Writing a Case Study: The term case study refers to both a specific research design and method of analysis for examining a problem, used in most circumstances to take a broad view across populations.
A case study research paper requires you to investigate a business problem, examine a person, a place, phenomenon, event or other type of subject analysis and survey alternative solutions and propose the most effective solution using supporting evidence.
It is important to read and examine the single subject case thoroughly although case study papers are not limited to one case, they can be designed as a comparative investigation that shows relationships between two or more subjects. Methods used to study a case include qualitative, quantitative, or mixed method investigative paradigm.
Approaches of writing a Case Study
- Carefully choose a topic to investigate, a subject analysis that can be investigated using a single case study design. Selecting a case to investigate involves more than just identifying a research problem. A few things must be considered such as whether the case represents an unusual research problem that requires an exhaustive analysis. Most cases represents a topic that rests on the edges of prior investigations because the case may provide new ways of indulging into it.
- It is important to make sure that the case illuminates a previously unseen problem. Comprehensive analysis of a case can be based on hypothesis that the case study will uncover issues that have not been revealed in prior research. For instance, a case study that observes homeless veterans could show how issues of personal mobility facilitate regular access to illicit drugs while assuming prior studies have not looked at this, individual travel choices, as a way to study access to illicit drug use. Conduct a thorough literature review to ensure that your new revealed insights and hidden problems are valid and evidence based.
- Ask yourself the question whether the case offers a counter point to prevailing assumptions, Research on any given topic can develop assumptions based on outdated studies being applied to new or changing conditions or the idea that something is obvious while the issue has not been thoroughly tested in practice. Sometimes cases offer you the opportunity to put together evidence that challenges current assumptions concerning a research problem and to give new recommendations. For example a certain theory may continually be applied by scholars in explaining how two subjects relate. Your case could challenge this by bringing in an innovative theoretical framework, could be borrowed from another discipline, to study the case and see whether it offers new ways of understanding the research problem.
- The case should give opportunities to pursue action that brings resolutions to the problem. While choosing a case study consider whether the outcome of investigations may result in findings that reveal to resolve an emerging problem. For instance, if you are studying a case of unexpected accidents such as at a railroad crossing, you can reveal unseen issues that could be added to preventative measures that can help in reducing chances of such accidents in future. A case study can clearly show where to locate additional signals at railroad junctions to adequately warn motorists of an approaching train especially when visibility is obstructed by fog, rain or at night.
- The case should offer new direction for future research. It should be explorative and bring out an argument to show the need for further examination of a research problem. A case can be used when there are limited studies that create a clear understanding about how to address a problem. It is important to conduct a thorough literature review. For instance, a case study on how women contribute to saving water in a particular place can show need for more thorough research that documents how women as caregivers and cooks think about water as a valuable resource in their community. You might discover that little research exists that shows how women contribute to promoting water conservation in rural communities in East Africa. Such a case may open up to scholars applying feminist theories of family and work to the issue of water conservation.
Structure and Writing Style
Mostly case studies are written for social science papers. The purpose of a paper designed around a case study is to effectively investigate a subject of analysis so as divulge a new understanding about the research problem and hence contributing new knowledge to what is already known from earlier studies. Case studies are also used to reveal best practices especially in disciplines like education or public administration. They also highlight key programs or examine interesting facets of professional work. A case study research paper has subtle differences from a college level research paper. There are some key elements to writing and organizing a case study research paper.
Introduction serves as a roadmap for your readers to ascertain the purpose of your study. Describe the research problem and its significance and why the case is being used and how it relates to addressing the problem. Make sure you answer the following four questions.
- What were you studying?
- Why was the topic important to investigate?
- What did you know about the topic before you did this study?
- How will the study advance new ways of understanding and new knowledge?
In a case study, the literature review is focused on giving background information and enabling historical clarification of the subject of analysis relating to the research problem the case is supposed to address.
- Place relevant work such as summaries of similar subject of analysis, which is necessary to give understanding of the case study being examined.
- Describe the relationship your work has to the others (in your literature review) which inform the reader why this case is applicable.
- Pinpoint new ways of interpreting prior research using the case study and explain how your case study may reveal new perspective that may direct the research towards an important new direction.
- Your case study should resolve conflicts amongst contradictory previous studies. You should be able to create any literature that points to unresolved issues of concern about the research problem, describing how the subject being analyzed in your case study can help resolve the existing illogicalities.
- Point the way in showing a need for additional research by ensuring the subject of analysis around which your study is designed my offer a new perspective may require more research.
- Show how your case contributes to a new way of understanding the problem that prior research has not been able to do. Show how your case study can help to fill any gaps that exist in the literature available.
Explain why you selected to study a particular subject of analysis, and the strategy you used to identify and decide your case was appropriate in addressing the research problem. The choice of the case to study should not appear random. Proof that supports the method you used to identify and choose your subject should be linked to the findings from the literature review.
The main elements of your discussion section should be centered on interpreting and drawing conclusions about the main findings from your case study. General social sciences research paper contains a separate section to report findings, however, sometimes a description of the findings can be combined with the discussion about their implications.
- It is important to state the major findings
- Expound on the meaning of the findings and why they are important
- Relate your findings to similar studies
- Consider alternative explanations of the findings bearing in mind the purpose of your research is to discover and not to prove.
- Acknowledge the limitations of the study by stating them in the conclusion section of your paper and describing the limitations in the discussion section to provide an opportunity to identify the limitations and explain why they are not noteworthy.
- Suggest areas for further research where your case study may not have offered enough insight about the research problem. Include likely questions that remain unanswered or findings that might have unexpectedly revealed themselves resulting from your exhaustive analysis of the case.
Emphasize how your case study findings differs from or supports prior research and why. Provide a combination of key findings presented in your paper to show how they converge to address the research problem. If you haven’t done so in the discussion section, be sure to document the limitations of your case study.