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Qualitative Research Designs

Case study design, using case study design in the applied doctoral experience (ade), applicability of case study design to applied problem of practice, case study design references.

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The field of qualitative research there are a number of research designs (also referred to as “traditions” or “genres”), including case study, phenomenology, narrative inquiry, action research, ethnography, grounded theory, as well as a number of critical genres including Feminist theory, indigenous research, critical race theory and cultural studies. The choice of research design is directly tied to and must be aligned with your research problem and purpose. As Bloomberg & Volpe (2019) explain:

Choice of research design is directly tied to research problem and purpose. As the researcher, you actively create the link among problem, purpose, and design through a process of reflecting on problem and purpose, focusing on researchable questions, and considering how to best address these questions. Thinking along these lines affords a research study methodological congruence (p. 38).

Case study is an in-depth exploration from multiple perspectives of a bounded social phenomenon, be this a social system such as a program, event, institution, organization, or community (Stake, 1995, 2005; Yin, 2018). Case study is employed across disciplines, including education, health care, social work, sociology, and organizational studies. The purpose is to generate understanding and deep insights to inform professional practice, policy development, and community or social action (Bloomberg 2018).

Yin (2018) and Stake (1995, 2005), two of the key proponents of case study methodology, use different terms to describe case studies. Yin categorizes case studies as exploratory or descriptive . The former is used to explore those situations in which the intervention being evaluated has no clear single set of outcomes. The latter is used to describe an intervention or phenomenon and the real-life context in which it occurred. Stake identifies case studies as intrinsic or instrumental , and he proposes that a primary distinction in designing case studies is between single and multiple (or collective) case study designs. A single case study may be an instrumental case study (research focuses on an issue or concern in one bounded case) or an intrinsic case study (the focus is on the case itself because the case presents a unique situation). A longitudinal case study design is chosen when the researcher seeks to examine the same single case at two or more different points in time or to capture trends over time. A multiple case study design is used when a researcher seeks to determine the prevalence or frequency of a particular phenomenon. This approach is useful when cases are used for purposes of a cross-case analysis in order to compare, contrast, and synthesize perspectives regarding the same issue. The focus is on the analysis of diverse cases to determine how these confirm the findings within or between cases, or call the findings into question.

Case study affords significant interaction with research participants, providing an in-depth picture of the phenomenon (Bloomberg & Volpe, 2019). Research is extensive, drawing on multiple methods of data collection, and involves multiple data sources. Triangulation is critical in attempting to obtain an in-depth understanding of the phenomenon under study and adds rigor, breadth, and depth to the study and provides corroborative evidence of the data obtained. Analysis of data can be holistic or embedded—that is, dealing with the whole or parts of the case (Yin, 2018). With multiple cases the typical analytic strategy is to provide detailed description of themes within each case (within-case analysis), followed by thematic analysis across cases (cross-case analysis), providing insights regarding how individual cases are comparable along important dimensions. Research culminates in the production of a detailed description of a setting and its participants, accompanied by an analysis of the data for themes or patterns (Stake, 1995, 2005; Yin, 2018). In addition to thick, rich description, the researcher’s interpretations, conclusions, and recommendations contribute to the reader’s overall understanding of the case study.

Analysis of findings should show that the researcher has attended to all the data, should address the most significant aspects of the case, and should demonstrate familiarity with the prevailing thinking and discourse about the topic. The goal of case study design (as with all qualitative designs) is not generalizability but rather transferability —that is, how (if at all) and in what ways understanding and knowledge can be applied in similar contexts and settings. The qualitative researcher attempts to address the issue of transferability by way of thick, rich description that will provide the basis for a case or cases to have relevance and potential application across a broader context.

Qualitative research methods ask the questions of "what" and "how" a phenomenon is understood in a real-life context (Bloomberg & Volpe, 2019). In the education field, qualitative research methods uncover educational experiences and practices because qualitative research allows the researcher to reveal new knowledge and understanding. Moreover, qualitative descriptive case studies describe, analyze and interpret events that explain the reasoning behind specific phenomena (Bloomberg, 2018). As such, case study design can be the foundation for a rigorous study within the Applied Doctoral Experience (ADE).

Case study design is an appropriate research design to consider when conceptualizing and conducting a dissertation research study that is based on an applied problem of practice with inherent real-life educational implications. Case study researchers study current, real-life cases that are in progress so that they can gather accurate information that is current. This fits well with the ADE program, as students are typically exploring a problem of practice. Because of the flexibility of the methods used, a descriptive design provides the researcher with the opportunity to choose data collection methods that are best suited to a practice-based research purpose, and can include individual interviews, focus groups, observation, surveys, and critical incident questionnaires. Methods are triangulated to contribute to the study’s trustworthiness. In selecting the set of data collection methods, it is important that the researcher carefully consider the alignment between research questions and the type of data that is needed to address these. Each data source is one piece of the “puzzle,” that contributes to the researcher’s holistic understanding of a phenomenon. The various strands of data are woven together holistically to promote a deeper understanding of the case and its application to an educationally-based problem of practice.

Research studies within the Applied Doctoral Experience (ADE) will be practical in nature and focus on problems and issues that inform educational practice.  Many of the types of studies that fall within the ADE framework are exploratory, and align with case study design. Case study design fits very well with applied problems related to educational practice, as the following set of examples illustrate:

Elementary Bilingual Education Teachers’ Self-Efficacy in Teaching English Language Learners: A Qualitative Case Study

The problem to be addressed in the proposed study is that some elementary bilingual education teachers’ beliefs about their lack of preparedness to teach the English language may negatively impact the language proficiency skills of Hispanic ELLs (Ernst-Slavit & Wenger, 2016; Fuchs et al., 2018; Hoque, 2016). The purpose of the proposed qualitative descriptive case study was to explore the perspectives and experiences of elementary bilingual education teachers regarding their perceived lack of preparedness to teach the English language and how this may impact the language proficiency of Hispanic ELLs.

Exploring Minority Teachers Experiences Pertaining to their Value in Education: A Single Case Study of Teachers in New York City

The problem is that minority K-12 teachers are underrepresented in the United States, with research indicating that school leaders and teachers in schools that are populated mainly by black students, staffed mostly by white teachers who may be unprepared to deal with biases and stereotypes that are ingrained in schools (Egalite, Kisida, & Winters, 2015; Milligan & Howley, 2015). The purpose of this qualitative exploratory single case study was to develop a clearer understanding of minority teachers’ experiences concerning the under-representation of minority K-12 teachers in urban school districts in the United States since there are so few of them.

Exploring the Impact of an Urban Teacher Residency Program on Teachers’ Cultural Intelligence: A Qualitative Case Study

The problem to be addressed by this case study is that teacher candidates often report being unprepared and ill-equipped to effectively educate culturally diverse students (Skepple, 2015; Beutel, 2018). The purpose of this study was to explore and gain an in-depth understanding of the perceived impact of an urban teacher residency program in urban Iowa on teachers’ cultural competence using the cultural intelligence (CQ) framework (Earley & Ang, 2003).

Qualitative Case Study that Explores Self-Efficacy and Mentorship on Women in Academic Administrative Leadership Roles

The problem was that female school-level administrators might be less likely to experience mentorship, thereby potentially decreasing their self-efficacy (Bing & Smith, 2019; Brown, 2020; Grant, 2021). The purpose of this case study was to determine to what extent female school-level administrators in the United States who had a mentor have a sense of self-efficacy and to examine the relationship between mentorship and self-efficacy.

Suburban Teacher and Administrator Perceptions of Culturally Responsive Teaching to Promote Connectedness in Students of Color: A Qualitative Case Study

The problem to be addressed in this study is the racial discrimination experienced by students of color in suburban schools and the resulting negative school experience (Jara & Bloomsbury, 2020; Jones, 2019; Kohli et al., 2017; Wandix-White, 2020). The purpose of this case study is to explore how culturally responsive practices can counteract systemic racism and discrimination in suburban schools thereby meeting the needs of students of color by creating positive learning experiences. 

As you can see, all of these studies were well suited to qualitative case study design. In each of these studies, the applied research problem and research purpose were clearly grounded in educational practice as well as directly aligned with qualitative case study methodology. In the Applied Doctoral Experience (ADE), you will be focused on addressing or resolving an educationally relevant research problem of practice. As such, your case study, with clear boundaries, will be one that centers on a real-life authentic problem in your field of practice that you believe is in need of resolution or improvement, and that the outcome thereof will be educationally valuable.

Bloomberg, L. D. (2018). Case study method. In B. B. Frey (Ed.), The SAGE Encyclopedia of educational research, measurement, and evaluation (pp. 237–239). SAGE.

Bloomberg, L. D. & Volpe, M. (2019). Completing your qualitative dissertation: A road map from beginning to end . (4th Ed.). SAGE.

Stake, R. E. (1995). The art of case study research. SAGE.

Stake, R. E. (2005). Qualitative case studies. In N. K. Denzin and Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed., pp. 443–466). SAGE.

Yin, R. (2018). Case study research and applications: Designs and methods. SAGE.

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Case Study Methods and Examples

By Janet Salmons, PhD Manager, Sage Research Methods Community

What is Case Study Methodology ?

Case studies in research are both unique and uniquely confusing. The term case study is confusing because the same term is used multiple ways. The term can refer to the methodology, that is, a system of frameworks used to design a study, or the methods used to conduct it. Or, case study can refer to a type of academic writing that typically delves into a problem, process, or situation.

Case study methodology can entail the study of one or more "cases," that could be described as instances, examples, or settings where the problem or phenomenon can be examined. The researcher is tasked with defining the parameters of the case, that is, what is included and excluded. This process is called bounding the case , or setting boundaries.

Case study can be combined with other methodologies, such as ethnography, grounded theory, or phenomenology. In such studies the research on the case uses another framework to further define the study and refine the approach.

Case study is also described as a method, given particular approaches used to collect and analyze data. Case study research is conducted by almost every social science discipline: business, education, sociology, psychology. Case study research, with its reliance on multiple sources, is also a natural choice for researchers interested in trans-, inter-, or cross-disciplinary studies.

The Encyclopedia of case study research provides an overview:

The purpose of case study research is twofold: (1) to provide descriptive information and (2) to suggest theoretical relevance. Rich description enables an in-depth or sharpened understanding of the case.

It is unique given one characteristic: case studies draw from more than one data source. Case studies are inherently multimodal or mixed methods because this they use either more than one form of data within a research paradigm, or more than one form of data from different paradigms.

A case study inquiry could include multiple types of data:

multiple forms of quantitative data sources, such as Big Data + a survey

multiple forms of qualitative data sources, such as interviews + observations + documents

multiple forms of quantitative and qualitative data sources, such as surveys + interviews

Case study methodology can be used to achieve different research purposes.

Robert Yin , methodologist most associated with case study research, differentiates between descriptive , exploratory and explanatory case studies:

Descriptive : A case study whose purpose is to describe a phenomenon. Explanatory : A case study whose purpose is to explain how or why some condition came to be, or why some sequence of events occurred or did not occur. Exploratory: A case study whose purpose is to identify the research questions or procedures to be used in a subsequent study.

case study method in doctoral dissertation

Robert Yin’s book is a comprehensive guide for case study researchers!

You can read the preface and Chapter 1 of Yin's book here . See the open-access articles below for some published examples of qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods case study research.

Mills, A. J., Durepos, G., & Wiebe, E. (2010).  Encyclopedia of case study research (Vols. 1-0). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: 10.4135/9781412957397

Yin, R. K. (2018). Case study research and applications (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.

Open-Access Articles Using Case Study Methodology

As you can see from this collection, case study methods are used in qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods research.

Ang, C.-S., Lee, K.-F., & Dipolog-Ubanan, G. F. (2019). Determinants of First-Year Student Identity and Satisfaction in Higher Education: A Quantitative Case Study. SAGE Open.

Abstract. First-year undergraduates’ expectations and experience of university and student engagement variables were investigated to determine how these perceptions influence their student identity and overall course satisfaction. Data collected from 554 first-year undergraduates at a large private university were analyzed. Participants were given the adapted version of the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education Survey to self-report their learning experience and engagement in the university community. The results showed that, in general, the students’ reasons of pursuing tertiary education were to open the door to career opportunities and skill development. Moreover, students’ views on their learning and university engagement were at the moderate level. In relation to student identity and overall student satisfaction, it is encouraging to state that their perceptions of studentship and course satisfaction were rather positive. After controlling for demographics, student engagement appeared to explain more variance in student identity, whereas students’ expectations and experience explained greater variance in students’ overall course satisfaction. Implications for practice, limitations, and recommendation of this study are addressed.

Baker, A. J. (2017). Algorithms to Assess Music Cities: Case Study—Melbourne as a Music Capital. SAGE Open.

Abstract. The global  Mastering of a Music City  report in 2015 notes that the concept of music cities has penetrated the global political vernacular because it delivers “significant economic, employment, cultural and social benefits.” This article highlights that no empirical study has combined all these values and offers a relevant and comprehensive definition of a music city. Drawing on industry research,1 the article assesses how mathematical flowcharts, such as Algorithm A (Economics), Algorithm B (Four T’s creative index), and Algorithm C (Heritage), have contributed to the definition of a music city. Taking Melbourne as a case study, it illustrates how Algorithms A and B are used as disputed evidence about whether the city is touted as Australia’s music capital. The article connects the three algorithms to an academic framework from musicology, urban studies, cultural economics, and sociology, and proposes a benchmark Algorithm D (Music Cities definition), which offers a more holistic assessment of music activity in any urban context. The article concludes by arguing that Algorithm D offers a much-needed definition of what comprises a music city because it builds on the popular political economy focus and includes the social importance of space and cultural practices.

Brown, K., & Mondon, A. (2020). Populism, the media, and the mainstreaming of the far right: The Guardian’s coverage of populism as a case study. Politics.

Abstract. Populism seems to define our current political age. The term is splashed across the headlines, brandished in political speeches and commentaries, and applied extensively in numerous academic publications and conferences. This pervasive usage, or populist hype, has serious implications for our understanding of the meaning of populism itself and for our interpretation of the phenomena to which it is applied. In particular, we argue that its common conflation with far-right politics, as well as its breadth of application to other phenomena, has contributed to the mainstreaming of the far right in three main ways: (1) agenda-setting power and deflection, (2) euphemisation and trivialisation, and (3) amplification. Through a mixed-methods approach to discourse analysis, this article uses  The Guardian  newspaper as a case study to explore the development of the populist hype and the detrimental effects of the logics that it has pushed in public discourse.

Droy, L. T., Goodwin, J., & O’Connor, H. (2020). Methodological Uncertainty and Multi-Strategy Analysis: Case Study of the Long-Term Effects of Government Sponsored Youth Training on Occupational Mobility. Bulletin of Sociological Methodology/Bulletin de Méthodologie Sociologique, 147–148(1–2), 200–230.

Abstract. Sociological practitioners often face considerable methodological uncertainty when undertaking a quantitative analysis. This methodological uncertainty encompasses both data construction (e.g. defining variables) and analysis (e.g. selecting and specifying a modelling procedure). Methodological uncertainty can lead to results that are fragile and arbitrary. Yet, many practitioners may be unaware of the potential scale of methodological uncertainty in quantitative analysis, and the recent emergence of techniques for addressing it. Recent proposals for ‘multi-strategy’ approaches seek to identify and manage methodological uncertainty in quantitative analysis. We present a case-study of a multi-strategy analysis, applied to the problem of estimating the long-term impact of 1980s UK government-sponsored youth training. We use this case study to further highlight the problem of cumulative methodological fragilities in applied quantitative sociology and to discuss and help develop multi-strategy analysis as a tool to address them.

Ebneyamini, S., & Sadeghi Moghadam, M. R. (2018). Toward Developing a Framework for Conducting Case Study Research .  International Journal of Qualitative Methods .

Abstract. This article reviews the use of case study research for both practical and theoretical issues especially in management field with the emphasis on management of technology and innovation. Many researchers commented on the methodological issues of the case study research from their point of view thus, presenting a comprehensive framework was missing. We try representing a general framework with methodological and analytical perspective to design, develop, and conduct case study research. To test the coverage of our framework, we have analyzed articles in three major journals related to the management of technology and innovation to approve our framework. This study represents a general structure to guide, design, and fulfill a case study research with levels and steps necessary for researchers to use in their research.

Lai, D., & Roccu, R. (2019). Case study research and critical IR: the case for the extended case methodology. International Relations , 33 (1), 67-87.

Abstract. Discussions on case study methodology in International Relations (IR) have historically been dominated by positivist and neopositivist approaches. However, these are problematic for critical IR research, pointing to the need for a non-positivist case study methodology. To address this issue, this article introduces and adapts the extended case methodology as a critical, reflexivist approach to case study research, whereby the case is constructed through a dynamic interaction with theory, rather than selected, and knowledge is produced through extensions rather than generalisation. Insofar as it seeks to study the world in complex and non-linear terms, take context and positionality seriously, and generate explicitly political and emancipatory knowledge, the extended case methodology is consistent with the ontological and epistemological commitments of several critical IR approaches. Its potential is illustrated in the final part of the article with reference to researching the socioeconomic dimension of transitional justice in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Lynch, R., Young, J. C., Boakye-Achampong, S., Jowaisas, C., Sam, J., & Norlander, B. (2020). Benefits of crowdsourcing for libraries: A case study from Africa . IFLA Journal.

Abstract. Many libraries in the Global South do not collect comprehensive data about themselves, which creates challenges in terms of local and international visibility. Crowdsourcing is an effective tool that engages the public to collect missing data, and it has proven to be particularly valuable in countries where governments collect little public data. Whereas crowdsourcing is often used within fields that have high levels of development funding, such as health, the authors believe that this approach would have many benefits for the library field as well. They present qualitative and quantitative evidence from 23 African countries involved in a crowdsourcing project to map libraries. The authors find benefits in terms of increased connections between stakeholders, capacity-building, and increased local visibility. These findings demonstrate the potential of crowdsourced approaches for tasks such as mapping to benefit libraries and similarly positioned institutions in the Global South in multifaceted ways.

Mason, W., Morris, K., Webb, C., Daniels, B., Featherstone, B., Bywaters, P., Mirza, N., Hooper, J., Brady, G., Bunting, L., & Scourfield, J. (2020). Toward Full Integration of Quantitative and Qualitative Methods in Case Study Research: Insights From Investigating Child Welfare Inequalities. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 14 (2), 164-183.

Abstract. Delineation of the full integration of quantitative and qualitative methods throughout all stages of multisite mixed methods case study projects remains a gap in the methodological literature. This article offers advances to the field of mixed methods by detailing the application and integration of mixed methods throughout all stages of one such project; a study of child welfare inequalities. By offering a critical discussion of site selection and the management of confirmatory, expansionary and discordant data, this article contributes to the limited body of mixed methods exemplars specific to this field. We propose that our mixed methods approach provided distinctive insights into a complex social problem, offering expanded understandings of the relationship between poverty, child abuse, and neglect.

Rashid, Y., Rashid, A., Warraich, M. A., Sabir, S. S., & Waseem, A. (2019). Case Study Method: A Step-by-Step Guide for Business Researchers .  International Journal of Qualitative Methods .

Abstract. Qualitative case study methodology enables researchers to conduct an in-depth exploration of intricate phenomena within some specific context. By keeping in mind research students, this article presents a systematic step-by-step guide to conduct a case study in the business discipline. Research students belonging to said discipline face issues in terms of clarity, selection, and operationalization of qualitative case study while doing their final dissertation. These issues often lead to confusion, wastage of valuable time, and wrong decisions that affect the overall outcome of the research. This article presents a checklist comprised of four phases, that is, foundation phase, prefield phase, field phase, and reporting phase. The objective of this article is to provide novice researchers with practical application of this checklist by linking all its four phases with the authors’ experiences and learning from recently conducted in-depth multiple case studies in the organizations of New Zealand. Rather than discussing case study in general, a targeted step-by-step plan with real-time research examples to conduct a case study is given.

VanWynsberghe, R., & Khan, S. (2007). Redefining Case Study. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 80–94.

Abstract. In this paper the authors propose a more precise and encompassing definition of case study than is usually found. They support their definition by clarifying that case study is neither a method nor a methodology nor a research design as suggested by others. They use a case study prototype of their own design to propose common properties of case study and demonstrate how these properties support their definition. Next, they present several living myths about case study and refute them in relation to their definition. Finally, they discuss the interplay between the terms case study and unit of analysis to further delineate their definition of case study. The target audiences for this paper include case study researchers, research design and methods instructors, and graduate students interested in case study research.

More Sage Research Methods Community Posts about Case Study Research

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Perspectives from Researchers on Case Study Design

Case study methods are used by researchers in many disciplines. Here are some open-access articles about multimodal qualitative or mixed methods designs that include both qualitative and quantitative elements.

Designing research with case study methods

Case study methodology is both unique, and uniquely confusing. It is unique given one characteristic: case studies draw from more than one data source.

Case Study Methods and Examples

What is case study methodology? It is unique given one characteristic: case studies draw from more than one data source. In this post find definitions and a collection of multidisciplinary examples.


Find discussion of case studies and published examples.

Istanbul as a regional computational social science hub

Experiments and quantitative research.

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What is a Case Study and Why should I Use It in My PhD Dissertation? Understanding the purpose of case studies in research.

A case study can provide appropriate research design in a qualitative or quantitative study to to gain concrete, contextual, in-depth knowledge and multi-faceted understanding of a complex issue in its real-life context. The case study can be a great tool for providing insight and developing theories in the avenue of present research.

What is a case study?

A case study is a structured, focused, in-depth look at a particular issue or topic that reports on the findings and conclusions of researchers who have studied the case. A case study is not intended to be an exploratory analysis or to make sweeping generalizations. Rather, it is an objective, focused, and structured approach to understand the specific circumstances of an issue or the people, places, and things that make up a society. Prepared to the best of the researchers knowledge, a case study is a unique research method. In fact, case studies are the most common type of qualitative research. A case study is often a combination of interviews, focus groups, documentation, and research documentation.

Why do researchers use case study?

Case studies often contain detailed, in-depth examination of a particular issue or topic that reports on the findings and conclusions of researchers who have studied the case. Case studies are excellent for gaining insight and understanding in the following ways: – 

  • Focus on one aspect of the phenomena being studied
  • Give the researcher a window into the participants’ world 
  • Explain the decision making process involved in data collection, analysis, and presentation 
  • Allow for in-depth examination of the methodology

How to do a case study in PhD research

To conduct a case study, the students must first adhere to the university requirements and establish a strong subject knowledge in the domain of study. This is to help the researcher design the case study in a controlled environment. The case study must:

Be descriptive – Be specific – Be analytical – Be critical – Be narrative – Be written within required format

Key elements of a successful case study

The basic elements of a successful case study include: – 

  • The phenomenon 
  • The context 
  • The methodology 
  • The conclusions 
  • The recommendations 
  • The detail of resources used  

Research design using cases

Research designs that incorporate the use of case studies are often qualitative or quantitative in nature. A quantitative approach to the study of a phenomenon could involve questionnaires to collect data about the respondents’ experiences. On the other hand, a qualitative approach could involve in-depth interviews to understand the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of people who are experiencing the same phenomenon as the research team. Case studies can also be used in the analysis of the validity of a plan. For example, a case study examining the feasibility of a new project could examine the cost, risks, and benefits of undertaking the study and the study’s design.

The case study can be used in various design settings:

  • Explanatory case studies aim to answer ‘how’ or ’why’ questions and involve an accurate description of the event or situation under study rather than the researcher’s thoughts.
  • A descriptive case study is one that is focused and detailed to illustrate an unfamiliar subject that the researcher wants the audience to understand and the phenomenon under study is carefully scrutinized.
  • Exploratory case studies aim to find answers to the questions of ‘what’ or ‘who’. This is often conducted on the premise of a larger research problem to narrow the focus of the study and reach a specific research objective.

Should I be using case studies in my research?

Eisenhardt (1989) says that case studies are:

“Particularly well suited to new research areas or research areas for

which existing theory seems inadequate. This type of work is highly

complementary to incremental theory building from normal science

research. The former is useful in early stages of research on a topic or

when a fresh perspective is needed, whilst the latter is useful in later

stages of knowledge” (pp.548-549).

There is a certain skepticism about the usefulness of case studies as an objective research method considering its many limitations like the reliability of the respondents and the behavioral differences that can contribute to the inadequacy of the information provided by the subjects of the case, the issue of possibility of generalization of the findings of a case study considering the narrow and focussed approach that case studied utilize and finally the researcher bias which forms the main disadvantage to an objective study. The researcher should also consider the efficiency of using case studies in his or her research because of the detailed nature of this method that is not only dependent on factors beyond control but also intensive in preparation and deduction of conclusions.

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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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Application of multiple case study method in doctoral dissertation

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case study method in doctoral dissertation

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case study method in doctoral dissertation

UC Davis Graduate Studies

Two individuals standing in front of two-toned background with the left side in cream color and the rigght in blue, bith wearing button-up shirts with one displaying a checkered pattern and the other a floral print. Text overhead reads "2024 Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Innovation Fellows" and at the bottom "Representing UC Davis".

UC Davis Doctoral Students Selected as 2024 Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Innovation Fellows

  • by Graduate Studies
  • April 22, 2024

We're excited to announce that three UC Davis doctoral students – Victor Chimaway Lopez (Native American Studies), Stephen Eyman (Linguistics), and David Morales (History) – have been selected as 2024 Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Innovation Fellows! The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) launched the program in 2023 with the support of the Mellon Foundation to advance a vision for doctoral education that prioritizes openness to new methods and sources, underrepresented voices and perspectives, and scholarly experimentation. The awards are designed to accelerate change in the norms of humanistic scholarship by recognizing those who take risks in the modes, methods, and subjects of their research. 

The ACLS used a rigorous, interdisciplinary peer review process to select the fellows, who represent a diverse range of research topics. Our scholars were chosen from a competitive pool of over 700 applicants from 125 U.S. universities, reflecting the prestige of this honor. 

Each fellow receives an award of up to $50,000, consisting of a $40,000 stipend for the fellowship year; up to $8,000 for project-related research, training, professional development, and travel expenses; and a $2,000 stipend to support external mentorship that offers new perspectives on the fellow’s project and expands their advising network. With fellows pursuing their research across the country and beyond, ACLS will also provide opportunities for virtual networking and scholarly programming throughout the fellows’ award terms. 

Congratulations to Victor, Stephen and David on this remarkable achievement!

A person wearing a floral shirt stands against a background that blends from a dusty purple sky at the top into a dark silhouette of a mountain range at the bottom.


  1. How to Create a Case Study + 14 Case Study Templates

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  2. (PDF) Application of multiple case study method in doctoral dissertation

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  5. (PDF) Case Study Method

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    case study method in doctoral dissertation


  1. 0 introduction research method Doctoral Program

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  1. LibGuides: Section 2: Case Study Design in an Applied Doctorate

    Case study design is an appropriate research design to consider when conceptualizing and conducting a dissertation research study that is based on an applied problem of practice with inherent real-life educational implications. Case study researchers study current, real-life cases that are in progress so that they can gather accurate ...

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    The purpose of case study research is twofold: (1) to provide descriptive information and (2) to suggest theoretical relevance. Rich description enables an in-depth or sharpened understanding of the case. It is unique given one characteristic: case studies draw from more than one data source. Case studies are inherently multimodal or mixed ...

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    Order and format of dissertation chapters may vary by institution and department. 1. Introduction 2. Literature review 3. Methodology 4. Findings 5. Analysis and synthesis 6. Conclusions and recommendations Chapter 1: Introduction This chapter makes a case for the signifi-cance of the problem, contextualizes the study, and provides an ...

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    CHAPTER 1. A (VERY) BRIEF REFRESHER ON THE CASE STUDY METHOD 5 different research methods, including the case study method, can be determined by the kind of research question that a study is trying to address (e.g., Shavelson & Towne, 2002, pp. 99-106). Accordingly, case studies are pertinent when your

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    word guidelines to highlight the flexibility of this qualitative analytic method. These guidelines. are (1) familiarizing yourself with your data, (2) generating initial codes, (3) The researcher read. throughout each transcript to immerse in the data, (4) reviewing themes, (5) defining and naming.

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    Allow for in-depth examination of the methodology; How to do a case study in PhD research. To conduct a case study, the students must first adhere to the university requirements and establish a strong subject knowledge in the domain of study. This is to help the researcher design the case study in a controlled environment. The case study must ...

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    case study method. The practical yet theoretically founded approach of this paper may be useful to doctoral students who are considering or using the case study method. Equally, supervisors and others involved in research training may find this paper useful as an illustrative example of the case study method for their students. Keywords

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    In a case study, researchers investigate "a contemporary phenomenon (the 'case') in depth and within its real-world context…" (Yin, 2009, p. 16). A case study is developed within a specific bounded system (Creswell, 2013; Merriam, 2009). Thus, a case study method was appropriate for discovering and interpreting our EdD students' and ...

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    This Dissertation is brought to you for free and open access by the Walden Dissertations and Doctoral Studies Collection at ScholarWorks. It has been accepted for inclusion in Walden Dissertations and Doctoral Studies by an authorized administrator of ScholarWorks. For more information, please [email protected].


    views on doctoral dissertations. The intent of Lovitts's study was to explicate the qualities of a dissertation from the viewpoint of the doctoral mentors who evaluate doctoral dissertations. Faculty were also asked to describe what constitutes an original and significant contribution in the field (via the dissertation) and the purpose of the

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    time. Emerging themes were identified using a multiple case study methodology. All instructors said their use of CRS evolved and changed from initial adoption to their current use of the technology today. Student engagement was the single ubiquitous reason provided for choosing to employ CRS. Other potential reason for using CRS include: peer

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