The Definition of a Case Study and Its Importance

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For Thomas, G. the definition of a case study is simple: “Case studies are analyzes of people, events, decisions, periods, projects, policies, institutions, or other systems that are holistically studied by one or more methods.”

This article examines the definition of case study, a research method that is used to look at individuals, a small group of participants, or a group as a whole. Researchers collect data on participants using direct observations, interviews, protocols, tests, record exams, and sample collections.

We will detail some of the history of this methodology used for research, as well as the applications and methods generally updated. We will address the different ways of dealing with validity, reliability, and generalization.

Conducting this type of study is very common in the areas of science, such as Psychology or Sociology.

Basic Considerations in Case Study Definition

It is a research method commonly used in social sciences.
Its methodology enables a researcher to analyze and investigate closely in a particular context.
It is a very useful research strategy because it is empirical research that investigates a phenomenon within its context in the most realistic way possible.
They are based on an in-depth investigation of a single individual, group or event to explore the causes of the underlying principles.
It is an exploratory and descriptive analysis in relation to a person, group or event.
Evidence of qualitative form based on diversified sources of evidence and facilitates the later development of theories or propositions.
Typically, your methodology selects a limited geographical area or a fairly small and controlled number of people.
It allows a systematization in the form of observing events, collecting data, analyzing information and reporting results.
Context and Historical Facts of the Case Study Definition

As with almost all academic terms, scientific and theories, each concept and its definition changes and adapts over the years, and the definition of a case study does not escape the trend.

It is believed that the case study method was first introduced in the social sciences with Frederic Le Play in 1829.
In the twentieth century, case studies began to take place in the disciplines of anthropology, sociology, and psychology.


In the 1960s and 1970s, researchers began to look for alternative research methods, thus making possible the evolution of case studies finally accepted as a valid method by the scientific community in the 1980s.
It is widely used by historians, social workers, teachers, etc. as a learning tool, since through the careful analysis and discussion of numerous case studies, researchers are able to recognize crucial factors in certain contexts and thus contribute to the resolution of a problem.


Ethnography uses this method and can be commonly found in communication case studies. Ethnography is the description, interpretation and analysis of a culture or social group, through field research in the natural environment of the group studied. The main method of ethnographic research is through observation where the researcher observes the participants over an extended period of time within the participants’ own environment.

Types of Case Study

Illustrative: These are mainly descriptive studies. They typically use one or two instances of an event to show what a situation is like. They serve primarily to reveal something unfamiliar and to make it familiar as well as to give readers a common language on the subject in question.


Exploratory (or Pilot): These are condensed case studies usually conducted prior to implementing a large-scale investigation. Its basic function is to help identify issues and select the types of measurement before the main investigation. The main obstacle to this type of study is that the initial findings may seem convincing enough to be released prematurely as conclusions.


Cumulative: These serve to aggregate information from various studies or investigations collected at different times. The intention of this type of study is to use previous studies in order to allow greater generalization without additional cost or time spent in new studies.


Critics: These examine one or more sites for the purpose of examining a very specific situation with little or no interest in generalization, or to challenge or challenge a highly generalized or universal indication. This method is useful for answering cause and effect questions.

Historical: they study a certain event over time offering a holistic analysis and description from a historical point of view.
Observational: primary research methods to collect data through enhanced participatory observation with informal and formal interviews.
Case Study – Features, Advantages and Disadvantages

  • Particularist – Focus on something very concrete and particular, whether a person, an event, a phenomenon or a group.
  • Descriptive – Thanks to the fact that it is totally dedicated to only one object of study, the final product of this type of research is rich in content, description and information.
  • Heuristic – Enriches readers’ knowledge and understanding for a particular phenomenon.
  • Advantages: Trustworthy, scientifically valid methodology, provides detailed information about an individual in a particular environment, based on real-life situations, flexible and allows the contextualization of the event.

Disadvantages: Usually, it does not allow generalization, some think it is very subjective, can be expensive, some ethical issues, time spent.

Case Study as Research Methodology

This type of research allows us to analyze in depth a particular contemporary phenomenon of real life through a detailed contextual analysis of a limited number of occurrences or conditions. Some of them have a longitudinal character applied relative to a single case or event.

These longitudinal studies provide a systematic way of observing events, data, analyzing information, and reporting results over a long period of time. For example, monitor the development of twins over the years, until they reach adulthood. If the case study, for example, is about a group, it describes the behavior of the group as a whole, not the behavior of each subject in the group.

Case studies can be produced following a formal research method. These case studies are likely to appear in formal research venues such as professional journals and conferences. The results with case studies have taken a prominent place in many disciplines and professions, from psychology, anthropology, sociology and political science to education, administrative or clinical sciences, and social work.

The case study is a research strategy, an empirical investigation that studies a particular topic directly in its context. Research in case studies can integrate quantitative data, and is usually based on multiple sources of evidence, previously benefiting the development of future theories.

However, case study research should not be confused with qualitative research, as case studies may be based on any combination of quantitative and qualitative data. At the same time, repeated assays can provide a statistical structure that allows inferring from quantitative data.

Generalizing from Case Studies


The case study is effective in generalizing Karl Popper’s type of test, which is part of critical reflexivity. He used the famous example: “All swans are white,” and proposed that only an observation of a single black swan would falsify this proposition and would thus have a more general meaning and encourage other investigations and construction of theories.

A critical case is defined as having strategic importance in relation to the general problem. A critical case allows the following type of generalization: “If it is valid for this case, it will be valid for all other cases.” In opposition: “If it is not valid for this case then it is not valid for any other cases, or just for some”. In some fields of study, a single case allows the assumption that this result will be expected in a larger sample if it has exactly the same characteristics.

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