What is a Case Study

Case studies are very important qualitative, descriptive research tools that used in many areas of social science including psychology and sociology.  They provide a way to take a close, in-depth look at a particular individual or a particular group of people.  They take a look at everyday, ordinary life or the impact of a particular life situation on an individual or group of people.  Case studies are interested in the opinions and viewpoints of the people being studied.  These studies are ways to understand who people are, how they live and see the world, and why they make the decisions and take the actions they do. 

Because case studies only include information on a certain individual or a very small group of people, they are not something that information can be taken from and used to describe large populations of people.  Case studies are used to understand smaller, more localized conditions, problems, or life situations.  They are a method that is commonly used when in-depth and detailed information is necessary to answer a question or make sense of something that is. 

Researchers are very apt to use case studies when they have little to no control over events.  They also consider them a preferred method of research when they want to study real life as it is and identify a particular focus.  In order for a case study to be entirely effective, a focus or problem has to be identified that someone wants to better understand so that it may eventually be solved or  changed in some way that could hopefully create a positive impact.   

There are six major steps that are used when developing and following through with a case study. The first step is to specifically identify the case that is to be studied.  The second step is to determine and define research questions.  The third step is to prepare to collect data.  The fourth step is to actually collect the data.  The fifth step is to evaluate and analyze the data, and the sixth and final step is to prepare the final case study report and determine how it will be presented and who it will be presented to. 

Case studies are often revisited in the future.  Older case studies may be compared and contrasted with more recent case studies to see the impact of the passing of time and changed conditions.  Because they are so specific and detailed, these comparisons and contracts are likely fairly apparent and easy to make sense of and learn from.