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He finds that length of marriage correlates with baldness. Instead, a third factor explains the correlation: both balding and long marriages are associated with old age.

A correlation coefficient measures the strength of the relationship between two variables. Research Methods in Psychology. How to Cite This SparkNote. Research Methods Psychologists use many different methods for conducting research.

Case Study

Students will find the book's organisation guides them through a variety of aspects of study design and highlights the potential pitfalls with concrete examples of good and less good Using a series of over 40 case studies, this valuable text illustrates the processes and pitfalls involved in evaluating psychological research. The author describes each case in a clear and concise way. He then invites the reader to consider whether the conclusion drawn at the end of the case is correct, or whether the results could have an alternative explanation.

Cross-referencing between sections is made easy by page references that link the case studies and explanations. The cases reflect the range of research methods taught at undergraduate level and include qualitative research. This case-study approach gives students a detailed understanding of methodological problems. It helps them to appreciate the difficulties of designing research, whether their own or other people's, and equips them to critically evaluate published research.

It invites students to consider whether the conclusion drawn at the end of each case is correct, or whether the results could have an alternative explanation. Cases reflect the range of research methods taught at undergraduate level and include qualitative research. It gives students an understanding of methodological problems. We critically analysed the methodological descriptions of published case studies. Three high-impact qualitative methods journals were searched to locate case studies published in the past 5 years; 34 were selected for analysis. The articles were reviewed using an adapted version of established criteria to determine whether adequate methodological justification was present, and if study aims, methods, and reported findings were consistent with a qualitative case study approach.

Findings were grouped into five themes outlining key methodological issues: case study methodology or method, case of something particular and case selection, contextually bound case study, researcher and case interactions and triangulation, and study design inconsistent with methodology reported. Improved reporting of case studies by qualitative researchers will advance the methodology for the benefit of researchers and practitioners. Case study research is an increasingly popular approach among qualitative researchers Thomas, Current qualitative case study approaches are shaped by paradigm, study design, and selection of methods, and, as a result, case studies in the published literature vary.

Differences between published case studies can make it difficult for researchers to define and understand case study as a methodology. Case study research has a level of flexibility that is not readily offered by other qualitative approaches such as grounded theory or phenomenology. Case studies are designed to suit the case and research question and published case studies demonstrate wide diversity in study design. There are two popular case study approaches in qualitative research. The first, proposed by Stake and Merriam , is situated in a social constructivist paradigm, whereas the second, by Yin , Flyvbjerg , and Eisenhardt , approaches case study from a post-positivist viewpoint.

Scholarship from both schools of inquiry has contributed to the popularity of case study and development of theoretical frameworks and principles that characterize the methodology. The diversity of case studies reported in the published literature, and on-going debates about credibility and the use of case study in qualitative research practice, suggests that differences in perspectives on case study methodology may prevent researchers from developing a mutual understanding of practice and rigour.

Methodological discussion of qualitative case study research is timely, and a review is required to analyse and understand how this methodology is applied in the qualitative research literature.

A Full Example

The aims of this study were to review methodological descriptions of published qualitative case studies, to review how the case study methodological approach was applied, and to identify issues that need to be addressed by researchers, editors, and reviewers. An outline of the current definitions of case study and an overview of the issues proposed in the qualitative methodological literature are provided to set the scene for the review.

Case study research is an investigation and analysis of a single or collective case, intended to capture the complexity of the object of study Stake, As a study design, case study is defined by interest in individual cases rather than the methods of inquiry used. The selection of methods is informed by researcher and case intuition and makes use of naturally occurring sources of knowledge, such as people or observations of interactions that occur in the physical space Stake, Multiple data collection and analysis methods are adopted to further develop and understand the case, shaped by context and emergent data Stake, Case study research has been defined by the unit of analysis, the process of study, and the outcome or end product, all essentially the case Merriam, The case is an object to be studied for an identified reason that is peculiar or particular.

Classification of the case and case selection procedures informs development of the study design and clarifies the research question. Stake proposed three types of cases and study design frameworks. These include the intrinsic case, the instrumental case, and the collective instrumental case. The intrinsic case is used to understand the particulars of a single case, rather than what it represents.

An instrumental case study provides insight on an issue or is used to refine theory. The case is selected to advance understanding of the object of interest. A collective refers to an instrumental case which is studied as multiple, nested cases, observed in unison, parallel, or sequential order. More than one case can be simultaneously studied; however, each case study is a concentrated, single inquiry, studied holistically in its own entirety Stake, , Researchers who use case study are urged to seek out what is common and what is particular about the case.

This involves careful and in-depth consideration of the nature of the case, historical background, physical setting, and other institutional and political contextual factors Stake, An interpretive or social constructivist approach to qualitative case study research supports a transactional method of inquiry, where the researcher has a personal interaction with the case. The case is developed in a relationship between the researcher and informants, and presented to engage the reader, inviting them to join in this interaction and in case discovery Stake, A postpositivist approach to case study involves developing a clear case study protocol with careful consideration of validity and potential bias, which might involve an exploratory or pilot phase, and ensures that all elements of the case are measured and adequately described Yin, , The future of qualitative research will be influenced and constructed by the way research is conducted, and by what is reviewed and published in academic journals Morse, If case study research is to further develop as a principal qualitative methodological approach, and make a valued contribution to the field of qualitative inquiry, issues related to methodological credibility must be considered.

Researchers are required to demonstrate rigour through adequate descriptions of methodological foundations. Case studies published without sufficient detail for the reader to understand the study design, and without rationale for key methodological decisions, may lead to research being interpreted as lacking in quality or credibility Hallberg, ; Morse, This includes paradigm and theoretical perspectives that have influenced study design.

Without adequate description, study design might not be understood by the reader, and can appear to be dishonest or inaccurate. Reviewers and readers might be confused by the inconsistent or inappropriate terms used to describe case study research approach and methods, and be distracted from important study findings Sandelowski, This issue extends beyond case study research, and others have noted inconsistencies in reporting of methodology and method by qualitative researchers.

Sandelowski , argued for accurate identification of qualitative description as a research approach. She recommended that the selected methodology should be harmonious with the study design, and be reflected in methods and analysis techniques. Similarly, Webb and Kevern uncovered inconsistencies in qualitative nursing research with focus group methods, recommending that methodological procedures must cite seminal authors and be applied with respect to the selected theoretical framework. Methodological integrity is required in design of qualitative studies, including case study, to ensure study rigour and to enhance credibility of the field Morse, Case study is not an inherently comparative approach to research.

The objective is not statistical research, and the aim is not to produce outcomes that are generalizable to all populations Thomas, Comparisons between case study and statistical research do little to advance this qualitative approach, and fail to recognize its inherent value, which can be better understood from the interpretive or social constructionist viewpoint of other authors Merriam, ; Stake, Case study research has been used as a catch-all design to justify or add weight to fundamental qualitative descriptive studies that do not fit with other traditional frameworks Merriam, This has resulted in inconsistency in application, which indicates that flexibility comes with limitations Meyer, , and the open nature of case study research might be off-putting to novice researchers Thomas, The development of a well- in formed theoretical framework to guide a case study should improve consistency, rigour, and trust in studies published in qualitative research journals Meyer, The purpose of this study was to analyse the methodological descriptions of case studies published in qualitative methods journals.

To do this we needed to develop a suitable framework, which used existing, established criteria for appraising qualitative case study research rigour Creswell, b ; Merriam, ; Stake, The criteria proposed by Stake provide a framework for readers and reviewers to make judgements regarding case study quality, and identify key characteristics essential for good methodological rigour.

Although each of the factors listed in Stake's criteria could enhance the quality of a qualitative research report, in Table I we present an adapted criteria used in this study, which integrates more recent work by Merriam and Creswell b. Stake's original criteria were separated into two categories. This second list was the main criteria used to assess the methodological descriptions of the case studies reviewed. The complete table has been preserved so that the reader can determine how the original criteria were adapted.

Adapted from Stake , p. The critical review method described by Grant and Booth was used, which is appropriate for the assessment of research quality, and is used for literature analysis to inform research and practice. A critical review is used to develop existing, or produce new, hypotheses or models.

This is different to systematic reviews that answer clinical questions. The highest ranked journals were selected for searching. The search was limited to the past 5 years 1 January to 1 March The objective was to locate published qualitative case studies suitable for assessment using the adapted criterion.

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Viewpoints, commentaries, and other article types were excluded from review. Title and abstracts of the 45 retrieved articles were read by the first author, who identified 34 empirical case studies for review. All authors reviewed the 34 studies to confirm selection and categorization. In Table III , we present the 34 case studies grouped by journal, and categorized by research topic, including health sciences, social sciences and anthropology, and methods research. Consensus was to allocate to the methods category. In Table III , the number of studies located, and final numbers selected for review have been reported.

In the health category, there were 12 case studies of health conditions, health services, and health policy issues, all published in Qualitative Health Research. Seven case studies were categorized as social sciences and anthropology research, which combined case study with biography and ethnography methodologies. All three journals published case studies on methods research to illustrate a data collection or analysis technique, methodological procedure, or related issue.

The methodological descriptions of 34 case studies were critically reviewed using the adapted criteria. All articles reviewed contained a description of study methods; however, the length, amount of detail, and position of the description in the article varied.

Few studies provided an accurate description and rationale for using a qualitative case study approach. In the 34 case studies reviewed, three described a theoretical framework informed by Stake , two by Yin , and three provided a mixed framework informed by various authors, which might have included both Yin and Stake.

Few studies described their case study design, or included a rationale that explained why they excluded or added further procedures, and whether this was to enhance the study design, or to better suit the research question. In 26 of the studies no reference was provided to principal case study authors. From reviewing the description of methods, few authors provided a description or justification of case study methodology that demonstrated how their study was informed by the methodological literature that exists on this approach.

The methodological descriptions of each study were reviewed using the adapted criteria, and the following issues were identified: case study methodology or method; case of something particular and case selection; contextually bound case study; researcher and case interactions and triangulation; and, study design inconsistent with methodology. An outline of how the issues were developed from the critical review is provided, followed by a discussion of how these relate to the current methodological literature. A third of the case studies reviewed appeared to use a case report method, not case study methodology as described by principal authors Creswell, b ; Merriam, ; Stake, ; Yin, Case studies were identified as a case report because of missing methodological detail and by review of the study aims and purpose.

These reports presented data for small samples of no more than three people, places or phenomenon. Case reports were not a case of something, instead were a case demonstration or an example presented in a report.

These reports presented outcomes, and reported on how the case could be generalized. Descriptions focussed on the phenomena, rather than the case itself, and did not appear to study the case in its entirety. This does not suggest that case study methodology cannot be multimethod, however, methodology should be consistent in design, be clearly described Meyer, ; Stake, , and maintain focus on the case Creswell, b. To demonstrate how case reports were identified, three examples are provided.


The findings were a historical case report, which resulted from an ethnographic study of vegetarianism. This case study reported how digital storytelling can be used with indigenous communities as a participatory method to illuminate the benefits of this method for other studies. Bronken et al. Case selection is a precursor to case analysis, which needs to be presented as a convincing argument Merriam, Descriptions of the case were often not adequate to ascertain why the case was selected, or whether it was a particular exemplar or outlier Thomas, There were exceptions in the methods category Table III , where cases were selected by researchers to report on a new or innovative method.

Possible limitations of a convenience sample were not acknowledged. Purposeful sampling was used to recruit participants within the case of one study, but not of the case itself Gallagher et al. To demonstrate how researchers provided a good justification for the selection of case study approaches, four examples are provided. Roscigno et al. Hooghe et al. The final example, Coltart and Henwood , provided a detailed account of how they selected two cases from a sample of 46 fathers based on personal characteristics and beliefs.

They described how the analysis of the two cases would contribute to their larger study on first time fathers and parenting. Adequate contextual description is required to understand the setting or context in which the case is revealed. In these case studies, contextual boundaries, such as physical and institutional descriptions, were not sufficient to understand the case as a holistic system, for example, the general practitioner GP clinic in Gallagher et al. Missing contextual boundaries suggests that the case might not be adequately defined.

Additional information, such as the physical, institutional, political, and community context, would improve understanding of the case Stake, In Boxes 1 and 2 , we present brief synopses of two studies that were reviewed, which demonstrated a well bounded case. In Box 1 , Ledderer used a qualitative case study design informed by Stake's tradition. By providing a brief outline of the case studies in Boxes 1 and 2 , we demonstrate how effective case boundaries can be constructed and reported, which may be of particular interest to prospective case study researchers.

Ledderer used a qualitative case study research design, informed by modern ethnography. The study is bounded to 10 general practice clinics in Denmark, who had received federal funding to implement preventative care services based on a Motivational Interviewing intervention. The study context was adequately described, providing detail on the general practitioner GP clinics and relevant political and economic influences.

Qualitative research - Wikipedia

Methodological decisions are described in first person narrative, providing insight on researcher perspectives and interaction with the case. Forty-four interviews were conducted, which focussed on how GPs conducted consultations, and the form, nature and content, rather than asking their opinion or experience Ledderer, , p. The duration and intensity of researcher immersion in the case enhanced depth of description and trustworthiness of study findings. Analysis was consistent with Stake's tradition, and the researcher provided examples of inquiry techniques used to challenge assumptions about emerging themes.

Several other seminal qualitative works were cited. The themes and typology constructed are rich in narrative data and storytelling by clinic staff, demonstrating individual clinic experiences as well as shared meanings and understandings about changing from a biomedical to psychological approach to preventative health intervention.

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Conclusions make note of social and cultural meanings and lessons learned, which might not have been uncovered using a different methodology. Gillard et al. The context of the case is bounded by the three summer camps of which the researchers had prior professional involvement. A case study protocol was developed that used multiple methods to gather information at three data collection points coinciding with three youth camps Teen Forum, Discover Camp, and Camp Strong.

Gillard and colleagues followed Yin's principles, using a consistent data protocol that enhanced cross-case analysis. Data described the young people, the camp physical environment, camp schedule, objectives and outcomes, and the staff of three youth camps. The findings provided a detailed description of the context, with less detail of individual participants, including insight into researcher's interpretations and methodological decisions throughout the data collection and analysis process.