Case Study: Brief Summary
A case study is an account, research report, or analysis of a particular case, such as an activity, event, problem or business practice, over a set period of time. Case studies may centre around a single person, a group, a business, or a more general situation and describe either real-life or imagined scenarios. They are used in a wide range of different industries and disciplines, including social science, education, design, recruitment and marketing.
Generally, the purpose of a case study is to outline a problem, explain the solution and describe the eventual outcome, detailing the key decisions and complexities that were encountered along the way. In addition to their purpose as an educational tool, case studies are also frequently used in marketing, in order to highlight the value of a business’ work. They may include both qualitative and quantitative research.
Case Study: Detailed Summary
The first known example of a case study is believed to have been published by Pierre Guillaume Frédéric le Play, who introduced the concept into social sciences back in 1829. With that being said, the practice became more popular in the early 20th century, expanding into fields like psychology and anthropology. Usage as an education, development or business tool is a relatively modern phenomenon, taking off during the digital age.
Within businesses, case studies often serve as an example of content marketing, and in this context, they are primarily produced in an effort to establish a level of trust, attract new customers and influence purchasing decisions. In fact, in a 2016 Demand Gen survey, 73 percent of respondents said they had used case studies to inform B2B purchasing decisions in the preceding 12 months.
Companies often use case studies to highlight previous projects they have successfully completed or implemented, in order to demonstrate the value of their business. A case study of this variety will typically outline the problem or challenge the company faced, explain how they solved the problem or rose to the challenge, and then detail the eventual results. By reading the case study, potential customers can learn about the benefits of turning to that business.
The ability to provide examples of the business in action means that case studies can potentially be used by sales reps as well, and can help them to make a more robust sales pitch. This is especially easy in today’s digital age, because potential customers can be sent or directed towards files extremely easily.
Additionally, companies sometimes use case studies during the recruitment process, or as part of their staff development activities. When deployed in this way, a case study can help to test a candidate or staff member’s ability to think critically and solve a business issue. In such situations, the case study may leave out the solution to the problem, allowing the candidate to use their own initiative to find a resolution.
Moreover, case studies are frequently used in academic institutions and serve as an example of problem-based learning. Their use in education is thought to have originated at Harvard University in the United States, but the practice is now widespread. Students also often make use of case studies related to their chosen topic or theme when carrying out research for larger academic projects, such as a dissertation or thesis.
The actual case selection process is dependent on a number of different factors, including the motivation behind the case study, the topic that is being explored, researched or investigated, and the availability of information. Although fairly standard, typical or unremarkable cases may be chosen, they tend not to be the subject of the most revealing or compelling case studies and can, as a consequence, often be less persuasive.
For this reason, it is common for a business, researcher, social scientist or university to focus on a case which is in some way out of the ordinary. These are sometimes referred to as outlier cases and can produce more revealing insights and encourage experimental thinking. Alternatively, a researcher may opt instead for a key case related to their chosen topic. These cases will usually be the subject of intense interest and can be very convincing.
Case Study Types
Case studies can cover an almost limitless number of topics and are used in so many industries and disciplines that it stands to reason there are many different case study types. While the majority of case studies follow the same basic problem – solution – outcome format, their methods and purposes can vary significantly. Nevertheless, most case studies will broadly fit into one of the following types:
- Explanatory – Perhaps the most simple case study type, explanatory studies simply aim to explain or describe a situation or phenomenon. A study of this type will produce definitive answers or deal in absolutes, and will typically focus on events, rather than individuals or groups of people, in order to avoid variables.
- Exploratory – Usually produced as a precursor to a more in-depth piece of research, exploratory case studies help to identify questions and provide a case for further investigation. The conclusions of this type of study will usually be far less concrete and far more general than with an explanatory case study, but the information acts as a foundation.
- Critical Instance – Used to answer cause and effect type questions, or to examine established beliefs and assertions, critical instance case studies have very little interest in generalisations. They usually focus on a unique event or circumstance in order to either challenge or support suppositions or assumptions.
- Cumulative – Essentially, a cumulative case study uses the information from multiple previous case studies to form the basis for the new study. The primary benefits are that the accumulative information can be used to create a ‘bigger picture’, while the cost of producing this type of study is almost always very low.
A case study can be described as an account of a particular event, practice, action or problem, over a set period of time. It could focus on an individual, a group, or a more general situation and is produced after a period of research. There are a number of different types of case study, including explanatory and exploratory studies, while the type of case selected is likely to depend on the author’s motivation and whether it is experimental or factual.
Academic institutions often encourage students to analyse case studies, so that they can see examples of the things they are learning in action. However, in the modern age, one of the most prevalent uses of case studies is as a piece of content marketing. In this context, a case study provides potential customers with an example of a real-life business situation, providing valuable information, and research shows they have a significant influence on B2B purchasing decisions, in particular.