Case study writing guide: obtaining data

The backbone of any well-written case study is the data it contains. This data varies according to type and method of collection. When obtaining data for one's case study, there are several things to consider.

Types of Data Required

Some case studies are best suited to single-modal approaches in terms of data. That is, there should be one type of data or one method of collection which predominates. Others, however, are better suited (or even require) several different types of data and methods of collection. One way to determine whether multiple modes of collection or a single mode of collection is best for your case study is to consider what the best sources of data will be. If you are primarily focusing on one source, and that source is sufficient for your case study, then a single method of obtaining data should be fine. If multiple sources are required in order to obtain enough data for your case study, then you'll most likely need to pursue multiple collection methods as well.

Types of Data

There are three major types of data which can be collected for case studies, and these can be subdivided into specific groups.

  1. Interviews
  2. This self-explanatory method of data collection may involve the researcher themselves interviewing, or it may involve the researcher compiling interviews others have given.

  3. Documentation
    • Documents
    • Archival Records
    • Artifacts

    This type of data essentially refers to recorded information which has been stored prior to the research project commencing.

  4. Observation
    • Direct observation
    • Participant observation

Observation involves real-time observation of the subject of the case study. This may include third party observation or the observation of the researcher him or herself. It can also refer to transcripts, audio-, or videotapes of observed behaviors.

Argument for Multiple Modes of Collection

Most, if not all, case studies are improved by including data from multiple sources. It may still be logical to focus on a single source for the primary data, but being able to support the conclusions garnered from that data with data from other sources can significantly strengthen the overall study. This is especially the case if the researcher sees that new factors, ideas, patterns, and concepts are emerging throughout their data collection. It's a good idea to at least have a backup plan for other sources, even if it is ultimately unnecessary to use them in your case study.

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