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Case Study Research Design: What Is it, How to Do It and What Are the Benefits of using this research design?

Case study research design
Susan Wray
June 30, 2022

Case study research design enables the examination and comprehension of complex problems. A case study is one of the most reliable and effective research techniques for deep inquiries. Case study research is a common technique in social sciences research. It has greater significance for subjects such as sociology, education, development studies and business research. Researchers prefer the case study method as an alternative to quantitative research studies. Case studies research methods are preferable among social and business researchers to overcome the shortcoming of quantitative approaches. Case studies offer comprehensive and detailed interpretations of social and behavioural issues. This article will provide a detailed guide on case study research design.

What is a Case Study?

Using the case study method, a researcher can carefully evaluate the data within a particular context. A case study technique often chooses a small and specific region or organisation for research. In social science research, case study research studies a relatively small group of people as the research’s subjects. In their purest form, case studies explore, analyse and critically evaluate specific cases in their real-life contexts.

Case study research is designed as a research approach to analyse real phenomena through an in-depth critical review of a small number of circumstances or occurrences and their connections. When the distinctions between occurrence and environment are not immediately apparent and numerous data sources are utilised, the case study research method is used to analyse a contemporary phenomenon in its real-life setting empirically.

Furthermore, the case study research method in business research has crucial importance. Business researchers often select small or large business organisations for a case study. The next step involves the application of business theories and seeing their impact on real-life contexts. For example, British Petroleum recently announced that it wants to become a clean energy producer and completely discard its major businesses, which are oil and gas. A researcher can take British Petroleum as a case study, understand the strategic implications of this change, and assess its viability.

Similarly, if you are studying a course on Enterprise Resource Planning and select an organisation as a case study to understand the challenges and problems the company can face, it decides to implement it. Case studies are synchronous with real-life contexts, and knowledge derivation depends upon real-life experiences. Similarly, the researcher gets to see the practical implications of a theory and test its viability in case study research.

What is a Case study research design?

The case study design is paramount in research and entails careful planning and techniques. Researchers can choose a case study research design depending on the nature and type of research problem. Researchers can either use a single-case or multiple-case design.

Single Case Research Design

Single-case research designs are appropriate for research topics when there are no other examples for repetition. A single case study research design is appropriate when instances are confined to particular occurrences. For example, a researcher who wants to conduct a scientific study on the hazardous effects of the nuclear disaster in Chornobyl can use a single-case design. The disadvantage of a single-case design is that it cannot derive a generalising conclusion, especially when the events are uncommon. To prove the procedure’s validity, one option to get around this is to triangulate the research with other techniques.

Multiple Case Research Design

Multiple case study research design is appropriate for real-life contexts with various evidence sources. The basis for generalising case study findings, whether from single or multiple-case research, is theoretical rather than demographical. Multiple case design improves and confirms the earlier findings by reproducing the cases through matching the patterns. The method involves connecting various pieces of information from the same instance to some theoretical assumptions. It increases the reliability of the findings and leads to valid results. For example, clinical psychologists who want to research borderline personality disorder and its associated stigmas require repetition of various cases until the researcher can link it with the theory to generate valid results and generalisable conclusions.

The case study research design requires careful planning and thoughtfulness. A perfect case study research design has the following attributes:

  • It is the only practical way to get participants to reveal implicit and explicit information.
  • The design must cater to the research question or questions
  • It adheres to the prescribed steps and applies them correctly
  • Must abide by the scientific standards for research in all kinds of disciplines
  • Systematic records of quantitative and qualitative data are essential for archiving the primary and secondary sources
  • Case studies must have a link to the theoretical frameworks

What are the different types of case studies?

There are three types of case study research design.

Descriptive or illustrative Case Study

A descriptive or illustrative case study research design evaluates a familiar case to increase the comprehension of others. The purpose is to describe the case and explain the features of a particular situation. In descriptive case studies, the researcher’s goal is to describe the data. Researchers can write descriptive case studies in a narrative format. A perfect example of a descriptive case study is the narrative description of the Wikileaks scandal. A descriptive case study presents a challenge since the researcher must start with a descriptive theory to underpin the depiction of the event or narrative. If this goes south, it is possible that the description is not rigorous enough and that issues will arise during the process.

Exploratory Case Study

Exploratory case study research design aims to explore a topic before investigating it thoroughly. It concentrates on real-life circumstances and scenarios. Exploratory case studies are common in social sciences research such as political science. It focuses on real-world contexts and situations. Generally, researchers use exploratory case studies to identify the research questions for large-scale research studies. The primary objective of exploratory case study research is to identify the specific causes for a large-scale examination in future. Exploratory research studies also entail preliminary fieldwork and small-scale data collection before formulating research questions and hypotheses. Researchers often refer to pilot case studies as an example of exploratory case study research.

Explanatory Case Studies

Explanatory case studies involve data evaluation at a surface and deep level to describe a phenomenon. A researcher collects data on a particular instance and then forms a theory based on the data. The next step entails testing the theory. Moreover, explanatory case studies are useful for causal studies and essential for multivariate and complex research problems.

Researchers can first identify complex cases and then explain them with the help of three theories. The three explanatory theories are knowledge-driven theory, problem-solving theory and social interaction theory. According to the knowledge-driven theory, insights and findings from fundamental research eventually lead to practical applications. The problem-solving theory can be regarded as following similar principles. On the other hand, the social interaction theory contends that people and researchers frequently interact because of their overlapping social associations.

Critical Instance Case Study

Critical instance case study research design can help researchers ascertain the causes and effects of a certain event or situation on the surrounding. This type of case study examines the key idea critically and determines what makes it unique to develop some main points. The major goal of this kind of case study is to examine multiple sources. Researchers can use this kind of case study to contest a generalisation. It can highlight the issue or pivotal portions of the investigation.

How to design case study research?

Identify and choose a Case.

As discussed above, the purpose of case study research design is to analyse and evaluate real-life situations and connect them to theory. The first step in designing case study research is identifying a suitable case for analysis. A good case study topic must have the following characteristics:

  • The topic must provide new and deep insights on the subject
  • Must have the ability to contest and debate the existing theories and concepts
  • Make suggestions for workable solutions to problems.
  • Open up avenues for future research.
  • Depending on the nature of your research, you can identify and choose single or multiple case studies for analysis.

Create a Theoretical Framework

Case studies seem to have a significant relationship to theories, even if they focus more on specifics than generalisations. In this manner, the case study contributes to current knowledge on the subject rather than serving as a standalone account. The case study aims to explore the following things with the help of a theoretical framework:

  • Case studies analyse a theory and seek its relevance to explaining the chosen case study
  • Develop a theory by identifying additional ways of thinking that must be included.
  • Investigate a situation that defies existing assumptions to disprove a theory.

You should conduct a literature assessment of relevant sources and create a theoretical framework to ensure that your evaluation of the case has a strong academic foundation. It entails deciding on essential ideas and theories to direct your interpretation of the results.

Data collection

Case study research design entails various research methods of data collection. Case studies mostly use qualitative data collection methods, which are the following:

  • Interviews
  • Observations
  • Survey and Questionnaire
  • Focus Group Discussions
  • Review of secondary literature such as newspapers, journal articles, books and official documents

Quantitative data is also essential for case studies. Researchers can use quantitative data collection methods to increase the credibility of findings.

Description and Analysis

You must include all pertinent information when writing the case study so the reader can fully understand the issue. The type of study you conduct will determine how you present your results. Also, some case studies have discrete parts or sections for the techniques, findings, and analysis, much like a typical scientific paper or dissertation. Some case studies require narrative analysis to explore the case from multiple perspectives. It requires probing deeply into the causes and their effects, for instance, employing the methods of textual and discourse analysis.

Description and analysis involve developing the research context grounded in theory and evidence. It requires cohesive arguments and linking them to the central ideas and theoretical framework. Furthermore, description and analysis in case study research design require the identification of patterns and building a connection between the ideas.

What are the advantages of case study research design?

Collection of detailed and Rich Data

Case studies make it possible to get a great deal of information that is typically difficult to obtain using other research techniques. The information obtained is typically much richer and more in-depth than other methodological approaches.

Action-Based Outcomes

Case studies provide verified information based on first-hand observations of the specific entity concerned. These observations shed light on the information procedures. It can demonstrate the steps followed that produced particular outcomes. These observations enable potential replication of the case study method’s findings by others working under comparable conditions.

Analysis of Real-Time Data

Since you are examining data generated in real-time, case studies provide knowledge to examine. Researchers can use it to transform their theories into knowledge that can be supported as factual because there is a known course for either positive or negative growth. Identifying a particular incident also offers in-depth information about the course of growth, which gives it more credence in the eyes of an outsider.

Participative and Collaborative

Case studies are crucial for everyone involved in the process. Researchers are keen to continue actively participating in the data collection process since it is collaborative. Because there is curiosity in the case study’s conclusion, participants can increase their level of knowledge. Most crucially, the case study approach fundamentally compels participants to choose a viewpoint on the issue under investigation and then support that choice with evidence.


The case study method is quite affordable as opposed to other research techniques. This method is expensive because it requires obtaining data, which is frequently free. The costs of examining the data are low, such as through interviews or surveys.


A case study research design is an effective approach for analysing real-life issues. It enables researchers to specify a particular incident or multiple occurrences and analyse them systematically. However, researchers can use single and multiple case studies to increase their knowledge about a subject. In the case of research design, there has always been a straight line of thought regarding the process. The case study research design offers an alternative in this regard as it is highly flexible and adaptable. Researchers can use various methods to collect data and go about their studies as there are no stringent rules for using this method. This is why researchers should choose such a method when they want to understand concepts deeply. In the end, flexibility is what you get with the case study research design and the enhanced benefits are simply amazing.

Still, do you feel any difficulty while designing a case study research method, you can hire case study writing services in UK.

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