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Case Studies

Is your University challenging you to do a case study? And you really don’t know how to start with it? Then this page will help on different types of case studies. First, an explanation will be given on what a case study is in general. After this you’ll find the different types of case studies you can conduct.

What is a case study?

A case study involves a particular method of research. Rather than using large samples and following a rigid protocol to examine a limited number of variables, case study methods involve an in-depth, longitudinal examination of a single instance/event: a case. A case study provides a systematic way of looking at events, collecting data, analyzing information, and reporting the results. As a result the researcher may gain a sharpened understanding of why the instance happened as it did, and what might become important to look at it more extensively in future research. Case studies lend themselves especially to generating (rather than testing) hypotheses.

H2. Types of case studies

As is stated before there are different types of case studies. Find below an overview of the them all.

Illustrative case study

An illustrative case study is used to describe an event; they utilize one or two instances to analyze a situation. This helps interpret other data, especially when researchers have reason to believe that readers know too little about a program. This case study serves to make the unfamiliar familiar, and give readers a common language about the topic. The chosen situations should characterize important variations and contain a small number of cases to sustain readers’ interest.

Exploratory case study

An exploratory case study condenses the case study process: researchers usually undertake them before implementing a large-scale investigation. Where considerable uncertainty exists about program operations, goals, and results, the exploratory case study helps identify questions, select measurement constructs, and develop measures; they also serve as a first orientation before investigating in larger studies.

Critical instance case study

The critical instance case study examines one or a few sites for one of two purposes. A very frequent application involves the examination of a situation of unique interest, with little or no interest in generalizability. A second, rarer, application entails calling into question a highly generalized or universal assertion and testing it by examining one instance. This method particularly suits answering cause-and-effect questions about the instance of concern.

Inadequate specification of the evaluation question forms the most serious pitfall in this type of study. Appropriate application of the critical instance case study crucially involves probing the underlying concerns in a request.

Program implementation case study

A program implementation case study helps discern whether implementation complies with intent. This case study may also prove useful when concern exists about implementation problems. Extensive, longitudinal reports of what has happened over time can set a context for interpreting a finding of implementation variability. In either case, researchers aim for generalization and must carefully negotiate the evaluation questions with their client.

Program effects case study

Program effects case studies can determine the impact of programs and provide inferences about reasons for success or failure. As with the program implementation case study, the evaluation questions usually require generalizability and, for a highly diverse program, it may become difficult to answer the questions adequately and retain a manageable number of sites. But methodological solutions to this problem exist. One approach involves first conducting the case study in sites chosen for their representativeness, then verifying these findings through examination of administrative data, prior reports, or a survey. Another solution involves using other methods first. After identifying findings of specific interest, researchers may then implement case studies in selected sites to maximize the usefulness of the information.

Cumulative case study

The cumulative case study aggregates information from several sites collected at different times. The cumulative case study can have a retrospective focus, collecting information across studies done in the past, or a prospective outlook, structuring a series of investigations for different times in the future. Retrospective cumulation allows generalization without cost and time of conducting numerous new case studies; prospective cumulation also allows generalization without unmanageably large numbers of cases in process at any one time.

The techniques for ensuring sufficient comparability and quality and for aggregating the information constitute the “cumulative” part of the methodology. Features of the cumulative case study include the case survey method (used as a means of aggregating findings) and backfill techniques. The latter aid in retrospective cumulation as a means of obtaining information from authors that permits use of otherwise insufficiently detailed case studies.

Opinions vary as to the credibility of cumulative case studies for answering program implementation and effects questions. One authority notes that publication biases may favor programs that seem to work, which could lead to a misleading positive view (Berger, 1983). Others raise concerns about problems in verifying the quality of the original data and analyses (Yin, 1989).

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