Case Study Method

  1. definitions
  2. brief description of the methodological approach
  3. examples and/or illustrations
  4. other useful sources
  5. bibliography


  1. … also called case method. The teaching or elucidation of a subject or issue through analysis and discussion of actual cases, as in business education.

    Dictionary.com, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/case+study+method?qsrc=2446. (Accessed December 10, 2011)

  2. case system–  a method of teaching or studying law that focuses on analysis and discussion of cases.

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/case+system. (Accessed December 10, 2011)


Brief Description of the Methodological Approach

Christopher Columbus Langdell, a law professor, often receives credit for inventing the case method although historians have found evidence that others were teaching by this method before him. Regardless, Langdell by all accounts popularized the case method.

A system of instruction of study of law focused on an analysis of court opinions rather than lectures or textbooks; the predominant method of teaching in US law schools today.

Langdell viewed the law as a science and believed that it should be studied as a science. Law, he said, consists of certain principles or doctrines. To have such a mastery of these as to be able to apply them with constant facility and certainty to the ever-tangled skein of human affairs, is what constitutes a true lawyer; and hence to acquire that mastery should be the business of every earnest student of law.

Case Method, West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, 2005,
www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Case_Method.aspx. (Accessed December 11, 2011)


Examples and/or Illustrations

Qualitative Research: Case Study Guidelines, TESOL, (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc.) www.tesol.org/s_tesol/sec_document.asp?cid=476&did=2153. (Accessed December 11, 2011)

Aeronautics and Space Administration, “Case Study Methodology,” NASA Case Study Methodology Document, GSFC-Methodology-1, Rev. 01/19/ 11.
www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/pdf/292342main_GSFC-Methodology-1.pdf. (Accessed December 11, 2011)


Other Useful Sources

Case Method, International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences,

Case Method – Further Readings
http://law.jrank.org/pages/5049/Case-Method.html. (Accessed December 10, 2011)

“The Case Study as a Research Method,” Spring 1997

Case study research excels at bringing us to an understanding of a complex issue or object and can extend experience or add strength to what is already known through previous research. Case studies emphasize detailed contextual analysis of a limited number of events or conditions and their relationships. Researchers have used the case study research method for many years across a variety of disciplines. Social scientists, in particular, have made wide use of this qualitative research method to examine contemporary real-life situations and provide the basis for the application of ideas and extension of methods. Researcher Robert K. Yin defines the case study research method as an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context; when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident; and in which multiple sources of evidence are used (Yin, 1984, p. 23).

Critics of the case study method believe that the study of a small number of cases can offer no grounds for establishing reliability or generality of findings. Others feel that the intense exposure to study of the case biases the findings. Some dismiss case study research as useful only as an exploratory tool. Yet researchers continue to use the case study research method with success in carefully planned and crafted studies of real-life situations, issues, and problems. Reports on case studies from many disciplines are widely available in the literature.

This paper explains how to use the case study method and then applies the method to an example case study project designed to examine how one set of users, non-profit organizations, make use of an electronic community network. The study examines the issue of whether or not the electronic community network is beneficial in some way to non-profit organizations and what those benefits might be.

Many well-known case study researchers such as Robert E. Stake, Helen Simons, and Robert K. Yin have written about case study research and suggested techniques for organizing and conducting the research successfully. This introduction to case study research draws upon their work and proposes six steps that should be used:

  • Determine and define the research questions
  • Select the cases and determine data gathering and analysis techniques
  • Prepare to collect the data
  • Collect data in the field
  • Evaluate and analyze the data
  • Prepare the report

www.gslis.utexas.edu/~ssoy/usesusers/l391d1b.htm. (Accessed December 10, 2011)



Robert E. Stake, “The Case Study Method in Social Enquiry,” Educational Researcher, (February 1978) 7(2): 5-8.

Winston Tellis, “Application of a Case Study Methodology,” The Qualitative Report, (September 1997) 3(3): www.nova.edu/ssss/QR/QR3-3/tellis2.html?ref=dizinler.com. (Accessed December 11, 2011)

Gomm, Roger; Hammersley, Martyn and Foster, Peter eds. (2000). Case study method: Key texts, key issues. London: Sage.

Rolf Johanssen, “Case Study Methodology,” A key note speech at the International Conference “Methodologies in Housing Research” organised by the Royal Institute of Technology in cooperation with the International Association of People–Environment Studies, Stockholm, 22–24 September 2003.