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What Is a Case Study?

When you’re performing research as part of your job or for a school assignment, you’ll probably come across case studies that help you to learn more about the topic at hand. But what is a case study and why are they helpful? Read on to learn all about case studies.

Deep Dive into a Topic

At face value, a case study is a deep dive into a topic. Case studies can be found in many fields, particularly across the social sciences and medicine. When you conduct a case study, you create a body of research based on an inquiry and related data from analysis of a group, individual or controlled research environment.

As a researcher, you can benefit from the analysis of case studies similar to inquiries you’re currently studying. Researchers often rely on case studies to answer questions that basic information and standard diagnostics cannot address.

Study a Pattern

One of the main objectives of a case study is to find a pattern that answers whatever the initial inquiry seeks to find. This might be a question about why college students are prone to certain eating habits or what mental health problems afflict house fire survivors. The researcher then collects data, either through observation or data research, and starts connecting the dots to find underlying behaviors or impacts of the sample group’s behavior.

Gather Evidence

During the study period, the researcher gathers evidence to back the observed patterns and future claims that’ll be derived from the data. Since case studies are usually presented in the professional environment, it’s not enough to simply have a theory and observational notes to back up a claim. Instead, the researcher must provide evidence to support the body of study and the resulting conclusions.

Present Findings

As the study progresses, the researcher develops a solid case to present to peers or a governing body. Case study presentation is important because it legitimizes the body of research and opens the findings to a broader analysis that may end up drawing a conclusion that’s more true to the data than what one or two researchers might establish. The presentation might be formal or casual, depending on the case study itself.

Draw Conclusions

Once the body of research is established, it’s time to draw conclusions from the case study. As with all social sciences studies, conclusions from one researcher shouldn’t necessarily be taken as gospel, but they’re helpful for advancing the body of knowledge in a given field. For that purpose, they’re an invaluable way of gathering new material and presenting ideas that others in the field can learn from and expand upon.


social case study validity

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Social validity in single-case research: A systematic literature review of prevalence and application


Background: Single-case research (SCR) has been a valuable methodology in special education research. Montrose Wolf (1978), an early pioneer in single-case methodology, coined the term "social validity" to refer to the social importance of the goals selected, the acceptability of procedures employed, and the effectiveness of the outcomes produced in applied investigations. Since 1978, many contributors to SCR have included social validity as a feature of their articles and several authors have examined the prevalence and role of social validity in SCR.

Aim and methods: We systematically reviewed all SCR published in six highly-ranked special education journals from 2005 to 2016 to establish the prevalence of social validity assessments and to evaluate their scientific rigor.

Results: We found relatively low, but stable prevalence with only 28 publications addressing all three factors of the social validity construct (i.e., goals, procedures, outcomes). We conducted an in-depth analysis of the scientific rigor of these 28 publications.

Conclusions: Social validity remains an understudied construct in SCR, and the scientific rigor of social validity assessments is often lacking. Implications and future directions are discussed.

Keywords: Single-case research; Social validity; Systematic review.

Copyright © 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Research in Developmental Disabilities

Review article social validity in single-case research: a systematic literature review of prevalence and application.

Single-case research (SCR) has been a valuable methodology in special education research. Montrose Wolf (1978), an early pioneer in single-case methodology, coined the term “social validity” to refer to the social importance of the goals selected, the acceptability of procedures employed, and the effectiveness of the outcomes produced in applied investigations. Since 1978, many contributors to SCR have included social validity as a feature of their articles and several authors have examined the prevalence and role of social validity in SCR.

Aim and methods

We systematically reviewed all SCR published in six highly-ranked special education journals from 2005 to 2016 to establish the prevalence of social validity assessments and to evaluate their scientific rigor.

We found relatively low, but stable prevalence with only 28 publications addressing all three factors of the social validity construct (i.e., goals, procedures, outcomes). We conducted an in-depth analysis of the scientific rigor of these 28 publications.


Social validity remains an understudied construct in SCR, and the scientific rigor of social validity assessments is often lacking. Implications and future directions are discussed.

Single-case experimental research plays an important role in the field of special education (Horner et al., 2005). This methodology has offered a way for researchers to experimentally evaluate the efficacy of an intervention on an observed behavior for individuals or groups of individuals (e.g., across classrooms or schools; Gast & Ledford, 2014; Kazdin, 2011; Kennedy, 2005). Given the heterogeneity of the populations served by special educators, single-case research (SCR) has contributed substantially to intervention efforts in the field (Horner et al., 2005; Kratochwill et al., 2010).

Following the establishment of SCR within applied behavior analysis (ABA), the social validity of the goals, procedures, and outcomes of an intervention was espoused as an essential feature of applied research. Defining social validity as the “changes in behavior that are clinically significant or actually make a difference in the client’s life” (Kazdin, 1977, p. 427), early leaders in ABA and SCR, like Wolf (1978) and Kazdin (1977), called for researchers to attend to this critical component of intervention efforts. Wolf defined the construct of social validity as consisting of three factors: (a) the goals of the intervention, or what behaviors the intervention is intended to change; (b) the procedures used during intervention, considering questions like, “Do the ends justify the means? ...Do the participants, caregivers, and other consumers consider the treatment procedures acceptable?” (Wolf, 1978, p. 207); and (c) the outcomes , “ all the results, including any unpredicted ones,” that the intervention produced (Wolf, 1978, p. 207). Similar stances exist in other related fields, like educational program evaluation and educational policy (e.g., Simons, 2004; Weiss, 1998). Social validity is considered essential when attempting to implement research-based interventions at scale and with sustainability (Cook, Cook, & Landrum, 2013; Reimers, Wacker, & Koeppl, 1987) and to defend against developing interventions likely to fail in real-world applications (Schwartz & Baer, 1991). As the research community seeks to address the research-to-practice gap, attention to social validity is therefore critical because interventions deemed to be impractical, unacceptable, or addressing less important goals and outcomes are less likely to be adopted in practice (Leko, 2014; Lloyd & Heubusch, 1996).

Since the original call, researchers have explored numerous avenues for capturing this complex construct within a wide variety of educational contexts (Carr, Austin, Britton, Kellum, & Bailey, 1999; Kennedy, 1992; Reimers, Wacker, & Keoppl, 1987; Schwartz & Baer, 1991; Spear, Strickland-Cohen, Romer, & Albin, 2013; Turan & Meadan, 2011). At least three methods of assessing social validity have been proposed: (a) subjective evaluation, (b) normative comparison, and (c) maintenance/sustainability measures (Kazdin, 1977; Kennedy, 2002; Wolf, 1978). Subjective evaluation refers to gathering information regarding people’s perceptions of particular dimensions of the goal, procedures, and/or outcomes of an experiment (Kazdin, 2011; Kennedy, 2005), often using measures such as interviews, surveys, and scales. Normative, or social, comparison is the process of comparing the participants’ targeted behavior (i.e., dependent variable) to those of a reference group (i.e., a sample of individuals whose behavior is considered acceptable, “typical,” or desirable) (Kazdin, 2011; Kennedy, 2005). To conduct normative comparisons, researchers have, for example, collected data on target behaviors for both participants receiving the intervention and for participants perceived as having acceptable or “typical” levels of these same behaviors (e.g., Chan et al., 2011; Hochman, Carter, Bottema-Beutel, Harvey, & Gustafson, 2015). Sustainability or maintenance is an indicator of whether the procedures and outcomes of an experiment continue once the research is completed and the researchers are no longer involved (Kennedy, 2005). Kennedy (2002) posited that measures of the extent to which behavior changes are maintained or sustained over time is critical to claims of the social validity of an intervention. Collecting maintenance data after termination of the intervention is now an indicator of high-quality SCR (Horner et al., 2005).

In the 40 years since Wolf and Kazdin’s original calls, efforts have been made to increase prevalence, extend the scientific rigor, and expand methods used to assess social validity within SCR. In 2005, Horner and colleagues included assessment of social validity as a quality indicator for SCR in special education, stating that both the selection of the dependent variable and the magnitude of change in that variable, resulting from the intervention, should be socially important. In addition, they stated that implementation of the independent variable should be practical and cost effective and that “social validity is enhanced by implementation of the independent variable over extended time periods, by typical intervention agents, in typical physical and social contexts” (p. 174). Schwartz and Baer (1991) called for increased psychometric rigor and increased attention to validity and reliability in measures assessing social validity.

Still other researchers have highlighted the importance of the timing of social validity assessment activities, encouraging researchers to assess social validity before, during, and after an intervention is applied. For example, researchers have cited the impact that pre-intervention buy-in (e.g., perceived social validity prior to experience) may have on fidelity of implementation and, therefore, on the perceptions of the social validity of the intervention (Gresham & Lopez, 1996; Gresham, McMillian, Beebe-Frankenberger, & Bocian, 2000; Hieneman, Dunlap, & Kincaid, 2005). Researchers have also expanded methodological options for assessing social validity by employing qualitative inquiry, including interview, focus group, and case study methods (Leko, 2014). In addition, multiple scales have been developed as subjective evaluation tools (Carter, 2007; Harrison, State, Evans, & Schamberg, 2015; see also Reimers et al., 1987).

In conversations about the rigor of social validity assessments, single-case researchers have often wrestled with the notion of objective versus subjective measures. For example, Schwartz and Baer (1991) posited that “objective, clearly valid measures of social validity” are required for rigorous assessment of the construct (p. 202). Others, beginning with Wolf’s original call, have argued that “subjective” measures are valuable, perhaps even necessary, to assess social validity (e.g., Hawkins, 1991; Hurley, 2012; Ledford, Hall, Conder, & Lane, 2016; Wolf, 1978). Objective versus subjective measurement, however, is only one way of conceptualizing rigor. Through this lens, rigor is determined by the reader’s perceptions of the defensibility of the type of data generated (i.e., epistemology). Another lens for conceptualizing rigor is the process used (e.g., scientific or systematic; anecdotal or informal) to generate, analyze, and interpret any type of data.

Scientific inquiry, regardless of methodology, can be conducted in more or less rigorous ways. For example, researchers can administer a hastily-composed interview protocol as an afterthought to their single-case experiment or purposefully interview participants before and after the experiment to address a research question about social validity. Similarly, social comparison data can be collected with peers who are not considered to be a normative and whose data are not subjected to interobserver agreement (IOA) procedures, or data can be collected from purposefully sampled peers and subjected to the same IOA procedures as the dependent variable. Although the former example represents so-called “subjective” measurement and the latter “objective” measurement, the processes for employing the selected methods exemplify differing levels of rigor. That is, in the absence of a systematic process, there may be little or no opportunity for defensible, valid, and/or trustworthy claims, regardless of the type of data and analysis employed. Following the scientific method is one way of ensuring a rigorous process (Creswell, 2008), although process alone does not guarantee defensible findings. While the scientific method can be summarized in many different ways, its basic steps serve as an initial guide for ensuring that the process of using any method, subjective or objective, is employed rigorously (Creswell, 2008; Crawford & Stucki, 1990). These basic steps are: (1) asking a research question, (2) reviewing relevant literature, (3) forming a hypothesis, (4) applying method(s) to gather data to test the hypothesis, (5) describing analysis procedures, and (6) reporting results (Creswell, 2008).

In spite of the progress made assessing social validity in educational contexts, substantial challenges have been raised and persist. First, social validity is a complex construct influenced by myriad factors, many of which remain unexamined and/or unique to each particular intervention context (Harrison et al., 2015; Kennedy, 1992, Kennedy, 2002; Leko, 2014; Reimers et al., 1987). Second, perhaps because social validity is a complex construct, efforts to apply scientific rigor to its assessment have long been advocated (see Baer, Wolf, & Risley, 1987; Schwartz & Baer, 1991) but ultimately rarely undertaken (Carr et al., 1999; Schwartz & Baer, 1991; Spear et al., 2013). For example, researchers may send a survey to the parents of young children who participated in an intervention to evaluate their intervention’s social validity. In most cases, however, these surveys are constructed without psychometric rigor (e.g., construct validity) and results reflect an insufficient number of respondents to consider them a reliable and valid measures of the construct (Kennedy, 1992; Schwartz & Baer, 1991). In other instances, researchers apply data collection methods, especially for subjective evaluation, without applying methodological rigor to the procedures for developing and administering the methods (e.g., asking leading questions, too few respondents) and/or analysis (e.g., without applying interview analysis methods to transcripts) (Spear et al., 2013). In sum, authors do not use the scientific method to guide their process. Third, although each factor of social validity (i.e., goals, procedures, and outcomes) may be assessed in isolation, robust claims of social validity ought to be in reference to all three factors of the construct (i.e., Total Construct; Leko, 2014; Wolf, 1978). Finally, regardless of the scientific rigor attempted, publishing conventions may pose challenges to adequately representing social validity procedures/methods and findings, as page limits, editorial and peer review priorities, and current formulaic treatment must all be navigated while attempting to sufficiently represent both the experimental data and the social validity assessment.

When instruments or methodologies are used to evaluate social validity, challenges still remain in how to interpret and integrate these findings in the context of the experimental findings (Chung, Snodgrass, Meadan, Akamoglu, & Halle, 2016; Wolf, 1978). Particularly, what should researchers conclude about their intervention if the findings of their experiment indicate efficacy while their social validity assessment indicates substantive lack of social validity? To what extent, if at all, should findings from the experiment be mixed with findings from the social validity assessment? Should more value be placed on social validity findings or experimental findings, or should they both be valued equally when drawing conclusions? (See Kazdin, 2011.)

At several points in SCR history, scholars have conducted literature reviews to establish the state of social validity. Kennedy (1992) conducted a content analysis of the articles published in Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA) and Behavior Modification through 1990 to identify the type, focus, and timing of social validity assessment in data-based research (not limited to SCR). He found social validity assessments present in 20% of the articles reviewed and that authors primarily applied subjective evaluation after the intervention was delivered to assess the social validity of intervention outcomes (Kennedy, 1992). In 1999, James Carr and colleagues reviewed research published in the first 31 vol of JABA (1968–1998) to identify when measures of treatment acceptability (i.e., social validity of procedures) and treatment outcomes were applied. They identified increases in these social validity assessments during the 1980s, but noted that trends for including social validity assessment of procedures or outcomes were variable and rates were at relatively low levels (under 50% each year) (Carr et al., 1999). Carr et al. also reported that studies conducted in naturalistic settings were seven times more likely to report on treatment acceptability than those conducted in analog settings. Both of these reviews represent literature using a variety of experimental methods (i.e., not restricted to SCR) and include studies that report social validity assessments that address only part of the construct (e.g., only address procedural social validity rather than evaluating goals, procedures, and outcomes). Neither review evaluated the scientific rigor of the methods used to conduct the social validity assessments nor how the findings of social validity assessments were used in drawing conclusions about the success of the intervention in question.

Hurley (2012) reviewed articles published between 1970 and 2008 in peer reviewed journals that used SCR to explore social competence interventions for preschoolers. Of 90 studies included, nearly 27% of the studies reported assessing at least one of the factors of social validity (i.e., goals, procedures, outcomes; n  = 24). Within those 24 studies, Hurley reviewed the trends across years of reporting social validity assessment and the methods of measuring social validity. She noted that current trends in social validity measurement reflected a failure to address Wolf’s (1978) original purpose of examining the Total Construct (i.e., goals, procedures, and outcomes). However, similar to previous reviews, Hurley did not evaluate the scientific rigor of the process for conducting the social validity assessment or how the findings were used in drawing conclusions.

Spear et al. (2013) reviewed 22 articles, published between 2008 and 2011 in four journals that used SCR to evaluate treatments for students with emotional and behavioral disorders. The researchers used “purposefully liberal” operational definitions of the four components identified by Horner et al. (2005) to evaluate whether these studies included high-quality social validity assessments (Spear et al., 2013, p. 359). None of the studies included met all four of the quality indicators espoused by Horner et al., but all 22 studies included a specific measure of at least one of the four (i.e., demonstration of functional relation) (Spear et al., 2013). Spear et al. limited their review to a subpopulation within special education and did not include an evaluation of the scientific rigor of the process used to conduct these social validity assessments. Furthermore, they did not evaluate how the results of the social validity assessment were used in drawing conclusions about interventions.

Ledford et al. (2016) reviewed 54 SCR articles published between 1994 and 2013 in which authors reported on conducting social skills interventions for young children with autism spectrum disorders. They coded whether the authors reported social validity data, how it was reported, and the type of the data included. Within the 54 articles, there were 109 single-case studies (i.e., multiple studies could be included in a single article) and 44% of those studies reported social validity data ( n  = 48 of 109). Unlike other reviews, the authors compared the single-case experimental results (i.e., functional relation present or absent) with the social validity data (i.e., positive, mixed, negative) across the type of social validity measurement (i.e., interview and questionnaire [“subjective”] versus blind rating and normative comparison [“objective”]). Positive social validity data were more likely to coexist with demonstrations of a functional relation in the single-case experiment if the researchers used blind rating or normative comparison, rather than interviews and questionnaires, to assess social validity. Ledford and her colleagues also reviewed whether each article included a report that participants (direct or indirect) were given choices regarding the intervention goals and procedures, finding that only 14% reported opportunities to choose intervention goals ( n  = 15) and none reported choice for intervention procedures or components. This review was also limited to a subpopulation and did not evaluate the scientific rigor of the process used to conduct the social validity assessments.

How prevalent are social validity assessments within single-case research in six highly ranked special education journals? (Phase 1)

How prevalent are Total Construct social validity assessments (i.e., addressing goals, procedures, and outcomes)? (Phase 2)

To what extent is the scientific method applied to Total Construct social validity assessments within single-case research? (Phase 3)

In what ways are findings from Total Construct social validity assessments included in the discussion? (Phase 3)

For this systematic review, we identified the top six journals in special education based on their ranking on 5-year impact factors (Journal Citation Report, 2014): (1) Exceptional Children (EC); (2) Journal of Learning Disabilities (JLD); (3) American Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AJIDD); (4) Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders (RASD; publication began in 2007); (5) Journal of Intellectual Disability Research (JIDR); and (6) Research in Developmental Disabilities

We conducted a three-phase review of the application of social validity assessment in SCR across six journals. Phases 1 and 2 were devoted to determining how many of the single-case publications included a social validity assessment (Phase 1) and, when included, if the Total or Partial construct was evaluated (Phase 2). Fig. 1 is an overview of these findings by year and Table 1 includes these findings by journal.

The role of social validity in educational and social inquiry is important because it highlights the extent to which the people receiving intervention and relevant stakeholders perceive the goals, procedures, and outcomes of that intervention as valid and important. Although multiple recommendations for rigorous assessment of social validity within SCR have been proposed, no recent reviews have offered evidence that the prevalence or rigor applied to the process of such assessments conducted

We found great value in exploring our colleagues’ careful and thoughtful work related to social validity. Many of the articles included in this review provide compelling examples of innovative ways of conducting informal, but useful, social validity assessments. For researchers interested in rigorously exploring social validity, we believe that mixed methods may offer a unique contribution to the challenges of rigor that have plagued social validity assessment in SCR and persist today. That is,


This work was supported, in part, by a grant from the US Department of Education , H325D100062 (Project LEAD, University of Illinois). However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the US Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

Using video prompting via iPads to teach price comparison to adolescents with autism

Research in autism spectrum disorders, the effect of sensory activities on correct responding for children with autism spectrum disorder, considering student choice when selecting instructional strategies: a comparison of three prompting systems, effects of computer-based graphic organizers to solve one-step word problems for middle school students with intellectual disability: a preliminary study, increased parent reinforcement of spontaneous requests in children with autism spectrum disorder: effects on problem behavior, effectiveness of a modified rapid toilet training workshop for parents of children with developmental disabilities, peer mediation to increase communication and interaction at recess for students with autism spectrum disorders, teaching children with autism spectrum disorder to mand what is it, the effectiveness of a group teaching interaction procedure for teaching social skills to young children with a pervasive developmental disorder, teaching multi-step math skills to adults with disabilities via video prompting, an experimental analysis of the effects of therapeutic horseback riding on the behavior of children with autism, effects of naturalistic instruction on phonological awareness skills of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the effects of graduated exposure, modeling, and contingent social attention on tolerance to skin care products with two children with autism, the behavior intervention rating scale: development and validation of a pretreatment acceptability and effectiveness measure, journal of school psychology, exposure and response prevention therapy with cognitive defusion exercises to reduce repetitive and restrictive behaviors displayed by children with autism spectrum disorder, evaluation of a social stories™ intervention implemented by pre-service teachers for students with autism in general education settings, comparing a number line and audio prompts in supporting price comparison by students with intellectual disability, feasibility and potential efficacy of the family-centered prevent-teach-reinforce model with families of children with developmental disorders, some still-current dimensions of applied behavior analysis, journal of applied behavior analysis, efficacy of teachers training paraprofessionals to implement peer support arrangements, exceptional children, an assessment of social validity trends in applied behavior analysis, behavioral interventions, efficacy and social validity of peer support arrangements for adolescents with disabilities, review of recent treatment acceptability research, education and training in developmental disabilities, nothing about us without us: disability oppression and empowerment, understanding communication intervention for young children with autism and their parents: mixing behavioral and social validity findings, journal of developmental and physical disabilities, moving research into practice: can we make dissemination stick, peer review and the changing research record, journal of the american society for information science, educational research: planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research, using video self- and peer modeling to facilitate reading fluency in children with learning disabilities, journal of learning disabilities, single-case research methodology: applications in special education and behavioral sciences, mixed methods in social inquiry, social validation: a unifying concept for school-based consultation research and practice, school psychology quarterly, reviewing manuscripts reporting findings from single-case research design studies, social and emotional intervention research as justice: a case for accountability, on the longevity of behavioral interventions for challenging behavior, a bibliometric study on the social validity of telepractice in autism spectrum disorder, parent-implemented interventions via telepractice in autism research: a review of social validity assessments, social validity of pediatric feeding treatment components across time, increasing the social validity of function-based treatments for problem behavior.

Functional assessment, and function-based treatments, are the gold standard for the treatment of problem behavior. Historically, these assessment and treatment evaluations have been conducted in austere clinical settings to increase internal validity. While prioritizing internal validity is critical in the initial stages of a treatment evaluation, if there is not an eventual shift to prioritizing the external or social validity of the treatment it may inevitably fail in the natural environment. The purpose of this case example is to outline a socially valid approach to the assessment and treatment of problem behavior that ensures individuals’ and their families’ lives benefit in meaningful ways. More specifically, this case-example will outline a method of prioritizing social validity to identify treatment goals, conduct functional analysis, evaluate and generalize treatment, and implement caregiver training.

La evaluación funcional y los tratamientos funcionales son el estándar de oro para el tratamiento de la conducta problemática. Históricamente, esas evaluaciones y tratamientos se han conducido en escenarios clínicos austeros para aumentar la validez interna. Si bien el priorizar la validez interna es crítico en las etapas iniciales de la evaluación de un tratamiento, si eventualmente no hay un cambio para priorizar la validez externa o social del tratamiento, éste puede fallar en un escenario natural. El propósito del ejemplo de caso que se presenta en este trabajo es mostrar una aproximación válida para la evaluación y tratamiento de conducta problemática que asegura que las vidas de los individuos y de sus familias se beneficien de forma significativa. Más específicamente, el ejemplo de caso que se presenta mostrará un método para identificar las metas del tratamiento priorizando la validez social, para conducir un análisis funcional, evaluar y generalizar el tratamiento y entrenar al cuidador.

Language interventions taught to caregivers in homes and classrooms: A review of intervention and implementation fidelity

The Bridging the Word Gap Research Network conducted a review of literature to identify effective interventions to facilitate the communication development of young children in hopes of identifying ways to reduce the well-documented word gap among children associated with socio-economic class. As part of this effort, we focused on the ways in which caregivers (teachers, parents, and others) were taught to implement evidence-based practices for facilitating language learning and use. Our goal was to characterize (a) the implementation fidelity, to describe the teaching functions and implementation procedures for teaching those language intervention strategies and (b) the intervention fidelity with which caregivers used strategies for facilitating their children’s language development. Because training procedures are not well described in the implementation and professional development literature, a new framework was developed and its feasibility was assessed in an attempt to characterize the teaching functions and specific implementation procedures used across studies. Among the 270 intervention studies reviewed, there were 124 in which caregivers were taught to implement language intervention strategies. Teaching functions included a variety of implementation procedures, with 95% of studies sharing information, 80% incorporating modeling, 65% providing feedback, and only 18% using prompting/guiding/scaffolding. Seventy-two of these studies (58%) reported intervention fidelity, with an increasing proportion reporting fidelity in recent years. Of these 72 studies, 81% were rated as having a ‘moderate to strong’ description of fidelity measures, and 50% reported high levels of intervention fidelity (i.e., >70% fidelity). These analyses demonstrate the need for reporting more detailed and precise information on intervention fidelity and the teaching functions and procedures used to teach caregivers to implement language interventions.

Translating quantitative theories of behavior into improved clinical treatments for problem behavior

The most important advancement in the treatment of destructive behavior has been the development of the functional analysis, which is used to prescribe effective treatments like functional communication training. Although this approach can be highly effective, extinction bursts and forms of treatment relapse commonly occur when function-based treatments are implemented by caregivers in natural community settings. In recent years, researchers have increasingly applied quantitative theories of behavior like behavioral momentum theory (BMT) and the temporally weighted matching law (TWML) to understand, prevent, or mitigate extinction bursts and treatment relapse. In this paper, we describe BMT and TWML and selectively review the basic, translational, and applied research supporting and opposing each theory. Then, we describe how function-based treatments may be refined based on these theories to improve the effectiveness, generality, and durability of function-based treatments for individuals with autism spectrum and related disorders who display problem behavior.

Factors influencing satisfaction among teacher candidates and cooperating teachers in conducting a functional behavior assessment

Functional behavior assessments (FBAs) and Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs) support learners with behavior problems, but it is unclear which factors enhance FBA/BIP development. University students (n = 81) in a behavior course and their field-based cooperating teacher (CT; n = 35) responded to a survey. Only 12% of CTs were highly satisfied, and a low percentage of students were highly satisfied with FBA or BIP development (26% and 21%, respectively). Variables correlating with CT satisfaction ( R 2  = 0.966) and student satisfaction ( R 2  = 0.952 and 0.963, respectively) and implications for FBA/BIP development, field placements, and university–school partnerships are discussed.

Conceptualizations of social validity

Chapter 2 describes different conceptualizations of social validity. The habilitative validity model, the decision-making model of treatment acceptability, and expansive views of treatment acceptability and social validity are also described.

Reporting single-case design studies: Advice in relation to the designs’ methodological and analytical peculiarities

The current text provides advice on the content of an article reporting a single-case design research. The advice is drawn from several sources, such as the Single-case research in behavioral sciences reporting guidelines , developed by an international panel of experts, scholarly articles on reporting, methodological quality scales, and the author's professional experience. The indications provided on the Introduction, Discussion, and Abstract are very general and applicable to many instances of applied psychological research across domains. In contrast, more space is dedicated to the Method and Results sections, on the basis of the peculiarities of single-case designs methodology and the complications in term s of data analysis. Specifically, regarding the Method, several aspects strengthening (or allowing the assessment of) the internal validity are underlined, as well as information relevant for evaluating the possibility to generalize the results. Regarding the Results, the focus is put on justifying the analytical approach followed. The author considers that, even if a study does not meet methodological quality standards, it should include sufficiently explicit reporting that makes possible assessing its methodological quality. The importance of reporting all data gathered, including unexpected and undesired results, is also highlighted. Finally, a checklist is provided as a summary of the reporting tips.

El texto proporciona consejo sobre el contenido necesario para aquellos artículos que informan sobre estudios que utilizan diseños de caso único. El consejo se basa en diferentes fuentes, como Single-case research in behavioral sciences reporting guidelines , recomendaciones desarrolladas por un panel internacional de expertos, artículos científicos sobre informes, escalas de calidad metodológica y la experiencia profesional del autor. Las indicaciones proporcionadas sobre la Introducción, la Discusión y el Resumen son muy generales y aplicables a muchos ejemplos de investigación psicológica aplicada en diferentes ámbitos. En cambio, se dedica más espacio a las secciones Método y Resultados, en relación con las peculiaridades de la metodología de los diseños de caso único y las complicaciones en cuanto al análisis de datos. Específicamente, en cuanto al Método, se destacan aspectos que fortalecen (o permiten la evaluación de) la validez interna, además de la información relevante para valorar la posibilidad de generalizar los resultados. En cuanto a los Resultados, se focaliza la justificación del enfoque analítico seguido. El autor considera que, incluso si un estudio no cumple con los estándares de calidad metodológica, el informe debería ser lo suficientemente explícito para favorecer la valoración de la calidad metodológica. Se subraya la importancia de reportar todos los resultados obtenidos, incluidos los inesperados o indeseados. Finalmente, se proporciona una lista de verificación como resumen de los consejos.


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Case Study Research Method in Psychology

Saul Mcleod, PhD

Educator, Researcher

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education.

Learn about our Editorial Process

Olivia Guy-Evans

Associate Editor for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons), Psychology, MSc, Psychology of Education

Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.

Case studies are in-depth investigations of a single person, group, event, or community. Typically, data is gathered from various sources and by using several different methods (e.g., observations & interviews ).

What are Case Studies?

The case study research method originated in clinical medicine (the case history, i.e., the patient’s personal history). In psychology, case studies are often confined to the study of a particular individual.

The information is mainly biographical and relates to events in the individual’s past (i.e., retrospective), as well as to significant events which are currently occurring in his or her everyday life.

The case study is not itself a research method, but researchers select methods of data collection and analysis that will generate material suitable for case studies.

Case studies are widely used in psychology, and amongst the best known were the ones carried out by Sigmund Freud, including Anna O and Little Hans .

Freud (1909a, 1909b) conducted very detailed investigations into the private lives of his patients in an attempt to both understand and help them overcome their illnesses. Even today, case histories are one of the main methods of investigation in abnormal psychology and psychiatry.

This makes it clear that the case study is a method that should only be used by a psychologist, therapist, or psychiatrist, i.e., someone with a professional qualification.

There is an ethical issue of competence. Only someone qualified to diagnose and treat a person can conduct a formal case study relating to atypical (i.e., abnormal) behavior or atypical development.

The procedure used in a case study means that the researcher provides a description of the behavior. This comes from interviews and other sources, such as observation.

The client also reports detail of events from his or her point of view. The researcher then writes up the information from both sources above as the case study and interprets the information.

The research may also continue for an extended period of time, so processes and developments can be studied as they happen.

Amongst the sources of data the psychologist is likely to turn to when carrying out a case study are observations of a person’s daily routine, unstructured interviews with the participant herself (and with people who know her), diaries, personal notes (e.g., letters, photographs, notes) or official document (e.g., case notes, clinical notes, appraisal reports).

The case study method often involves simply observing what happens to or reconstructing ‘the case history’ of a single participant or group of individuals (such as a school class or a specific social group), i.e., the idiographic approach .

The interview is also an extremely effective procedure for obtaining information about an individual, and it may be used to collect comments from the person’s friends, parents, employer, workmates, and others who have a good knowledge of the person, as well as to obtain facts from the person him or herself.

Most of this information is likely to be qualitative (i.e., verbal description rather than measurement), but the psychologist might collect numerical data as well.

The data collected can be analyzed using different theories (e.g., grounded theory, interpretative phenomenological analysis, text interpretation, e.g., thematic coding).

All the approaches mentioned here use preconceived categories in the analysis, and they are ideographic in their approach, i.e., they focus on the individual case without reference to a comparison group.

Interpreting the information means the researcher decides what to include or leave out. A good case study should always clarify which information is the factual description and which is an inference or the researcher’s opinion.

Case studies allow a researcher to investigate a topic in far more detail than might be possible if they were trying to deal with a large number of research participants (nomothetic approach) with the aim of ‘averaging’.

Because of their in-depth, multi-sided approach, case studies often shed light on aspects of human thinking and behavior that would be unethical or impractical to study in other ways.

Research that only looks into the measurable aspects of human behavior is not likely to give us insights into the subjective dimension of experience, which is important to psychoanalytic and humanistic psychologists.

Case studies are often used in exploratory research. They can help us generate new ideas (that might be tested by other methods). They are an important way of illustrating theories and can help show how different aspects of a person’s life are related to each other.

The method is, therefore, important for psychologists who adopt a holistic point of view (i.e., humanistic psychologists ).


Because a case study deals with only one person/event/group, we can never be sure if the case study investigated is representative of the wider body of “similar” instances. This means the conclusions drawn from a particular case may not be transferable to other settings.

Because case studies are based on the analysis of qualitative (i.e., descriptive) data, a lot depends on the psychologist’s interpretation of the information she has acquired.

This means that there is a lot of scope for observer bias, and it could be that the subjective opinions of the psychologist intrude in the assessment of what the data means.

For example, Freud has been criticized for producing case studies in which the information was sometimes distorted to fit particular behavioral theories (e.g., Little Hans ).

This is also true of Money’s interpretation of the Bruce/Brenda case study (Diamond, 1997) when he ignored evidence that went against his theory.

How to reference this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2019, August 03). Case study method . Simply Psychology.

Diamond, M., & Sigmundson, K. (1997). Sex Reassignment at Birth: Long-term Review and Clinical Implications. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine , 151(3), 298-304

Freud, S. (1909a). Analysis of a phobia of a five year old boy. In The Pelican Freud Library (1977), Vol 8, Case Histories 1, pages 169-306

Freud, S. (1909b). Bemerkungen über einen Fall von Zwangsneurose (Der “Rattenmann”). Jb. psychoanal. psychopathol. Forsch ., I, p. 357-421; GW, VII, p. 379-463; Notes upon a case of obsessional neurosis, SE , 10: 151-318.

Further Information

Case Study Approach Case Study Method

Enhancing the Quality of Case Studies in Health Services Research

“We do things together” A case study of “couplehood” in dementia

Using mixed methods for evaluating an integrative approach to cancer care: a case study

Freud’s Case Studies

Little Hans – Freudian Case Study

H.M. Case Study

Anna O – Freudian Case Study

Genie Case Study – Curtiss (1977)

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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Writing a Case Study

The term case study refers to both a method of analysis and a specific research design for examining a problem, both of which are used in most circumstances to generalize across populations. This tab focuses on the latter--how to design and organize a research paper in the social sciences that analyzes a specific case.

A case study research paper examines a person, place, event, phenomenon, or other type of subject of analysis in order to extrapolate  key themes and results that help predict future trends, illuminate previously hidden issues that can be applied to practice, and/or provide a means for understanding an important research problem with greater clarity. A case study paper usually examines a single subject of analysis, but case study papers can also be designed as a comparative investigation that shows relationships between two or among more than two subjects. The methods used to study a case can rest within a quantitative, qualitative, or mixed-method investigative paradigm.

Case Studies . [email protected] Colorado State University; Mills, Albert J. , Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010 ; “What is a Case Study?” In Swanborn, Peter G. Case Study Research: What, Why and How? London: SAGE, 2010.

How to Approach Writing a Case Study Research Paper

General information about how to choose a topic to investigate can be found under the " Choosing a Research Problem " tab in this writing guide. Review this page because it may help you identify a subject of analysis that can be investigated using a single case study design.

However, identifying a case to investigate involves more than choosing the research problem . A case study encompasses a problem contextualized around the application of in-depth analysis, interpretation, and discussion, often resulting in specific recommendations for action or for improving existing conditions. As Seawright and Gerring note, practical considerations such as time and access to information can influence case selection, but these issues should not be the sole factors used in describing the methodological justification for identifying a particular case to study. Given this, selecting a case includes considering the following:

Eisenhardt, Kathleen M. “Building Theories from Case Study Research.” Academy of Management Review 14 (October 1989): 532-550; Emmel, Nick. Sampling and Choosing Cases in Qualitative Research: A Realist Approach . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2013; Gerring, John. “What Is a Case Study and What Is It Good for?” American Political Science Review 98 (May 2004): 341-354; Mills, Albert J. , Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010; Seawright, Jason and John Gerring. "Case Selection Techniques in Case Study Research." Political Research Quarterly 61 (June 2008): 294-308.

Structure and Writing Style

The purpose of a paper in the social sciences designed around a case study is to thoroughly investigate a subject of analysis in order to reveal a new understanding about the research problem and, in so doing, contributing new knowledge to what is already known from previous studies. In applied social sciences disciplines [e.g., education, social work, public administration, etc.], case studies may also be used to reveal best practices, highlight key programs, or investigate interesting aspects of professional work. In general, the structure of a case study research paper is not all that different from a standard college-level research paper. However, there are subtle differences you should be aware of. Here are the key elements to organizing and writing a case study research paper.

I.  Introduction

As with any research paper, your introduction should serve as a roadmap for your readers to ascertain the scope and purpose of your study . The introduction to a case study research paper, however, should not only describe the research problem and its significance, but you should also succinctly describe why the case is being used and how it relates to addressing the problem. The two elements should be linked. With this in mind, a good introduction answers these four questions:

Each of these questions should be addressed in no more than a few paragraphs. Exceptions to this can be when you are addressing a complex research problem or subject of analysis that requires more in-depth background information.

II.  Literature Review

The literature review for a case study research paper is generally structured the same as it is for any college-level research paper. The difference, however, is that the literature review is focused on providing background information and  enabling historical interpretation of the subject of analysis in relation to the research problem the case is intended to address . This includes synthesizing studies that help to:

III.  Method

In this section, you explain why you selected a particular subject of analysis to study and the strategy you used to identify and ultimately decide that your case was appropriate in addressing the research problem. The way you describe the methods used varies depending on the type of subject of analysis that frames your case study.

If your subject of analysis is an incident or event . In the social and behavioral sciences, the event or incident that represents the case to be studied is usually bounded by time and place, with a clear beginning and end and with an identifiable location or position relative to its surroundings. The subject of analysis can be a rare or critical event or it can focus on a typical or regular event. The purpose of studying a rare event is to illuminate new ways of thinking about the broader research problem or to test a hypothesis. Critical incident case studies must describe the method by which you identified the event and explain the process by which you determined the validity of this case to inform broader perspectives about the research problem or to reveal new findings. However, the event does not have to be a rare or uniquely significant to support new thinking about the research problem or to challenge an existing hypothesis. For example, Walo, Bull, and Breen conducted a case study to identify and evaluate the direct and indirect economic benefits and costs of a local sports event in the City of Lismore, New South Wales, Australia. The purpose of their study was to provide new insights from measuring the impact of a typical local sports event that prior studies could not measure well because they focused on large "mega-events." Whether the event is rare or not, the methods section should include an explanation of the following characteristics of the event: a) when did it take place; b) what were the underlying circumstances leading to the event; c) what were the consequences of the event.

If your subject of analysis is a person. Explain why you selected this particular individual to be studied and describe what experience he or she has had that provides an opportunity to advance new understandings about the research problem. Mention any background about this person which might help the reader understand the significance of his/her experiences that make them worthy of study. This includes describing the relationships this person has had with other people, institutions, and/or events that support using him or her as the subject for a case study research paper. It is particularly important to differentiate the person as the subject of analysis from others and to succinctly explain how the person relates to examining the research problem.

If your subject of analysis is a place. In general, a case study that investigates a place suggests a subject of analysis that is unique or special in some way and that this uniqueness can be used to build new understanding or knowledge about the research problem. A case study of a place must not only describe its various attributes relevant to the research problem [e.g., physical, social, cultural, economic, political, etc.], but you must state the method by which you determined that this place will illuminate new understandings about the research problem. It is also important to articulate why a particular place as the case for study is being used if similar places also exist [i.e., if you are studying patterns of homeless encampments of veterans in open spaces, why study Echo Park in Los Angeles rather than Griffith Park?]. If applicable, describe what type of human activity involving this place makes it a good choice to study [e.g., prior research reveals Echo Park has more homeless veterans].

If your subject of analysis is a phenomenon. A phenomenon refers to a fact, occurrence, or circumstance that can be studied or observed but with the cause or explanation to be in question. In this sense, a phenomenon that forms your subject of analysis can encompass anything that can be observed or presumed to exist but is not fully understood. In the social and behavioral sciences, the case usually focuses on human interaction within a complex physical, social, economic, cultural, or political system. For example, the phenomenon could be the observation that many vehicles used by ISIS fighters are small trucks with English language advertisements on them. The research problem could be that ISIS fighters are difficult to combat because they are highly mobile. The research questions could be how and by what means are these vehicles used by ISIS being supplied to the militants and how might supply lines to these vehicles be cut? How might knowing the suppliers of these trucks from overseas reveal larger networks of collaborators and financial support? A case study of a phenomenon most often encompasses an in-depth analysis of a cause and effect that is grounded in an interactive relationship between people and their environment in some way.

NOTE:   The choice of the case or set of cases to study cannot appear random. Evidence that supports the method by which you identified and chose your subject of analysis should be linked to the findings from the literature review. Be sure to cite any prior studies that helped you determine that the case you chose was appropriate for investigating the research problem.

IV.  Discussion

The main elements of your discussion section are generally the same as any research paper, but centered around interpreting and drawing conclusions about the key findings from your case study. Note that a general social sciences research paper may contain a separate section to report findings. However, in a paper designed around a case study, it is more common to combine a description of the findings with the discussion about their implications. The objectives of your discussion section should include the following:

Reiterate the Research Problem/State the Major Findings Briefly reiterate the research problem you are investigating and explain why the subject of analysis around which you designed the case study were used. You should then describe the findings revealed from your study of the case using direct, declarative, and succinct proclamation of the study results. Highlight any findings that were unexpected or especially profound.

Explain the Meaning of the Findings and Why They are Important Systematically explain the meaning of your case study findings and why you believe they are important. Begin this part of the section by repeating what you consider to be your most important or surprising finding first, then systematically review each finding. Be sure to thoroughly extrapolate what your analysis of the case can tell the reader about situations or conditions beyond the actual case that was studied while, at the same time, being careful not to misconstrue or conflate a finding that undermines the external validity of your conclusions.

Relate the Findings to Similar Studies No study in the social sciences is so novel or possesses such a restricted focus that it has absolutely no relation to previously published research. The discussion section should relate your case study results to those found in other studies, particularly if questions raised from prior studies served as the motivation for choosing your subject of analysis. This is important because comparing and contrasting the findings of other studies helps to support the overall importance of your results and it highlights how and in what ways your case study design and the subject of analysis differs from prior research about the topic.

Consider Alternative Explanations of the Findings It is important to remember that the purpose of social science research is to discover and not to prove. When writing the discussion section, you should carefully consider all possible explanations for the case study results, rather than just those that fit your hypothesis or prior assumptions and biases. Be alert to what the in-depth analysis of the case may reveal about the research problem, including offering a contrarian perspective to what scholars have stated in prior research.

Acknowledge the Study's Limitations You can state the study's limitations in the conclusion section of your paper but describing the limitations of your subject of analysis in the discussion section provides an opportunity to identify the limitations and explain why they are not significant. This part of the discussion section should also note any unanswered questions or issues your case study could not address. More detailed information about how to document any limitations to your research can be found here .

Suggest Areas for Further Research Although your case study may offer important insights about the research problem, there are likely additional questions related to the problem that remain unanswered or findings that unexpectedly revealed themselves as a result of your in-depth analysis of the case. Be sure that the recommendations for further research are linked to the research problem and that you explain why your recommendations are valid in other contexts and based on the original assumptions of your study.

V.  Conclusion

As with any research paper, you should summarize your conclusion in clear, simple language; emphasize how the findings from your case study differs from or supports prior research and why. Do not simply reiterate the discussion section. Provide a synthesis of key findings presented in the paper to show how these converge to address the research problem. If you haven't already done so in the discussion section, be sure to document the limitations of your case study and needs for further research.

The function of your paper's conclusion is to: 1)  restate the main argument supported by the findings from the analysis of your case; 2) clearly state the context, background, and necessity of pursuing the research problem using a case study design in relation to an issue, controversy, or a gap found from reviewing the literature; and, 3) provide a place for you to persuasively and succinctly restate the significance of your research problem, given that the reader has now been presented with in-depth information about the topic.

Consider the following points to help ensure your conclusion is appropriate:

Note that, depending on the discipline you are writing in and your professor's preferences, the concluding paragraph may contain your final reflections on the evidence presented applied to practice or on the essay's central research problem. However, the nature of being introspective about the subject of analysis you have investigated will depend on whether you are explicitly asked to express your observations in this way.

Problems to Avoid

Overgeneralization One of the goals of a case study is to lay a foundation for understanding broader trends and issues applied to similar circumstances. However, be careful when drawing conclusions from your case study. They must be evidence-based and grounded in the results of the study; otherwise, it is merely speculation. Looking at a prior example, it would be incorrect to state that a factor in improving girls access to education in Azerbaijan and the policy implications this may have for improving access in other Muslim nations is due to girls access to social media if there is no documentary evidence from your case study to indicate this. There may be anecdotal evidence that retention rates were better for girls who were on social media, but this observation would only point to the need for further research and would not be a definitive finding if this was not a part of your original research agenda.

Failure to Document Limitations No case is going to reveal all that needs to be understood about a research problem. Therefore, just as you have to clearly state the limitations of a general research study , you must describe the specific limitations inherent in the subject of analysis. For example, the case of studying how women conceptualize the need for water conservation in a village in Uganda could have limited application in other cultural contexts or in areas where fresh water from rivers or lakes is plentiful and, therefore, conservation is understood differently than preserving access to a scarce resource.

Failure to Extrapolate All Possible Implications Just as you don't want to over-generalize from your case study findings, you also have to be thorough in the consideration of all possible outcomes or recommendations derived from your findings. If you do not, your reader may question the validity of your analysis, particularly if you failed to document an obvious outcome from your case study research. For example, in the case of studying the accident at the railroad crossing to evaluate where and what types of warning signals should be located, you failed to take into consideration speed limit signage as well as warning signals. When designing your case study, be sure you have thoroughly addressed all aspects of the problem and do not leave gaps in your analysis.

Case Studies . [email protected] Colorado State University; Gerring, John. Case Study Research: Principles and Practices . New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007; Merriam, Sharan B. Qualitative Research and Case Study Applications in Education . Rev. ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1998; Miller, Lisa L. “The Use of Case Studies in Law and Social Science Research.” Annual Review of Law and Social Science 14 (2018): TBD; Mills, Albert J., Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010; Putney, LeAnn Grogan. "Case Study." In Encyclopedia of Research Design , Neil J. Salkind, editor. (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010), pp. 116-120; Simons, Helen. Case Study Research in Practice . London: SAGE Publications, 2009;  Kratochwill,  Thomas R. and Joel R. Levin, editors. Single-Case Research Design and Analysis: New Development for Psychology and Education .  Hilldsale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1992; Swanborn, Peter G. Case Study Research: What, Why and How? London : SAGE, 2010; Yin, Robert K. Case Study Research: Design and Methods . 6th edition. Los Angeles, CA, SAGE Publications, 2014; Walo, Maree, Adrian Bull, and Helen Breen. “Achieving Economic Benefits at Local Events: A Case Study of a Local Sports Event.” Festival Management and Event Tourism 4 (1996): 95-106.

Writing Tip

At Least Five Misconceptions about Case Study Research

Social science case studies are often perceived as limited in their ability to create new knowledge because they are not randomly selected and findings cannot be generalized to larger populations. Flyvbjerg examines five misunderstandings about case study research and systematically "corrects" each one. To quote, these are:

Misunderstanding 1 :  General, theoretical [context-independent knowledge is more valuable than concrete, practical (context-dependent) knowledge. Misunderstanding 2 :  One cannot generalize on the basis of an individual case; therefore, the case study cannot contribute to scientific development. Misunderstanding 3 :  The case study is most useful for generating hypotheses; that is, in the first stage of a total research process, whereas other methods are more suitable for hypotheses testing and theory building. Misunderstanding 4 :  The case study contains a bias toward verification, that is, a tendency to confirm the researcher’s preconceived notions. Misunderstanding 5 :  It is often difficult to summarize and develop general propositions and theories on the basis of specific case studies [p. 221].

While writing your paper, think introspectively about how you addressed these misconceptions because to do so can help you strengthen the validity and reliability of your research by clarifying issues of case selection, the testing and challenging of existing assumptions, the interpretation of key findings, and the summation of case outcomes. Think of a case study research paper as a complete, in-depth narrative about the specific properties and key characteristics of your subject of analysis applied to the research problem.

Flyvbjerg, Bent. “Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research.” Qualitative Inquiry 12 (April 2006): 219-245.

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Case Studies

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Imagine it's your birthday and you come home to find your family has bought you your favourite cake, as they do every year.

Now imagine that your neighbour, on their birthday, cuts into a large apple pie instead of a cake. Everyone on your street gets cakes on their birthday except this one neighbour. This intrigues you and you start researching this unusual tradition. Why not a birthday cake? Is there some cultural or historical significance behind celebrating with a pie? If so, why is it an apple pie? Would having a cherry pie, for example, hold the same meaning?

The point of this (seemingly random) scenario is to understand why researchers may choose to use case studies in their research. To give you a good understanding of case studies, we will be looking at:

Definition of case study research

Case studies are a research method sometimes used by sociologists. Research that takes the form of a case study can also be called a case study design. Let's examine the definition of a case study.

Description of case studies

Case studies are used in a wide range of academic research areas. For instance, they can be used to study the intricacies of a particular medical phenomenon or to investigate a certain historical event.

In social research, such as in sociology, case studies are a good way to investigate social phenomena or to understand how certain processes and groups within society operate.

A researcher could study the details of a serial killer's deviance (focusing on one individual) or explore the integration of asylum seekers and refugees in a particular neighbourhood (focusing on a specific group of people).

Let's consider some common features or characteristics of case studies.

Methodology of case studies

Case studies can use methodological pluralism (using a wide range of research methods) to achieve triangulation (cross-checking of data to increase validity).

Due to the use of methodological pluralism, case studies can produce both quantitative and qualitative data.

Case studies can sometimes also be longitudinal studies (researchers studying the data at regular intervals over a long period of time).

The sample of the case study (the person, group, event, etc that is being studied) is often chosen because they are unique or exceptional in some way, and researchers want to learn more. For instance, researchers may choose to study a group of 15 delinquent children in a certain school because they deviate from behavioural norms.

Data found from case studies can be used to formulate new social theories or to test the validity of existing theories.

Check out Longitudinal Studies for more information.

Because case studies have a narrow focus , they are not used to make wider claims about populations. However, although the focus is narrow, the scope of the project can be very extensive, e.g. if a researcher is studying a person's social development throughout childhood and adolescence.

Using case studies with other research methods

Case studies can be used to follow up on a survey to provide more depth to the investigation. A case study can also precede a survey to establish whether a phenomenon merits further research.

Methodological pluralism in case studies

Researchers can use methodological pluralism in case studies to obtain a wide range of data using a wide range of research methods. Although the research methods used vary from case to case, they may include the following:



Examining videos and photos

Studying documents such as historical records or letters

Examples of case studies

Case studies are relevant not only to sociology but to many different fields, including history, politics, economics, law, and the media . Some well-known examples of case studies include research on:

A community

Karen O'Reilly's (2000) and Michaela Benson's (2011) research of expatriate Briton communities in Costa del Sol, Spain. They examined groups of British people in Spain, who were notorious for being drunkards.

Researchers dove behind the stereotypes of British expatriates in Costa del Sol and studied their everyday experiences. They also studied expats' reasons for migrating to Spain and found complex accounts of expatriate life through interviews .

Stephen Ball's (1981) study into underperforming working-class students at Beachside Comprehensive examined in detail why working-class students were not performing well in school. Ball carried out participant observation at the school for three years. Upon observing two groups of students, he found there was some differentiation between students, which harmed working-class students' education.

An organisation

Simon Holdaway's (1982, 1983) study of police service, w hilst serving as a sergeant. Holdaway carried out a covert ethnographic study of police work in the London Metropolitan Police Service.

The study is considered ground-breaking. Holdaway is referred to by some sociologists as a police research pioneer.

Graham Allison's (1971) study of the Cuban Missile Crisis. He wrote the ' Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis ', analysing the historical events of 1962.

It was used as a case study to study governmental and political decision-making in further detail. The book is well-known in the study of international relations.

Advantages and disadvantages of case study method in sociology

Gauging the suitability of a case study for a research project depends on several considerations.

Case Studies, Hand ticking an option on a survey, StudySmarter

Advantages of case studies

Interpretivist sociologists favour case studies because they generate detailed, qualitative data and bring in-depth insights to the investigation.

Case studies that use methodological pluralism are highly valid as they have achieved triangulation.

Researchers can gather both qualitative and quantitative data.

It is comparably cheaper to study a small sample compared to researching a large sample.

Disadvantages of case studies

Case studies are criticised by positivists for small and unrepresentative sample sizes, meaning that findings cannot be generalised to the wider population.

Positivists also state case studies are difficult to replicate because of the unique circumstances of each case study.

Researcher bias and influence may affect the validity of the findings.

It can still be expensive and time-consuming to carry out a case study.

Depending on the nature of the case study, there may be ethical concerns , especially around sensitive information.

Case Studies - Key takeaways

Frequently Asked Questions about Case Studies

--> what is a case study.

A case study is an in-depth investigation focused on an individual person, group, community, organisation, situation, or event. 

--> What is the purpose of case study research?

Case studies are used in a wide range of academic research areas. For instance, they can be used to study the intricacies of a particular medical phenomenon or to investigate a certain historical event. 

--> What is case study research?

Case study research is research obtained through the case study design. A case study design is a research method.

--> Why is the case study method used in sociology?

--> how do you write a case study.

To write a case study, one must choose a topic, pick a methodology, choose a sample, conduct the study, analyse their data, and write up their findings.

Final Case Studies Quiz

What are case studies?

Show answer

Case studies are in-depth investigations focused on an individual person, group, community, organisation, situation, or event.  

Show question

Research that takes the form of a case study can also be called a _____.

Case study design

What is methodological pluralism?

Methodological pluralism is the use of a wide range of research methods.

Why do case studies use methodological pluralism?

To achieve triangulation.

Case studies can only produce qualitative data. True or false?

How can data from case studies be used?

Data found from case studies can be used to formulate new social theories of to test the validity of existing theories.

Case studies have a ____ focus but ____ scope.

Narrow, extensive.

A researcher wants to study 100 delinquent schoolchildren. Why might it not be a good idea to use a case study design?

Any of the following:

Which kind of sociologists favour case studies and why?

Interpretivist sociologists favour case studies because they generate detailed, qualitative data and bring in-depth insights into the investigation. 

Case studies that use methodological pluralism are high in _____ as they have achieved triangulation.

It is often comparably cheaper to study a small sample compared to a large sample. True or false?

What kind of sociologists criticise case studies and why?

Case studies are criticised by positivists for small and unrepresentative sample sizes, meaning that findings cannot be generalised to the wider population. 

According to positivists, why are case studies difficult to replicate?

Positivists state case studies are difficult to replicate because of the unique circumstances of each case study.

What can affect the validity of the findings of a case study?

Researcher bias and influence.

In sociology, what are case studies good for?

Case studies are a good way to investigate social phenomena or to understand how certain processes and groups within society operate.

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  1. 191260925-Social-Case-Study-Report.docx

    social case study validity

  2. Case Study Social Work Essay

    social case study validity

  3. Sample Of A Social Case Study Report

    social case study validity

  4. Case Study Social Work Essay

    social case study validity

  5. Case Study: Validity

    social case study validity

  6. Social Work Case Study Interview Questions

    social case study validity


  1. [HD] Facebook Case Study: RFID 기술을 이용한 크리에이티브 소셜 캠페인

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  4. A* Sociology : Brief overview of social order and social control (Crime and Deviance)

  5. Download IGNOU Free Question Paper form Study Badshah

  6. Case


  1. What Is a Case Study?

    When you’re performing research as part of your job or for a school assignment, you’ll probably come across case studies that help you to learn more about the topic at hand. But what is a case study and why are they helpful? Read on to lear...

  2. Why Are Case Studies Important?

    Case studies are important because they help make something being discussed more realistic for both teachers and learners. Case studies help students to see that what they have learned is not purely theoretical but instead can serve to crea...

  3. What Are Some Examples of Case Studies?

    Examples of a case study could be anything from researching why a single subject has nightmares when they sleep in their new apartment, to why a group of people feel uncomfortable in heavily populated areas. A case study is an in-depth anal...

  4. How to Improve the Validity and Reliability of a Case Study Approach

    to capture the subjective dimension of social phenomena. According to.

  5. Social validity: the case for subjective measurement or how applied

    Social validity: the case for subjective measurement or how applied behavior analysis is finding its

  6. Social validity in single-case research: A systematic ...

    Montrose Wolf (1978), an early pioneer in single-case methodology, coined the term "social validity" to refer to the social importance of the goals selected

  7. Social validity in single-case research: A systematic literature review

    Montrose Wolf (1978), an early pioneer in single-case methodology, coined the term “social validity” to refer to the social importance of the goals selected

  8. Social validity in single-case research: A systematic ...

    In the behavioral literature, Kennedy (1992) conducted a selective review of social validity in all research studies published in the Journal of Applied


    ABOUT THE SERVICE: Social Case Study Report is being issued to clients who need the documents for financial assistance, medical assistance, referrals

  10. Case Study Method

    What is a case study research method? Case studies are in-depth investigations of a single person, group, event or community. Typically, data are gathered from

  11. Writing a Case Study

    Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Writing a Case Study ... insights or previously hidden problems is valid and evidence-based.

  12. Exploring the Usefulness and Validity of Democratic Professionalism

    Based on our case analysis, we identify three types of practices that aim to close the gap between citizens and social institutions: task-

  13. Case Studies: Definition, Methodology & Examples

    new social theories or to test the validity of existing theories.

  14. 3. Securing of Social Case Study Report

    families Or client in need of assistance. CHECKLIST OF REQUIREMENTS. WHERE TO SECURE. 1.Any valid Identification Card. Person needing the Social Case Study