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What is a Case Study in Research?

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In academia, there’s a research approach called a case study that relies on real-life experiences to investigate occurrences through empirical inquiries. While it may sound complicated, it’s actually a straightforward method to solve problems and conduct research in the academic world.

What is a Case Study? A case study is an intensive study of groups of people, organizations, or any other unit, using both qualitative and quantitative research methods. It involves multiple steps, starting with defining one or multiple cases for examination. Researchers review existing literature and data to gain a basic understanding of the case and develop research questions. Most case study data is qualitative.

Types of Case Studies: There are different types of case studies used in research:

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  1. Illustrative Case Study: These are descriptive studies that use one or a few instances to comprehensively showcase a situation, making unfamiliar concepts more familiar.
  2. Cumulative Case Study: This type aggregates information collected at different times to generalize results from past case studies, avoiding redundant efforts.
  3. Exploratory Case Study: A subset of a larger case study used to test the waters and determine measurement types and questions before conducting a larger investigation.
  4. Critical Instance Case Study: Suited for cause and effect questions, this method examines a unique situation with specific parameters of interest.

Assumptions of the Case Study Method: The case study method relies on certain assumptions:

  • The assumption that human nature is uniform across events and people are rational beings, although it’s known that human behavior can change based on circumstances.
  • The unit being studied is observed without manipulation or tampering, assuming it represents the natural history of the phenomenon.
  • The comprehensive analysis of the unit is challenging in real-life due to the evolving nature and lack of all types of data.
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Benefits of Case Studies: The case study methodology provides in-depth understanding and analysis of processes. Single-case studies focus on a fixed phenomenon from a particular entity, while multi-case studies allow for a more comprehensive understanding by comparing differences and similarities between cases. Multi-case studies also contribute to theory development and research questions.

Limitations of Case Studies: Despite the benefits, case studies have limitations and challenges:

  • The sheer volume of data to analyze and organize necessitates robust data integration and analysis strategies.
  • Reporting results from multi-case studies can be challenging due to the increased volume of analysis.
  • There’s a risk of drifting away from research focus during single-case and multi-case studies, which must be avoided to maintain the study’s integrity.
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Case studies offer a framework for analyzing complex problems and understanding issues through data collection and examination of single or multiple cases. It’s a valuable tool in research that provides unique insights into real-life phenomena.

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