The 6 Major Case Study Formats: Choosing the Right Case Study Format

03 Jan 2023


Case studies are a valuable tool in advancing knowledge. Case studies allow researchers to determine the causes and effects of events. This research allows critical lessons to become available to the general public.

While a case study offers a golden opportunity to cultivate knowledge and expand understanding, several aspects must be considered. In particular, choosing the right case study format is critical.

What is a case study?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a case study as “an intensive analysis of an individual unit (such as a person or community) stressing developmental factors in relation to the environment.”

This definition offers some interesting clues.

First, a case study refers to the intensive analysis of an individual unit. In other words, a case study looks deeply at a person, organization, community, or country. This analysis seeks to uncover the data explaining the observable phenomena spurring the case study.

Second, the definition highlights developmental factors concerning the environment. As such, the environment surrounding the subject plays a key role in determining the factors driving the research.

Ultimately, researchers must conduct an extensive assessment of the case study’s subjects and how environmental factors affect them.

This combination enables them to distill key lessons, leading to a deeper understanding of the case study’s main topic.

What is a case study method?

A case study method refers to the specific structure of the study and the procedure researchers use to perform a case study.

A case study’s method or format allows researchers to adapt the overarching case study methodology in a specific context that facilitates data gathering, processing, and analysis.

Researchers commonly use six major case study formats across a wide range of scientific fields.

The 6 Major Case Study Formats

Case study formats are driven by the main goal motivating researchers. They apply to virtually any type of scientific field, though some are more common in certain fields.

1. Descriptive Case Study

A descriptive case study seeks to identify patterns between the case study’s subject and a theory. The theory attempts to explain observable elements in the subject to advance the development of that theory. Please note that producing as much quantitative data as possible is crucial in this case study format.

For instance, Atmospheric Scientists study the effects of specific environmental factors on weather phenomena such as hurricanes and tornados.

The data allows researchers to provide a reasonable explanation related to the observable phenomena surrounding these natural disasters.

The outcome allows researchers to identify patterns that could allow authorities to establish disaster readiness and prevention guidelines.

2. Explanatory Case Study

An explanatory case study seeks to uncover the causes of observable phenomena. Additionally, researchers use explanatory case studies to explain a cause-and-effect relationship between an event and its underlying causes.

For example, researchers use the explanatory case study format to explain the underlying causes of business failures. The outcome of this case study format allows business leaders to distill key lessons learned.

3. Exploratory Case Study

As its name suggests, an exploratory case study aims to determine the need for a broader, more comprehensive case study or research project.

Exploratory case studies do not necessarily seek to uncover causes or derive explanations. This case study format does not attempt to further a theory’s advancement. Instead, exploratory case studies seek to collect data and evidence that researchers can use to determine the scope of future research.

For instance, medical researchers conduct case studies to determine if more comprehensive research is needed to develop new medications.

The results of an exploratory case study may determine that there is sufficient data to bring a new drug or treatment to market.

Conversely, the case study may determine that the data is insufficient and either warrants additional trials and testing, or should be scrapped in favor of investing in a different solution.

4. Intrinsic Case Study

An intrinsic case study focuses specifically on a single subject. The case study revolves around the subject of a specific observable phenomenon.

For example, anthropologists focus on specific ethnic groups in relation to practices pertaining to their cultural heritage.

A researcher interested in knowing more about wedding customs in an ethnic group may choose a specific community as the subject. The outcome is typically a descriptive analysis.

5. Instrumental Case Study

An instrumental case study examines a phenomenon beyond the case study’s scope. The aim is to provide evidence to explain the topic at hand.

While an instrumental case study does not attempt to replace extensive scientific research, it aims to uncover evidence used to further the development of a theory or area of knowledge.

For instance, biologists can study a specific specie’s behavior to provide evidence that could be extrapolated to other related species.

These generalizations can also serve as the basis for larger studies and research projects.

6. Collective Case Study

A collective case study looks at a series of case studies to determine the need for additional ones. As a result, multiple case studies may be conducted to establish the feasibility of further research.

For example, fiscal policy experts conduct several case studies across various industries to determine the need for changes in the government’s current fiscal policy. They may find that additional case studies may be needed to establish the feasibility of proposed changes.

Each case study type has its merits and uses. Thus, the big question is: “How to choose the right case study?” The answer to that question depends on the specific circumstances motivating research.


How to Choose the Right Case Study Format

There are various factors to consider when choosing the right case study format.

  • Understanding the motivation for a case study is crucial. For example, a company looking to gain a deeper understanding of declining sales may choose an intrinsic case study of an industry leader to distill specific best practices.
  • A case study’s limitations are a key component. Case studies do not provide the depth that a broad research project can. For instance, conducting an exploratory case study can provide justification for a larger study. Consequently, researchers can use an exploratory case study to request funding for a large-scale research project.
  • A large-scale research project may not be necessary to gather information. In some circumstances, a broad research project may be too big and costly to gather the data needed to comprehend a phenomenon. As a result, a case study may suffice.
  • Researchers may not have the experience to carry out a large-scale research project. Consequently, producing smaller case studies can yield useful data without requiring a significant investment in time, money, and effort.
  • Researchers looking to explain cause-and-effect relationships can use explanatory case studies to home in on specific patterns that explain observable phenomena.
  • Instrumental case studies are viable when researchers plan to conduct a broad research project but may be unwilling to commit right away. Thus, an instrumental case study can provide a great starting point, allowing researchers to pinpoint where they need to focus future research efforts.

There is an additional factor to consider: resources. Often, organizations and researchers lack the resources to conduct full-scale research projects.

Please bear in mind that case studies provide a more cost-effective means of gathering data.

Case studies are less labor intensive and generally require significantly fewer financial resources to conduct than large-scale research projects.

Hiring a Writing Agency in a Case Study

Case studies require a combination of knowledge, skills, and experience. However, individuals and organizations may lack the know-how and expertise needed to produce a part of a case study or an entire one. Consequently, a writing agency can provide the support needed to complete a case study successfully.

A professional writing agency can support research in various ways:

  • An experienced writing agency can handle the entire research, analysis, and writing process. In other words, a writing agency can tackle producing an entire case study.
  • A professional writing agency can support specific parts of research. For example, a writing agency can take processed data and analysis to produce the text itself.
  • A writing agency can serve as an editor. Writing agencies employ editors that can review a draft case study to ensure the writing meets rigorous grammatical and industry standards.
  • Writing agencies can offer experience to fill research gaps. Please note that writing agencies employ a diverse staff. This diversity allows writing agencies to boast a cadre of in-house experts.
  • Writing agencies can communicate complex topics in easy-to-understand language, ideal for general audiences. This skill comes in quite handy when highly technical data is needed to support decisions.

The Benefits of Hiring a Writing Agency in a Case Study

A writing agency can deliver the following benefits in a case study:

  • Saves time and effort. Employing a writing agency allows researchers to focus on data collection and analysis by handling the writing and editing. As a result, researchers can dedicate their efforts to what they do best.
  • Brings a diverse skillset to the table. Hiring a writing agency is the right call, especially when researchers are inexperienced writers. Moreover, a writing agency can also assist in research by drafting the written materials needed to collect data, process information, and produce documentation.
  • Is a force multiplier. Researchers can work in tandem with a writing agency across multiple levels. Combining forces allows researchers to play to their strengths while mitigating their weaknesses. After all, several heads think better than a few.
  • Increases efficiency. Hiring a writing agency boosts efficiency, especially when resources are limited. Consequently, researchers can maximize their resource allocation across the board. For instance, research teams can employ more subject matter experts instead of writers and editors. This approach can vastly improve research output and quality.

Please remember that hiring a writing agency goes beyond writing and editing. A trusted writing agency provides peace of mind. Involving a professional writing agency helps reduce uncertainty and inspires confidence in the research team. These factors are crucial, especially with inexperienced research teams.

Additionally, a writing agency may be the element needed to kickstart a languishing research project.

A research project can stall due to various reasons. A writing agency can provide the keys to removing the roadblocks keeping researchers from completing a project.

Indeed, hiring a writing agency has a significant upside. Organizations and researchers must consider employing a professional writing agency, particularly when projects have faced barriers along the way.

One Final Thought

Critics claim that hiring a writing agency is expensive. They believe that spending money on employing a writing agency is a needless expense. This belief is pervasive among more experienced researchers. However, the cost of not employing a writing agency may be higher in the long run.

Organizations that employ in-house writing and research teams must deal with costs related to wages, benefits, payroll taxes, and insurance, in addition to hiring and staffing costs.

But there is one other factor that most critics overlook: Finding the right people for the job is not easy. It takes time to find experienced and talented researchers and writers. This specific situation underscores the benefits that come with hiring a writing agency.

In short, it is a critical failure to realize that not employing a writing agency is more expensive in the long run. This reason explains why employing a writing agency is not an expense but an investment. It is an investment in a long-term relationship that yields ongoing benefits.

Zach Richter 

Related Content

  • 0 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *