The Case Study as a Research Method
Uses and Users of Information -- LIS 391D.1 -- Spring 1997
Case study research excels at bringing us to an understanding of a complex issue or object and can extend experience or add strength to what is already known through previous research. Case studies emphasize detailed contextual analysis of a limited number of events or conditions and their relationships. Researchers have used the case study research method for many years across a variety of disciplines. Social scientists, in particular, have made wide use of this qualitative research method to examine contemporary real-life situations and provide the basis for the application of ideas and extension of methods. Researcher Robert K. Yin defines the case study research method as an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context; when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident; and in which multiple sources of evidence are used (Yin, 1984, p. 23). Critics of the case study method believe that the study of a small number of cases can offer no grounds for establishing reliability or generality of findings. Others feel that the intense exposure to study of the case biases the findings. Some dismiss case study research as useful only as an exploratory tool. Yet researchers continue to use the case study research method with success in carefully planned and crafted studies of real-life situations, issues, and problems. Reports on case studies from many disciplines are widely available in the literature. This paper explains how to use the case study method and then applies the method to an example case study project designed to examine how one set of users, non-profit organizations, make use of an electronic community network. The study examines the issue of whether or not the electronic community network is beneficial in some way to non-profit organizations and what those benefits might be. Many well-known case study researchers such as Robert E. Stake, Helen Simons, and Robert K. Yin have written about case study research and suggested techniques for organizing and conducting the research successfully. This introduction to case study research draws upon their work and proposes six steps that should be used: * Determine and define the research questions
* Select the cases and determine data gathering and analysis techniques * Prepare to collect the data
* Collect data in the field
* Evaluate and analyze the data
* Prepare the report
Step 1. Determine and Define the Research Questions
The first step in case study research is to establish a firm research focus to which the researcher can refer over the course of study of a complex phenomenon or object. The researcher establishes the focus of the study by forming questions about the situation or problem to be studied and determining a purpose for the study. The research object in a case study is often a program, an entity, a person, or a group of people. Each object is likely to be intricately connected to political, social, historical, and personal issues, providing wide ranging possibilities for questions and adding complexity to the case study. The researcher investigates the object of the case study in depth using a variety of data gathering methods to produce evidence that leads to understanding of the case and answers the research questions. Case study research generally answers one or more questions which begin with "how" or "why." The questions are targeted to a limited number of events or conditions and their inter-relationships. To assist in targeting and formulating the questions, researchers conduct a literature review. This review establishes what research has been previously conducted and leads to refined, insightful questions about the problem. Careful definition of the questions at the start pinpoints where to look for evidence and helps determine the...
Bibliography: Busha, C. H., & Harter, S. P. (1980). Research methods in librarianship, techniques and interpretation. New York: Academic Press.
DuMont, R. R. (1975). The large urban public library as an agency of social reform, 1890-1915. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Emory, C. W., & Cooper, D. R. (1991). Business research methods. (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Irvin.
Hamel, J. (with Dufour, S., & Fortin, D.). (1993). Case study methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Harris, S., & Sutton, R
Lawson, V. (1971). Reference service in university libraries, two case studies. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Columbia University, New York.
McClure, C. R., & Hernon, P. (Eds.). (1991). Library and information science research: perspectives and strategies for improvement. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Miller, F. (1986). Use, appraisal, and research: A case study of social history. The American Archivist: 49(4), 371-392.
Patton, M. Q. (1980). Qualitative evaluation methods. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
Schindler, D. (1996). Urban youth and the frail elderly: Reciprocal giving and receiving. New York: Garland.
Stake, R. E. (1995). The art of case study research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Swisher, R., & McClure, C
Taylor, R. S. (1967). Question-negotiation and information-seeking in libraries. Bethlehem, PA: Center for the Information Sciences.
Weiss, C.H., & Bucuvala, M. J. (1980). Social science research and decision-making. New York: Columbia University Press.
Yin, R. K. (1984). Case study research: Design and methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Please join StudyMode to read the full document