Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Including Rigor and Artistry in Case Study as a Strategic Qualitative Methodology

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Including Rigor and Artistry in Case Study as a Strategic Qualitative Methodology

Article excerpt

Case study research as a qualitative research design has caught the interest of researchers due to its uniqueness in several aspects. First, case study is one of the earliest identified types of qualitative research dating back to the middle of 19th century (Starman, 2013). Second, it is also one of the most widely used among qualitative research designs across social sciences since late 1960s (Kohlbacher, 2006; Merriam, 1988) and has become increasingly popular in several related fields such as psychology, sociology, anthropology as well as in professions such as Education, Business, Social Work, and Public Health (Yin, 2014).

Third, case study research has been misunderstood (Flyvbjerg, 2006) and has been criticized for its lack of rigor, reliability, and generalizability (Johnson, as cited in Noor, 2008). In fact, a review of 34 published case studies (Hyett, Kenny, & Dickson-Swift, 2014) in reputable journals asserted the need for improved reporting especially of the methodological aspects. Fourth, case study research is uniquely flexible in comparison to other qualitative research designs (Hyett et al., 2014). And fifth, case study research is "one of the most challenging of all social science endeavors" (Yin, 2014, p. 3).

In my own early experiences with a major case study research (Gaikwad, 1991), it was found that the path of the research journey to be quite interesting and complex. This novel view of research, unlike the popular positivist approach that I was acquainted with in natural science, considered reality as socially constructed rather than objectively decided. I was intrigued. Since then, case study research has not lost its charm among my areas of research interest. This present study attempts to examine case study research in order to clarify some of the related concerns.

Established as an alternative and more suitable method to conduct research in social sciences, a plethora of case studies are being published. However, due to inconsistencies in paradigms and methods, case study research continues to baffle novice researchers. How can case study research be best understood? How can researchers enhance case studies for rigor and yet make it appealing to the creative senses of humans? These are questions that are addressed in this study. In the context of these questions, this study is organized into the following main sections: (a) criticisms and misunderstandings, (b) nature of case study, (c) rigor in research design and reporting, and (d) appeal to creative senses.

Criticisms and Misunderstandings

Case studies often have been looked upon as less desirable than other research strategies, especially those from the quantitative research paradigm. The following discussion gives a shortlist of four of the criticisms of case study (Yin, 1984, 2014).

1. Lack of rigor. The complaint of lack of rigor has been the greatest concern for case studies. Case studies conducted and written in sloppy ways reflect ambiguous evidences and biased views of researchers. The write-up of case studies in journals is often devoid of sufficient details of the study design and methodological discussions (Hyett et al., 2014). Perhaps the limited pages allocated for journal articles are taking a toll on the quality of case studies.

2. Poor generalizability. "How can one generalize from a single case?" is a frequently asked question (Yin, 2014, p. 20). This concern with generalizability points to sampling, as case studies use a small number of participants, even as small as one. Generalization as a critical, quality criteria of quantitative research when used for a case study that is qualitative does not give case study much chance to be comparable.

3. Takes too long, is difficult to conduct and produces massive, unreadable documents. Traditionally data collection in case studies have taken (unnecessarily) long time similar to ethnographic research studies. …

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