This work is to present the case study as a research approach, showing that its characterization is not an easy task, due mainly to its many different approaches and applications. It highlights its increasing importance as a research tool, exploring its origins, meanings and delineation as an investigation methodology. In order to demonstrate its application, it indicates its most common advantages and constraints, stressing the important role played by the researcher, who must be careful about generalizations, striving constantly for scientific rigor in the treatment of the subject.
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The case study method is considered a kind of qualitative analysis (GOODE, 1962) and has been considered, according to Yin (1994, p. 10): “the weaker brother of the methods of Social Sciences. But despite the weaknesses and limitations, the case study has had widely use not only in social research, but also as a modality research, with applications in many other areas or in disciplines that has a strong orientation to legal practice and administration, besides being used for the preparation of theses and dissertations.
The main objective of this work is to present the case study method as a research approach and to consider issues relevant for the conduct using this method, analyzing its advantages and disadvantages that should be considered in light of the kinds of problems and questions to be answered.
Case study can accomplish many of the same goals as other methods. For example, the case study can be exploratory (create new knowledge), constructive (solve some problem), or confirmatory (test a hypothesis with empirical evidence). The case study can also use either a primary (the researcher collects the data) or secondary (the researcher uses someone else’s data) approach.
In the view of Yin, “the case study represents an empirical research that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context, and includes a method comprehensive, with the logic of planning, gathering and data analysis." Can include both single case studies as multiple, as well as quantitative approaches and qualitative research. (Yin 1994 p.23), help us, he says, to understand and distinguish the case study method to other research strategies such as the historical method and in-depth interview, the experimental method and survey.
The method often is presented as being more appropriate for exploratory research and particularly useful for hypothesis generation and this may have contributed to complicate the understanding of what the study method cases, how it is designed and conducted. (Yin, 1994)
According to different authors, the case study has originated in medical research and psychological research, with analysis in detail of an individual case that explains the dynamics and pathology of a given disease. With this procedure it is assumed that one can acquire knowledge of the phenomenon studied from intense exploration of a single case. Besides the medical and psychological, it became a major methods of qualitative research in human and social sciences.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Case Study Research
Cast in a narrative format, descriptive case studies can make complex science and technology projects accessible and interesting to a non-scientist audience. The potential scope of the case study format is flexible and broad, ranging from brief descriptive summaries to long, detailed accounts. Using a “storytelling” approach, the evaluator may present the genesis of ideas, explore what happened and why, give an account of the human side of a project, explain goals, explore project dynamics, investigate particular phenomenon, and present outcomes in their complexity without being subject to the confines inherent in most other evaluation methods. The freedom to collect multiple kinds of information makes the case study method useful for exploring ideas and constructing theories about program or project dynamics.
Despite its advantages, the case study method is traditionally considered to have several major limitations as an evaluation tool. Descriptive case studies are qualitative and unreliable. And, whether qualitative or quantitative, case studies typically relate to single projects, or, at best, small clusters of projects, such that their results usually cannot be generalized to the entire portfolio of projects.
Noting that distinguished scholars frequently use case study as a method of analysis, Yin, in his landmark book on case studies, asks, “If the case study method has serious weaknesses, why do investigators continue to use it?” (Yin, 1994) Among the possible explanations Yin considers are that people are not trained in the use of other methods, or, for governmentally sponsored research, that the difficult permission procedures required for surveys and questionnaires have made their use “a bureaucratically hazardous affair,” leading researchers to the case study method, which is relatively unencumbered by restrictions and requirements.
Identifying three types of case studies; descriptive, exploratory, and explanatory, Yin argues that the case study method qualifies as a serious research tool. He states, “In general, case studies are the preferred strategy when ‘how’ or ‘why’ questions are being posed, when the investigator has little control over events, and when the focus is on a contemporary phenomenon within some real-life context.” (Yin 1994 p.1)
One of the biggest disadvantages to using the case study method has to do with external vs. internal validity. Using the case study method, the researcher often does not have control over certain variables and events and, therefore, cannot control them as the researcher could in a lab experiment Consequently, the researcher using the case study method must be content that his/her findings may only be applicable to similar cases. What the case study gains in internal validity, it loses in external validity.
Construct validity is especially problematic in case study research. It has been a source of criticism because of potential investigator subjectivity. Yin proposed three remedies to counteract this: using multiple sources of evidence, establishing a chain of evidence, and having a draft case study report reviewed by key informants. Internal validity is a concern only in causal (explanatory) cases. This is usually a problem of “inferences” in case studies, and can be dealt with using pattern-matching, which has been described above. (Yin 1994)
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External validity deals with knowing whether the results are generalizable beyond the immediate case. Some of the criticism against case studies in this area relate to single-case studies. However, that criticism is directed at the statistical and not the analytical generalization that is the basis of case studies. Reliability is achieved in many ways in a case study. One of the most important methods is the development of the case study protocol.
The secondary data is data previously gathered and recorded by other researchers. There are many advantages and disadvantages to using secondary data for research purposes. One of the most important advantages is the fact that a research can be built on previous research using required experience and knowledge. Moreover, secondary data are usually much cheaper than primary data and very often is freely provided. In addition to this, the collection of secondary data can be extremely rapid due to high-tech information accessibility and other media. However, the disadvantages of secondary data are equally very important and it must be gathered and used carefully. In most cases such data have been taken during past research with a specific target and this may not link with other research. Therefore, the circumstances under which secondary data have been created should be examined in detail; otherwise it has no value at all for further research (Zikmund, 2003). When a researcher uses this kind of data he/she should be aware of the time period these data refer to.
Another disadvantage of secondary data is that researchers sometimes give different definitions for the same problem making the estimation of the final research result confusing. In addition, there can be many other difficulties when using secondary data. The researcher has to know extensive details about the process which has produced the data, such as the samples that have been used and whether the process has taken all the necessary into account. In many cases, adequate information is very difficult to be found or even impossible (Zikmund, 2003).
Quantitative data also has advantages and disadvantages. A major advantage is that it is numerous and it is easily understood. Furthermore, the results are subjective. This means that if it is a result of a large sample, this result can be generally applied and it is scientific. Another great advantage is that quantitative data is considered as reliable. This means that if a researcher repeats research following the same process, he will find the same results. A major disadvantage of this kind of data is that they are narrow. In other words, it represents a reality without providing any explanation for the result. In a way, it gives picture of the symptoms and not the real problem.
Qualitative data also has advantages and disadvantages. A major advantage is that produces more in-depth, comprehensive information. It emphasizes the importance of looking at variables in the natural setting in which they are found. Use subjective information and participant observation to describe the context, of natural setting, of the variables under consideration, as well as the interaction of different variables in context. A major disadvantage of this type of data is that the very subjectivity of the inquiry leads to difficulties in establishing the reliability and validity of the approaches and information. It is very difficult to prevent or detect researcher induced bias. Its scope is limited due to the in-depth, comprehensive data gathering approaches required.
In conclusion this work presents some discussion of case study in terms of its advantages and disadvantages. Case studies are considered valuable in research as they enable researchers to examine data at depth analysis. As an alternative to quantitative or qualitative research, case studies can be a practical solution when a large sample population is difficult to gain. Although case studies have various advantages, in that they present data of real-life situations and they provide better understandings into the detailed behaviours of the topics of interest.
The case study method, like all research methods, is more appropriate for some situations than others. When deciding to use this method of research, an investigator should keep in mind the dangers and criticisms that are usually made to the method in question and must take precautions and care necessary to avoid them or minimize their consequences. Nevertheless, the Case Study Method offers significant opportunities for the researcher; it may facilitate the study of many cases that wanted to be investigated. This method, as well as qualitative methods is useful when the phenomenon being studied is large and complex, where the body of knowledge is insufficient to support the proposition of causal questions, and where the phenomenon cannot be studied outside the context where it naturally occurs.
The researcher must use the designated data gathering tools systematically and properly in collecting the evidence and need to define its object study, the type of research focus, control that the investigator has over actual issues, and the focus on contemporary phenomenon rather than historical and, from there, build a research process, limiting the universe to be studied. Throughout the design phase, researchers must ensure that the study is well constructed to ensure construct validity, internal validity, external validity, and reliability.
A common point among several authors (GOODE, 1962 and Yin, 1994) is a recommendation for great care when the design phase, researchers must ensure that the study is well constructed to ensure construct validity, internal validity, external validity, and reliability. Like all research has advantages and limitations of its application, and deserves the care needed when the search for generalizations. Case study method has always been criticised for its lack of rigour and the tendency for a researcher to have a biased interpretation of the data. But despite the criticisms, weaknesses and limitations, the case study has had widely used in all areas. However, its importance is undeniable as an instrument research and the study should be located in academic discussion.
External validity reflects whether or not findings are generalizable beyond the immediate case or cases; the more variations in places, people, and procedures a case study can withstand and still yield the same findings, the more external validity. Techniques such as cross-case examination and within-case examination along with literature review help ensure external validity. Reliability refers to the stability, accuracy, and precision of measurement. Exemplary case study design ensures that the procedures used are well documented and can be repeated with the same results over and over again.
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