Why is there so much controversy over case studies? One reason is because this kind of research has a rather limited scope. Unlike literature or quantitative research, a case study has a narrow focus, and therefore, is easier to analyze. Case studies are often descriptive in nature, with little to no attempt at a comprehensive or entire statistical representation of the data studied. This is why there have been recent calls to limit the use of case studies in higher education.
Case studies can be difficult to interpret when done through the use of typical quantitative methods. Quantitative results, while they may indicate that something is statistically significant, do not give a clear picture of the real world (or real people) behind a given set of facts. As such, those who would criticize the use of case studies point out that qualitative researchers have already done most of the work in terms of uncovering the ‘real’ or the underlying meaning of the qualitative data, thus making quantitative methods of investigation practically useless.
On the other hand, using published case studies as part of quantitative methods of investigation opens up many avenues for qualitative researchers to explore. First of all, case studies are relatively easy to interpret compared to mathematical formulas or complicated algorithms. Second of all, the case study methodology is inherently sound and well-established, having been adopted by hundreds of top universities and research centers around the world. Thirdly, using case studies in quantitative and qualitative research raises one more important issue: that of the relationship between theory and practice. When using published case studies in quantitative and quality management research, it is important for the researcher to take into consideration that the same case involves the same real people. The same arguments about quality and quantity also apply in qualitative methods journals.
With the increasing number of qualitative methodology journals being published every year, the field of case study research is growing by leaps and bounds. In this context, it is useful to point out that over the past fifteen years, there has been a sea change in the style of journal publishing. Whereas in the past only a few top journals were devoted to quality research, today there are dozens of these quality publications available. In fact, in just the past few years, there has been a flurry of cases submitted to major quality journals, with some of the most prominent research scholars involved in both editing and writing the articles.
Case study journals have a number of important functions. First, they allow for better organization of the vast amount of case studies that are generated. There is a tendency for these studies to be more cluttered than with descriptive tables or images. Second, it makes it easier for researchers to write up their own unique case studies that fit their specific research topic. Third, using a descriptive table along with clear and detailed images can help readers get an idea of the larger picture, as well as provide data that is easily interpretable.
Another function that case studies serve is to support or validate the conclusions of other research studies. For example, if the results of a study are contradictory to one another, Case studies provide a good medium to discuss potential discrepancies. They also serve as excellent jumping off points for new and more specific research, such as a meta-analysis or review of literature. Finally, because most descriptive tables provide descriptive information, they can also be used as illustration examples to illustrate points made in other research papers, thereby reinforcing the importance of research methodology.
There is one more function that case studies serve: as a critical review. In journals and on the Internet, readers often comment on and criticize papers and studies. A careful, thorough critique helps the reader understand the various strengths and weaknesses of a given study, while providing a concise summary of the entire methodology, outcomes, and other relevant details.