Case Studies

This guide examines case studies, a form of qualitative descriptive research that is used to look at individuals, a small group of participants, or a group as a whole. Researchers collect data about participants using participant and direct observations, interviews, protocols, tests, examinations of records, and collections of writing samples. Starting with a definition of the case study, the guide moves to a brief history of this research method. Using several well documented case studies, the guide then looks at applications and methods including data collection and analysis. A discussion of ways to handle validity, reliability, and generalizability follows, with special attention to case studies as they are applied to composition studies. Finally, this guide examines the strengths and weaknesses of case studies.

Definition and Overview

Case study refers to the collection and presentation of detailed information about a particular participant or small group, frequently including the accounts of subjects themselves. A form of qualitative descriptive research, the case study looks intensely at an individual or small participant pool, drawing conclusions only about that participant or group and only in that specific context. Researchers do not focus on the discovery of a universal, generalizable truth, nor do they typically look for cause-effect relationships; instead, emphasis is placed on exploration and description.

Case studies typically examine the interplay of all variables in order to provide as complete an understanding of an event or situation as possible. This type of comprehensive understanding is arrived at through a process known as thick description, which involves an in-depth description of the entity being evaluated, the circumstances under which it is used, the characteristics of the people involved in it, and the nature of the community in which it is located. Thick description also involves interpreting the meaning of demographic and descriptive data such as cultural norms and mores, community values, ingrained attitudes, and motives.

Unlike quantitative methods of research, like the survey, which focus on the questions of who, what, where, how much, and how many, and archival analysis, which often situates the participant in some form of historical context, case studies are the preferred strategy when how or why questions are asked. Likewise, they are the preferred method when the researcher has little control over the events, and when there is a contemporary focus within a real life context. In addition, unlike more specifically directed experiments, case studies require a problem that seeks a holistic understanding of the event or situation in question using inductive logic--reasoning from specific to more general terms.

In scholarly circles, case studies are frequently discussed within the context of qualitative research and naturalistic inquiry. Case studies are often referred to interchangeably with ethnography, field study, and participant observation. The underlying philosophical assumptions in the case are similar to these types of qualitative research because each takes place in a natural setting (such as a classroom, neighborhood, or private home), and strives for a more holistic interpretation of the event or situation under study.

Unlike more statistically-based studies which search for quantifiable data, the goal of a case study is to offer new variables and questions for further research. F.H. Giddings, a sociologist in the early part of the century, compares statistical methods to the case study on the basis that the former are concerned with the distribution of a particular trait, or a small number of traits, in a population, whereas the case study is concerned with the whole variety of traits to be found in a particular instance" (Hammersley 95).

Case studies are not a new form of research; naturalistic inquiry was the primary research tool until the development of the scientific method. The fields of sociology and anthropology are credited with the primary shaping of the concept as we know it today. However, case study research has drawn from a number of other areas as well: the clinical methods of doctors; the casework technique being developed by social workers; the methods of historians and anthropologists, plus the qualitative descriptions provided by quantitative researchers like LePlay; and, in the case of Robert Park, the techniques of newspaper reporters and novelists.

Park was an ex-newspaper reporter and editor who became very influential in developing sociological case studies at the University of Chicago in the 1920s. As a newspaper professional he coined the term "scientific" or "depth" reporting: the description of local events in a way that pointed to major social trends. Park viewed the sociologist as "merely a more accurate, responsible, and scientific reporter." Park stressed the variety and value of human experience. He believed that sociology sought to arrive at natural, but fluid, laws and generalizations in regard to human nature and society. These laws weren't static laws of the kind sought by many positivists and natural law theorists, but rather, they were laws of becoming--with a constant possibility of change. Park encouraged students to get out of the library, to quit looking at papers and books, and to view the constant experiment of human experience. He writes, "Go and sit in the lounges of the luxury hotels and on the doorsteps of the flophouses; sit on the Gold Coast settees and on the slum shakedowns; sit in the Orchestra Hall and in the Star and Garter Burlesque. In short, gentlemen [sic], go get the seats of your pants dirty in real research."

But over the years, case studies have drawn their share of criticism. In fact, the method had its detractors from the start. In the 1920s, the debate between pro-qualitative and pro-quantitative became quite heated. Case studies, when compared to statistics, were considered by many to be unscientific. From the 1930's on, the rise of positivism had a growing influence on quantitative methods in sociology. People wanted static, generalizable laws in science. The sociological positivists were looking for stable laws of social phenomena. They criticized case study research because it failed to provide evidence of inter subjective agreement. Also, they condemned it because of the few number of cases studied and that the under-standardized character of their descriptions made generalization impossible. By the 1950s, quantitative methods, in the form of survey research, had become the dominant sociological approach and case study had become a minority practice.

Educational Applications

The 1950's marked the dawning of a new era in case study research, namely that of the utilization of the case study as a teaching method. "Instituted at Harvard Business School in the 1950s as a primary method of teaching, cases have since been used in classrooms and lecture halls alike, either as part of a course of study or as the main focus of the course to which other teaching material is added" (Armisted 1984). The basic purpose of instituting the case method as a teaching strategy was "to transfer much of the responsibility for learning from the teacher on to the student, whose role, as a result, shifts away from passive absorption toward active construction" (Boehrer 1990). Through careful examination and discussion of various cases, "students learn to identify actual problems, to recognize key players and their agendas, and to become aware of those aspects of the situation that contribute to the problem" (Merseth 1991). In addition, students are encouraged to "generate their own analysis of the problems under consideration, to develop their own solutions, and to practically apply their own knowledge of theory to these problems" (Boyce 1993). Along the way, students also develop "the power to analyze and to master a tangled circumstance by identifying and delineating important factors; the ability to utilize ideas, to test them against facts, and to throw them into fresh combinations" (Merseth 1991).

In addition to the practical application and testing of scholarly knowledge, case discussions can also help students prepare for real-world problems, situations and crises by providing an approximation of various professional environments (i.e. classroom, board room, courtroom, or hospital). Thus, through the examination of specific cases, students are given the opportunity to work out their own professional issues through the trials, tribulations, experiences, and research findings of others. An obvious advantage to this mode of instruction is that it allows students the exposure to settings and contexts that they might not otherwise experience. For example, a student interested in studying the effects of poverty on minority secondary student's grade point averages and S.A.T. scores could access and analyze information from schools as geographically diverse as Los Angeles, New York City, Miami, and New Mexico without ever having to leave the classroom.

The case study method also incorporates the idea that students can learn from one another "by engaging with each other and with each other's ideas, by asserting something and then having it questioned, challenged and thrown back at them so that they can reflect on what they hear, and then refine what they say" (Boehrer 1990). In summary, students can direct their own learning by formulating questions and taking responsibility for the study.

Types and Design Concerns

Researchers use multiple methods and approaches to conduct case studies.

Types of Case Studies

Under the more generalized category of case study exist several subdivisions, each of which is custom selected for use depending upon the goals and/or objectives of the investigator. These types of case study include the following:

Illustrative Case Studies These are primarily descriptive studies. They typically utilize one or two instances of an event to show what a situation is like. Illustrative case studies serve primarily to make the unfamiliar familiar and to give readers a common language about the topic in question.

Exploratory (or pilot) Case Studies These are condensed case studies performed before implementing a large scale investigation. Their basic function is to help identify questions and select types of measurement prior to the main investigation. The primary pitfall of this type of study is that initial findings may seem convincing enough to be released prematurely as conclusions.

Cumulative Case Studies These serve to aggregate information from several sites collected at different times. The idea behind these studies is the collection of past studies will allow for greater generalization without additional cost or time being expended on new, possibly repetitive studies.

Critical Instance Case Studies These examine one or more sites for either the purpose of examining a situation of unique interest with little to no interest in generalizability, or to call into question or challenge a highly generalized or universal assertion. This method is useful for answering cause and effect questions.

Identifying a Theoretical Perspective

Much of the case study's design is inherently determined for researchers, depending on the field from which they are working. In composition studies, researchers are typically working from a qualitative, descriptive standpoint. In contrast, physicists will approach their research from a more quantitative perspective. Still, in designing the study, researchers need to make explicit the questions to be explored and the theoretical perspective from which they will approach the case. The three most commonly adopted theories are listed below:

Individual Theories These focus primarily on the individual development, cognitive behavior, personality, learning and disability, and interpersonal interactions of a particular subject.

Organizational Theories These focus on bureaucracies, institutions, organizational structure and functions, or excellence in organizational performance.

Social Theories These focus on urban development, group behavior, cultural institutions, or marketplace functions.

Two examples of case studies are used consistently throughout this chapter. The first, a study produced by Berkenkotter, Huckin, and Ackerman (1988), looks at a first year graduate student's initiation into an academic writing program. The study uses participant-observer and linguistic data collecting techniques to assess the student's knowledge of appropriate discourse conventions. Using the pseudonym Nate to refer to the subject, the study sought to illuminate the particular experience rather than to generalize about the experience of fledgling academic writers collectively.

For example, in Berkenkotter, Huckin, and Ackerman's (1988) study we are told that the researchers are interested in disciplinary communities. In the first paragraph, they ask what constitutes membership in a disciplinary community and how achieving membership might affect a writer's understanding and production of texts. In the third paragraph they state that researchers must negotiate their claims "within the context of his sub specialty's accepted knowledge and methodology." In the next paragraph they ask, "How is literacy acquired? What is the process through which novices gain community membership? And what factors either aid or hinder students learning the requisite linguistic behaviors?" This introductory section ends with a paragraph in which the study's authors claim that during the course of the study, the subject, Nate, successfully makes the transition from "skilled novice" to become an initiated member of the academic discourse community and that his texts exhibit linguistic changes which indicate this transition. In the next section the authors make explicit the sociolinguistic theoretical and methodological assumptions on which the study is based (1988). Thus the reader has a good understanding of the authors' theoretical background and purpose in conducting the study even before it is explicitly stated on the fourth page of the study. "Our purpose was to examine the effects of the educational context on one graduate student's production of texts as he wrote in different courses and for different faculty members over the academic year 1984-85." The goal of the study then, was to explore the idea that writers must be initiated into a writing community, and that this initiation will change the way one writes.

The second example is Janet Emig's (1971) study of the composing process of a group of twelfth graders. In this study, Emig seeks to answer the question of what happens to the self as a result educational stimuli in terms of academic writing. The case study used methods such as protocol analysis, tape-recorded interviews, and discourse analysis.

In the case of Janet Emig's (1971) study of the composing process of eight twelfth graders, four specific hypotheses were made:

In this study, the chief distinction is between the two dominant modes of composing among older, secondary school students. The distinctions are:

Emig also outlines the specific questions which guided the research in the opening pages of her Review of Literature , preceding the report.

Designing a Case Study

After considering the different sub categories of case study and identifying a theoretical perspective, researchers can begin to design their study. Research design is the string of logic that ultimately links the data to be collected and the conclusions to be drawn to the initial questions of the study. Typically, research designs deal with at least four problems:

In other words, a research design is basically a blueprint for getting from the beginning to the end of a study. The beginning is an initial set of questions to be answered, and the end is some set of conclusions about those questions.

Because case studies are conducted on topics as diverse as Anglo-Saxon Literature (Thrane 1986) and AIDS prevention (Van Vugt 1994), it is virtually impossible to outline any strict or universal method or design for conducting the case study. However, Robert K. Yin (1993) does offer five basic components of a research design:

In addition to these five basic components, Yin also stresses the importance of clearly articulating one's theoretical perspective, determining the goals of the study, selecting one's subject(s), selecting the appropriate method(s) of collecting data, and providing some considerations to the composition of the final report.

Conducting Case Studies

To obtain as complete a picture of the participant as possible, case study researchers can employ a variety of approaches and methods. These approaches, methods, and related issues are discussed in depth in this section.

Method: Single or Multi-modal?

To obtain as complete a picture of the participant as possible, case study researchers can employ a variety of methods. Some common methods include interviews , protocol analyses, field studies, and participant-observations. Emig (1971) chose to use several methods of data collection. Her sources included conversations with the students, protocol analysis, discrete observations of actual composition, writing samples from each student, and school records (Lauer and Asher 1988).

Berkenkotter, Huckin, and Ackerman (1988) collected data by observing classrooms, conducting faculty and student interviews, collecting self reports from the subject, and by looking at the subject's written work.

A study that was criticized for using a single method model was done by Flower and Hayes (1984). In this study that explores the ways in which writers use different forms of knowing to create space, the authors used only protocol analysis to gather data. The study came under heavy fire because of their decision to use only one method.

Participant Selection

Case studies can use one participant, or a small group of participants. However, it is important that the participant pool remain relatively small. The participants can represent a diverse cross section of society, but this isn't necessary.

For example, the Berkenkotter, Huckin, and Ackerman (1988) study looked at just one participant, Nate. By contrast, in Janet Emig's (1971) study of the composition process of twelfth graders, eight participants were selected representing a diverse cross section of the community, with volunteers from an all-white upper-middle-class suburban school, an all-black inner-city school, a racially mixed lower-middle-class school, an economically and racially mixed school, and a university school.

Often, a brief "case history" is done on the participants of the study in order to provide researchers with a clearer understanding of their participants, as well as some insight as to how their own personal histories might affect the outcome of the study. For instance, in Emig's study, the investigator had access to the school records of five of the participants, and to standardized test scores for the remaining three. Also made available to the researcher was the information that three of the eight students were selected as NCTE Achievement Award winners. These personal histories can be useful in later stages of the study when data are being analyzed and conclusions drawn.

Data Collection

There are six types of data collected in case studies:

In the field of composition research, these six sources might be:

Depending on whether researchers have chosen to use a single or multi-modal approach for the case study, they may choose to collect data from one or any combination of these sources.

Protocols, that is, transcriptions of participants talking aloud about what they are doing as they do it, have been particularly common in composition case studies. For example, in Emig's (1971) study, the students were asked, in four different sessions, to give oral autobiographies of their writing experiences and to compose aloud three themes in the presence of a tape recorder and the investigator.

In some studies, only one method of data collection is conducted. For example, the Flower and Hayes (1981) report on the cognitive process theory of writing depends on protocol analysis alone. However, using multiple sources of evidence to increase the reliability and validity of the data can be advantageous.

Case studies are likely to be much more convincing and accurate if they are based on several different sources of information, following a corroborating mode. This conclusion is echoed among many composition researchers. For example, in her study of predrafting processes of high and low-apprehensive writers, Cynthia Selfe (1985) argues that because "methods of indirect observation provide only an incomplete reflection of the complex set of processes involved in composing, a combination of several such methods should be used to gather data in any one study." Thus, in this study, Selfe collected her data from protocols, observations of students role playing their writing processes, audio taped interviews with the students, and videotaped observations of the students in the process of composing.

It can be said then, that cross checking data from multiple sources can help provide a multidimensional profile of composing activities in a particular setting. Sharan Merriam (1985) suggests "checking, verifying, testing, probing, and confirming collected data as you go, arguing that this process will follow in a funnel-like design resulting in less data gathering in later phases of the study along with a congruent increase in analysis checking, verifying, and confirming."

It is important to note that in case studies, as in any qualitative descriptive research, while researchers begin their studies with one or several questions driving the inquiry (which influence the key factors the researcher will be looking for during data collection), a researcher may find new key factors emerging during data collection. These might be unexpected patterns or linguistic features which become evident only during the course of the research. While not bearing directly on the researcher's guiding questions, these variables may become the basis for new questions asked at the end of the report, thus linking to the possibility of further research.

Data Analysis

As the information is collected, researchers strive to make sense of their data. Generally, researchers interpret their data in one of two ways: holistically or through coding. Holistic analysis does not attempt to break the evidence into parts, but rather to draw conclusions based on the text as a whole. Flower and Hayes (1981), for example, make inferences from entire sections of their students' protocols, rather than searching through the transcripts to look for isolatable characteristics.

However, composition researchers commonly interpret their data by coding, that is by systematically searching data to identify and/or categorize specific observable actions or characteristics. These observable actions then become the key variables in the study. Sharan Merriam (1988) suggests seven analytic frameworks for the organization and presentation of data:

There are two purposes of these frameworks: to look for patterns among the data and to look for patterns that give meaning to the case study.

As stated above, while most researchers begin their case studies expecting to look for particular observable characteristics, it is not unusual for key variables to emerge during data collection. Typical variables coded in case studies of writers include pauses writers make in the production of a text, the use of specific linguistic units (such as nouns or verbs), and writing processes (planning, drafting, revising, and editing). In the Berkenkotter, Huckin, and Ackerman (1988) study, for example, researchers coded the participant's texts for use of connectives, discourse demonstratives, average sentence length, off-register words, use of the first person pronoun, and the ratio of definite articles to indefinite articles.

Since coding is inherently subjective, more than one coder is usually employed. In the Berkenkotter, Huckin, and Ackerman (1988) study, for example, three rhetoricians were employed to code the participant's texts for off-register phrases. The researchers established the agreement among the coders before concluding that the participant used fewer off-register words as the graduate program progressed.

Composing the Case Study Report

In the many forms it can take, "a case study is generically a story; it presents the concrete narrative detail of actual, or at least realistic events, it has a plot, exposition, characters, and sometimes even dialogue" (Boehrer 1990). Generally, case study reports are extensively descriptive, with "the most problematic issue often referred to as being the determination of the right combination of description and analysis" (1990). Typically, authors address each step of the research process, and attempt to give the reader as much context as possible for the decisions made in the research design and for the conclusions drawn.

This contextualization usually includes a detailed explanation of the researchers' theoretical positions, of how those theories drove the inquiry or led to the guiding research questions, of the participants' backgrounds, of the processes of data collection, of the training and limitations of the coders, along with a strong attempt to make connections between the data and the conclusions evident.

Although the Berkenkotter, Huckin, and Ackerman (1988) study does not, case study reports often include the reactions of the participants to the study or to the researchers' conclusions. Because case studies tend to be exploratory, most end with implications for further study. Here researchers may identify significant variables that emerged during the research and suggest studies related to these, or the authors may suggest further general questions that their case study generated.

For example, Emig's (1971) study concludes with a section dedicated solely to the topic of implications for further research, in which she suggests several means by which this particular study could have been improved, as well as questions and ideas raised by this study which other researchers might like to address, such as: is there a correlation between a certain personality and a certain composing process profile (e.g. is there a positive correlation between ego strength and persistence in revising)?

Also included in Emig's study is a section dedicated to implications for teaching, which outlines the pedagogical ramifications of the study's findings for teachers currently involved in high school writing programs.

Sharan Merriam (1985) also offers several suggestions for alternative presentations of data:

Issues of Validity and Reliability

Once key variables have been identified, they can be analyzed. Reliability becomes a key concern at this stage, and many case study researchers go to great lengths to ensure that their interpretations of the data will be both reliable and valid. Because issues of validity and reliability are an important part of any study in the social sciences, it is important to identify some ways of dealing with results.

Multi-modal case study researchers often balance the results of their coding with data from interviews or writer's reflections upon their own work. Consequently, the researchers' conclusions become highly contextualized. For example, in a case study which looked at the time spent in different stages of the writing process, Berkenkotter concluded that her participant, Donald Murray, spent more time planning his essays than in other writing stages. The report of this case study is followed by Murray's reply, wherein he agrees with some of Berkenkotter's conclusions and disagrees with others.

As is the case with other research methodologies, issues of external validity, construct validity, and reliability need to be carefully considered.

Commentary on Case Studies

Researchers often debate the relative merits of particular methods, among them case study. In this section, we comment on two key issues. To read the commentaries, choose any of the items below:

Strengths and Weaknesses of Case Studies

Most case study advocates point out that case studies produce much more detailed information than what is available through a statistical analysis. Advocates will also hold that while statistical methods might be able to deal with situations where behavior is homogeneous and routine, case studies are needed to deal with creativity, innovation, and context. Detractors argue that case studies are difficult to generalize because of inherent subjectivity and because they are based on qualitative subjective data, generalizable only to a particular context.


The case study approach is a comparatively flexible method of scientific research. Because its project designs seem to emphasize exploration rather than prescription or prediction, researchers are comparatively freer to discover and address issues as they arise in their experiments. In addition, the looser format of case studies allows researchers to begin with broad questions and narrow their focus as their experiment progresses rather than attempt to predict every possible outcome before the experiment is conducted.

Emphasis on Context

By seeking to understand as much as possible about a single subject or small group of subjects, case studies specialize in "deep data," or "thick description"--information based on particular contexts that can give research results a more human face. This emphasis can help bridge the gap between abstract research and concrete practice by allowing researchers to compare their firsthand observations with the quantitative results obtained through other methods of research.

Inherent Subjectivity

"The case study has long been stereotyped as the weak sibling among social science methods," and is often criticized as being too subjective and even pseudo-scientific. Likewise, "investigators who do case studies are often regarded as having deviated from their academic disciplines, and their investigations as having insufficient precision (that is, quantification), objectivity and rigor" (Yin 1989). Opponents cite opportunities for subjectivity in the implementation, presentation, and evaluation of case study research. The approach relies on personal interpretation of data and inferences. Results may not be generalizable, are difficult to test for validity, and rarely offer a problem-solving prescription. Simply put, relying on one or a few subjects as a basis for cognitive extrapolations runs the risk of inferring too much from what might be circumstance.

High Investment

Case studies can involve learning more about the subjects being tested than most researchers would care to know--their educational background, emotional background, perceptions of themselves and their surroundings, their likes, dislikes, and so on. Because of its emphasis on "deep data," the case study is out of reach for many large-scale research projects which look at a subject pool in the tens of thousands. A budget request of $10,000 to examine 200 subjects sounds more efficient than a similar request to examine four subjects.

Ethical Considerations

Researchers conducting case studies should consider certain ethical issues. For example, many educational case studies are often financed by people who have, either directly or indirectly, power over both those being studied and those conducting the investigation (1985). This conflict of interests can hinder the credibility of the study.

The personal integrity, sensitivity, and possible prejudices and/or biases of the investigators need to be taken into consideration as well. Personal biases can creep into how the research is conducted, alternative research methods used, and the preparation of surveys and questionnaires.

A common complaint in case study research is that investigators change direction during the course of the study unaware that their original research design was inadequate for the revised investigation. Thus, the researchers leave unknown gaps and biases in the study. To avoid this, researchers should report preliminary findings so that the likelihood of bias will be reduced.

Concerns about Reliability, Validity, and Generalizability

Merriam (1985) offers several suggestions for how case study researchers might actively combat the popular attacks on the validity, reliability, and generalizability of case studies:

Although little can be done to combat challenges concerning the generalizability of case studies, "most writers suggest that qualitative research should be judged as credible and confirmable as opposed to valid and reliable" (Merriam 1985). Likewise, it has been argued that "rather than transplanting statistical, quantitative notions of generalizability and thus finding qualitative research inadequate, it makes more sense to develop an understanding of generalization that is congruent with the basic characteristics of qualitative inquiry" (1985). After all, criticizing the case study method for being ungeneralizable is comparable to criticizing a washing machine for not being able to tell the correct time. In other words, it is unjust to criticize a method for not being able to do something which it was never originally designed to do in the first place.

Annotated Bibliography

Armisted, C. (1984). How Useful are Case Studies. Training and Development Journal, 38 (2), 75-77.

This article looks at eight types of case studies, offers pros and cons of using case studies in the classroom, and gives suggestions for successfully writing and using case studies.

Bardovi-Harlig, K. (1997). Beyond Methods: Components of Second Language Teacher Education . New York: McGraw-Hill.

A compilation of various research essays which address issues of language teacher education. Essays included are: "Non-native reading research and theory" by Lee, "The case for Psycholinguistics" by VanPatten, and "Assessment and Second Language Teaching" by Gradman and Reed.

Bartlett, L. (1989). A Question of Good Judgment; Interpretation Theory and Qualitative Enquiry Address. 70th Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. San Francisco.

Bartlett selected "quasi-historical" methodology, which focuses on the "truth" found in case records, as one that will provide "good judgments" in educational inquiry. He argues that although the method is not comprehensive, it can try to connect theory with practice.

Baydere, S. et. al. (1993). Multimedia conferencing as a tool for collaborative writing: a case study in Computer Supported Collaborative Writing. New York: Springer-Verlag.

The case study by Baydere et. al. is just one of the many essays in this book found in the series "Computer Supported Cooperative Work." Denley, Witefield and May explore similar issues in their essay, "A case study in task analysis for the design of a collaborative document production system."

Berkenkotter, C., Huckin, T., N., & Ackerman J. (1988). Conventions, Conversations, and the Writer: Case Study of a Student in a Rhetoric Ph.D. Program. Research in the Teaching of English, 22, 9-44.

The authors focused on how the writing of their subject, Nate or Ackerman, changed as he became more acquainted or familiar with his field's discourse community.

Berninger, V., W., and Gans, B., M. (1986). Language Profiles in Nonspeaking Individuals of Normal Intelligence with Severe Cerebral Palsy. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 2, 45-50.

Argues that generalizations about language abilities in patients with severe cerebral palsy (CP) should be avoided. Standardized tests of different levels of processing oral language, of processing written language, and of producing written language were administered to 3 male participants (aged 9, 16, and 40 yrs).

Bockman, J., R., and Couture, B. (1984). The Case Method in Technical Communication: Theory and Models. Texas: Association of Teachers of Technical Writing.

Examines the study and teaching of technical writing, communication of technical information, and the case method in terms of those applications.

Boehrer, J. (1990). Teaching With Cases: Learning to Question. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 42 41-57.

This article discusses the origins of the case method, looks at the question of what is a case, gives ideas about learning in case teaching, the purposes it can serve in the classroom, the ground rules for the case discussion, including the role of the question, and new directions for case teaching.

Bowman, W. R. (1993). Evaluating JTPA Programs for Economically Disadvantaged Adults: A Case Study of Utah and General Findings . Washington: National Commission for Employment Policy.

"To encourage state-level evaluations of JTPA, the Commission and the State of Utah co-sponsored this report on the effectiveness of JTPA Title II programs for adults in Utah. The technique used is non-experimental and the comparison group was selected from registrants with Utah's Employment Security. In a step-by-step approach, the report documents how non-experimental techniques can be applied and several specific technical issues can be addressed."

Boyce, A. (1993) The Case Study Approach for Pedagogists. Annual Meeting of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. (Address). Washington DC.

This paper addresses how case studies 1) bridge the gap between teaching theory and application, 2) enable students to analyze problems and develop solutions for situations that will be encountered in the real world of teaching, and 3) helps students to evaluate the feasibility of alternatives and to understand the ramifications of a particular course of action.

Carson, J. (1993) The Case Study: Ideal Home of WAC Quantitative and Qualitative Data. Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication. (Address). San Diego.

"Increasingly, one of the most pressing questions for WAC advocates is how to keep [WAC] programs going in the face of numerous difficulties. Case histories offer the best chance for fashioning rhetorical arguments to keep WAC programs going because they offer the opportunity to provide a coherent narrative that contextualizes all documents and data, including what is generally considered scientific data. A case study of the WAC program, . . . at Robert Morris College in Pittsburgh demonstrates the advantages of this research method. Such studies are ideal homes for both naturalistic and positivistic data as well as both quantitative and qualitative information."

---. (1991). A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing. College Composition and Communication. 32. 365-87.

No abstract available.

Cromer, R. (1994) A Case Study of Dissociations Between Language and Cognition. Constraints on Language Acquisition: Studies of Atypical Children . Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 141-153.

Crossley, M. (1983) Case Study in Comparative and International Education: An Approach to Bridging the Theory-Practice Gap. Proceedings of the 11th Annual Conference of the Australian Comparative and International Education Society. Hamilton, NZ.

Case study research, as presented here, helps bridge the theory-practice gap in comparative and international research studies of education because it focuses on the practical, day-to-day context rather than on the national arena. The paper asserts that the case study method can be valuable at all levels of research, formation, and verification of theories in education.

Daillak, R., H., and Alkin, M., C. (1982). Qualitative Studies in Context: Reflections on the CSE Studies of Evaluation Use . California: EDRS

The report shows how the Center of the Study of Evaluation (CSE) applied qualitative techniques to a study of evaluation information use in local, Los Angeles schools. It critiques the effectiveness and the limitations of using case study, evaluation, field study, and user interview survey methodologies.

Davey, L. (1991). The Application of Case Study Evaluations. ERIC/TM Digest.

This article examines six types of case studies, the type of evaluation questions that can be answered, the functions served, some design features, and some pitfalls of the method.

Deutch, C. E. (1996). A course in research ethics for graduate students. College Teaching, 44, 2, 56-60.

This article describes a one-credit discussion course in research ethics for graduate students in biology. Case studies are focused on within the four parts of the course: 1) major issues, 2 )practical issues in scholarly work, 3) ownership of research results, and 4) training and personal decisions.

DeVoss, G. (1981). Ethics in Fieldwork Research. RIE 27p. (ERIC)

This article examines four of the ethical problems that can happen when conducting case study research: acquiring permission to do research, knowing when to stop digging, the pitfalls of doing collaborative research, and preserving the integrity of the participants.

Driscoll, A. (1985). Case Study of a Research Intervention: the University of Utah’s Collaborative Approach . San Francisco: Far West Library for Educational Research Development.

Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, Denver, CO, March 1985. Offers information of in-service training, specifically case studies application.

Ellram, L. M. (1996). The Use of the Case Study Method in Logistics Research. Journal of Business Logistics, 17, 2, 93.

This article discusses the increased use of case study in business research, and the lack of understanding of when and how to use case study methodology in business.

Emig, J. (1971) The Composing Processes of Twelfth Graders . Urbana: NTCE.

This case study uses observation, tape recordings, writing samples, and school records to show that writing in reflexive and extensive situations caused different lengths of discourse and different clusterings of the components of the writing process.

Feagin, J. R. (1991). A Case For the Case Study . Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

This book discusses the nature, characteristics, and basic methodological issues of the case study as a research method.

Feldman, H., Holland, A., & Keefe, K. (1989) Language Abilities after Left Hemisphere Brain Injury: A Case Study of Twins. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 9, 32-47.

"Describes the language abilities of 2 twin pairs in which 1 twin (the experimental) suffered brain injury to the left cerebral hemisphere around the time of birth and1 twin (the control) did not. One pair of twins was initially assessed at age 23 mo. and the other at about 30 mo.; they were subsequently evaluated in their homes 3 times at about 6-mo intervals."

Fidel, R. (1984). The Case Study Method: A Case Study. Library and Information Science Research, 6.

The article describes the use of case study methodology to systematically develop a model of online searching behavior in which study design is flexible, subject manner determines data gathering and analyses, and procedures adapt to the study's progressive change.

Flower, L., & Hayes, J. R. (1984). Images, Plans and Prose: The Representation of Meaning in Writing. Written Communication, 1, 120-160.

Explores the ways in which writers actually use different forms of knowing to create prose.

Frey, L. R. (1992). Interpreting Communication Research: A Case Study Approach Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

The book discusses research methodologies in the Communication field. It focuses on how case studies bridge the gap between communication research, theory, and practice.

Gilbert, V. K. (1981). The Case Study as a Research Methodology: Difficulties and Advantages of Integrating the Positivistic, Phenomenological and Grounded Theory Approaches . The Annual Meeting of the Canadian Association for the Study of Educational Administration. (Address) Halifax, NS, Can.

This study on an innovative secondary school in England shows how a "low-profile" participant-observer case study was crucial to the initial observation, the testing of hypotheses, the interpretive approach, and the grounded theory.

Gilgun, J. F. (1994). A Case for Case Studies in Social Work Research. Social Work, 39, 4, 371-381.

This article defines case study research, presents guidelines for evaluation of case studies, and shows the relevance of case studies to social work research. It also looks at issues such as evaluation and interpretations of case studies.

Glennan, S. L., Sharp-Bittner, M. A. & Tullos, D. C. (1991). Augmentative and Alternative Communication Training with a Nonspeaking Adult: Lessons from MH. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 7, 240-7.

"A response-guided case study documented changes in a nonspeaking 36-yr-old man's ability to communicate using 3 trained augmentative communication modes. . . . Data were collected in videotaped interaction sessions between the nonspeaking adult and a series of adult speaking."

Graves, D. (1981). An Examination of the Writing Processes of Seven Year Old Children. Research in the Teaching of English, 15, 113-134.

Hamel, J. (1993). Case Study Methods . Newbury Park: Sage. .

"In a most economical fashion, Hamel provides a practical guide for producing theoretically sharp and empirically sound sociological case studies. A central idea put forth by Hamel is that case studies must "locate the global in the local" thus making the careful selection of the research site the most critical decision in the analytic process."

Karthigesu, R. (1986, July). Television as a Tool for Nation-Building in the Third World: A Post-Colonial Pattern, Using Malaysia as a Case-Study. International Television Studies Conference. (Address). London, 10-12.

"The extent to which Television Malaysia, as a national mass media organization, has been able to play a role in nation building in the post-colonial period is . . . studied in two parts: how the choice of a model of nation building determines the character of the organization; and how the character of the organization influences the output of the organization."

Kenny, R. (1984). Making the Case for the Case Study. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 16, (1), 37-51.

The article looks at how and why the case study is justified as a viable and valuable approach to educational research and program evaluation.

Knirk, F. (1991). Case Materials: Research and Practice. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 4 (1 ), 73-81.

The article addresses the effectiveness of case studies, subject areas where case studies are commonly used, recent examples of their use, and case study design considerations.

Klos, D. (1976). Students as Case Writers. Teaching of Psychology, 3.2, 63-66.

This article reviews a course in which students gather data for an original case study of another person. The task requires the students to design the study, collect the data, write the narrative, and interpret the findings.

Leftwich, A. (1981). The Politics of Case Study: Problems of Innovation in University Education. Higher Education Review, 13.2, 38-64.

The article discusses the use of case studies as a teaching method. Emphasis is on the instructional materials, interdisciplinarity, and the complex relationships within the university that help or hinder the method.

Mabrito, M. (1991, Oct.). Electronic Mail as a Vehicle for Peer Response: Conversations of High and Low Apprehensive Writers. Written Communication, 509-32.

McCarthy, S., J. (1955). The Influence of Classroom Discourse on Student Texts: The Case of Ella . East Lansing: Institute for Research on Teaching.

A look at how students of color become marginalized within traditional classroom discourse. The essay follows the struggles of one black student: Ella.

Matsuhashi, A., ed. (1987). Writing in Real Time: Modeling Production Processes Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation.

Investigates how writers plan to produce discourse for different purposes to report, to generalize, and to persuade, as well as how writers plan for sentence level units of language. To learn about planning, an observational measure of pause time was used" (ERIC).

Merriam, S. B. (1985). The Case Study in Educational Research: A Review of Selected Literature. Journal of Educational Thought, 19.3, 204-17.

The article examines the characteristics of, philosophical assumptions underlying the case study, the mechanics of conducting a case study, and the concerns about the reliability, validity, and generalizability of the method.

---. (1988). Case Study Research in Education: A Qualitative Approach San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Merry, S. E., & Milner, N. eds. (1993). The Possibility of Popular Justice: A Case Study of Community Mediation in the United States . Ann Arbor: U of Michigan.

". . . this volume presents a case study of one experiment in popular justice, the San Francisco Community Boards. This program has made an explicit claim to create an alternative justice, or new justice, in the midst of a society ordered by state law. The contributors to this volume explore the history and experience of the program and compare it to other versions of popular justice in the United States, Europe, and the Third World."

Merseth, K. K. (1991). The Case for Cases in Teacher Education. RIE. 42p. (ERIC).

This monograph argues that the case method of instruction offers unique potential for revitalizing the field of teacher education.

Michaels, S. (1987). Text and Context: A New Approach to the Study of Classroom Writing. Discourse Processes, 10, 321-346.

"This paper argues for and illustrates an approach to the study of writing that integrates ethnographic analysis of classroom interaction with linguistic analysis of written texts and teacher/student conversational exchanges. The approach is illustrated through a case study of writing in a single sixth grade classroom during a single writing assignment."

Milburn, G. (1995). Deciphering a Code or Unraveling a Riddle: A Case Study in the Application of a Humanistic Metaphor to the Reporting of Social Studies Teaching. Theory and Research in Education, 13.

This citation serves as an example of how case studies document learning procedures in a senior-level economics course.

Milley, J. E. (1979). An Investigation of Case Study as an Approach to Program Evaluation. 19th Annual Forum of the Association for Institutional Research. (Address). San Diego.

The case study method merged a narrative report focusing on the evaluator as participant-observer with document review, interview, content analysis, attitude questionnaire survey, and sociogram analysis. Milley argues that case study program evaluation has great potential for widespread use.

Minnis, J. R. (1985, Sept.). Ethnography, Case Study, Grounded Theory, and Distance Education Research. Distance Education, 6.2.

This article describes and defines the strengths and weaknesses of ethnography, case study, and grounded theory.

Nunan, D. (1992). Collaborative language learning and teaching . New York: Cambridge University Press.

Included in this series of essays is Peter Sturman’s "Team Teaching: a case study from Japan" and David Nunan’s own "Toward a collaborative approach to curriculum development: a case study."

Nystrand, M., ed. (1982). What Writers Know: The Language, Process, and Structure of Written Discourse . New York: Academic Press.

Owenby, P. H. (1992). Making Case Studies Come Alive. Training, 29, (1), 43-46. (ERIC)

This article provides tips for writing more effective case studies.

---. (1981). Pausing and Planning: The Tempo of Writer Discourse Production. Research in the Teaching of English, 15 (2),113-34.

Perl, S. (1979). The Composing Processes of Unskilled College Writers. Research in the Teaching of English, 13, 317-336.

"Summarizes a study of five unskilled college writers, focusing especially on one of the five, and discusses the findings in light of current pedagogical practice and research design."

Pilcher J. and A. Coffey. eds. (1996). Gender and Qualitative Research . Brookfield: Aldershot, Hants, England.

This book provides a series of essays which look at gender identity research, qualitative research and applications of case study to questions of gendered pedagogy.

Pirie, B. S. (1993). The Case of Morty: A Four Year Study. Gifted Education International, 9 (2), 105-109.

This case study describes a boy from kindergarten through third grade with above average intelligence but difficulty in learning to read, write, and spell.

Popkewitz, T. (1993). Changing Patterns of Power: Social Regulation and Teacher Education Reform. Albany: SUNY Press.

Popkewitz edits this series of essays that address case studies on educational change and the training of teachers. The essays vary in terms of discipline and scope. Also, several authors include case studies of educational practices in countries other than the United States.

---. (1984). The Predrafting Processes of Four High- and Four Low Apprehensive Writers. Research in the Teaching of English, 18, (1), 45-64.

Rasmussen, P. (1985, March) A Case Study on the Evaluation of Research at the Technical University of Denmark. International Journal of Institutional Management in Higher Education, 9 (1).

This is an example of a case study methodology used to evaluate the chemistry and chemical engineering departments at the University of Denmark.

Roth, K. J. (1986). Curriculum Materials, Teacher Talk, and Student Learning: Case Studies in Fifth-Grade Science Teaching . East Lansing: Institute for Research on Teaching.

Roth offers case studies on elementary teachers, elementary school teaching, science studies and teaching, and verbal learning.

Selfe, C. L. (1985). An Apprehensive Writer Composes. When a Writer Can't Write: Studies in Writer's Block and Other Composing-Process Problems . (pp. 83-95). Ed. Mike Rose. NMY: Guilford.

Smith-Lewis, M., R. and Ford, A. (1987). A User's Perspective on Augmentative Communication. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 3, 12-7.

"During a series of in-depth interviews, a 25-yr-old woman with cerebral palsy who utilized augmentative communication reflected on the effectiveness of the devices designed for her during her school career."

St. Pierre, R., G. (1980, April). Follow Through: A Case Study in Metaevaluation Research . 64th Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. (Address).

The three approaches to metaevaluation are evaluation of primary evaluations, integrative meta-analysis with combined primary evaluation results, and re-analysis of the raw data from a primary evaluation.

Stahler, T., M. (1996, Feb.) Early Field Experiences: A Model That Worked. ERIC.

"This case study of a field and theory class examines a model designed to provide meaningful field experiences for preservice teachers while remaining consistent with the instructor's beliefs about the role of teacher education in preparing teachers for the classroom."

Stake, R. E. (1995). The Art of Case Study Research. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

This book examines case study research in education and case study methodology.

Stiegelbauer, S. (1984) Community, Context, and Co-curriculum: Situational Factors Influencing School Improvements in a Study of High Schools. Presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.

Discussion of several case studies: one looking at high school environments, another examining educational innovations.

Stolovitch, H. (1990). Case Study Method. Performance And Instruction, 29, (9), 35-37.

This article describes the case study method as a form of simulation and presents guidelines for their use in professional training situations.

Thaller, E. (1994). Bibliography for the Case Method: Using Case Studies in Teacher Education. RIE. 37 p.

This bibliography presents approximately 450 citations on the use of case studies in teacher education from 1921-1993.

Thrane, T. (1986). On Delimiting the Senses of Near-Synonyms in Historical Semantics: A Case Study of Adjectives of 'Moral Sufficiency' in the Old English Andreas. Linguistics Across Historical and Geographical Boundaries: In Honor of Jacek Fisiak on the Occasion of his Fiftieth Birthday . Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

United Nations. (1975). Food and Agriculture Organization. Report on the FAO/UNFPA Seminar on Methodology, Research and Country: Case Studies on Population, Employment and Productivity . Rome: United Nations.

This example case study shows how the methodology can be used in a demographic and psychographic evaluation. At the same time, it discusses the formation and instigation of the case study methodology itself.

Van Vugt, J. P., ed. (1994). Aids Prevention and Services: Community Based Research . Westport: Bergin and Garvey.

"This volume has been five years in the making. In the process, some of the policy applications called for have met with limited success, such as free needle exchange programs in a limited number of American cities, providing condoms to prison inmates, and advertisements that depict same-sex couples. Rather than dating our chapters that deal with such subjects, such policy applications are verifications of the type of research demonstrated here. Furthermore, they indicate the critical need to continue community based research in the various communities threatened by acquired immuno-deficiency syndrome (AIDS) . . . "

Welch, W., ed. (1981, May). Case Study Methodology in Educational Evaluation. Proceedings of the Minnesota Evaluation Conference. Minnesota. (Address).

The four papers in these proceedings provide a comprehensive picture of the rationale, methodology, strengths, and limitations of case studies.

Williams, G. (1987). The Case Method: An Approach to Teaching and Learning in Educational Administration. RIE, 31p.

This paper examines the viability of the case method as a teaching and learning strategy in instructional systems geared toward the training of personnel of the administration of various aspects of educational systems.

Yin, R. K. (1993). Advancing Rigorous Methodologies: A Review of 'Towards Rigor in Reviews of Multivocal Literatures.' Review of Educational Research, 61, (3).

"R. T. Ogawa and B. Malen's article does not meet its own recommended standards for rigorous testing and presentation of its own conclusions. Use of the exploratory case study to analyze multivocal literatures is not supported, and the claim of grounded theory to analyze multivocal literatures may be stronger."

---. (1989). Case Study Research: Design and Methods. London: Sage Publications Inc.

This book discusses in great detail, the entire design process of the case study, including entire chapters on collecting evidence, analyzing evidence, composing the case study report, and designing single and multiple case studies.

Related Links

Consider the following list of related Web sites for more information on the topic of case study research. Note: although many of the links cover the general category of qualitative research, all have sections that address issues of case studies.

Citation Information

Bronwyn Becker, Patrick Dawson, Karen Devine, Carla Hannum, Steve Hill, Jon Leydens, Debbie Matuskevich, Carol Traver, and Mike Palmquist. (1994-2023). Case Studies. The WAC Clearinghouse. Colorado State University. Available at

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Rodgers M, Thomas S, Harden M, et al. Developing a methodological framework for organisational case studies: a rapid review and consensus development process. Southampton (UK): NIHR Journals Library; 2016 Jan. (Health Services and Delivery Research, No. 4.1.)

Cover of Developing a methodological framework for organisational case studies: a rapid review and consensus development process

Developing a methodological framework for organisational case studies: a rapid review and consensus development process.

Appendix 5 respondent comments from round 1.

Text response

I’m assuming you’re referring to qualitative case studies, but some of the statements above have a very ‘quantitative’ feel to do them and feel a bit out of place.
Helpful to know the case study method literature that are being used as source references, they do not all agree on the key elements of case study design.
Burdens and risks are the business of ethics committees, so reporting of ethics approvals may act as a proxy for reporting in the paper.
The answer to many of these questions will depend very substantially on the design used, e.g. inductive ethnography is very different from a theoretically based study. Some of the questions asked imply to my mind an overspecification and formalisation of the case study process, e.g. last one – a protocol may evolve rather than being fixed at the start of the study.
I am sceptical of all attempts to reduce good, reflective qualitative research to a set of mandatory steps. I particularly don’t like the insistence on a formal ‘research question’ (as opposed to a topic/area of interest) which can constrain good exploratory case studies with a broader aim of just understanding what’s going on. This is why I am not prepared to tick essential against many of these things, though they may be good in many cases.
My understanding of this Delphi is that it relates to description/presentation of case studies for external audiences. I have answered it accordingly. However, the items under ‘Rate the importance of the following tools and techniques for describing development of the final research question’ did not seem to be about reporting, so I struggled slightly with these. There are also two suggestions in the final section of this page that I did not understand (‘State the deliverables required’ and ‘Specify the need for recommendations’). I tried to leave these unanswered but the web page would not let me, so I have put them down as ‘not necessary’ – but this may be because of my misunderstanding of what they mean.
General comment – you haven’t provided the option of saying something like ‘not appropriate’ rather than not necessary. This pushes the respondent to answer not necessary when they have some issues with the question. The meaning is not the same. AS I couldn’t continue without answering the questions I was not happy with answering, I have ticked desirable for them. I’m really not sure about the validity of a survey where it is not possible to avoid answering a question that you don’t feel is clear or well stated. Q1 – hard to answer as some studies may or may not be defined as case studies, depending on how you frame or think about them. This made the question as presented difficult to answer. Q – Identifying the purpose – boundaries of the case. I think this is essential but found the question difficult to answer as presented as one might define a case in a more systems- based way, so suggesting the context is external was not a helpful way of framing this question, in my view. Heterogeneity of the cases as representative: I couldn’t answer this in the terms set. It should be essential to say something about the type of case and whether it can be considered representative or not – if it is claiming to be so – but as one of your prior questions note, cases may sometimes be selected for quite different reasons than representativeness. State the research questions/hypotheses – yes (I have put essential), but in some studies that are very exploratory, even stating a research question might be considered in appropriate unless constructed broadly enough. In the following question, I have answered desirable but felt this was difficult to respond to it is also poorly framed. Some case studies in their nature would avoid coming to something ‘final’. It depends how you interpret final. Also, I wasn’t sure what the question was really asking. Do you mean that the write up should describe the process of refining the questions as part of the study, in relevant studies? Or beforehand? Or both? State the deliverables required – I didn’t understand this question. Do you mean by funders or external agencies? Or, if relevant, the organisation being studied?
The possible responses are very limiting. The authors seem to have worked out what they think is best and are asking ‘do you agree with us?’
Many of these questions are not intelligible and seem premised on a very positivist world view.
Some kinds of organisational case study would be less dependent on a prior research question/hypothesis – but it is a good discipline to keep checking in on the emerging research question/focus during the course of research. For some of these answers, I wanted to answer ‘it depends’ – if case studies were being used in an evaluative context, then framing around ‘controls’ or comparators may be essential, less so if more exploratory purpose behind the research.
Again, a bit confused by some of these statements – how can you know whether ‘exploration was successful’? Also talk of ‘variables’ concerns me – very quantitative language – surely we are searching of understandings and explanations rather than reducing things down to what variables predict what?
some of the words here variables, hypotheses are very strange in this context indeed. a conceptual framework is ordered around concepts and not facts or events, as wrongly implied in the first statement.
The further I get into this the more uncomfortable I feel about the rigidity of the assumptions underlying the questions. It all seems too deterministic, and I am not reassured by a tiny ‘unless using grounded theory’ get-out clause.
Personally I prefer that studies should report a detailed literature review, but I am conscious of the fact that some philosophies discourage a lot of prior literature review, instead doing this work as part of the analysis process following lines of enquiry. This then does raise a reporting question of how and where in a report the relevant literature and theories are discussed.
You’ve assumed the paradigm is one of ‘variables’. I recommend Ramiller and Pentland ‘Management Implications in Information Systems Research: The Untold Story’. Journal of the Association for Information Systems Volume 10, Issue 6, pp. 474–494, June 2009. Also Bent Flyvbjerg ‘Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research’: Qualitative Inquiry , vol. 12, no. 2, April 2006, pp. 219–245.
Again I find these questions impossible to answer without more context. There should be a box for a non-response/question unclear. I do not share the stated assumption that reporting standards are easily or meaningfully distilled into a checklist of standards or even desirable. There is a need for paradigm differences and theoretical differences which this questionnaire fails to allow.
Do you mean – how the data was analysed? Coding is only one part of the process of qualitative data analysis. . . .
Recruitment and criteria for how the study participants were identified, e.g. stakeholder, practitioner with specialist knowledge and who was excluded for whatever reason, often pragmatic choices have to be made and that needs to be made explicit.
Raw data is likely to be identifiable, so ethically it should only be made available to readers with the consent of participants.
The in depth question is very odd, not sure what it means at all.
But this is all just characteristics of good qualitative research reporting, not specific to case studies.
Again, not all of these seemed to relate to reporting, e.g. ‘Search for data until saturation is reached, that is, the evidence becomes redundant, with no new information’ is a methodological question, not a question of presentation.
See Flyvbjerg’s paper.
So many of these questions are suited to more nuanced answers. Data saturation is not a concept all qualitative researchers deploy for example. I question the inherent assumptions and premise of some of the questions.
Again – very quantitative focused criteria – I think its very important to be able to substantiate any analytical claims made within a case study, but I would not phrase this in terms of ‘internal validity’ – wrong concept to understand it.
Some of the statements above relate, and are therefore more or less important, to the type of case study and the underlying assumptions of the case study approach.
Some of these terms or ideas would be contested by some qualitative researchers as they don’t reflect the essential interpretive and emergent nature of good qualitative research.
Don’t understand what is meant by ‘Describe the criteria used to maintain the overall quality of a case study’.
Researchers may use other relevant concepts than those given here, e.g. as per Guba and Lincoln’s typology. There are other possible approaches apart from inductive or deductive.
Some of these are very obvious. But I’m not sure you’ve covered every element. And I’m not sure this is really a Delphi. It’s more a ‘do you agree with us’ questionnaire.
I think these questions derive from a very positivist understanding and implicit logic model. They are mostly not appropriate or meaningful for those coming from an interpretativist tradition. I think the choice boxes are too narrow and would like to register ‘not appropriate’ rather than ‘not necessary’ for many answers.
Representativeness is a misnomer here – qualitative research does not search for statistical representativeness in the same way that quant research does. You should read Nick Emmel’s book on sampling . . .
Relation to theory may also be key in generating an interpretation.
Suddenly a section which makes sense. It’s all about the credibility and reflexivity of the construction of the story, not following a set of process rules.
There is always an issue of concern over how much raw data to include given that the data tend to be very detailed and ‘bulky’. Also, inclusion of larger amounts can be very tricky in such studies when trying to maintain confidentiality so the balance can be very challenging. Respondents may sometimes be in a position where simply disguising name and role and clearly identifying details may not be sufficient as the role is quite specific. There are also debates about the role of the researcher and responsibility to analyse the data with care rather than resort to presenting large amounts of raw data in the hope that the data will speak for themselves. This requires a lot of elements, many of which have been referred to in the questions here.
One of the above questions implied that the case study is exclusively qualitative. Most good case studies contain some quant data.
Again I am unconvinced at trying to produce standards or black and white answers to such highly contextualised and creative interpretative processes.
Unsure how many of these statements are case study specific, many would be true for any research report.
These questions are difficult to answer as although I believe sharing is very important there are differing views as to how to do it. Sometimes case studies reveal uncomfortable truths. We all look in the mirror sometimes and feel disappointed or want to see a different image. there may also be considerable differences and conflicts of perspective between different actors and parties in a case. it is essential in my view to feedback in some fashion unless there are very particular barriers to doing this, and to take the responses into full consideration. This can be very informative and revealing in itself, but may not always be straightforward.
This reads as silly ‘Aim for a thoughtful, balanced, and transparent tone of reporting’. Who is going to say ‘aim for a thoughtless, unbalanced and opaque tone’. So why ask this? It might be worth considering whether Van Maanen’s ‘realist’, ‘impressionist’ or ‘confessional’ genres are most appropriate. Experts are likely to disagree and hence you might end up with some data worth analysing.
These closed answers force the respondent into a very narrow set of choices. Most of the reporting categories would need to conditional on the type of report, type of funder and purpose of reporting, all very context-specific.
Publication and ‘push’ to policy and service depends on the quality of research and report! Not a given, although transparency is ultimate aim.

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Single Case Study

Related terms:.

Case studies

Jonathan Lazar , ... Harry Hochheiser , in Research Methods in Human Computer Interaction (Second Edition) , 2017

7.7 Choosing Cases

Single-case studies may present little, if any, difficulty in case selection. Case studies often involve cases that are somehow unique or incomparable to others. Intrinsic case studies limit you to consideration of the specific instance of interest. Convenience can also be a factor—you may choose a specific case “because it's there.” This is often the case when you are not particularly concerned about generalizing: when conducting an exploratory case study aimed at building initial understandings of a situation, any case might work (see Section 7.11 ). In all of these instances, selection is straightforward: you work with what you have available. Otherwise, you will want to put careful consideration into your criteria for selecting cases.

There are a few general guidelines that apply to almost any sort of case study. Like ethnographic investigations ( Chapter 9 ), case studies require a great deal of time, careful preparation, and often close cooperation with one or more individuals or organizations. Given these challenges, the individuals, groups, organizations, or systems that you choose should be chosen carefully. You will want to try to identify case study participants who have an interest in committing some of their own resources to work with you to make the research successful. You should also try to maximize convenience, working with geographically convenient participants whenever possible.

Further considerations in your choice of cases will be driven by the details of your research design. If you are conducting an instrumental case study aimed at developing generalizable models of classes of users or contexts, you should aim for cases that are representative in the appropriate aspects. Although the analysis tools may be different, this is the same problem faced by quantitative user studies (see Chapter 2 ): if the participants in your study are sufficiently different from the group to which you are generalizing, your findings may not hold up, no matter how strong the analysis. Thus, if you are doing a case study to understand how technically unsophisticated users interact with antispyware and antivirus tools, you probably don't want to ask computer science undergraduates, who are likely to be more technically savvy than most users. The additional credibility that comes from having appropriate participants is referred to as external validity ( Yin, 2014 ).

Multiple-case studies reduce concerns about external validity somewhat, as consistent findings across your cases can be used to counter the argument that you are describing some idiosyncrasy of your specific participants. However, these problems reappear if you are attempting theoretical replication—members of each group must both represent that group appropriately while differing from other groups in the appropriate dimensions.

Sara's case study provides an instructive example of case selection. When reading the paper, all we are told about Sara is that she is a blind college student. We are not given any other details about her age, background, or socioeconomic status. However, we can infer from the list of tasks—which includes activities such as organizing CDs, cooking, and receiving text messages by cell phone—that she is fairly active and self-reliant. In other words, as far as we know, she may be an appropriate participant for a study of the workaround strategies used by people who are blind. We might not be able to make generalizations that apply her results to other people, but that would be true of any single participant. Furthermore, as the study was described as descriptive and explanatory ( Yin, 2014 ), the authors do not make any claims of generality.

Some case studies specifically seek out unusual, distinctive, or “edge” cases. When studying antispyware or antivirus tools, you might argue that computer science undergraduates are worth studying because you would look for an understanding of how their domain expertise helped them approach challenges that would stop less knowledgeable users. The Finnish study of virtual collaboration in a school setting was conducted in a school that was chosen specifically because “the pedagogical setting had several features that may be described as innovative” ( Lakkala et al., 2007 ). See the Extreme Cases sidebar for a description of a case study that specifically sought out an atypical set of participants in order to get a fresh perspective on an established problem.

Some studies use critical cases —cases that are somehow particularly distinctive or notable with respect to the problem that is being considered ( Flyvbjerg, 2006 ). For example, a case study examining the use of antivirus software by employees of a large company might focus on a firm that required all staff members to complete extensive training in the use of the tools in question. This required training makes the firm a strong candidate for success: if antivirus software isn't used there, it might not be used anywhere. Thus, the company becomes a critical case.

Still other strategies for identifying cases are possible. You might search for cases that are most or least likely to exhibit behavior that you are interested in investigating ( Flyvbjerg, 2006 ).

If you find yourself trying to choose from a large pool of potential cases, consider expanding your research agenda to include a screening survey ( Yin, 2011 ). A carefully constructed survey of potential participants can provide data that informs your selection process. Such surveys might assess both the fit between the participants and your criteria and the willingness of the participants to commit their time and energy to the success of the study. Ideally, screening surveys stand on their own as research results, providing insights into the larger group of respondents not selected for closer examination in your case study ( Yin, 2011 ). See Chapter 5 for advice on conducting surveys.

Nikolai Mansourov , Djenana Campara , in System Assurance , 2011

Publisher Summary

This chapter uses a single case study to illustrate some of the activities of a system assurance evaluation, highlighting the exchanges of content and managing pieces of cyber-security knowledge in an integrated system model throughout the entire system assurance project. The system Concept of Operations (CONOP) documents are the key inputs to the project definition phase of the system assurance project. The system of interest is called Clicks2Bricks. It is a fictitious system developed by a fictitious company called Cyber Bricks Corporation. Cyber Bricks is a privately owned company whose business is in the area of the innovative devices called cyber bricks. The Clicks2Bricks system allows users to read the online content, allows customers to search for available products and service offerings, allows suppliers to input information about their products and service offerings, and allows service providers to input information about their services. The Object Management Group (OMG) Assurance Ecosystem defines several standard protocols for exchanging knowledge for assurance. The OMG vendor-neutral standards enable machine-readable content that can be unlocked from proprietary tools and can be developed and exchanged independently of its producers and consumers to allow evolution towards the industrialization of cyber-security and taking advantage of the economies of scale.

Participant Observation

G.A. Fine , in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences , 2001

2 Disadvantages

Just as there are significant advantages to this methodology, disadvantages are evident. Problems relate to proof, generalizability, bias, and time commitments.

Participant observation relies upon a single case study : the examination of one place. This raises questions about the nature of proof, or, put another way, about reliability. Will two researchers examining the same or similar social scenes reach the same conclusions? Often because of different perspectives upon entering the field and different experiences within the field, findings are sharply distinct. While the observations and interpretations of those observations may be compelling, one can reasonably wonder whether any set of conclusions is definitive.

2.2 Generalizability

Even if we accept the legitimacy of analyzing one scene, on what grounds can we generalize beyond that setting? How far can our conclusions be pushed? Participant observation research has a problem in this regard because of the absence of scientific control that characterizes experimental research and produces confidence in the claim that important variables of social life have been adequately captured. As a result, the extent to which generalizability is legitimate is problematic in participant observation. Participant observers need to present a theoretical model that helps readers to judge the legitimacy of their broader claims in light of the audience's own experiences.

A strength of participant observation methodology is that the researcher's insight and perspective is taken into account, but this strength has a downside. One cannot adequately distinguish between perspective and bias. The background that the researcher brings to a scene can be distinctively different from other researchers, and, for that matter, from the perspectives of the participants in the setting. To the extent that the researcher's perspectives differ significantly from the perspectives of the participants—possible because of the generally progressive values and upper middle class status of academics—the understanding of a particular scene may be systematically biased.

Just as participant observation research is relatively inexpensive, it is also highly labor intensive. This form of research requires that the researcher be present in the observed social scene. One cannot simply fly in and out, but must spend sufficient time so that the fullrange of activities in which participants engage are noted. Much participant observation depends upon chance—what happens to occur at the moment of observation—and, as a result, a significant investment of time is needed. While there is no definitive rule for the proper length of time necessary for observation, most projects require months, if not years, to complete. This, coupled with a modest requirement for capital equipment support means that, as noted, this methodology is particularly appropriate for younger scholars. This reality can mean that participant observation studies often do not have the depth of theoretical understanding that more likely characterizes the work of senior scholars.

Psychotherapy: Case Study

F. Petermann , J.M. Müller , in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences , 2001

The concepts of single-case or case studies are explained and linked to principles of psychotherapy. Three types of single-case studies—descriptive, exploratory, and explanatory—are distinguished. The historical development of the single-case study is presented reaching from the experimental single-case research at the beginning of the twentieth century to more recent techniques like time series analysis. The importance of this innovation in data analysis for psychotherapy research is demonstrated. Besides its use in research the future importance of the single-case approach may well lie in quality management. In future, the case study may possibly prove useful as a basis for continuous control and optimization of therapeutic work in the sense of controlled practice evaluation. The main function of a single-case study lies with monitoring and controlling of therapeutic work, and its objectives pertain to proving both treatment integrity and efficacy. As single-case studies show critical points which can reduce their validity, hints for evaluating the evidence of single cases are given.

Case-oriented Research

C.C. Ragin , in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences , 2001

In case-oriented research investigators focus on interconnections among parts and aspects within each case and attempt to make sense of cases as singular, interpretable entities. The single case study is the most basic form of case-oriented research, but researchers may also conduct a series of case studies, each study building on the previous, or conduct simultaneous studies of several instances of the same phenomenon (as in comparative research). The key commonality of these different case-oriented approaches is that the researcher makes an effort to understand each case included in the study separately, as an interpretable entity. The distinctiveness of the case-oriented approach is most apparent when it is contrasted with variable-oriented research, where investigators focus on cross-case patterns and not on each case as a separate entity. The case-oriented approach is distinctive not only in its goals and logic, but also in its ‘practical aspects’—the procedures that case-oriented researchers use to work with evidence and represent what they have learned.

Biographical Methodology: Psychological Perspectives

W. Nasby , in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences , 2001

When studying an individual life, data often pose the central difficulty. The challenges of data can prevent a biographical investigation from exiting the starting gate. Most agree that the single-case study requires a wealth and variety of data, but investigators must typically confront inaccessibility of subjects. To complete the task, psychobiographers often can only consult archival material; the investigator cannot obtain data through interviews or assessments, essentially reducing the project to psychobiography. Given inadequate data, production of psychobiography almost inevitably falls prey to projection and other varieties of countertransference. The consequences of inadequate data partially explain the multiplicity of embarrassing work that plagues the genre.

Biographies that permit creative investigation in vivo typically include clinical cases that suffer from other limitations, most notably a pathological focus. Furthermore, studying a life ideally means conducting an investigation over time, which poses practical difficulties that intimidate all too many. Often, investigators come no closer to the ideal than studying college sophomores over a semester.

Recent developments, however, illustrate that the task of gathering adequate data, although difficult, need no longer derail a biographical project. For example, personologists have outlined guidelines according to which a biographer can extract case data from narrative sources and reveal the underlying order therein. Personologists have also profitably applied coding schemes to analyze the content of narrative material. For example, personologists have devised coding systems that yield quantitative measures of important motives, including intimacy, as well as achievement, power, and affiliation-intimacy, and the broader concerns of identity, intimacy, and generativity. One may also reliably evaluate affect or affective tone through ratings of narrative material.

Applying each of the aforementioned techniques, Nasby and Read ( 1997 ) reported an integrative case study of the solo circumnavigator, Dodge Morgan. In addition, the investigators applied concomitant time series analysis (CTSA) to the quantitative measures of motives, broader concerns, and affect as well as performance measures of daily progress. CTSA permitted detection, modeling, and removal of statistical artifacts (long-term trends, cycles, and serial dependencies) from each variable over time. Once decomposed, accurate calculation of cross-correlation functions that assessed synchronous and lagged relations between variables occurred, which permitted valid statistical tests of hypotheses about the circumnavigator's functioning throughout the life-defining event of the voyage.

Similarly, Simonton ( 1998 ) investigated ‘Mad’ King George of England, first performing content analyses of the historical record to obtain quantitative measures of stress and health, and then decomposing each series before finally calculating the cross-correlations (synchronous and lagged) between the multiple indices of stress and health. Of considerable importance, the ‘historiometric’ approach illustrates that a biographer can often derive quantitative indices from the qualitative or narrative sources of information that dominate historical records, and then apply sophisticated statistical techniques, including but not restricted to CTSA, to test explicit hypotheses about historical figures.

Jack Glazier , in Encyclopedia of Social Measurement , 2005

Cultural Similarities or Cultural Differences

Studies that effectively contribute to culture theory and the associated construction of generalizations are necessarily comparative, because theory entails an explanation of multiple cases of cultural regularity. But in extending the reach of the single case study , theory and generalization almost exist at cross-purposes with the ethnography of the single case. On the one hand, the case study stays very faithful to detail, to native perspectives, to the subtleties of the vernacular language of the community, and to the context of events considered in holistic fashion. That fidelity to detail inevitably gives each case study a very distinct character, because the particular content and concatenation of events, activities, personalities, informant statements, and the like are singular. The detailed ethnography deriving from fieldwork may well restrict theory development and broad comparisons, if one is bent on maintaining the integrity and holism of the data. For example, anthropological accounts of peoples as diverse as Cantonese villagers, Mundurucu or Yanomamo horticulturists in Brazil and Venezuela, Mbeere farmer/herders on the Mt. Kenya periphery, and Tikopia Islanders in Polynesia characterize them as “patrilineal.” This designation refers to their mode of reckoning descent through the male line, ascending to father, grandfather, and so on, to an apical ancestor. Men and women descended from that ancestor through male links belong to a patrilineal group—a lineage, a clan, or a moiety. In this respect, the five peoples cited as well as many others appear similar in regard to their construction of critical descent groups. The particular native designations of these male-descended kin groups are vastly different and the connotations of the various terms as well as the particular role the kin groups play are different in each case.

Differences between the Cantonese and the Mbeere amid the common theme of patrilineal descent are illustrative. The Cantonese lineage, a corporate patrilineal group of considerable genealogical depth, is extremely important in the death rituals of its members. The lineage represents a kind of kin-based religious congregation charged with venerating male ancestors of the lineage. By contrast, the Mbeere patrilineage in no sense constitutes a religious congregation responsible for either collective ritual at the death of a member or, subsequently, collective commemorative rites. Compared to the Cantonese, it is weakly corporate and genealogically shallow. Yet both represent examples of patrilineal descent groups organized by common principles. The Cantonese and the Mbeere are two examples among hundreds of societies that anthropologists classify as “patrilineal.” Some anthropologists are, accordingly, very interested in the comparative problem of explaining the social circumstances promoting the widespread development of patrilineal descent, as documented in large cross-cultural samples. What is at play here is the chronic tension between the ethnographic case study and comparative analysis aiming for a theoretical explanation of multiple occurrences. The decision to remain close to the ethnographic facts or to integrate them into a more generalized explanation simply depends on the anthropologist's intention. A cultural system is unique and at the same time similar to other cultural systems, however self- contradictory this may seem. It all depends on the level of abstraction at which the anthropologist chooses to work. For example, the Mbeere and the Cantonese are unique among the world's cultures, because no other communities reproduce the distinct configuration of customary practices and organizational features defining each case. Indeed, even distinct Cantonese villages or Mbeere local communities assume their own individuality in the finest grained ethnographic descriptions of each people. The area inhabited by the Mbeere people is, for example, characterized by variation in local ecology based on elevation and rainfall. The arid plains constitute an ecological zone distinct from the much better watered upland areas, and these in turn lead to important internal differences in patrilineal organization.

Case Studies

Richard John Anthony , in Systems Programming , 2016

A main theme running throughout the book is to bring the technical content to life through a variety of practical activities, programming exercises and case studies, numerous examples, and analogies. In particular, a single case study runs through the first four “viewpoint” chapters, putting the material into an application context and cross-linking the many themes within and across the chapters.

The multiplayer network game case study was selected because it has a useful set of characteristics that make it ideal as a basis to discuss structure, function, and behavior. However, the documentation for that case study has been dispersed across several chapters with the primary goal of reinforcing the material of those chapters and placing it into perspective; the focus has not been on the presentation of the case study itself.

This chapter provides two additional self-contained case studies. These have been chosen such that they are well differentiated in terms of their structure and behavior and therefore are collectively representative of a wide space of distributed applications. Here, the focus is on the case studies in their entirety. The case studies are presented with detailed design documentation, from requirements analysis to complete working applications with annotated sections of codes presented and discussed.

Also included is a discussion of good design and development practices for distributed applications. Aspects discussed include requirements analysis, architectural considerations, communication, code reuse and code libraries, and testing.

Mathematical and Logical Abilities, Neural Basis of

J. Whalen , in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences , 2001

4.4 Arithmetic

A number of findings from studies of groups of impaired-brain damaged patients suggest that posterior cortical regions, particularly parietal regions, may play a role in arithmetic fact retrieval (Butterworth 1999 ). Impairment in calculation after brain damage, termed acalculia , occurs much more frequently after injury of the parietal lobes than to damage in other centers. Damage to left posterior brain regions impair numerical tasks, including those involving arithmetic, more so than damage elsewhere. However, these studies generally do not distinguish between the multiple components of complex calculation, including arithmetic fact retrieval, calculation procedures, and numeral comprehension and production.

Several single case studies have also implicated left parietal regions as a center for arithmetic fact retrieval, including the previously described patient ‘DRC,’ and multiple cases studied by Takayama et al. ( 1994 ). The application of electrical stimulation to the left parietal lobe (prior to neurosurgery) has also resulted in transient impairment to arithmetic fact retrieval during stimulation when the subject is otherwise completely capable of recalling arithmetic facts. Thus it appears that the left parietal lobe, and perhaps both parietal lobes, play a major role in the retrieval of arithmetic facts from memory.

Parietal cortex may not be the only region involved in retrieving arithmetic facts from memory. Calculation impairments have also been found after damage to frontal lobes and subcortical structures including the basal ganglia (Dehaene 1997 ). Some of these areas may be involved in processes other than arithmetic fact retrieval. For example, evidence from single case studies suggest that damage to the frontal lobes may produce impairment and an inability to produce multi-digit calculation procedures (rather than impairing arithmetic fact retrieval). The hypothesis that frontal lobes play a role in calculation procedures is consistent with the finding from multiple brain imaging studies that complex calculation such as repeated subtractions activate not only parietal centers (thought to be involved in arithmetic fact retrieval) but also other centers such as the frontal area, which maybe involved in holding answers in memory, and performing multi-digit calculation procedures.

Patients who have little or no communication between their cerebral hemispheres also provide some evidence as to the localization of arithmetic fact retrieval. When each hemisphere is given a calculation task, only the left hemisphere can retrieve arithmetic facts, and the right hemisphere produces very high error rates (80 percent) (Dehaene 1997 ). The right hemisphere's inability to perform the arithmetic task cannot be attributed to numeral comprehension or response production impairments. As was discussed earlier, these patients reveal the ability in each hemisphere to perform number comparison, suggesting that both hemispheres can both represent numerical magnitudes and comprehend arabic numerals.

In summary, current evidence indicates that the parietal lobe plays a major role in simple arithmetic fact retrieval. Other subcortical regions such as the basal ganglia may also be involved. It is currently thought that frontal areas are involved in multidigit calculation procedures, and the working memory demands of complex calculation. These conclusions are somewhat at odds with the assumptions made by the Triple Code Model presented above. Dehaene suggests that the most frequent lesion sites which result in acalculia are in the left inferior parietal region, because this area provides semantic relations between numbers, and can inform fact retrieval. Thus lesions in this area might affect access to arithmetic memory without destroying the rote facts themselves. However, several cases do report specific fact retrieval deficits as a result of parietal lesions.

Personality Psychology

D.P. McAdams , in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences , 2001

2 Perennial Issues and Controversies

In his first textbook, Allport ( 1937 ) foresaw a number of issues that were destined to stimulate recurrent debate in the field of personality psychology. The one that most preoccupied Allport himself was the tension between nomothetic and idiographic approaches to personality inquiry. While nomothetic approaches seek to establish general laws of behavior that apply across persons, idiographic approaches, as embodied in the case study, focus on the unique or characteristic patterning of an individual person. The vast majority of published research in personality psychology is nomothetic, typically involving the testing of hypotheses about personality constructs and processes. But if the field itself is supposed to be concerned with human individuality, Allport argued, then some form of idiographic inquiry must be included. Skeptics have countered that the results of single-case studies cannot be generalized, and thus have little scientific value. But proponents of idiographic approaches maintain that case studies are often excellent arenas for hypothesis discovery, for applying general theories, and for illuminating complex personality organization. Along with Allport and Murray, Robert White ( 1952 ) championed the intensive study of individual lives. Recent years have witnessed a resurgence of interest in idiographic approaches and considerable optimism about integrating them with more conventional nomothetic methods.

A forerunner to the ‘trait versus situation debate’ of the 1970s was Allport's identification of the problem of generality versus specificity in behavior. To what extent is a person's behavior generally consistent across situations, as opposed to being specific to the vagaries of particular situations themselves? Mischel ( 1968 ) argued that Allport and most other personality psychologists overplayed the generality idea, expecting their constructs to predict general trends in behavior across many different situations. In Mischel's ( 1968 ) view, the empirical data were much more supportive of a specificity position. Although trait constructs have regained their currency in recent years, many personality psychologists have retained a healthy skepticism about cross-situational generality, and some have proposed that some personality constructs themselves need to be defined in contingent, situational terms.

A third issue concerns measurement. The most popular personality measures have always been self-report questionnaires. But many critics have argued that such measures are unable to assess especially subtle, implicit, or unconscious aspects of human individuality. As an alternative, some have championed projective techniques, wherein the person responds freely to ambiguous cues (e.g., inkblots, story scenes). For example, David McClelland ( 1961 ) built a highly successful research program around the assessment of achievement motivation in imaginative stories told to picture cues (the Thematic Apperception Test, or TAT). Others, most notably Jack Block ( 1971 ), refined Q-sort rating procedures that bypassed self-report for the evaluations of expert judges. While a plethora of measurement techniques may be seen in the field today, the self-report questionnaire, nonetheless, remains the coin of the realm.

A fourth controversy is the often-observed disconnect between grand personality theories and construct-based personality research. While some argue that a good deal of personality research has been directly or indirectly inspired by the grand theories, others contend that the grand theories should be dismissed as historical artifacts. The controversy is especially acute with respect to psychoanalytic theories. Many Freudian ideas, for example, have proven resistant to empirical scrutiny (e.g., the Oedipus complex) or have been jettisoned as outdated or just plain wrong (e.g., the death instinct). By contrast, some ideas that have traditionally been associated with psychoanalytic approaches have become incorporated into mainstream psychological research. Of most importance in this regard is the now generally accepted notion that a good deal of human information processing occurs in an automatic, implicit, and nonconscious manner. Thus, while psychoanalytic theories have exerted a strong impact on Western thinking more generally, their current and future status in personality psychology appears ambiguous at best.


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