The cases reflect the uncertainty of the real-world management environment in the sense that the information presented is often inaccurate and ambiguous. There may be a number of viable strategies that the manager or group of managers could adopt, each with somewhat different implications for the future of the organization and each with different trade-offs.
The goal of the case study is not to develop a set of “correct” facts, but to learn to reason well with the available data. Although there is no “perfect” solution, there are alternatives that will lead to better overall results than others. Part of your job is to make sure you consider as many alternatives as possible, weigh their pros and cons, and determine which alternative provides the most benefit at the lowest cost.
Some cases will describe a situation and leave you at the point where the protagonist of the case is contemplating some future action or event. Other cases will report on any action that has occurred in the past and inform you of the results. In either case, you’ll need to analyze the current situation, determining what has led to the point where the case leaves you, and then consider future actions.
Types of Case Studies
There are several types of case studies that researchers can use:
Collective case studies
They involve the study of a group of individuals. Researchers can study a group of people in a given setting or examine an entire community of people.
Descriptive case studies
They involve starting with a descriptive theory. The subjects are then observed and the information obtained is compared with the pre-existing theory.
Explanatory case studies
They are often used to conduct causal investigations. In other words, researchers are interested in examining the factors that may have actually caused certain things to happen.
Exploratory case studies
They are sometimes used as a prelude to deeper investigation. They allow researchers to gather more information before developing their research questions and hypotheses.
Instrumental case studies
They occur when the individual or group allows researchers to understand more than is initially apparent to observers.
Intrinsic case studies
This type of case study occurs when the researcher has a personal interest in the case. Jean Piaget’s observations about his own children are a good example of how an intrinsic case study can contribute to the development of a psychological theory.
The type of case study that is used depends on the unique characteristics of the situation, as well as the case itself.
Structure of Case Analysis
Some case study tasks may require you to provide a brief summary of the case in your own words, especially if you have provided your own case study. This will help you contextualize the rest of your analysis. The main part of the task will be to apply to the case the concepts and theories that you have learned. This means you’ll need to reference research and theory to support your ideas. A case study may also require you to provide examples of what you would say to a client or another person in the case, and what they might say. These examples are called literals.
Most case studies should be structured in the same way as a thesis, with an introduction, a series of body paragraphs, and a conclusion. However, unlike theses, case studies typically have titles based on information from the task description or grading criteria.
When developing your position, place yourself at the time of the case with the dilemma or challenge as the organization faced at the time. Where you have the advantage of hindsight, subsequent knowledge or added research, you should recognise this. According to Schweitzer (2012), the content of his analysis should be organized as follows:
The analysis of the case should begin with a brief description of the background and the main actors of the scenario. This description provides context for the problem. In the remaining paragraphs, you should describe the problem, trying to be as succinct as possible. Your description should include the consequences/potentials of the problem and a statement to convince the reader why this problem is important, especially from the organization’s perspective.
In addition to identifying the main problem of the case, you should also identify the main issues that aggravate the problem. These issues often reflect the complicating factors that make it difficult to easily solve the core problem, and provide the approach to the analysis that follows.
Build a theoretical framework
Although case studies focus more on concrete details than on general theories, they should normally have some connection to field theory. In this way, the case study is not just an isolated description, but is integrated into existing knowledge on the subject. Your goal may be:
Exemplify a theory by showing how it explains the investigated case
Expand a theory by discovering new concepts and ideas that need to be incorporated
Challenge a theory by exploring an outlier that doesn’t fit with established assumptions.
To ensure that your case analysis has a solid academic basis, you should conduct a literature review of the sources related to the topic and develop a theoretical framework. This means identifying the key concepts and theories that will guide your analysis and interpretation.
Collect the data
There are many research methods you can use to collect data on your topic. Case studies tend to focus on qualitative data using methods such as interviews, observations, and analysis from primary and secondary sources (e.g., press articles, photographs, official records). Sometimes a case study also collects quantitative data.
In the case of a case study on the development of a wind farm in a rural area, quantitative data on employment rates and business incomes could be collected, qualitative data on the perceptions and experiences of the local population could be collected, and local and national media coverage of the development could be analysed.
The goal is to understand as deeply as possible the case and its context.
Analysis of problems
In this section, the information presented in the case and previous concepts, theories, and/or empirical research that appear in the literature on organizational management and behavior should be used to understand why problems and issues have developed and why they are important. The analysis of each issue should be developed to provide the necessary background to lead to the definition of one or more reasonable alternative solutions to the problem.
Where to find data
There are several different sources and methods that researchers can use to gather information about an individual or group. Researchers have identified six main sources:
Census records, survey records, and name lists are examples of archival records.
This strategy consists of observing the subject, often in a natural environment. Although an individual observer is sometimes used, it is more common to use a group of observers.
Letters, newspaper articles, administrative records, etc., are the types of documents that are often used as sources.
Interviews are one of the most important methods of gathering information in case studies. An interview may include structured survey questions or more open-ended questions.
When the researcher participates in events and observes actions and results, it is called participant observation.
Tools, objects, instruments, and other artifacts are usually observed during a direct observation of the subject.
Case studies require you to write in the third person (names of people, he/she/them, counselor, client, etc.) when discussing the theories or research of the authors, or the client, professional, or organization of the case. A case study may require you to use the first person (“I,” “my,” etc.) to provide your own reflections on the case, its personal impact on you, or how you would apply theories and skills to the case.
When to use the Case Study
Taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of the case studies, below I will analyze when it is more appropriate to use the case study as a qualitative research method in education. Let’s remember that the most defining characteristic of a case study is its limits. It follows that a researcher should use case studies as a research method when it is feasible and advantageous to establish clear boundaries around his or her research.
Case studies are a method that suits many beginning researchers, because the scale is small and the context is focused. However, case studies should not be overly simplistic or a mere description of what is happening; like any research in education, they should be a valuable addition to the current literature (Rowley, 2002). This requires the researcher to know what is currently in the literature on the subject and where stronger evidence is needed or knowledge gaps exist.
The research question should not be modified to suit the chosen research method, but a research method such as the case study should be based on the research question. Case studies are especially useful as preliminary research that provides new perspective and lays the groundwork for future related research. However, case studies can be independent in rigorously describing and explaining a phenomenon. Case studies answer the research questions “how” and “why” in a high degree of detail.
More specifically, case studies are appropriate when a question of how or why is raised about a set of contemporary events over which the researcher has little or no control.
Case studies are a valuable way to observe the world, because they allow the researcher to set boundaries and focus on a unit of study. Although case studies are likely to receive the usual criticisms of qualitative research methods, such as the small sample size, the wealth of details they provide helps turn them into a learning tool that produces knowledge transferable to other contexts.
Conducting a cross-case analysis would increase the ability to generalize, as it seeks to find patterns in multiple cases. The case study should be selected for research questions that have an adequate and delimited scope and that seek to answer the “how” and “why” questions. The fact that case studies are suitable for beginning researchers does not diminish the importance of rigor or its value in educational research. Case studies are a useful research method in many fields, especially in education, because a holistic view within a delimited context provides a wealth of detail, which improves the understanding of both the researcher and the reader.
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A Guide to Case Analysis. Retrieved July 26, 2012, from http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/dl/free/0072969431/362614/guide_to_case_analysis.pdf
Schweitzer, K. Case study analysis: Analyzing a case study. About. Retrieved July 26, 2012, from http://businessmajors.about.com/od/casestudies/a/CaseStudyAnalys.htm
Rowley, J. (2002). Using case studies in research. Management Research News, 25(1), 16-27.