WhatIs a Case Study?
A case study is an in-depth study of one person, group, or event. In a case study, nearly every aspect of the subject's life and history is analyzed to seek patterns and causes of behavior. Case studies can be used in various fields, including psychology, medicine, education, anthropology, political science, and social work.
The purpose of a case study is to learn as much as possible about an individual or group so that the information can be generalized to many others. Unfortunately, case studies tend to be highly subjective, and it is sometimesdifficult to generalize results to a larger population.
While case studies focus on a single individual or group, they follow a format similar to other types of psychology writing. If you are writing a case study, it is important to follow the rules of APA format.
Benefits and Limitations
A case study can have both strengths and weaknesses. Researchers must consider these pros and cons before deciding if this type of study is appropriate for their needs.
One of the greatest advantages of a case study is that it allows researchers to investigate things that are often difficult to impossible to replicate in a lab. Some other benefits of a case study:
- Allows researchers to collect a great deal of information
- Give researchers the chance to collect information on rare or unusual cases
- Permits researchers to develop hypotheses that can be explored in experimental research
On the negative side, a case study:
- Cannot necessarily be generalized to the larger population
- Cannot demonstrate cause and effect
- May not be scientifically rigorous
- Can lead to bias
Researchers may choose to perform a case study if they are interested in exploring a unique or recently discovered phenomenon. The insights gained from such research can help the researchers develop additional ideas and study questions that might be explored in future studies.
However, it is important to remember that the insights gained from case studies cannot be used to determine cause and effect relationships between variables. However, case studies may be used to develop hypotheses that can then be addressed in experimental research.
Case Study Examples
There have been a number of notable case studies in the history of psychology. Much ofFreud's work and theories were developed through the use of individual case studies. Some great examples of case studies in psychology include:
- Anna O: Anna O. was a pseudonym of a woman named Bertha Pappenheim, a patient of a physician named Josef Breuer. While she was never a patient of Freud's, Freud and Breuer discussed her case extensively. The woman was experiencing symptoms of a condition that was then known as hysteria and found that talking about her problems helped relieve her symptoms. Her case played an important part in the development of talk therapy as an approach to mental health treatment.
- Phineas Gage: Phineas Gage was a railroad employee who experienced a terrible accident in which an explosion sent a metal rod through his skull, damaging important portions of his brain. Gage recovered from his accident but was left with serious changes in both personality and behavior.
- Genie: Genie was a young girl subjected to horrific abuse and isolation. The case study of Genie allowed researchers to study whether language could be taught even after critical periods for language development had been missed. Her case also served as an example of how scientific research may interfere with treatment and lead to further abuse of vulnerable individuals.
Such cases demonstrate how case research can be used to study things that researchers could not replicate in experimental settings. In Genie's case, her horrific abuse had denied her the opportunity to learn language at critical points in her development.
This is clearly not something that researchers could ethically replicate, but conducting a case study on Genie allowed researchers the chance to study phenomena that are otherwise impossible to reproduce.
Topics for Psychology Case Studies
Types of Case Studies
There are a few different types of case studies that psychologists and other researchers might utilize:
- Collective case studies: Theseinvolve studying a group of individuals. Researchers might study a group of people in a certain setting or look at an entire community. For example, psychologists might explore how access to resources in a community has affected the collective mental well-being of those living there.
- Descriptive case studies:These involve starting with a descriptive theory. The subjects are then observed, and the information gathered is compared to the pre-existing theory.
- Explanatory case studies: Theseare often used to do causal investigations. In other words, researchers are interested in looking at factors that may have caused certain things to occur.
- Exploratory case studies: Theseare sometimes used as a prelude to further, more in-depth research. This allows researchers to gather more information before developing their research questions and hypotheses.
- Instrumental case studies: Theseoccur when the individual or group allows researchers to understand more than what is initially obvious to observers.
- Intrinsic case studies:This type of case study is when the researcher has a personal interest in the case. Jean Piaget's observations of his own children are good examples of how an intrinsic cast study can contribute to the development of a psychological theory.
The three main case study types often used are intrinsic, instrumental, and collective. Intrinsic case studies are useful for learning about unique cases. Instrumental case studies help look at an individual to learn more about a broader issue. A collective case study can be useful for looking at several cases simultaneously.
The type of case study that psychology researchers utilize depends on the unique characteristics of the situation as well as the case itself.
How to Write a Case Study
There are also different methods that can be used to conduct a case study, including prospective and retrospective case study methods.
Prospective case study methodsare those in which an individual or group of people is observed in order to determine outcomes. For example, a group of individuals might be watched over an extended period of time to observe the progression of a particular disease.
Retrospective case study methods involve looking at historical information. For example, researchers might start with an outcome, such as a disease, and then work their way backward to look at information about the individual's life to determine risk factors that may have contributed to the onset of the illness.
Where to Find Data
There are a number of different sources and methods that researchers can use to gather information about an individual or group. Six major sources that have been identified by researchersare:
- Archival records:Census records, survey records, and name lists are examples of archival records.
- Direct observation:This strategy involves observing the subject, often in a natural setting. While an individual observer is sometimes used, it is more common to utilize a group of observers.
- Documents:Letters, newspaper articles, administrative records, etc., are the types of documents often used as sources.
- Interviews:Interviews are one of the most important methods for gathering information in case studies. An interview can involve structured survey questions or more open-ended questions.
- Participant observation:When the researcher serves as a participant in events and observes the actions and outcomes, it is called participant observation.
- Physical artifacts:Tools, objects, instruments, and other artifacts are often observed during a direct observation of the subject.
Section 1: A Case History
This section will have the following structure and content:
Background information: The first section of your paper will present your client's background. Include factors such as age, gender, work, health status, family mental health history, family and social relationships, drug and alcohol history, life difficulties, goals, and coping skills and weaknesses.
Description of the presenting problem: In the next section of your case study, you will describe the problem or symptoms that the client presented with.
Describe any physical, emotional, or sensory symptoms reported by the client. Thoughts, feelings, and perceptions related to the symptoms should also be noted. Any screening or diagnostic assessments that are used should also be described in detail and all scores reported.
Your diagnosis: Provide your diagnosis and give the appropriate Diagnostic and Statistical Manual code. Explain how you reached your diagnosis, how the client's symptoms fit the diagnostic criteria for the disorder(s), or any possible difficulties in reaching a diagnosis.
Section 2: Treatment Plan
This portion of the paper will address the chosen treatment for the condition. This might also include the theoretical basis for the chosen treatment or any other evidence that might exist to support why this approach was chosen.
- Cognitive behavioral approach: Explain how a cognitive behavioral therapist would approach treatment. Offer background information on cognitive behavioral therapy and describe the treatment sessions, client response, and outcome of this type of treatment. Make note of any difficulties or successes encountered by your client during treatment.
- Humanistic approach: Describe a humanistic approach that could be used to treat your client, such as client-centered therapy. Provide information on the type of treatment you chose, the client's reaction to the treatment, and the end result of this approach. Explain why the treatment was successful or unsuccessful.
- Psychoanalytic approach: Describe how a psychoanalytic therapist would view the client's problem. Provide some background on the psychoanalytic approach and cite relevant references. Explain how psychoanalytic therapy would be used to treat the client, how the client would respond to therapy, and the effectiveness of this treatment approach.
- Pharmacological approach: If treatment primarily involves the use of medications, explain which medications were used and why. Provide background on the effectiveness of these medications and how monotherapy may compare with an approach that combines medications with therapy or other treatments.
This section of a case study should also include information about the treatment goals, process, and outcomes.
When you are writing a case study, you should also include a section where you discuss the case study itself, including the strengths and limitiations of the study. You should note how the findings of your case study might support previous research.
In your discussion section, you should also describe some of the implications of your case study. What ideas or findings might require further exploration? How might researchers go about exploring some of these questions in additional studies?
Here are a few additional pointers to keep in mind when formatting your case study:
- Never refer to the subject of your case study as "the client." Instead, their name or a pseudonym.
- Read examples of case studies to gain an idea about the style and format.
- Remember to use APA format when citing references.
A Word From Verywell
Case studies can be a useful research tool, but they need to be used wisely. In many cases, they are best utilized in situations where conducting an experiment would be difficult or impossible. They are helpful for looking at unique situations and allow researchers to gather a great deal of information about a specific individual or group of people.
If you have been directed to write a case study for a psychology course, be sure to check with your instructor for any specific guidelines that you are required to follow. If you are writing your case study for professional publication, be sure to check with the publisher for their specific guidelines for submitting a case study.
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
Gagnon,Yves-Chantal.The Case Study as Research Method: A Practical Handbook.Canada,Chicago Review Press Incorporated DBA Independent Pub Group,2010.
Yin,Robert K. Case Study Research and Applications: Design and Methods.United States,SAGE Publications,2017.
By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.
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- STEP 1: READ THE CASE STUDY AND QUESTIONS CAREFULLY. • ...
- STEP 2: IDENTIFY THE ISSUES IN THE CASE STUDY. ...
- STEP 3: LINK THEORY TO PRACTICE. ...
- STEP 4: PLAN YOUR ANSWER. ...
- STEP 5: START WRITING YOUR CASE STUDY ANSWER. ...
- STEP 6: EDIT AND PROOFREAD. ...
- STEP 7: SUBMIT.
- Illustrative Case Study.
- Exploratory Case Study.
- Cumulative Case study.
- Critical Instance Case Study.
- Read and Examine the Case Thoroughly. Take notes, highlight relevant facts, underline key problems.
- Focus Your Analysis. Identify two to five key problems. ...
- Uncover Possible Solutions/Changes Needed. ...
- Select the Best Solution.
- Preparation. Just like with any study, it's important to first prepare to conduct the case analysis. ...
- Introduction. ...
- Background information. ...
- Proposed solutions. ...
- Recommendations. ...
Revised on September 14, 2022. A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject, such as a person, group, place, event, organization, or phenomenon. Case studies are commonly used in social, educational, clinical, and business research.How many types are of case study? ›
There are generally five different types of case studies, and the subjects that they address. Every case study, whether explanatory or exploratory, or intrinsic or instrumental, fits into one of these five groups.What is the best format for a case study? ›
Downloadable PDF is the most common study case format, but it could be shared as a website page section, a video, or a slide presentation. Although the content itself is more important than the appearance, some rules could organize ideas to make reading more attractive and fluid.How do I start preparing for a case study? ›
- Find Cases That Are Suitable for Practicing Alone. ...
- Synthesize the Case Background Information. ...
- Ask Clarifying Questions. ...
- Structure a Framework and Present it Out Loud. ...
- Propose an Area to Start the Case. ...
- Answer Each Case Question Out Loud. ...
- Deliver a Recommendation Out Loud. ...
- Review Your Answers and Identify Improvement Areas.
- Illustrative Case Studies. These are primarily descriptive studies. ...
- Exploratory (or pilot) Case Studies. ...
- Cumulative Case Studies. ...
- Critical Instance Case Studies. ...
- Individual Theories. ...
- Organizational Theories. ...
- Social Theories. ...
- Executive Summary. Explain what you will examine in the case study. ...
- Background. Provide background information and the most relevant facts. ...
- Case Evaluation. ...
- Proposed Solutions. ...
- Conclusion. ...
- Implementation. ...
- Choose the situation on which to write.
- Gather as much information as possible about the situation.
- Analyze all of the elements surrounding the situation.
- Determine the final solution implemented.
- Gather information about why the solution worked or did not work.
In a previous issue, I discussed the need to include the following components in an effective case study: Introduction/context, Goals, Obstacles, Solution, Results, Benefits and Call to action.How do you write a case study summary? ›
It must be informative and: summarize the story by introducing the customer and their pain points. explain what your organization did. highlight the key results, including 1 or 2 statistics that drive home the takeaway message.How many steps are in a case study? ›
It discusses the seven steps employed in a case study approach, namely: (1) Justification for the research paradigm and research methodology, (2) Justification for the case study method, (3) Criteria for judging the quality of case study design (4) Designing the case study, (5) Criteria for selecting a case design, (6) ...What are the three most important areas of a case study? ›
Again, there are generally three parts: 1) restate POV + meta-statement regarding observations; 2) specific observations and their implications; 3) implications for future research and/or design.What is the format of a case study report? ›
Structure of A Case Study Report
Cover page including basic student and class information. Table of contents showing where key parts of the report can be found. Executive summary of the key recommendations and points of the report. Introduction to the report and identification of the focal problem being faced.
Step 1: Case Origin Identify the needs Step 2: Establishing the needs The search for specific issues, ideas, and individuals or organizations that might supply the case information Step 3: Initial Contact The establishment of access to material on the case subject Step 4: Data Collection The gathering of the relevant ...What are case study type questions? ›
What Are Case Study Questions? Case study questions are business-oriented situations or challenges presented during the interview for which candidates require to provide solutions. These questions assess a candidate's business acumen, analytical skills and problem-solving capabilities.What is case study PDF? ›
Case studies involve the documented history and comprehensive analysis of a situation concerning subjects such as industries, organizations, and markets.What type of paper is case study? ›
A case study research paper examines a person, place, event, phenomenon, or other type of subject of analysis in order to extrapolate key themes and results that help predict future trends, illuminate previously hidden issues that can be applied to practice, and/or provide a means for understanding an important ...
In conclusion, there is no right or wrong in how long a case study should be there is however some guidelines to follow. The recommended number of pages should be somewhere between 5-15. This seems to be an appropriate form to stick to.How do you start an answer to a case study question? ›
- Start by identifying the theories and concepts covered in your course. ...
- Practice reading case studies and identifying relevant information. ...
- Practice relating concepts and theories to real-world situations: ask lecturers and check textbooks for practice examples.
Many case studies last around 3-6 months but can also continue for years (WikiHow, 2016). To be prepared is very important. Merriam (1994) show that a well prepared compilation and data analysis process is a time saver for the writing process.What are the key elements of a case? ›
- The existence of a legal duty that the defendant owed to the plaintiff.
- The defendant's breach of that duty.
- The plaintiff's sufferance of an injury.
- Proof that defendant's breach caused the injury (typically defined through proximate cause)
- Understand the issue; ask clarifying questions as needed.
- Identify the underlying assumptions.
- Summarize specific issues and findings.
- State your recommendations.
- Outline next steps and expected results/impacts.
Introduction/Summary: The introduction should aim to hook the reader's attention in the first few sentences by explaining, in an interesting way, the question you will be answering or the case you will be exploring.How do you write a case study research question? ›
Typically, case study research questions use words such as how or why. Over- all, the case study research questions need to address the substance of what (case) the study is about (Hatch, 2002, p. 10). To formulate your case study research questions, think of conducting a case study like painting a picture.What questions should a case study answer? ›
- How did you hear about our product? ...
- How long had you been looking for a solution to this problem? ...
- Were you comparing alternative solutions? ...
- Would you describe a few of the reasons you decided to buy our product?
Tips To Answer a Case Study Assignment
Write the answers as if you are written the report to your boss at any big organization. You have been asked to write the response on any respected subject in that organization. Write everything I your own words. Never copy and paste from any source.