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June 03, 2015

What on earth is a case study?

Case study Research

I think it is fair to say that not every expert or author agrees on what case study research is, some regard it as a methodology while others regard it a research design. This simple fact brought confusion and some lively discussions to both of our two meetings.

I think it is fair to say that not every expert or author agrees on what case study research is, some regard it as a methodology while others regard it a research design. This simple fact brought confusion and some lively discussions to both of our two meetings.

Case study as method, methodology or research design

case_study__anatomy_folds_by_artistshospital.jpgNow, to set the record straight, I am not going to tell you that the answer is this or that, simply because there is no clear answer. So when you read the different points of view choose that answer which makes more sense to you and make sure you can defend this choice (to your supervisor and in your viva).

So, case study is reefed to as a research method, research methodology, genre and research design!

The most prevalent of those is regarding case study as methodology, authors such as Yin and Stake and Pollard regard case study as a methodology (or an approach to research).

Authors like Elliott & Lukeš regard case study as a research genre. What is meant by genre is a guiding principle for the research deign. So, for these people, case study refers to a higher level of abstraction. So bare with me:

If you were to imagine your research paradigm, with the your ontology on top dictating what is reality, followed by your epistemology or epistemological standpoint dictating how we know something and finally the methodology on bottom dictating how do we go about finding out something. Then, case study (as a genre) will belong in your epistemology rather than in you methodology.


All you need to know is that debate about the nature of case study is on going. So keep an eye out.


  • Hamilton, L., & Corbett-Whittier, C. (2012). Using Case Study in Education Research. Sage Publications Ltd.
  • Creswell, J. W. (2014). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches (4th ed.). SAGE Publications, Inc.

Image credit: ArtistsHospital

June 01, 2015

On the generalizability of case study research

Writing about web page


In our second meeting, we came across the discussion about the generalizability of case study research. Here is some or what was discussed and some extra resources that I found.

Why generalizability

screen_shot_2015-06-01_at_110232.pngThe strength of a single case study is the ability to go really deep into the intricate details and relationships of the case, the downside is being too specific and thus effecting the generalizability of the results. Of course generalizability is not the goal of case study research (as was mentioned in the discussion). So where does this leave us? Is our case study research in vain? Of course not, this is because (a) the close study of a certain case or as Yin says the “assessment of the prevalence of a phenomenon” could he inherently valuable maybe the phenomenon is one of a kind! And (b) although the results of our research are not necessarily generalizable, they can (and should be) transferable. Transferability of results refers to the situations where the results can be applied or relevant in another context. This is a more specific than generalizability, which mostly applied to quantitatively generated results using statistical tabulation of samples from a larger population.

Thanks to Michelle for mentioning that Yin talks about two kinds of generalizability; (1) statistical generalizability and (2) analytic generalizability. On the one hand, statistical generalization comes from a sample of the population, requiring an “interpretive second step from these characteristics to theory” (Yin) . On the other hand, an analytic generalization is a direct confrontation of the case study with an established theory.

My (very quick and brief) Internet search revealed that the first use of the term transferability in this meaning is attributed to Lincoln & Guba's Naturalistic Inquiry (1985).

Thinking bout generalizability and transferability

Each and every researcher should give their work a good amount of thinking about the transferable outcomes that wok could provide. Here the transferable element could be anything; the research conclusion obviously or a part of it, a section or sub section from the design phase, the research method especially for those who develop innovative research methods and so on. (Listen to our talk about this at the 35 minute mark -link above).

Read more:

12_generalizability.pdf: Moreau, Jean-Luc. "Generalizability" Encyclopedia of Case Study Research. 2009 Sage Publications.

2nd Group meeting summary

Writing about web page

11219728_10153339058278540_601117441024260248_n.jpgIn brief

So last Wednesday we had our second meeting for the PhD support group, on the agenda of the meeting we had a discussion about the definition of case studies (including a talk about revealing contact details about your case study) generalizability of case study [link] research and using NVivo for qualitative data analysis.

The meeting was extra especial because we had our friend Anne join us from the U.S. over Skype, with the magical technological advances and tech wizardry and with Anne heroically waking up right in the middle of the night we were able to have our across-the-Atlantic meeting of the minds. Also to make our gathering that much better we were joined by Henry who is nearing the submission date of his thesis, and was generous enough to join us and share with us some great advices related to our discussion points (more on that later).

So what is the case in case study

So, the first item of business; definition of a case study, the idea here was to collaboratively figure out what defined the “case” part of each of our respective case studies. So, in turns we each presented our research topic and what outlined the boundaries of each case; for some of us a case was a subject institution like a school or a university; for others it was a person whom they had interviewed or were planning on interviewing; and interestingly for some of us a case was a collection of people within an organization like teachers, headmasters and teacher trainers.

Also, some of us are looking at multiple case studies (example Asima and myself) while other are looking at one case study (example Hessah and Hafiz).

Being careful with language

Asima made an important remark about being careful in using the language when talking about the research method and methodology. So terminology such as ‘case study’ comes loaded with meanings and related connotations and the researcher is actually borrowing aspects of case study design, aspects that are related to his or her research. Here the researcher is urged to tread lightly so to speak when talking about the design of their research. They should talk only about those related aspects and make a clear cut about what is it they are borrowing and what is it they are not. (Listen to Asima talk about this and her reflection on Yin’s case study book at the 9 minutes mark of the recording – link above).


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  • Hi Xenia and thank you for passing by. The answer to your question is yes. All Warwick staff and stu… by Mohammad Waseem Sandouk on this entry
  • Hello, I was wondering if Warwick Business School alumni can have access to nvivo software. by Xenia Schneider on this entry
  • Dear Asima, you are welcome :) and thanks for the addition, very interesting stuff! by Mohammad Waseem Sandouk on this entry
  • Very informative blog indeed, Mohammad! I will be looking into the websites for career opportunities… by Asima Iqbal on this entry
  • I found Yin to be the most helpful in Case Study; the great value about Yin is that his method is mu… by Mohammad Waseem Sandouk on this entry

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