To do a case study in qualitative research, carefully select a specific subject and use appropriate data collection methods and analysis to attempt to understand the subject and surrounding circumstances -- also called context. In qualitative research, the context informs the research question. These studies are a type of qualitative design that rely on observation, narratives and descriptive data. Case studies are characterized by setting, context or environment, and holistic data collection methods and are used to inform theories, design future studies and develop interventions based on context.

Determine When to Use Case Studies

A case study may be defined as an in-depth exploration of a phenomenon, an individual process or an event based on the context that uses multiple techniques for data collection and analysis. As a qualitative research method, case studies should be used when the behavior, intervention or independent variable is not manipulated. These studies answer "why" and "how" questions and are designed to investigate the conditions surrounding the subject being studied.

Use a case study to investigate a research question in which the subject of the study and the context of the study are intertwined. For example, a case study could be used to investigate the effects of inclusion versus separation in resource classes on the on-task behavior of a student with ADHD.

Choose the Appropriate Kind of Case Study

A variety of case-study designs are available to select from. In a multiple-case studies design, effects are studied between and within participants based on the context of the behavior. A carefully selected sample of several participants is selected to allow for cross-case comparisons.

A descriptive study follows the subject to describe and analyze the context and setting in an attempt to explain the behavior in question. For example, a descriptive study may be used to answer the research question, How does a student with ADHD respond to the inclusion setting? A descriptive study would highlight both the setting and the subjects' reactions in an attempt to better understand the effects of the setting.

An explanatory study attempts to answer the "why" question behind a phenomenon, again without manipulating any aspect of the behavior. An explanatory case attempts to identify a causal relation between the context and the behavior.

Use Effective Data Collection

Selecting an appropriate case study design depends on the research question, and the research question dictates the data collection method or methods. You can use a variety of methods to collect descriptive data. To collect information from the participants directly, you might give surveys or interviews and analyze responses. To gather observational data, you can complete direct observations and record field notes, or collect and analyze video or audio recordings. Researchers may also use documentation or archival files to create a whole picture of the context at question.

Analyze Data Efficiently and Accurately

While a holistic compilation of data cannot be counted and measured, data analysis in case studies is still methodical and systematic. Written data may be coded by identifying relevant points and examined for patterns. Time-series analysis, cross-case synthesis and logic models are methods of analyzing data. Each method includes multiple steps and requires in-depth explanation. Some researchers argue that aggregation and interpretation are included in analysis, as well. The research question not only dictates the methods of data collection, but also the methods of data analysis.