Case study: characteristics, objectives and methodology
In any of the research disciplines that exist, especially if they are in some way related to people or to both physical and psychological health, a series of research methods or techniques are required through which to develop theories in the which are based on each of these matters.
One of these techniques is the case study . A qualitative research method that we will discuss throughout this article. As well as its characteristics, objectives and how to carry it out correctly and effectively.
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What is a case study?
The case study consists of a research method or technique, commonly used in the health and social sciences , which is characterized by the need for a search and inquiry process, as well as the systematic analysis of one or several cases.
To be more exact, by case we understand all those circumstances, situations or unique phenomena from which more information is required or deserve some type of interest within the world of research.
Depending on the field of research in which it is carried out, the case study may be focused on a wide variety of subjects or issues. In the field of psychology, this is usually related to the investigation of diseases, disorders or mental disorders through the study of people who suffer them.
Unlike other types of empirical research, this methodology is considered as a qualitative research technique , since the development of this focuses on the exhaustive study of a phenomenon. And not in the statistical analysis of existing data.
In general, the case study is carried out with the intention of elaborating a series of hypotheses or theories about a specific topic or topic in order to, as a result of these theories, carry out more expensive studies and elaborated with a much larger sample. .
However, the case study can be carried out both with a single person as an object of research, as with several subjects who have certain characteristics. To do this, the person or persons who carry out the case study resort to techniques such as observation or administration of questionnaires or psychological tests . However, these procedures will vary according to the discipline to which the investigation belongs.
What characteristics distinguish it?
In 1994, the pedagogue and researcher Gloria Pérez Serrano, developed a list of the main characteristics that define the case studies. These are:
They are particularists
This means that they only cover a specific reality or topic, which it constitutes them in very effective techniques to analyze unique and concrete situations .
They are descriptive
At the end of a case study we will obtain an exhaustive and qualitative description of a specific situation or condition.
They are heuristic
The heuristic concept means finding or discovering something. In the case study We can discover new aspects of a specific topic or confirm what we already know.
They are inductive
Based on inductive reasoning we can develop hypotheses and find new relationships from one or more specific cases.
What are the objectives?
Like any research technique, the case study is guided by specific objectives. These are:
- Elaborate one or several hypotheses or theories through the study of a certain reality or situation.
- Confirm hypotheses or existing theories.
- Description and registration of the facts or circumstances of the case.
- Check or comparison of similar phenomena or situations.
Methodology: how is it carried out?
Traditionally, the development of a case study is divided into five well-defined phases. These phases are the following.
1. Case selection
Before starting any type of research we must know what we want to study, and then select an appropriate and relevant case. We must establish the scope for which this study may be useful, the people who may be interesting as case studies and, how not to define the problem and the objectives of the case study.
2. Elaboration of questions
Once the subject of study has been identified and the case (s) to be investigated selected, it will be necessary to elaborate a set of questions that determine what you want to find out once the study is finished .
On some occasions it is useful to establish a global issue that will serve as a guide for this, then determine more specific and varied questions. In this way we can take full advantage of the situation to investigate.
3. Location of sources and data collection
Through observation techniques, interviews with subjects or through the administration of psychological tests and tests we will obtain most of the information necessary for the elaboration of the theories and hypotheses that give a sense to the investigation.
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4. Analysis and interpretation of information and results
Once all the data has been collected, the next step consists of comparing these with the hypotheses formulated at the beginning of the case study. Once the comparison stage is finished, the researcher or researchers can obtain a series of conclusions and decide if the information or result obtained can be applied to more situations or similar cases.
5. Preparation of the report
Finally, we proceed to the preparation of a report that, chronologically, detail each and every one of the data of the case study . It will be necessary to specify what the steps have been, how the information was obtained and the reason for the conclusions drawn.
All this in a clear and understandable language that allows the reader to understand each of the points.