. Forsch., I, p. 357-421; GW, VII, p. 379-463; Notes upon a case of obsessional neurosis, SE, 10: 151-318.
How to reference this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2008). Case study method. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/case-study.html
A case study is one of the many research methods or strategies used by students that are studying a certain person, group, or situation. Case studies can usually be found in such areas of knowledge such as sociology, anthropology, psychology, education and much more.
Table Of Contents
Case Study Definition
It is a piece of scientific research that follows the development of a person, group or event over a period of time. They often exemplify a formal research method and are used to support a principle. This type of paper adds meaning to its field by contributing unique knowledge. To define “case study”, you might want to seek out examples of famous case studies.
What is The Purpose
The first thing you need to do is to determine what type of case study you are going to write about. After you have chosen the subject, you need to understand that the main purpose is to make a thorough analysis of a situation or case.
Types Of Case Studies
Case studies usually include abnormal phenomena that contributed to the field of study in which they were performed. The different types of case studies are in the fields of They also come in two types:
A psychology case study is an analysis of a person, group, or phenomenon. Psychologists use clinical research to describe rare events. Psychology studies are usually done by using case-control and problem-oriented study. The studies must be valid and reliable. Here is a list of famous case studies:
- Harlow - Phineas Gage
- Breuer & Freud (1895) - Anna O.
- Harvey Cleckley's study of Multiple Personality Disorder (The Three Faces of Eve)
- John Money and the John/Joan case
- Genie (feral child)
This type of study is an observational one. It analyzes a potential relationship between the attribute and the outcome. For example, in a study that proves that smoking causes lung cancer, the smoker is the case, smoking is the attribute, cancer is the outcome, and a person who doesn’t smoke would be a control.
Problem Oriented Study
Some case studies require you to solve a problem by developing a new design. These types of case studies are problem orientated.
Almost every business is unique. However, case studies allow us to take away universal lessons and apply them. A business case study focuses on performance and retention, supply chain management, growth, and ad spending. Below are some famous case studies that you can read about as good case study examples.
- Workplace Drug Abuse
- Malden Mills
- Starbucks on Every Corner
- Small Customers, Big Profits
- Succession Planning
Historical case studies analyze the causes and consequences of a situation and discuss the lessons learned. Otherwise, history can also refer to the background information. Make sure to gather as much participant or situational history as possible.
A case study is an incredibly useful way of conducting research. Case studies have been used across a number of disciplines. Individual researchers used case studies to diversify the discipline. This resulted in case study research evolving into a flexible approach to research.
Your instructor may assign a case study analysis instead of one that is stand-alone. This assignment is easier, as it only requires you to analyze and synthesize the research method used within an assigned case study. Begin with reading as many articles as possible about the proposed study and then proceed to review the actual first publication. By reading other pieces of writing on this subject, you will be able to comprehend the research method used in the assigned study easier.
Harvard Case Study
Harvard University has millions of case studies in their registry. Some students get access to them. However, they need to be purchased online most of the time. If you want to use a Harvard case study as an example, then you should either purchase one online or purchase a unique and ready-made example from one of EssayPro paper writers.
Types Of Methods
Case studies are investigations. Typically the method of gathering information for different cases involves observations, interviews, or gathering data information. The research continues for a long period of time. Most often, case study methodology is simply observing, reconstructing the history, and investigating a topic with extreme precision and detail. The data is collected and then analyzed. The conclusion either supports a pre-existing theory or acts as a base for a new theory. A good case study should always clarify which information is factual and which is altered by your bias toward a certain theory.
Using a template may be more helpful to your writing process. Move from section to section in your drafting process and then go back to the abstract and summarize your paper. A comprehensive template like this can also work to create an outline for your paper. Below is a comprehensive template that matches the case study layout:
- Name, academic degrees and affiliation
Name, address and telephone number of the corresponding author
Keywords: (limit of five)
Abstract: (maximum of 150 words)
- Case Presentation
- Management and Outcome
Legends: (tables, figures, or images)
How To Write An Outline
The main goal of the outline of the paper is to help you organize your thoughts and data. After doing this, you’ll be able to see the bigger picture and write a complete paper. So let’s find out how to write an outline. Essentially your outline will contain three main parts: The Introduction, a Body, and a Conclusion. But to be sure that your paper is fully finished, consult your lecturer about what he or she wants to be included in your paper. So let’s find out how an outline supposed to be written if you are going to write about a problem-oriented study:
I. Introduction (should contain your thesis statement or the topic of your research)
- Statement of the Issue
- Presentation of problems or problem
- Explanation of the terms
- Analysis of Related Literature
- Importance of your study
- Significance of the study
II. Body (must involve the presentation of your arguments to support your thesis statement or topic. Try to find at least three approving arguments for each position.)
- Background of the Study
- Presentation of analysis and data
- Strong argument 1
- Strong argument 2
- Strong argument 3
III. Conclusion (make a summary of all your arguments and research that you’ve made and state your final position.)
- Concluding Statement
How to Format your paper
The research format is similar to most scientific reports. Your citation format should be chosen based on the discipline or the command of your instructor.
Title page: The first page of your masterpiece
- Title: Pick a title that will attract attention and adequately describe your study. You may want to have a title that contains the word “case study” in it. Your title should range between 5-9 words in length
- Your name and contact information
- Keywords: this will make it easier for people to find in a search engine
- Your finished case study should be only 500 to 1,500 words in length. With this kind of an assignment, write effectively and avoid fluff.
Abstract: narrative and structured.
- In a narrative abstract, you simply summarize the whole paper.
- In a structured abstract, you may use subheadings to guide your reader.
- It is recommended that you write your abstract after finishing the whole paper.
- In the case of a structured abstract, the subheadings will be: introduction, case presentation, management and outcome, and discussion.
- Introduction: Include one or two sentences to describe the context of the case and summarize the entire case study.
- Case presentation: Here, include several sentences describe the history and results of the case.
- Management and Outcome: Here, reference the measures you used and link it to the conclusion of the study.
- Discussion: Synthesize and explain the case and within one or two sentences describe the lessons discovered or any that are yet to be learned.
- Acknowledgments: If you received assistance with the case study, you may thank them in this section.
- References: References should be listed as described elsewhere in the discipline of yours or your instructor’s choosing.
- Legends: If you used tables, figures or photographs, they should be accompanied by a brief explanation. Make sure everything is understandable and included at the end of the manuscript.
Now that you understand the format and structure of a case study, here are some important pointers:
- Use the template and work section by section to produce the first draft of your case study.
- Before embarking on the writing process, you should gather all relevant materials. Ask yourself: “What is interesting about this case?”
- You may want to consider writing an outline at first to make the process easier.
How To Cite Your Paper
Citing your work is definitely easier than writing about it. You can cite it just like you cite a book, depending what style you need.
In MLA: Hill, Linda, Tarun Khanna, and Emily A. Stecker. HCL Technologies. Boston: Harvard Business Publishing, 2008. Print.
In APA: Hill, L., Khanna, T., & Stecker, E. A. (2008). HCL Technologies. Boston: Harvard Business Publishing.
In Chicago: Hill, Linda, Tarun Khanna, and Emily A. Stecker. HCL Technologies.
After you have finished the writing process, avoid any paper editing for a few hours or days. Then, give it a second read and correct small grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. Make sure that everything flows as smooth as possible. Every paragraph should include transitions to give the readers an explanation of what will be next in the next paragraph.
A title page depends on the prescribed citation format. Here is a template for the APA format title page:
Although your instructor might be looking at slightly different criteria, every case study rubric essentially has the same standards. Your professor will want you to exhibit 8 different outcomes:
- Correctly identify the concepts, theories, and practices in the discipline.
- Identify the relevant theories and principles associated with the particular case study.
- Evaluate legal and ethical principles and apply them to decision-making.
- Recognize and global importance and contribution.
- Construct coherent summary and explanation of the study.
- Demonstrate analytical and critical-thinking skills
- Explain the interrelationships between environment and nature.
- Integrate theory and practice of the discipline within the analysis.
Ways Of Presenting Your Paper
Perhaps the most important reason people create case studies is to present them in a certain way. The presentation must be engaging and educate the audience on the significance of the work. Industries use presentations to showcase newly found information about the conducted research and impact. Firstly, consider various methods for your presentation. Find a way to capture the audience’s attention with graphics and illustrations. A Powerpoint, a Prezi, or a Google Slides presentation is easy to use and allows for the implementation of interesting transitions as well as charts and graphs. Leave your conclusion for the end of the presentation to keep the audience interested about the conclusion of the case study.
Essay Writing Advice From Our Professional Team
Prof Trent, from EssayPro
When writing a case study, it is easy to get off topic. My piece of advice for your writing is to abstain from delving too much into technicalities while writing your case study. Whether your case study is a science piece or a business/economy piece, make your heading and subheadings attention-grabbing. This not only captures what the case study is about but also keeps the attention of your reader. Another piece of advice that I have for you is that you briefly summarize the broader topic beforehand, but don’t refer back to the summary during your actual case study. For example, if your case study is about psychological phenomena, then you would want to summarize the particular field of study (e.g. abnormal psychology) and then continue writing about your topic. My last tip for you is to use the cause-effect essay structure. What caused the case study? What was it's effect/result?
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