In any of the research disciplines that exist, especially if they are in some way related to people or to both physical and psychological health, a series of research methods or techniques are required through which to develop the theories on which each of these subjects is based.
One of these techniques is the case study . A qualitative method of research that we will talk about throughout this article. As well as its characteristics, objectives and how to carry it out correctly and effectively.
What is a case study?
The case study consists of a research method or technique, usually used in the health and social sciences , which is characterized by the need for a process of search and inquiry, as well as the systematic analysis of one or more cases.
To be more precise, by case we mean all those unique circumstances, situations or phenomena that require more information or deserve some kind of interest within the world of research.
Depending on the field of research in which it is carried out, the case study may focus on a wide variety of subjects or issues. In the field of psychology, it is often related to research on mental illnesses, disorders or disorders through the study of people who suffer from them.
Unlike other types of empirical research, this methodology is considered a qualitative research technique , since the development of it focuses on the exhaustive study of a phenomenon. And not on the statistical analysis of already existing data.
In general, the case study is carried out with the intention of developing a series of hypotheses or theories about a specific topic or theme so that, as a result of these theories, more expensive and elaborate studies can be carried out with a much larger sample.
However, the case study can be carried out both with a single person as the object of research, and with several subjects who have certain characteristics. To do so, the person or persons who carry out the case study resort to techniques such as observation or the administration of questionnaires or psychological tests . However, these procedures will vary according to the discipline to which the research belongs.
What distinguishes it?
In 1994, the educator and researcher Gloria Pérez Serrano, elaborated a list with the main characteristics that define the case studies. These are:
They are particularists
This means that they only cover one specific reality or topic, which makes them very effective techniques for analysing unique and concrete situations .
They are descriptive
At the end of a case study we will obtain a comprehensive and qualitative description of a specific situation or condition.
They are heuristics
The heuristic concept means to find or discover something. In the case study we can discover new aspects of a specific topic or confirm what we already know.
They are inductive
Based on inductive reasoning we can develop hypotheses and find new relationships from one or more specific cases.
What are the objectives?
Like any research technique, the case study is guided by specific objectives. These are:
- To elaborate one or several hypotheses or theories through the study of a certain reality or situation.
- Confirm existing hypotheses or theories.
- Description and record of the facts or circumstances of the case
- Checking or comparing similar phenomena or situations
Methodology: how is it done?
Traditionally, the development of a case study is divided into five well-defined phases. These phases are as follows.
1. Case selection
Before starting any kind of investigation we must know what we want to study, and then select an appropriate and relevant case. We must establish the scope for which the study may be useful, the people who may be interesting as case studies and, how not to define the problem and the objectives of the case study.
2. Preparation of questions
Once the subject of study has been identified and the case(s) to be investigated have been selected, it will be necessary to draw up a set of questions that will determine what is to be found out once the study has been completed .
Sometimes it is useful to establish a global issue as a guide and then determine more specific and varied questions. In this way we can get the most out of the situation to be investigated.
3. Source location and data collection
Through observation techniques, interviews with the subjects or through the administration of tests and psychological tests we will obtain most of the information necessary for the elaboration of the theories and hypotheses that give meaning to the research.
4. Analysis and interpretation of information and results
Once all the data have been collected, the next step is to compare them with the hypotheses formulated at the beginning of the case study. Once the comparison stage is completed, the researcher(s) can draw a series of conclusions and decide whether the information or result obtained can be applied to more similar situations or cases.
5. Preparation of the report
Finally, a report is prepared that, chronologically, details each and every one of the data of the case study . It will be necessary to specify which steps were followed, how the information was obtained and why the conclusions were drawn.
All this in a clear and understandable language that allows the reader to understand each of the points.