Case Study explained including an example

Case Study - Toolshero

Case study: This article explains the concept of case study in a practical way. The article starts with the definition and meaning. You will then read all about the usefulness of the results in these studies and an example of a very remarkable case study. Enjoy reading!

What is a Case Study?

A case study (CS) is an in-depth study of a particular case, such as a person, group, or event, within a real life context. Nearly every aspect of the subject’s life is analyzed to identify patterns and causes of behavior. These studies are used in various fields such as education, medicine, political science, social studies, psychology, marketing (Market Research) and business administration (business case).

It does not necessarily have to highlight one observation or subject. In that case N=1 applies. It is common for multiple individuals or entities to be included within the same study over one or more time periods. Studies where multiple cases are combined are also referred to as cross-case studies, as opposed to single case studies for individual cases.

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Case Study definition

It is defined by John Gerring as an “intensive study of a single unit or small number of units, with the aim of understanding a larger class of similar units”.

Advantages and Disadvantages of conducting a Case Study

The use of this research method has both strengths and weaknesses. The researchers conducting the research should carefully consider these advantages and disadvantages before deciding whether the CS is indeed the best form of research for their particular task.

One of the greatest benefits of this research method is that it allows researchers to investigate cases that would be impossible to replicate in a laboratory or other setting.

Other benefits are:

  • Researchers can collect a lot of information
  • Provides the opportunity to collect information on rare or unusual items
  • Offers the opportunity to develop hypotheses that can be tested in experimental research

There are also disadvantages to using this research method.

Examples of this are:

  • It is sometimes difficult to generalize the results to a larger population
  • Demonstrating a cause-effect relationship is in many cases impossible
  • Scientifically, the case study is not waterproof

Researchers can choose to conduct case studies for unique or recently discovered phenomena. The results they obtain can help them develop follow-up research questions. These will be investigated in future studies.

Case Study Example

In the field of psychology in particular, there have been remarkable case studies, including studies by Sigmund Freud. Many of his theories have been developed through the use of these studies.

A well-known example of this is the study of Little Hans.

Little Hans was the son of a friend of Sigmund, Max Graf. This little boy witnessed a serious accident in the street, where a horse collapsed with a cart that was overloaded. The five-year-old boy developed a great fear of horses and other animals, so he did not dare to leave the house for fear of encountering animals. The father wrote letters to Sigmund, describing his son’s behavior. The therapist and client met only once, but Freud published the case as “Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy”, in 1909.

Among other things, the father wrote about the development of the boy and his interest in the male genitalia. The therapist attributed this behavior to the phallic phase of psychosexual development. During this phase, the erogenous zone switches to the genitals.

Signs of the Oedipus complex can also be observed at this stage. A child then competes with his father for his position as the central focus of his mother’s affections.

Freud believed that this idea was supported by the fantasy described by Little Hans, in which a giraffe and another disheveled giraffe entered the room.

When the boy took the last giraffe away, the other giraffe protested. Sigmund believed the giraffes represented his parents. The crumpled giraffe represented his mother, with whom he shared a bed when the father was absent. The other giraffe represented his father.

Children can also develop castration anxiety as a result of their fear of the threat they pose to their parents’ relationship.

According to Freud, the boy’s fear of horses was the cause of his fear of his father. The fear therefore shifted to animals, whose blinkers resembled the man with his glasses. The little boy’s fear of horses disappeared, according to Freud, when his fantasies indicated the resolution of his castration anxiety and the acceptance of his love for his mother.

Various types of Case Studies

There are different types that are used by psychologists and other researchers. The three main types are collective case studies, instrumental case studies and intrinsic case studies. The type used by a researcher depends on the characteristics of the case.

Collective case studies

In this form of research, a group of people is studied. For example, researchers look at a group of people in a certain setting, or at an entire community. An example would be psychologists examining how access to a particular drug affects the collective mental well-being of the people in that group.

Instrumental studies

An instrumental study is used to gain insight into a particular phenomenon. For example, a researcher interested in children with diabetes could start a study in a high school through an exercise program. The focus in this case is not on the children or the program, but on the link between children and exercise and why some children become obese.

Intrinsic studies

Intrinsic studies are those case studies where the researcher has a personal interest in conducting them. Jean Piaget, a well-known Swiss psychologist, studied his own children. This is a good example of how intrinsic studies can contribute to the development of a theory.

Exploratory studies

Exploratory studies can be used as a prelude to more in-depth research. This form allows researchers to collect more information so that they can better formulate their research questions and hypotheses.

Descriptive studies

Descriptive studies start with a theory. Subjects are then observed in a setting and the information gained is compared with an existing theory.

Explanatory studies

Explanatory studies are used to conduct causal investigations. That means that researchers are mainly interested in certain factors that cause other things. Although it is difficult to confirm a direct cause-and-effect relationship with these studies, it is possible to discover a possible relationship. However, it cannot then be declared irrefutable.

How Do I Write it: a Step-by-Step Plan

Do you want to get started writing one? Follow the steps below for an effective approach.

Step 1: Select a case

Once a problem definition and research question have been established in the research design, the researcher is ready to choose a specific case to focus on.

A good take away will at least produce the following:

  • Offers new or unexpected insights into the chosen topic
  • Challenges existing views or makes them more complex
  • Suggests practical actions to solve a problem
  • Opens new avenues for future case study research

Step 2: Build a theoretical framework

The second step is to develop a theoretical framework. Studies focus more on concrete details and specific issues than on a general theory. Still, they must have some connection to theory in a particular field. In this way, it is not just an isolated description, but is related to existing knowledge on a subject.

The study may focus on:

  • Expanding a theory by discovering new concepts and ideas
  • Challenging a theory by exploring outliers and exceptions that are inconsistent with existing assumptions
  • Ensuring that an analysis has a solid academic basis through a literature study, which means identifying concepts and theories to guide and support their analysis and interpretation

Step 3: Collect data

There are many different research methods that can be used to collect data on a topic. Researchers tend to focus on qualitative data and collect it through methods such as interviews, observations, and the analysis of primary and secondary sources. It is of course also possible that quantitative data is collected, or a combination of the two.

An example of a mixed methods is a study on the development of wind farms in a rural area. Quantitative data can then be focused on employment and business income figures. Qualitative data then concerns, for example, the perceptions and experiences of the population and the media attention for the development of the parks.

The aim is to get as complete a picture as possible of the case and the context.

Step 4: Describe and analyze the case

The last step is to bring together all relevant aspects to form the most complete picture possible about the subject. How the findings are presented depends on the type of research involved. Some studies are prepared as a scientific article with separate chapters for methods, results and discussions. Others are written in a narrative style, with the aim of looking at the case from different angles.

Make sure to include as much contextual detail as possible and link it to literature and theory. Also discuss how these fit into broader patterns and discussions.

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Now it’s your turn

What do you think? Do you recognize the explanation in this blog post about the case study? Do you have experience conducting this research method, or multiple case studies? Or have you perhaps been the subject of such a study? Are you still missing information about a certain related topic? Let us know in the comments or fill out the contact form.

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  1. Kitchenham, B., Pickard, L., & Pfleeger, S. L. (1995). Case studies for method and tool evaluation. IEEE software, 12(4), 52-62.
  2. Stake, R. E. (2008). Qualitative case studies.
  3. Yin, R. K. (2009). How to do better case studies. The SAGE handbook of applied social research methods, 2(254-282).
  4. Yin, R. K. (2003). Designing case studies. Qualitative research methods, 5(14), 359-386.

How to cite this article:
Janse, B. (2023). Case Study. Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero:

Published on: 01/30/2023 | Last update: 08/21/2023

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Ben Janse
Article by:

Ben Janse

Ben Janse is a young professional working at ToolsHero as Content Manager. He is also an International Business student at Rotterdam Business School where he focusses on analyzing and developing management models. Thanks to his theoretical and practical knowledge, he knows how to distinguish main- and side issues and to make the essence of each article clearly visible.


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