Case studies are employed throughout various fields of study and are especially common in the social sciences. Case studies often involve qualitative methods, but they may also apply quantitative and mixed methods. They are an excellent method of inquiry to describe, compare, evaluate, and understand the various aspects of a phenomenon. Data sources used in case studies could be interviews, questionnaires, observation, audio recordings, video recordings, documents, reports or visual materials or artefacts (drawings, photographs etc.)
There are three main types of case studies (Stake, 1995):
Intrinsic Case Study - focuses on studying a unique phenomenon. Researchers must describe the uniqueness of the phenomenon which sets it apart.
Instrumental Case Study - uses a specific case to gain a broader and deeper understanding of a phenomenon.
Collective Case Study - uses multiple cases to gain an even broader and deeper understanding of a phenomenon.
These categories are not mutually exclusive and can overlap. An intrinsic study can also be instrumental or collective, for example. An instrumental study may also be a collective one. For instance, these two categories are sometimes referred to as ‘single instrumental case study’ and ‘multiple instrumental case study’.
Crowe, Cresswell and Robertson et al. (2011) suggest that it is useful to think through following stages of the case study when planning a case study:
Defining the Case
Selecting the Case
Collecting the Data
Analysing the Data
Reporting the Findings
Link to Evaluating a Case Study
Crowe, Cresswell and Robertson et al. (2011) have indicated following pros and cons of the
In-depth, multifaceted understanding of phenomenon in real-life context
Excellent method for explaining, describing, and exploring complex issues.
Works well in capturing information towards answering the ‘how’, ‘what’, and ‘why’ questions.
Can help develop or refine theory.
Widely used and established research design
Selecting/conceptualising the wrong case(s) resulting in lack of theoretical generalisations.
Collecting large volumes of data that are not relevant to the case or too little to be of any value.
Defining/bounding the case.
Lack of rigour.
Integration with theoretical framework.
Brikše et al., 2014
Viberg et al., 2020
Yantaç et al., 2014
Brikše, I., Freibergs, V., & Spurava, G. (2014). Children’s Internet Competence vs. Self-confidence and Self-comfort: Case Study of Latvia BT - Information Literacy. Lifelong Learning and Digital Citizenship in the 21st Century. In S. Kurbanoğlu, S. Špiranec, E. Grassian, D. Mizrachi, & R. Catts (Eds.), European Conference on Information Literacy: Information Literacy. Lifelong Learning and Digital Citizenship in the 21st Century (pp. 233–242). Springer International Publishing.
Creswell, J. (2007). Qualitative Inquiry & Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches. 2. ed. SAGE.
Crowe, S., Cresswell, K., Robertson, A. et al. (2011). The Case Study Approach. BMC Med Res Methodol 11,100 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2288-11-100
Green, J., & Thorogood, N. (2009). Qualitative Methods for Health Research. (2nd edition). Sage.
Lewis, J. (2003). In Ritchie, J., & Lewis, J. (Eds). Qualitative Research Practice: A Guide for Social Science Students and Researchers. Sage Publications.
Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative Data Analysis : An Expanded Sourcebook (2.ed.). Sage.
Stake, R. (1995). The Art of Case Study Research. SAGE.
Viberg, O., Grönlund, Å., & Andersson, A. (2020). Integrating digital technology in mathematics education: a Swedish case study. Interactive Learning Environments. https://doi.org/10.1080/10494820.2020.1770801
Yantaç, A. E., Esin Orhun, S., & Ünlüer Çimen, A. (2014). A Challenging Design Case Study for Interactive Media Design Education: Interactive Media for Individuals with Autism. Lecture Notes in Computer Science (Including Subseries Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence and Lecture Notes in Bioinformatics), 8520 LNCS(PART 4), 185–196. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-07638-6_19
Yin, R. (1994). Case Study Research: Design and Methods (2. ed.). Sage.
Yin, R. K. (2009). Case Study Research : Design and Methods (4th ed.). SAGE Publications.