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Resource Methods Toolkit CO:RE at TUNI Published: 12 May 2022

Case study

A case study is a research approach that explores and investigates a particular phenomenon within its natural context in an in-depth and detailed manner, through one or more cases, and utilises multiple sources of data (Creswell, 2007; Crowe, Cresswell and Robertson et al., 2011; Yin, 1994). The multiplicity of sources in case studies may come from multiple data collection methods or from multiple accounts collected using a single method from people with different perspectives on the phenomena being observed (Lewis, 2003).  It is an in-depth and multifaceted study of a particular case (or cases) within a bounded context (Green and Thorogood, 2009; Miles and Huberman, 1994; Yin, 1994). It is both a methodology and research design as well as an object and outcome of inquiry (Stake, 1995; Yin, 2009).

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:

  1. Defining the Case

  2. Selecting the Case

  3. Collecting the Data

  4. Analysing the Data

  5. Interpreting Data

  6. Reporting the Findings 

Link to Evaluating a Case Study

Crowe, Cresswell and Robertson et al. (2011) have indicated following pros and cons of the
case study:

Pros

  • 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

Cons

  • 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.

  • Ethical issues.

  • Integration with theoretical framework.

  1. Brikše et al., 2014

  2. Viberg et al., 2020

  3. Yantaç et al., 2014





  1. 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.

  2. Creswell, J. (2007). Qualitative Inquiry & Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches. 2. ed. SAGE.

  3. 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

  4. Green, J., & Thorogood, N. (2009). Qualitative Methods for Health Research. (2nd edition). Sage.

  5. Lewis, J. (2003). In Ritchie, J., & Lewis, J. (Eds). Qualitative Research Practice: A Guide for Social Science Students and Researchers. Sage Publications.

  6. Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative Data Analysis : An Expanded Sourcebook (2.ed.). Sage.

  7. Stake, R. (1995). The Art of Case Study Research. SAGE.

  8. 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

  9. 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

  10. Yin, R. (1994). Case Study Research: Design and Methods (2. ed.). Sage.

  11. Yin, R. K. (2009). Case Study Research : Design and Methods  (4th ed.). SAGE Publications.

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Authors

Vallery Michael

Tampere University
Tampere University
CO:RE at TUNI
Methods

The team at the Faculty of Information Technology and Communication of TUNI identifies, develops and provides access to resources on qualitative, quantitative and mixed research methods together with evaluating their validity in research practice.

These resources are collated in the CO:RE methods toolkit that cross-reference resources from the evidence base, the compass for research ethics, and the theory toolkit, to give users tools to apply to their individual research contexts.

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