Application of Case Study in Research

Case study is one of the most common methods in research. Researchers in social and life sciences find it very suitable. As such, learning how to write a case study is very essential for scholars in colleges and universities. This makes appropriate case study definition in research quite important.

In social sciences, the case study method is very popular. This is because it has been found quite effective in testing theoretical models in real world contexts. Also, the different characteristics of a case study make it suitable in studying phenomenon in such life sciences as biology.

Case study research is also common in other fields like business, law, and health. It has been acclaimed for effectively addressing wide-ranging research questions. This makes it the ultimate research method in fields like psychology, sociology, and anthropology.


Types of Case Studies

Before exploring case study definition in research, it is important to have an overview of the different types of case studies. Note that just like in the case of distinctive types of essays, case studies vary in their purpose. That said, case studies are usually classified under four categories that include:

1. Explanatory case studies,

2. Descriptive/ Illustrative case studies,

3. Exploratory case studies, and

4. Critical instance case studies.

Note that researchers can opt for a specific case study category depending the objectives and goals of their research. Each category is suitable in different contexts. [nbsp]


Case Study Definition in Research

As is evident in the different types of case studies, case study definition in research could vary quite widely. Such variation could be in the areas of application or from one field to another. It has been observed that the different definitions and descriptions more than often create confusion.

Nonetheless, it is possible to come up with some definitions that could cut across all the fields. Such definitions are as explained below.


Definition 1: Stake (1995).

According to this definition, case study research entails the examination of a single case’s particularity and complexity, aimed at understanding its activity within key circumstances. Per se, Stake’s view on case study definition in research focuses more on what is being studied instead of how it is being studied.

[nbsp]This definition is viewed as a more flexible approach towards the case study method. Although the entailed approach should appreciate the rigor of the process, the definitions argues that the approach should maintain more focus on the phenomenon.


Definition 2: Merriam (2009).

This is another key case study definition in research. Merriam defines the case study method as the in-depth description and exploration of a bounded system. This definition just like the one by Stake pays more attention to the study object as the defining feature in case study research.

The object of the study is the bounded system or the case. Merriam advances that case study research is supposed to focus on a specific thing, where the investigation’s product should be heuristic and descriptive in nature.


Definition 3: Yin (2014).

Yin’s case study definition in research is one of the latest and takes a slightly different approach. This definition is in two parts. According to Yin, the case study method should pay attention to the study’s scope, process, as well as methodological characteristics of research study.

It should emphasize the inquiry’s nature as empirical and the relevance of the context in the entailed case study research.


Philosophical Orientation and Variation in Case Study Definition in Research

Philosophical orientation and variation have a major influence on case study definition in research. It has been observed that a major challenge in case study definition arises from the practical versatility associated with its agnostic approach.

In a nutshell, a case study does not have a particular epistemological, ontological, or methodological approach.

From a philosophical point of view, case study research can assume a positivist or realist perspective, where reality is perceived as singular and independent of the entailed individual. Reality can as such be understood, studied, and assessed via an interpretivist or relativist perspective.

The resulting philosophical orientation accords the researcher flexibility in deciding the desirable methodological orientation. This makes it quite suitable in qualitative studies, where the researcher can tailor the case study to suit a specific context.

Accordingly, the use of case studies in qualitative studies is defined by a number of characteristics. These characteristics include:

1. It should capture an individual’s point of view.

2. It should accommodate postmodern sensibilities.

3. It should reduce reliance on positivist and post-positivist perspectives.

4. It should secure rich descriptions.

5.[nbsp]It should examine the everyday life’s constraints.

On philosophical variation, case study research requires careful selection among distinctive approaches in establishing the design that is most suitable in realizing the study aims and conforming to the researcher’s perspective about phenomenon.

This variation is essential in ensuring that there is coherence between the entailed philosophical position, guiding research question(s), and study design and methods. Markedly, while Yin adopts a realist and post-positivist approach in case study definition in research, Merriam adopts a pragmatic constructivist approach. [nbsp] [nbsp][nbsp]

On the other hand, Stake adopts a relativist and constructivist/ interpretivist approach.


Key Elements of Case Study Research

There are particular elements that are key in case studies. These elements demarcate the boundaries of case study definition in research. They entail characteristics common among the different types of case studies.

Note that they are evident in the above three case study definitions by Stake, Merriam, and Yin. They are:

1. The case: This is the object in the case study. It is usually the unit of analysis or entity of interest. It could be an individual, program, group, organization, social situation, event, process, or phenomenon.

2. A bounded system: This entails the system of connections entailed in the study. It could include activity, space, and time. The involved bounding uses frames in managing contextual variables. Usually, boundaries between the context and case are blurred.

3. Studied in context: Context entails the circumstances influencing the study. The context creates a platform for the understanding of the case. In this, contextual variables may include social, historical, political, cultural, economic, and organizational factors.

4. In-depth study: A case study must encompass an intensive issue analysis. Case studies focus particularly on the inquiry process. As such, the research should effectively deal with arising subjectivity to conduct a study with adequate depth to reflect appropriate philosophical orientation, purpose, and methods.

5. Selecting the case: This entails making decisions on settings, events, people, phenomenon, and social processes in respect to the study purpose and conditions. You should consider factors such as scope, methods, and logic.

6. Multiple sources of evidence: The researcher should look at the different sources of evidence essential in making the study comprehensive in depth and broad in inquiry. Methods of data collection and data analysis are key considerations in this.

7. Case study design: This entails the approach adopted by the research in the study. Study designs could include illustrative, exploratory, evaluative, or illustrative. They also could be embedded or holistic, and single or multiple cases. [nbsp] [nbsp][nbsp]