A case study is an in-depth analysis of a specific situation, person, event, phenomenon, time, place, or company. They look at various elements of the situation including history, trends, specific outcomes, cause and effect, etc.
A case study can either be part of a larger research assignment as one of the methodologies used or be a standalone assignment. You can include several case studies in the same paper or focus on just one case. Multiple case studies are useful when comparing different elements of a research question and trying to find similarities or analyzing the reasons where outcomes are different.
Since the goal of a case study is to get an in-depth understanding of a specific situation, it is perfect for unique cases which may not have a lot of experimental or theoretical data. But this also makes it a very subjective method of analysis, one that cannot be generalized to fit larger groups of data. Case studies are often used in the initial stages of studying a new situation and can help come up with research questions and hypotheses for future studies.
Don't worry if that all sounds complicated, by the end of this article you will know not only how to write a case study assignment in college, but how to write a good case study for a scientific publication!
What is a Case Study?
A case study is one of the best ways of analyzing a unique phenomenon. It's particularly useful when the research question cannot be studied in a lab or through quantitative methods. Case studies are used in the social sciences, business, medicine, social work, and government reports. It is tough to have a case study definition because there are five main types of case studies.
An explanatory case study explores the cause of a specific event or tries to explain why something happens. These are most often used to analyze events rather than people or groups.
An exploratory case study is most often used to develop in-depth research questions. They are often precursors to large-scale research about a new topic. The goal of this kind of case study is to find new pieces of information that will help develop hypotheses to be tested in the future.
Multiple, Collective, or Cumulative
This kind of case study collects information from pre-existing case studies to develop a general theory. This saves time and money, as well as allows researchers to go over pre-existing data to either make generalizations or find differences in previous outcomes.
An intrinsic case study is a case study where the subject of the study is of particular interest and is the subject of analysis rather than a general theory. This kind of study is useful when looking at a very specific case.
Instrumental case studies are used to uncover the relationship between two things, or when the focus is not on the subjects, but on the underlying phenomena.
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Steps for Writing a Case Study
Like with any kind of academic writing, the first thing you need to do is come up with a topic and a research question. Case studies are best used when the research question is about a unique, specific, or not well-studied issue, so choose your topic carefully. After that, follow the steps for how to write a case study paper.
Step 1. Choosing a specific case
Once you have your research questions you are ready to think about what specific case answers those questions best. First, think about the different types of case studies and figure out which one is most applicable in your situation. Next, think about the kinds of questions that you want to find answers to, or the kinds of questions you want to uncover. Ask yourself
- Is the case you are interested in unique with the potential to uncover new kinds of information?
- Does the case you are interested in allow exploring a pre-existing idea or theory more in-depth?
- Does the case you are interested in have a conclusion or insight that is opposite or different from pre-existing ideas about the subject?
- Does the case you are interested in have the potential to solve a problem?
- Is the point of your case to come up with new hypotheses for future research?
As long as you think about these questions, you should be able to come up with a case that will both answer your research questions as well as provide relevant information.
Step 2. The literature review
Before jumping into collecting your data and running your experiments or interviews you should familiarize yourself with the pre-existing theoretical framework. Not only will this help you devise your data accumulation methodology, but it will also give you information to help describe and analyze your case. Some case studies may not have an extensive amount of pre-existing theories to go over, but doing a literature review is always going to be beneficial.
Go over your lecture notes and textbook to see which theories are relevant to your case. Ask your friends, professors, and experts in the field for advice on what to research. Once you have a general idea of what topics to look into, use library resources and the internet to familiarize yourself with theories that may apply to your case and previous case study examples that are similar to yours. Looking into a similar example of a case study will make sure that you don't repeat research that has already happened, help you understand how to do a case study, give you guidance about how you should collect your data, and give you a case study template.
Step 3. Collecting data
Data collection methodologies for a case study are usually qualitative rather than quantitative. You can employ methods such as interviews and focus groups to collect specific or new types of data, or you can look at primary and secondary sources like journals, newspapers, online publications, etc. to collect information.
Data collection for case studies can seem difficult because there is no specific goal that you are trying to reach. The goal is to collect as much relevant information as possible and develop your conclusions based on the data. Try to organize your data either thematically, chronologically, or in whatever way that makes the most sense to you. This will help when analyzing and describing while writing a case study in the next step.
Step 4. Writing the paper
It's finally time to learn how to write a case study essay! Writing a case study is a complicated process because it does not follow the standard five-paragraph model of essay writing. The next section dives deep into actually writing a case study.
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How to Format a Case Study
A case study can be structured in a few different ways depending on the type of case study and the subject being analyzed. You can go over some examples of case studies, but in general, there are five sections in a case study outline; introduction, literature review, method, discussion, and conclusion. Let's go over each section in a case study format in depth.
The first few sentences of the case study should present the question you are answering or the case you are exploring interestingly so that you grab the reader's interest. Give some background information about the topic you are looking into and some details about the case you are going to present highlighting how the two are related. Make sure you mention why the research question is important and why the case you have chosen enhances information about that topic. Write a brief summary of your literature review, highlighting important theories or previous case studies that you plan to build upon. Finally, end your introduction with the potential ways that your case study can be used in the future.
Your first body paragraph should go over the literature review. The goal of this section is to present information to the reader that allows them to understand the current state of research in a given topic as well as help them understand why your case study is important.
If there is a lot of research about your topic, summarize the main findings of that research and explain why the case you’re exploring expands information about the topic. Present case studies examples that answer similar research questions using a different research methodology and explain why your methodology is beneficial. Talk about the main theories that are related to your topic giving brief descriptions of each one as well as talking about why these theories are important to your case study.
By the end of your literature review section, the reader should have theoretical knowledge of your topic and be familiar with what kind of research has already happened. Most importantly, they should know how your case study fills a knowledge gap, enhances knowledge by analyzing a problem differently, or shows new directions for further research.
This is the section where you present your case. Start by explaining why you chose your particular case and how it relates to the larger research question. Then explain why you chose the specific research method you did.
Give all the important background details of your case. If your case is about a specific person, spend some time going over the person’s history and the specific incident or situation you are looking into. If your case is about an event or situation, give background information about the company, time, pre-existing theoretical frameworks, or literature.
If you have run a focus group or conducted interviews, give the details of how you chose your participants, why you chose specific questions, and then the answers and data that you gathered.
Essentially the goal of this section is to present the new information that you have discovered.
The discussion section combines your findings with the case study analysis. This is where you draw conclusions based on your research and connect them to your research question. Start this paragraph by restating your research questions and thesis. Briefly go over why you chose your case and how it relates to the topic, then present your findings.
State your main finding and explain why it is important. If it is surprising, connect it to existing literature and explain why it is surprising. If it enhances the understanding of a specific topic, explain how it differs from the results of previous case studies. Do this for any other important results from your case study. Remember to explain why each one is important and how the results can be generalized beyond just your specific case study.
Compare your case study to previous case studies done on similar topics. If the findings of your case study are different from the findings of previous similar case studies, explain why this is so. For example, this could be because of different research methodologies, different target audiences, generational changes, or you could have uncovered a new way of thinking about a problem. By comparing your case study to pre-existing case studies you can show either how you have answered a question raised previously, or how your case study findings can prompt future research.
Towards the end of your discussion section, you should consider alternative explanations for your case study findings. Because case studies often look into not well-understood areas of research or are about very specific cases, the findings can be interpreted subjectively. Go over other possible interpretations of your findings to show that you have deeply considered your results.
In most academic papers, the limitations of your study and avenues for possible research are included in the conclusion, but for a case study, they are important sections of the main discussion. While acknowledging the limitations of your study, you get a chance to explain why those limitations may not apply to your case. Use this as an opportunity to explain why certain questions could not be answered by your case study. This is also why suggesting avenues for further research make sense here. Make suggestions for research based on the limitations of your study or surprising results in your findings.
The main goal of your conclusion is to explain why your case study and its findings are important. Repeat your research question and thesis and state your main findings clearly. Give a brief overview of the most important pre-existing case studies or theories related to your case and explain how your findings have expanded on that information. Finally, explain how your case studies and findings can contribute to further research.
To Sum up
Whether it’s how to write a student case study, how to write a business case study, how to write a case study analysis, you now know how to make a case study! Writing a good case study can be challenging because it requires both a literature review as well as original research. Case studies are often used in the business world for marketing, in the social sciences for psychology, sociology, and anthropology, as well as in medicine. So, learning to write a case study is important! If you need help with writing a case study, the experts at Studyfy are always eager to lend a hand.