A Brief Look at the Case Study

I thought describing the case study would be fairly easy. This article, How to Do Case Study Research by Donna M. Zucker, made me reconsider that notion. Apparently, there are a lot of layers that require more attention than one would expect. If I may be frank though, the explanation of these layers were a bit confusing at times.

A case study, simply put, is a qualitative research method that consists of analyzing “the development of a particular person, group, or situation over a period of time”. According to the article, its overall design includes five specific components: “research question(s), propositions, unit(s) of analysis, a determination of how the data are linked to the propositions, and criteria to interpret the findings”. So far, if I were to conduct a case study, I have a research question and potential propositions to begin a research. I guess I’m halfway there. My main concern would be dealing with the latter two components. Figuring out the unit(s) of analysis based on the specifics of research is easy but I’m not certain about the criteria aspect. Although, I believe that I did work on a case study before, when I was an undergraduate, I can’t seem to be able to recall the details about it. I need to examine more examples in order to grasp it and utilize it effectively myself.

The article breaks the case study into three stages/categories: “An instrumental case study is used to provide insight into an issue; an intrinsic case study is undertaken to gain a deeper understanding of the case; and the collective case study is the study of a number of cases in order to inquire into a particular phenomenon”. If I’m not mistaken, that case study I mentioned above was about figuring out the reasoning behind common errors by ESL students in terms of pronunciation. As I’ve said, I do not necessarily remember the details. I do remember, however, that after going over some of the individual cases presented, I analyzed multiple cases to draw parallels between them… somehow —did I skip out on the intrinsic one? It did get pretty convoluted though. Hence, it is important to note that “using more than one case may dilute the importance and meaning of the single case”.

It is also stated that “each case study must outline the purpose, then depending on the type of case study and the actions proposed by the researcher, the researcher could determine the possible products of the study”. The four specific purposes of a case study research are indicated as exploratory, descriptive, interpretive, and explanatory. If I had to pick one for my potential research question (reminder: Does the proficiency level of language has any impact on the students’ ability to improve learner autonomy?), I’d go with exploratory as the main purpose —right? I’d basically be exploring the existence of that impact by conducting studies related to it; interview with students, review of grading on assignments, and review of proficiency examinations. It is suggested in the article that “developing a protocol will serve as a frame of operation and include all the necessary elements in the proper conduct of research”, which is pretty much crucial for the final write-up and presentation. I do not believe developing that protocol is as easy as the article makes it sound like though.

There were a few other aspects mentioned in the article but I wasn’t able to keep up with all the details. I might’ve also rushed through the article. So, I’ll leave those for the in-class discussion as usual.



Zucker, Donna M., “How to Do Case Study Research” (2009). Teaching Research Methods in the Social Sciences. 2. Retrieved from https://scholarworks.umass.edu/nursing_faculty_pubs/2