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Introduction
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
Step 1. Determine and Define the Research Questions

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The first step in case study research is to establish a firm research focus to which
the researcher can refer over the course of study of a complex phenomenon or
object. The researcher establishes the focus of the study by forming questions
about the situation or problem to be studied and determining a purpose for the
study. The research object in a case study is often a program, an entity, a person, or
a group of people. Each object is likely to be intricately connected to political,
social, historical, and personal issues, providing wide ranging possibilities for
questions and adding complexity to the case study. The researcher investigates the
object of the case study in depth using a variety of data gathering methods to
produce evidence that leads to understanding of the case and answers the research
questions.
Case study research generally answers one or more questions which begin with
"how" or "why." The questions are targeted to a limited number of events or
conditions and their inter-relationships. To assist in targeting and formulating the
questions, researchers conduct a literature review. This review establishes what
research has been previously conducted and leads to refined, insightful questions
about the problem. Careful definition of the questions at the start pinpoints where
to look for evidence and helps determine the methods of analysis to be used in the
study. The literature review, definition of the purpose of the case study, and early
determination of the potential audience for the final report guide how the study will
be designed, conducted, and publicly reported.
Step 2. Select the Cases and Determine Data Gathering and Analysis
Techniques
During the design phase of case study research, the researcher determines what
approaches to use in selecting single or multiple real-life cases to examine in depth
and which instruments and data gathering approaches to use. When using multiple
cases, each case is treated as a single case. Each cases conclusions can then be
used as information contributing to the whole study, but each case remains a single
case. Exemplary case studies carefully select cases and carefully examine the
choices available from among many research tools available in order to increase
the validity of the study. Careful discrimination at the point of selection also helps
erect boundaries around the case.
The researcher must determine whether to study cases which are unique in some
way or cases which are considered typical and may also select cases to represent a
variety of geographic regions, a variety of size parameters, or other parameters. A
useful step in the selection process is to repeatedly refer back to the purpose of the
study in order to focus attention on where to look for cases and evidence that will
satisfy the purpose of the study and answer the research questions posed. Selecting
multiple or single cases is a key element, but a case study can include more than
one unit of embedded analysis. For example, a case study may involve study of a
single industry and a firm participating in that industry. This type of case study

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Introduction 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 literat ...
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