Qualitative Case Study Research as Empirical Inquiry

Qualitative Case Study Research as Empirical Inquiry

Andrea D. Ellinger (The University of Texas at Tyler, USA) and Rochell McWhorter (Department of Human Resource Development, The University of Texas at Tyler, Tyler, TX, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJAVET.2016070101
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This article introduces the concept of qualitative case study research as empirical inquiry. It defines and distinguishes what a case study is, the purposes, intentions, and types of case studies. It then describes how to determine if a qualitative case study is the preferred approach for conducting research. It overviews the essential steps in designing qualitative case study research, including the role of literature and theory, approaches for collecting data and analyzing it, as well as how to write up and present case study findings. It articulates how to avoid common pitfalls when engaging in qualitative case study research and concludes with the strengths and limitations associated with this form of empirical inquiry.
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Case study, as a “distinctive form of empirical inquiry,” (Yin, 2014, p. 19) is a popular and prevalent form of social science research that is widely used in many disciplines including psychology, sociology, anthropology, social work, nursing, education, business, community planning, economics and political science (Baskarada, 2014; Merriam, 1998; 2009; Thomas, 2011; Stake, 1995, 2010; Yazan, 2015; Yin, 2003, 2012, 2014). Yet, despite its prevalence, there remain misconceptions, misunderstandings, along with concerns associated with rigor (da Mota Pedrosa, Naslund, & Jasmand, 2012; Ellram, 1996; Flyvbjerg, 2006; Gibbert & Ruigrok, 2010; Tetnowski, 2015; Rule & John, 2015; Thomas, 2011; Yin, 2014). In terms of misconceptions, Ellram (1996) has indicated that some of the common misconceptions are that case study research and the use of teaching cases are closely related, that case studies are only appropriate at the exploratory phase of an investigation and cannot be used to describe or test propositions (Yin, 2014), case studies lack rigor and require large numbers to provide meaningful results which are not generalizable, and that anyone case do a case study (p. 94).

Similarly, Flyvbjerg (2006) has acknowledged that there are five common misunderstandings about the nature of case study research: that context-independent knowledge is more valuable than context-dependent knowledge, that individual case studies cannot be generalized and therefore do not make contributions, that they are most useful for generating hypotheses, not for hypotheses testing and theory building, that they tend to confirm the researcher’s preconceived notions, and that it is challenging to develop general propositions and theories from specific case studies (p. 221). Lastly, case study research is often critiqued for a lack of attention to rigor regarding issues associated with validity and reliability (Gibbert, Ruigrok, & Wicki, 2008; Gibbert & Ruigrok, 2010; da Mota Pedrosa et al., 2012). Yet, despite these issues, some scholars contend that “case studies have provided the management field with some of its most ground-breaking insights” (Gibbert & Ruigrok, 2010, p. 711). Further, Siggelkow (2007) suggested that there are three valuable uses of cases which include, “the immersion in rich case data enables… inspiration for new ideas… can also help sharpen existing theory by pointing to gaps and beginning to fill them… and, in the context of making a conceptual contribution is to employ them as illustration” (p. 21).

Therefore, the purpose of this article is to define what case study is, and is not, the purposes, intentions, and types of case study research, when case study is the preferred approach, and the roles of literature and theory in case study research. It will also address issues associated with rigor, considerations for how to design case studies, how to collect and analyze case study evidence, the use of technology to assist with data management, and how to report findings. In particular, a qualitative perspective will be undertaken with regard to case study research to enable students, researchers and practitioners to more effectively and rigorously develop and evaluate qualitative case study research.

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