THE CASE STUDY METHOD
- A Research Assessment -
The use of the case study was pioneered by Sigmund Freud in his lengthy and detailed observations with his now famous patient who helped him develop the use of free association, Anna O. Researchers use case studies for a variety of reasons and in a variety of disciplines. For example, the case study is commonly used in psychology, sociology, anthropology and many other fields-like the Harvard Business School which heavily utilizes business case studies as one of its main methods of teaching. Where the medical field is concerned, the case study is used by the physician to collect and share information. The New England Journal of Medicine offers many case studies in the weekly publication of the American Medical Association (AMA). Often these cases detail or chronicle individuals with unique conditions or symptoms that need more attention than regular conditions or symptoms by physicians. This highlights one aspect of the case study and that is its inherently personal, in-depth and unique nature. It is specifically on one individual (one group, one family, one organization, etc.) and localizes instead of generalizes results and information, unlike many other types of research, "A case study is a method used to study an individual in a unique setting or situation in as intense a manner as possible. The word unique here is critical because the researcher is interested in the existing conditions surrounding the person as much as the person. It is the quality of uniqueness that sets this person (and this �case') apart from others" (Salkind, 1994: 195).
The nature of the case study makes it useful as a research method, even though there is debate as to whether using the case study is an approach or a method. It has a specific nature and character that make it advantageous on one hand and disadvantageous on the other hand when comparing it with other types of research methodologies. The case study is like a microscopic examination of the subject which allows for the perspective or worldview of the subject to enter the research equation. The case study has four aspects that make it advantageous and four that inherently limit its use for research. The following table shows the advantages and limitations of the case study for research:
CASE STUDY RESEARCH ADVANTAGES & LIMITATIONS
Case studies focus on only one individual or one thing (e.g., a person or school district). This allows for very close examination and scrutiny and the collection of a great deal of detailed data.
Case studies encourage the use of several different techniques to get the necessary information ranging from personal observations to interviews of others who might know the focus of the case study to schools' or doctors' records regarding health and other matters.
There is simply no other way to get a richer account of what is occurring than through a case study.
While case studies do not necessarily result in hypotheses being tested, they suggest directions for further study.
The case study if the most time-consuming research method imaginable. Data need collected in a wide variety of settings, under a variety of conditions.
The notes you record in a log or journal may accurately reflect reality or what is being observed or they may not. Researchers must try not to let bias interfere with data collection and interpretation.
What case studies make up for in depth, they lack in breadth. They are not nearly as comprehensive as other research methods.
No cause-and-effect conclusions are possible from the case study approach. There is insufficient data to conclude that a cause-effect relationship exists and is not the purpose of the method. Study of causal relationship require different research tools.
(Salkind, 1994: 196)