Conducting Case Study Research for Business and Management Students

Bill Lee, Mark Saunders

Research output: Book/ReportBook


The purpose of this book is to provide a guide to students who decide to incorporate one or more case studies into the data collection processes that they conduct in preparation of a Masters level dissertation. We will elaborate on what case studies are below, but a provisional definition is that a case study entails a decision to study an instance, institution or phenomenon primarily as interesting per se, rather than as a representative of a broader population. This initial decision will subsequently involve the researcher in fieldwork, collecting evidence about the phenomenon from a range of sources to seek to develop a multidimensional understanding of the case. Masters-level students are our primary audience but this book may also provide a primer for students studying for research degrees such as PhDs or for others who are considering using case studies for the first time. In offering some form of guide, we outline two broad approaches to help structure the discussion. In defining them as broad approaches, we are intending that the reader recognises that we are presenting each as a genre that may embrace a number of different variants, rather than a definite prescription of a single best way of conducting each type of case study. One broad approach may be considered as orthodox and starts with the reading of literature and progresses in a linear way through the development of a research question or questions, design of research, collection of data, analysis of data and writing up of the research. The other recognizes greater iteration and will be referred to throughout as an emergent approach. As will become clear below, we do not intend the term emergent to imply that it is an approach that is only just being developed; instead we use the term to infer that the case will be developed as the research proceeds when the researcher encounters new circumstances and ideas, often in unanticipated ways. So the emergent approach will not necessarily start from the reading of the literature, but may instead start with a problem or an observation or some data in the form of anecdotal evidence that the researcher finds interesting and then progresses from there to include the stages that appear in the orthodox approach, although often not in the same order as takes place in the orthodox approach. The two approaches are not necessarily dichotomous. Indeed, some readers who are experienced in the conduct of case studies and conversant with a broad range of literature on case studies and research methods more generally may suggest that this book simplifies what some writers on orthodox case studies advocate, or it combines elements of a range of different approaches into emergent cases, or it does not centralize alternative ways of dividing case studies such as by the epistemological preferences of the researcher as is used by some other writers (e.g., Boblin, Ireland, Kirkpatrick & Robertson, 2013). We recognize some legitimacy in such criticisms. We do, however, have two main reasons for organizing the book according to the chronological order in which stages in the research process are carried out: The first main reason is that the two approaches reflect two broad traditions that are presented below when we discuss the history of case studies. The first approach is based on the principles of experimental psychology where research questions are defined within tightly defined boundaries, there are then attempts to control the boundaries and collect evidence within those boundaries so that the original research questions and findings addressed to those questions are seen to have validity. The second approach is that of ethnographic research stemming originally from anthropological studies where boundaries are not known, and where issues of interest deemed most worthy of expression in written-up findings only emerge as the research progresses. The former lends itself to a linear progression through the stages of research. The latter can accommodate a much less rigid advance through the different stages in the research process. As you may be undertaking your first research project, you may have had limited opportunities to familiarise yourself with different traditions, so this book provides you with these alternatives. The second main reason to justify our organization of the book according to differences in the chronological order in the stages that the case study is conducted is that the two approaches tend to reflect what happens in practice when experienced academics undertake case studies. Cases do start at different stages, not least because people may have made a number of observations, or had a number of experiences over time and they may have started to formulate ideas of why those events had occurred. In effect, they had started to define a problem before they had conducted an extensive review of the literature. Alternatively, a problem may be suggested to a researcher by someone who then provides access to evidence (see, for example, Buchanan, 2012). Only some case studies will start because people identify a gap in the literature and progress from there to conduct of the case. If the research of experienced academics progress in different ways, it would be inappropriate to suggest that people with less experience should not also have a choice of alternatives, especially when many Masters-level students are mature and have numerous experiences that might help in defining a research problem. This book is written in a way where it will not only provide a guide to using case studies in research that have different starting points but the information provided will also help you to document a systematic explanation of what you have done and why you did it. It is worth noting at this stage that some other authors also write about “teaching cases” that document a scenario and ask students to consider issues surrounding the scenario from different vantage points. We deliberately avoid consideration of teaching cases as the purpose of this book is to provide guidance around using case studies in research.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherSAGE Publications
Number of pages122
ISBN (Print)9781446274170, 1446274179
Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2017


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