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Case Study – Methods, Examples and Guide

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Case Study Research

A case study is a research method that involves an in-depth examination and analysis of a particular phenomenon or case, such as an individual, organization, community, event, or situation.

It is a qualitative research approach that aims to provide a detailed and comprehensive understanding of the case being studied. Case studies typically involve multiple sources of data, including interviews, observations, documents, and artifacts, which are analyzed using various techniques, such as content analysis, thematic analysis, and grounded theory. The findings of a case study are often used to develop theories, inform policy or practice, or generate new research questions.

Types of Case Study

Types and Methods of Case Study are as follows:

Single-Case Study

A single-case study is an in-depth analysis of a single case. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to understand a specific phenomenon in detail.

For Example , A researcher might conduct a single-case study on a particular individual to understand their experiences with a particular health condition or a specific organization to explore their management practices. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as content analysis or thematic analysis. The findings of a single-case study are often used to generate new research questions, develop theories, or inform policy or practice.

Multiple-Case Study

A multiple-case study involves the analysis of several cases that are similar in nature. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to identify similarities and differences between the cases.

For Example, a researcher might conduct a multiple-case study on several companies to explore the factors that contribute to their success or failure. The researcher collects data from each case, compares and contrasts the findings, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as comparative analysis or pattern-matching. The findings of a multiple-case study can be used to develop theories, inform policy or practice, or generate new research questions.

Exploratory Case Study

An exploratory case study is used to explore a new or understudied phenomenon. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to generate hypotheses or theories about the phenomenon.

For Example, a researcher might conduct an exploratory case study on a new technology to understand its potential impact on society. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as grounded theory or content analysis. The findings of an exploratory case study can be used to generate new research questions, develop theories, or inform policy or practice.

Descriptive Case Study

A descriptive case study is used to describe a particular phenomenon in detail. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to provide a comprehensive account of the phenomenon.

For Example, a researcher might conduct a descriptive case study on a particular community to understand its social and economic characteristics. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as content analysis or thematic analysis. The findings of a descriptive case study can be used to inform policy or practice or generate new research questions.

Instrumental Case Study

An instrumental case study is used to understand a particular phenomenon that is instrumental in achieving a particular goal. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to understand the role of the phenomenon in achieving the goal.

For Example, a researcher might conduct an instrumental case study on a particular policy to understand its impact on achieving a particular goal, such as reducing poverty. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as content analysis or thematic analysis. The findings of an instrumental case study can be used to inform policy or practice or generate new research questions.

Case Study Data Collection Methods

Here are some common data collection methods for case studies:

Interviews involve asking questions to individuals who have knowledge or experience relevant to the case study. Interviews can be structured (where the same questions are asked to all participants) or unstructured (where the interviewer follows up on the responses with further questions). Interviews can be conducted in person, over the phone, or through video conferencing.


Observations involve watching and recording the behavior and activities of individuals or groups relevant to the case study. Observations can be participant (where the researcher actively participates in the activities) or non-participant (where the researcher observes from a distance). Observations can be recorded using notes, audio or video recordings, or photographs.

Documents can be used as a source of information for case studies. Documents can include reports, memos, emails, letters, and other written materials related to the case study. Documents can be collected from the case study participants or from public sources.

Surveys involve asking a set of questions to a sample of individuals relevant to the case study. Surveys can be administered in person, over the phone, through mail or email, or online. Surveys can be used to gather information on attitudes, opinions, or behaviors related to the case study.

Artifacts are physical objects relevant to the case study. Artifacts can include tools, equipment, products, or other objects that provide insights into the case study phenomenon.

How to conduct Case Study Research

Conducting a case study research involves several steps that need to be followed to ensure the quality and rigor of the study. Here are the steps to conduct case study research:

  • Define the research questions: The first step in conducting a case study research is to define the research questions. The research questions should be specific, measurable, and relevant to the case study phenomenon under investigation.
  • Select the case: The next step is to select the case or cases to be studied. The case should be relevant to the research questions and should provide rich and diverse data that can be used to answer the research questions.
  • Collect data: Data can be collected using various methods, such as interviews, observations, documents, surveys, and artifacts. The data collection method should be selected based on the research questions and the nature of the case study phenomenon.
  • Analyze the data: The data collected from the case study should be analyzed using various techniques, such as content analysis, thematic analysis, or grounded theory. The analysis should be guided by the research questions and should aim to provide insights and conclusions relevant to the research questions.
  • Draw conclusions: The conclusions drawn from the case study should be based on the data analysis and should be relevant to the research questions. The conclusions should be supported by evidence and should be clearly stated.
  • Validate the findings: The findings of the case study should be validated by reviewing the data and the analysis with participants or other experts in the field. This helps to ensure the validity and reliability of the findings.
  • Write the report: The final step is to write the report of the case study research. The report should provide a clear description of the case study phenomenon, the research questions, the data collection methods, the data analysis, the findings, and the conclusions. The report should be written in a clear and concise manner and should follow the guidelines for academic writing.

Examples of Case Study

Here are some examples of case study research:

  • The Hawthorne Studies : Conducted between 1924 and 1932, the Hawthorne Studies were a series of case studies conducted by Elton Mayo and his colleagues to examine the impact of work environment on employee productivity. The studies were conducted at the Hawthorne Works plant of the Western Electric Company in Chicago and included interviews, observations, and experiments.
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment: Conducted in 1971, the Stanford Prison Experiment was a case study conducted by Philip Zimbardo to examine the psychological effects of power and authority. The study involved simulating a prison environment and assigning participants to the role of guards or prisoners. The study was controversial due to the ethical issues it raised.
  • The Challenger Disaster: The Challenger Disaster was a case study conducted to examine the causes of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986. The study included interviews, observations, and analysis of data to identify the technical, organizational, and cultural factors that contributed to the disaster.
  • The Enron Scandal: The Enron Scandal was a case study conducted to examine the causes of the Enron Corporation’s bankruptcy in 2001. The study included interviews, analysis of financial data, and review of documents to identify the accounting practices, corporate culture, and ethical issues that led to the company’s downfall.
  • The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster : The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster was a case study conducted to examine the causes of the nuclear accident that occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan in 2011. The study included interviews, analysis of data, and review of documents to identify the technical, organizational, and cultural factors that contributed to the disaster.

Application of Case Study

Case studies have a wide range of applications across various fields and industries. Here are some examples:

Business and Management

Case studies are widely used in business and management to examine real-life situations and develop problem-solving skills. Case studies can help students and professionals to develop a deep understanding of business concepts, theories, and best practices.

Case studies are used in healthcare to examine patient care, treatment options, and outcomes. Case studies can help healthcare professionals to develop critical thinking skills, diagnose complex medical conditions, and develop effective treatment plans.

Case studies are used in education to examine teaching and learning practices. Case studies can help educators to develop effective teaching strategies, evaluate student progress, and identify areas for improvement.

Social Sciences

Case studies are widely used in social sciences to examine human behavior, social phenomena, and cultural practices. Case studies can help researchers to develop theories, test hypotheses, and gain insights into complex social issues.

Law and Ethics

Case studies are used in law and ethics to examine legal and ethical dilemmas. Case studies can help lawyers, policymakers, and ethical professionals to develop critical thinking skills, analyze complex cases, and make informed decisions.

Purpose of Case Study

The purpose of a case study is to provide a detailed analysis of a specific phenomenon, issue, or problem in its real-life context. A case study is a qualitative research method that involves the in-depth exploration and analysis of a particular case, which can be an individual, group, organization, event, or community.

The primary purpose of a case study is to generate a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the case, including its history, context, and dynamics. Case studies can help researchers to identify and examine the underlying factors, processes, and mechanisms that contribute to the case and its outcomes. This can help to develop a more accurate and detailed understanding of the case, which can inform future research, practice, or policy.

Case studies can also serve other purposes, including:

  • Illustrating a theory or concept: Case studies can be used to illustrate and explain theoretical concepts and frameworks, providing concrete examples of how they can be applied in real-life situations.
  • Developing hypotheses: Case studies can help to generate hypotheses about the causal relationships between different factors and outcomes, which can be tested through further research.
  • Providing insight into complex issues: Case studies can provide insights into complex and multifaceted issues, which may be difficult to understand through other research methods.
  • Informing practice or policy: Case studies can be used to inform practice or policy by identifying best practices, lessons learned, or areas for improvement.

Advantages of Case Study Research

There are several advantages of case study research, including:

  • In-depth exploration: Case study research allows for a detailed exploration and analysis of a specific phenomenon, issue, or problem in its real-life context. This can provide a comprehensive understanding of the case and its dynamics, which may not be possible through other research methods.
  • Rich data: Case study research can generate rich and detailed data, including qualitative data such as interviews, observations, and documents. This can provide a nuanced understanding of the case and its complexity.
  • Holistic perspective: Case study research allows for a holistic perspective of the case, taking into account the various factors, processes, and mechanisms that contribute to the case and its outcomes. This can help to develop a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of the case.
  • Theory development: Case study research can help to develop and refine theories and concepts by providing empirical evidence and concrete examples of how they can be applied in real-life situations.
  • Practical application: Case study research can inform practice or policy by identifying best practices, lessons learned, or areas for improvement.
  • Contextualization: Case study research takes into account the specific context in which the case is situated, which can help to understand how the case is influenced by the social, cultural, and historical factors of its environment.

Limitations of Case Study Research

There are several limitations of case study research, including:

  • Limited generalizability : Case studies are typically focused on a single case or a small number of cases, which limits the generalizability of the findings. The unique characteristics of the case may not be applicable to other contexts or populations, which may limit the external validity of the research.
  • Biased sampling: Case studies may rely on purposive or convenience sampling, which can introduce bias into the sample selection process. This may limit the representativeness of the sample and the generalizability of the findings.
  • Subjectivity: Case studies rely on the interpretation of the researcher, which can introduce subjectivity into the analysis. The researcher’s own biases, assumptions, and perspectives may influence the findings, which may limit the objectivity of the research.
  • Limited control: Case studies are typically conducted in naturalistic settings, which limits the control that the researcher has over the environment and the variables being studied. This may limit the ability to establish causal relationships between variables.
  • Time-consuming: Case studies can be time-consuming to conduct, as they typically involve a detailed exploration and analysis of a specific case. This may limit the feasibility of conducting multiple case studies or conducting case studies in a timely manner.
  • Resource-intensive: Case studies may require significant resources, including time, funding, and expertise. This may limit the ability of researchers to conduct case studies in resource-constrained settings.

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What is case study research?

Last updated

8 February 2023

Reviewed by

Cathy Heath

Suppose a company receives a spike in the number of customer complaints, or medical experts discover an outbreak of illness affecting children but are not quite sure of the reason. In both cases, carrying out a case study could be the best way to get answers.


Case studies can be carried out across different disciplines, including education, medicine, sociology, and business.

Most case studies employ qualitative methods, but quantitative methods can also be used. Researchers can then describe, compare, evaluate, and identify patterns or cause-and-effect relationships between the various variables under study. They can then use this knowledge to decide what action to take. 

Another thing to note is that case studies are generally singular in their focus. This means they narrow focus to a particular area, making them highly subjective. You cannot always generalize the results of a case study and apply them to a larger population. However, they are valuable tools to illustrate a principle or develop a thesis.

Analyze case study research

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  • What are the different types of case study designs?

Researchers can choose from a variety of case study designs. The design they choose is dependent on what questions they need to answer, the context of the research environment, how much data they already have, and what resources are available.

Here are the common types of case study design:


An explanatory case study is an initial explanation of the how or why that is behind something. This design is commonly used when studying a real-life phenomenon or event. Once the organization understands the reasons behind a phenomenon, it can then make changes to enhance or eliminate the variables causing it. 

Here is an example: How is co-teaching implemented in elementary schools? The title for a case study of this subject could be “Case Study of the Implementation of Co-Teaching in Elementary Schools.”


An illustrative or descriptive case study helps researchers shed light on an unfamiliar object or subject after a period of time. The case study provides an in-depth review of the issue at hand and adds real-world examples in the area the researcher wants the audience to understand. 

The researcher makes no inferences or causal statements about the object or subject under review. This type of design is often used to understand cultural shifts.

Here is an example: How did people cope with the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami? This case study could be titled "A Case Study of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and its Effect on the Indonesian Population."


Exploratory research is also called a pilot case study. It is usually the first step within a larger research project, often relying on questionnaires and surveys . Researchers use exploratory research to help narrow down their focus, define parameters, draft a specific research question , and/or identify variables in a larger study. This research design usually covers a wider area than others, and focuses on the ‘what’ and ‘who’ of a topic.

Here is an example: How do nutrition and socialization in early childhood affect learning in children? The title of the exploratory study may be “Case Study of the Effects of Nutrition and Socialization on Learning in Early Childhood.”

An intrinsic case study is specifically designed to look at a unique and special phenomenon. At the start of the study, the researcher defines the phenomenon and the uniqueness that differentiates it from others. 

In this case, researchers do not attempt to generalize, compare, or challenge the existing assumptions. Instead, they explore the unique variables to enhance understanding. Here is an example: “Case Study of Volcanic Lightning.”

This design can also be identified as a cumulative case study. It uses information from past studies or observations of groups of people in certain settings as the foundation of the new study. Given that it takes multiple areas into account, it allows for greater generalization than a single case study. 

The researchers also get an in-depth look at a particular subject from different viewpoints.  Here is an example: “Case Study of how PTSD affected Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Differently Due to Advances in Military Technology.”

Critical instance

A critical case study incorporates both explanatory and intrinsic study designs. It does not have predetermined purposes beyond an investigation of the said subject. It can be used for a deeper explanation of the cause-and-effect relationship. It can also be used to question a common assumption or myth. 

The findings can then be used further to generalize whether they would also apply in a different environment.  Here is an example: “What Effect Does Prolonged Use of Social Media Have on the Mind of American Youth?”


Instrumental research attempts to achieve goals beyond understanding the object at hand. Researchers explore a larger subject through different, separate studies and use the findings to understand its relationship to another subject. This type of design also provides insight into an issue or helps refine a theory. 

For example, you may want to determine if violent behavior in children predisposes them to crime later in life. The focus is on the relationship between children and violent behavior, and why certain children do become violent. Here is an example: “Violence Breeds Violence: Childhood Exposure and Participation in Adult Crime.”

Evaluation case study design is employed to research the effects of a program, policy, or intervention, and assess its effectiveness and impact on future decision-making. 

For example, you might want to see whether children learn times tables quicker through an educational game on their iPad versus a more teacher-led intervention. Here is an example: “An Investigation of the Impact of an iPad Multiplication Game for Primary School Children.” 

  • When do you use case studies?

Case studies are ideal when you want to gain a contextual, concrete, or in-depth understanding of a particular subject. It helps you understand the characteristics, implications, and meanings of the subject.

They are also an excellent choice for those writing a thesis or dissertation, as they help keep the project focused on a particular area when resources or time may be too limited to cover a wider one. You may have to conduct several case studies to explore different aspects of the subject in question and understand the problem.

  • What are the steps to follow when conducting a case study?

1. Select a case

Once you identify the problem at hand and come up with questions, identify the case you will focus on. The study can provide insights into the subject at hand, challenge existing assumptions, propose a course of action, and/or open up new areas for further research.

2. Create a theoretical framework

While you will be focusing on a specific detail, the case study design you choose should be linked to existing knowledge on the topic. This prevents it from becoming an isolated description and allows for enhancing the existing information. 

It may expand the current theory by bringing up new ideas or concepts, challenge established assumptions, or exemplify a theory by exploring how it answers the problem at hand. A theoretical framework starts with a literature review of the sources relevant to the topic in focus. This helps in identifying key concepts to guide analysis and interpretation.

3. Collect the data

Case studies are frequently supplemented with qualitative data such as observations, interviews, and a review of both primary and secondary sources such as official records, news articles, and photographs. There may also be quantitative data —this data assists in understanding the case thoroughly.

4. Analyze your case

The results of the research depend on the research design. Most case studies are structured with chapters or topic headings for easy explanation and presentation. Others may be written as narratives to allow researchers to explore various angles of the topic and analyze its meanings and implications.

In all areas, always give a detailed contextual understanding of the case and connect it to the existing theory and literature before discussing how it fits into your problem area.

  • What are some case study examples?

What are the best approaches for introducing our product into the Kenyan market?

How does the change in marketing strategy aid in increasing the sales volumes of product Y?

How can teachers enhance student participation in classrooms?

How does poverty affect literacy levels in children?

Case study topics

Case study of product marketing strategies in the Kenyan market

Case study of the effects of a marketing strategy change on product Y sales volumes

Case study of X school teachers that encourage active student participation in the classroom

Case study of the effects of poverty on literacy levels in children

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  • Case Study | Definition, Examples & Methods

Case Study | Definition, Examples & Methods

Published on 5 May 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on 30 January 2023.

A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject, such as a person, group, place, event, organisation, or phenomenon. Case studies are commonly used in social, educational, clinical, and business research.

A case study research design usually involves qualitative methods , but quantitative methods are sometimes also used. Case studies are good for describing , comparing, evaluating, and understanding different aspects of a research problem .

Table of contents

When to do a case study, step 1: select a case, step 2: build a theoretical framework, step 3: collect your data, step 4: describe and analyse the case.

A case study is an appropriate research design when you want to gain concrete, contextual, in-depth knowledge about a specific real-world subject. It allows you to explore the key characteristics, meanings, and implications of the case.

Case studies are often a good choice in a thesis or dissertation . They keep your project focused and manageable when you don’t have the time or resources to do large-scale research.

You might use just one complex case study where you explore a single subject in depth, or conduct multiple case studies to compare and illuminate different aspects of your research problem.

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Once you have developed your problem statement and research questions , you should be ready to choose the specific case that you want to focus on. A good case study should have the potential to:

  • Provide new or unexpected insights into the subject
  • Challenge or complicate existing assumptions and theories
  • Propose practical courses of action to resolve a problem
  • Open up new directions for future research

Unlike quantitative or experimental research, a strong case study does not require a random or representative sample. In fact, case studies often deliberately focus on unusual, neglected, or outlying cases which may shed new light on the research problem.

If you find yourself aiming to simultaneously investigate and solve an issue, consider conducting action research . As its name suggests, action research conducts research and takes action at the same time, and is highly iterative and flexible. 

However, you can also choose a more common or representative case to exemplify a particular category, experience, or phenomenon.

While case studies focus more on concrete details than general theories, they should usually have some connection with theory in the field. This way the case study is not just an isolated description, but is integrated into existing knowledge about the topic. It might aim to:

  • Exemplify a theory by showing how it explains the case under investigation
  • Expand on a theory by uncovering new concepts and ideas that need to be incorporated
  • Challenge a theory by exploring an outlier case that doesn’t fit with established assumptions

To ensure that your analysis of the case has a solid academic grounding, you should conduct a literature review of sources related to the topic and develop a theoretical framework . This means identifying key concepts and theories to guide your analysis and interpretation.

There are many different research methods you can use to collect data on your subject. Case studies tend to focus on qualitative data using methods such as interviews, observations, and analysis of primary and secondary sources (e.g., newspaper articles, photographs, official records). Sometimes a case study will also collect quantitative data .

The aim is to gain as thorough an understanding as possible of the case and its context.

In writing up the case study, you need to bring together all the relevant aspects to give as complete a picture as possible of the subject.

How you report your findings depends on the type of research you are doing. Some case studies are structured like a standard scientific paper or thesis, with separate sections or chapters for the methods , results , and discussion .

Others are written in a more narrative style, aiming to explore the case from various angles and analyse its meanings and implications (for example, by using textual analysis or discourse analysis ).

In all cases, though, make sure to give contextual details about the case, connect it back to the literature and theory, and discuss how it fits into wider patterns or debates.

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Shona McCombes

The Case Study as Research Method: A Practical Handbook

Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management

ISSN : 1176-6093

Article publication date: 21 June 2011

Scapens, R.W. (2011), "The Case Study as Research Method: A Practical Handbook", Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management , Vol. 8 No. 2, pp. 201-204. https://doi.org/10.1108/11766091111137582

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This book aims to provide case‐study researchers with a step‐by‐step practical guide to “help them conduct the study with the required degree of rigour” (p. xi).

It seeks to “demonstrate that the case study is indeed a scientific method” (p. 104) and to show “the usefulness of the case method as one tool in the researcher's methodological arsenal” (p. 105). The individual chapters cover the various stages in conducting case‐study research, and each chapter sets out a number of practical steps which have to be taken by the researcher. The following are the eight stages/chapters and, in brackets, the number of steps in each stages:

Assessing appropriateness and usefulness (4).

Ensuring accuracy of results (21).

Preparation (6).

Selecting cases (4).

Collecting data (7).

Analyzing data (4).

Interpreting data (3).

Reporting results (4).

It is particularly noticeable that ensuring accuracy of results has by far the largest number of number of steps – 21 steps compared to seven or fewer steps in the other stages. This reflects Gagnon's concern to demonstrate the scientific rigour of case‐study research. In the forward, he explains that the book draws on his experience in conducting his own PhD research, which was closely supervised by three professors, one of whom was inclined towards quantitative research. Consequently, his research was underpinned by the principles and philosophy of quantitative research. This is clearly reflected in the approach taken in this book, which seeks to show that case‐study research is just as rigorous and scientific as quantitative research, and it can produce an objective and accurate representation of the observed reality.

There is no discussion of the methodological issues relating to the use of case‐study research methods. This is acknowledged in the forward, although Gagnon refers to them as philosophical or epistemological issues (p. xii), as he tends to use the terms methodology and method interchangeably – as is common in quantitative research. Although he starts (step 1.1) by trying to distance case and other qualitative research from the work of positivists, arguing that society is socially constructed, he nevertheless sees social reality as objective and independent of the researcher. So for Gagnon, the aim of case research is to accurately reflect that reality. At various points in the book the notion of interpretation is used – evidence is interpreted and the (objective) case findings have to be interpreted.

So although there is a distancing from positivist research (p. 1), the approach taken in this book retains an objective view of the social reality which is being researched; a view which is rather different to the subjective view of reality taken by many interpretive case researchers. This distinction between an objective and a subjective view of the social reality being researched – and especially its use in contrasting positivist and interpretive research – has its origins the taxonomy of Burrell and Morgan (1979) . Although there have been various developments in the so‐called “objective‐subjective debate”, and recently some discussion in relation to management accounting research ( Kakkuri‐Knuuttila et al. , 2008 ; Ahrens, 2008 ), this debate is not mentioned in the book. Nevertheless, it is clear that Gagnon is firmly in the objective camp. In a recent paper, Johnson et al. (2006, p. 138) provide a more contemporary classification of the different types of qualitative research. In their terms, the approach taken in this book could be described as neo‐empiricist – an approach which they characterise as “qualitative positivists”.

The approach taken in this handbook leaves case studies open to the criticisms that they are a small sample, and consequently difficult to generalise, and to arguments that case studies are most appropriate for exploratory research which can subsequently be generalised though quantitative research. Gagnon explains that this was the approach he used after completing his thesis (p. xi). The handbook only seems to recognise two types of case studies, namely exploratory and raw empirical case studies – the latter being used where “the researcher is interested in a subject without having formed any preconceived ideas about it” (p. 15) – which has echoes of Glaser and Strauss (1967) . However, limiting case studies to these two types ignores other potential types; in particular, explanatory case studies which are where interpretive case‐study research can make important contributions ( Ryan et al. , 2002 ).

This limited approach to case studies comes through in the practical steps which are recommended in the handbook, and especially in the discussion of reliability and validity. The suggested steps seem to be designed to keep very close to the notions of reliability and validity used in quantitative research. There is no mention of the recent discussion of “validity” in interpretive accounting research, which emphasises the importance of authenticity and credibility and their implications for writing up qualitative and case‐study research ( Lukka and Modell, 2010 ). Although the final stage of Gagnon's handbook makes some very general comments about reporting the results, it does not mention, for example, Baxter and Chua's (2008) paper in QRAM which discusses the importance of demonstrating authenticity, credibility and transferability in writing qualitative research.

Despite Gagnon's emphasis on traditional notions of reliability and validity the handbook provides some useful practical advice for all case‐study researchers. For example, case‐study research needs a very good research design; case‐study researchers must work hard to gain access to and acceptance in the research settings; a clear strategy is needed for data collection; the case researcher should create field notes (in a field notebook, or otherwise) to record all the thoughts, ideas, observations, etc. that would not otherwise be collected; and the vast amount of data that case‐study research can generate needs to be carefully managed. Furthermore, because of what Gagnon calls the “risk of mortality” (p. 54) (i.e. the risk that access to a research site may be lost – for instance, if the organisation goes bankrupt) it is crucial for some additional site(s) to be selected at the outset to ensure that the planned research can be completed. This is what I call “insurance cases” when talking to my own PhD students. Interestingly, Gagnon recognises the ethical issues involved in doing case studies – something which is not always mentioned by the more objectivist type of case‐study researchers. He emphasises that it is crucial to honour confidentiality agreements, to ensure data are stored securely and that commitments are met and promises kept.

There is an interesting discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of using computer methods in analysing data (in stage 6). However, the discussion of coding appears to be heavily influenced by grounded theory, and is clearly concerned with producing an accurate reflection of an objective reality. In addition, Gagnon's depiction of case analysis is overly focussed on content analysis – possibly because it is a quantitative type of technique. There is no reference to the other approaches available to qualitative researchers. For example, there is no mention of the various visualisation techniques set out in Miles and Huberman (1994) .

To summarise, Gagnon's book is particularly useful for case‐study researchers who see the reality they are researching as objective and researcher independent. However, this is a sub‐set of case‐study researchers. Although some of the practical guidance offered is relevant for other types of case‐study researchers, those who see multiple realities in the social actors and/or recognise the subjectivity of the research process might have difficulty with some of the steps in this handbook. Gagnon's aim to show that the case study is a scientific method, gives the handbook a focus on traditional (quantitatively inspired) notions rigour and validity, and a tendency to ignore (or at least marginalise) other types of case study research. For example, the focus on exploratory cases, which need to be supplemented by broad based quantitative research, overlooks the real potential of case study research which lies in explanatory cases. Furthermore, Gagnon is rather worried about participant research, as the researcher may play a role which is “not consistent with scientific method” (p. 42), and which may introduce researcher bias and thereby damage “the impartiality of the study” (p. 53). Leaving aside the philosophical question about whether any social science research, including quantitative research, can be impartial, this stance could severely limit the potential of case‐study research and it would rule out both the early work on the sociology of mass production and the recent calls for interventionist research. Clearly, there could be a problem where a researcher is trying to sell consulting services, but there is a long tradition of social researchers working within organisations that they are studying. Furthermore, if interpretive research is to be relevant for practice, researchers may have to work with organisations to introduce new ideas and new ways of analysing problems. Gagnon would seem to want to avoid all such research – as it would not be “impartial”.

Consequently, although there is some good practical advice for case study researchers in this handbook, some of the recommendations have to be treated cautiously, as it is a book which sees case‐study research in a very specific way. As mentioned earlier, in the Forward Gagnon explicitly recognises that the book does not take a position on the methodological debates surrounding the use of case studies as a research method, and he says that “The reader should therefore use and judge this handbook with these considerations in mind” (p. xii). This is very good advice – caveat emptor .

Ahrens , T. ( 2008 ), “ A comment on Marja‐Liisa Kakkuri‐Knuuttila ”, Accounting, Organizations and Society , Vol. 33 Nos 2/3 , pp. 291 ‐ 7 , Kari Lukka and Jaakko Kuorikoski.

Baxter , J. and Chua , W.F. ( 2008 ), “ The field researcher as author‐writer ”, Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management , Vol. 5 No. 2 , pp. 101 ‐ 21 .

Burrell , G. and Morgan , G. ( 1979 ), Sociological Paradigms and Organizational Analysis , Heinneman , London .

Glaser , B.G. and Strauss , A.L. ( 1967 ), The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research , Aldine , New York, NY .

Johnson , P. , Buehring , A. , Cassell , C. and Symon , G. ( 2006 ), “ Evaluating qualitative management research: towards a contingent critieriology ”, International Journal of Management Reviews , Vol. 8 No. 3 , pp. 131 ‐ 56 .

Kakkuri‐Knuuttila , M.‐L. , Lukka , K. and Kuorikoski , J. ( 2008 ), “ Straddling between paradigms: a naturalistic philosophical case study on interpretive research in management accounting ”, Accounting, Organizations and Society , Vol. 33 Nos 2/3 , pp. 267 ‐ 91 .

Lukka , K. and Modell , S. ( 2010 ), “ Validation in interpretive management accounting research ”, Accounting, Organizations and Society , Vol. 35 , pp. 462 ‐ 77 .

Miles , M.B. and Huberman , A.M. ( 1994 ), Qualitative Data Analysis: A Source Book of New Methods , 2nd ed. , Sage , London .

Ryan , R.J. , Scapens , R.W. and Theobald , M. ( 2002 ), Research Methods and Methodology in Finance and Accounting , 2nd ed. , Thomson Learning , London .

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case study in practical research

Case Study: Research in Practice

  • SAGE Publications

Case Study Research in Practice explores the theory and practice of case study. Helen Simons draws on her extensive experience of teaching and conducting case study to provide a comprehensive and practical account of how to design, conduct and communicate case study research. It addresses questions often raised by students and common misconceptions. In four sections the book covers: Rationale, concept and design of case study research Methods, ethics and reflexivity in case study Interpreting, analysing and reporting the case Generalizing and theorizing in case study research Rich with ‘tales from the field’ and summary memos as an aide-memoire to future action, the book provides fresh insights and challenges for researchers to guide their practice of case study research. This is an ideal text for those studying and conducting case study research in education, health and social care, and related social science disciplines. Book jacket.

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  • How to undertake a Case Study Research: Explained with practical examples.

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A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject, such as a person, group, place, event, organization, or phenomenon. Falling in the qualitative research paradigm case studies are commonly used in social, educational, clinical, and business research.

A case study research design usually involves qualitative methods, but quantitative methods are sometimes also used. Case study approach is best suited for describing, comparing, evaluating and in-depth understanding of different aspects of a research problem.

Undertaking a case study research study involves a systematic process to ensure a thorough and insightful examination of a particular case while using a number of steps to investigate it methodically. In this blog post we briefly discuss how to carry out a case study research using various practical examples.

A case study is an appropriate research design when you want to gain concrete, contextual, in-depth knowledge about a specific real-world subject. It allows you to explore the key characteristics, meanings, and implications of the case with Thick description.

Case studies are often a good choice in a thesis or dissertation. They keep your project focused and manageable when you don’t have the time or resources to do large-scale research inquiry.

You might use just one complex case study where you explore a single subject in depth, or conduct multiple case studies to compare and illuminate different aspects of your research problem.

10 useful examples of case study research:

Here is a step by step guide, how to undertake a case study research:

Define the aim and objectives:

In conducting case study research, defining the purpose and objectives involves clearly outlining the overarching goal of the study and the specific aims to be achieved.

For example , the purpose of a case study might be to explore the effectiveness of a particular intervention in improving patient outcomes in a clinical setting. The objectives could include assessing the impact of the intervention on key outcome measures such as symptom severity, quality of life, and healthcare utilization, as well as identifying factors that facilitate or hinder successful implementation.

By defining the purpose and objectives upfront, you can ensure that the study remains focused and aligned with its intended goals, guiding the selection of appropriate methods, data collection strategies and analytical approaches. So you should focus on the following:

  • Clearly articulate the specific questions or issues you aim to address through the case study.
  • Define the goals and objectives of the case study, indicating what you intend to achieve.

Select the Case :

Once you have developed your research questions and defined research objectives, you should be ready to choose the specific case that you want to focus on. A good case study should have the potential to:

  • Provide new or unexpected insights into the subject
  • Challenge or complicate existing assumptions and theories
  • Propose practical courses of action to resolve a problem
  • Open up new directions for future research

If your research is more practical in nature and aims to simultaneously investigate an issue as you solve it, consider conducting action research instead.

Unlike quantitative or experimental research, a strong case study approach does not require a random or representative sample. In fact, case studies often deliberately focus on unusual, neglected, or outlying cases which may shed new light on the research problem for Contextual analysis and in-depth understanding. So you should remain focused on the following:

  • Decide whether your case study will be exploratory, explanatory, intrinsic, instrumental, or another type based on your research goals.
  • Clearly define the boundaries and scope of your case study.
  • Select a case that aligns with your research questions and objectives.

Develop a Theoretical Framework:

While case studies focus more on concrete details than general theories, they should usually have some connection with theory in the field. This way the case study is not just an isolated description, but is integrated into existing knowledge about the topic. It might aim to:

  • Exemplify  a theory by showing how it explains the case under investigation
  • Expand  on a theory by uncovering new concepts and ideas that need to be incorporated
  • Challenge  a theory by exploring an outlier case that doesn’t fit with established assumptions

For example if you are investigated the system of recruitment and selection in the selected universities as a multiple case you may use General Systems Theory as a theoretical lens. To ensure that your analysis of the case has a solid academic grounding, you should conduct a literature review of sources related to the topic and develop a theoretical framework. This means identifying key concepts and theories to guide your analysis and interpretation. So if your case study involves theoretical concepts, you should build a theoretical framework and identify theoretical underpinnings.

Plan data collection methods:

There are many different research methods you can use to collect data on your subject. Case studies tend to focus on qualitative data using methods such as interviews, observations, and analysis of primary and secondary sources (e.g., newspaper articles, photographs, official records). Sometimes a case study will also collect quantitative data. So you should choose the sources of data, such as interviews, observations, documents, or a combination and develop interview guides, observation protocols, or survey questionnaires.

When planning data collection methods for a single or multiple case study research, it is essential to select approaches that align with the research questions and objectives while ensuring the integrity and reliability of the data.

For instance, if you are investigating the impact of telemedicine on patient satisfaction in a rural healthcare setting might employ a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. Qualitative techniques such as semi-structured interviews with patients and healthcare providers could provide insights into their experiences and perceptions of telemedicine services, while quantitative surveys or analysis of electronic health records could yield objective measures of patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes. Additionally, document analysis of program protocols or implementation reports could offer contextual information about the telemedicine initiative.

By using a mixed-methods approach tailored to the specific research context, you can capture a comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon under investigation and enhance the credibility and validity of their findings.

The aim is to gain as thorough understanding as possible of the case and its context.

Ensure ethical considerations:

Ensuring ethical considerations is paramount when conducting case study research, especially when dealing with human subjects. When conducting case study research, ensuring ethical considerations involves obtaining informed consent from participants, protecting their privacy and confidentiality, maintaining objectivity and integrity, respecting participant autonomy and dignity, obtaining approval from relevant body/committee and maintaining transparency and accountability throughout the research process.

This entails carefully explaining the study’s purpose and procedures to participants, safeguarding their personal information, minimizing any potential risks, maintaining impartiality and honesty in data collection and analysis, respecting participants’ right to make informed decisions, offering participants the opportunity to receive feedback on the study’s findings, and documenting research practices transparently to ensure accountability and responsible dissemination of findings. So you should do the following:

  • If required, seek ethical approval for your study.
  • Develop procedures to inform and obtain consent from participants.
  • Implement measures to protect participant confidentiality.

Collect data:

When collecting data for a case study, you should employ a variety of methods to gather comprehensive and rich information relevant to the research questions and objectives.

For example , in a study examining the impact of a community health intervention on reducing obesity rates, data collection methods may include semi-structured interviews with community members, healthcare providers, and program administrators to capture their perspectives and experiences. Additionally, you could conduct focus group discussions to explore community attitudes towards healthy lifestyle behaviors and barriers to participation in the intervention.

Observation of program activities and community events related to health promotion could provide contextual insights into program implementation and community engagement. Furthermore, document analysis of program materials, reports, and participant records could offer additional data on intervention components, participant demographics, and outcomes.

By utilizing multiple data collection methods, you can triangulate information from different sources to develop a comprehensive understanding of the case under study and enhance the validity and reliability of their findings. So you should undertake the following:

  • If using interviews, conduct them following your interview guide.
  • If conducting observations, document behaviors, interactions, and events.
  • Gather relevant documents, records, or artifacts.

Analyze data:

When analyzing data for a case study, you should systematically examine and interpret the collected information to derive meaningful insights and address the research questions.

For example , in a case study investigating the factors influencing the adoption of renewable energy technologies in a rural community, you may employ thematic analysis to identify recurring themes and patterns in interview transcripts and documents related to renewable energy initiatives. They might categorize data into themes such as community attitudes towards renewable energy, perceived benefits and barriers to adoption, and strategies for promoting renewable energy uptake.

Additionally, quantitative data collected through surveys or program evaluations could be analyzed using descriptive statistics or inferential methods to quantify the prevalence of certain attitudes or behaviors within the community.

By integrating qualitative and quantitative analyses, you can triangulate findings to develop a comprehensive understanding of the case study phenomenon and draw robust conclusions that inform theory, practice, and policy. So you should ensure the following:

  • Use coding techniques to analyze qualitative data by coding and categorizing it.
  • If quantitative data is included, apply statistical methods.

Interpret and discuss findings:

When interpreting and discussing findings in a case study research, you should critically analyze the data in relation to the research questions and objectives, contextualize the findings within existing literature, and explore implications for theory, practice, and policy.

For instance , in a case study examining the impact of a school-based mindfulness program on students’ mental health, you might discuss how qualitative data from interviews with students and teachers reveal improvements in emotional regulation and stress management skills following program participation. They could then compare these qualitative findings with quantitative data on changes in self-reported anxiety levels or behavioral outcomes measured through standardized assessments.

Furthermore, you might discuss how these findings align with previous research on mindfulness interventions in educational settings and highlight the potential benefits of integrating such programs into school curricula to support students’ well-being. By engaging in a comprehensive discussion of the findings, you can offer insights that advance understanding of the case study phenomenon and contribute to broader knowledge in the field. So you should do the following:

  • Present a comprehensive description of the case, incorporating data, quotes, and examples.
  • Structure the case study logically, following a clear and coherent narrative.
  • Provide interpretations and explanations of the findings in relation to your research questions.
  • Compare your results with existing literature in the field.

Conclude and summarize:

When concluding and summarizing a case study research, you should recapitulate the key findings, revisit the research questions and objectives, and reflect on the implications of the study.

For example , in a case study investigating the factors influencing the success of small businesses in a rural community, the conclusion may highlight the critical role of community support networks, access to financial resources, and entrepreneurial skills in fostering business sustainability. The summary could reiterate how these factors interact to shape the outcomes observed in the case study and underscore the importance of tailored interventions to support small business development in similar contexts.

Additionally, you may discuss any limitations of the study, such as sample size or data collection methods, and offer suggestions for future research to address these gaps and build upon the findings. By providing a concise synthesis of the findings and their implications, the conclusion ensures that the study’s contribution are clearly communicated and actionable for stakeholders in academia, policy, and practice. So you should ensure the following:

  • Provide a concise summary of the main findings.
  • Draw conclusions based on your analysis.


By following these steps, you can develop a comprehensive and well-structured case study that contributes valuable insights to your field of study.

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Dr Syed Hafeez Ahmad

How to undertake a Case Study Research: Explained with practical examples.

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The case study approach

Sarah crowe.

1 Division of Primary Care, The University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK

Kathrin Cresswell

2 Centre for Population Health Sciences, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

Ann Robertson

3 School of Health in Social Science, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

Anthony Avery

Aziz sheikh.

The case study approach allows in-depth, multi-faceted explorations of complex issues in their real-life settings. The value of the case study approach is well recognised in the fields of business, law and policy, but somewhat less so in health services research. Based on our experiences of conducting several health-related case studies, we reflect on the different types of case study design, the specific research questions this approach can help answer, the data sources that tend to be used, and the particular advantages and disadvantages of employing this methodological approach. The paper concludes with key pointers to aid those designing and appraising proposals for conducting case study research, and a checklist to help readers assess the quality of case study reports.


The case study approach is particularly useful to employ when there is a need to obtain an in-depth appreciation of an issue, event or phenomenon of interest, in its natural real-life context. Our aim in writing this piece is to provide insights into when to consider employing this approach and an overview of key methodological considerations in relation to the design, planning, analysis, interpretation and reporting of case studies.

The illustrative 'grand round', 'case report' and 'case series' have a long tradition in clinical practice and research. Presenting detailed critiques, typically of one or more patients, aims to provide insights into aspects of the clinical case and, in doing so, illustrate broader lessons that may be learnt. In research, the conceptually-related case study approach can be used, for example, to describe in detail a patient's episode of care, explore professional attitudes to and experiences of a new policy initiative or service development or more generally to 'investigate contemporary phenomena within its real-life context' [ 1 ]. Based on our experiences of conducting a range of case studies, we reflect on when to consider using this approach, discuss the key steps involved and illustrate, with examples, some of the practical challenges of attaining an in-depth understanding of a 'case' as an integrated whole. In keeping with previously published work, we acknowledge the importance of theory to underpin the design, selection, conduct and interpretation of case studies[ 2 ]. In so doing, we make passing reference to the different epistemological approaches used in case study research by key theoreticians and methodologists in this field of enquiry.

This paper is structured around the following main questions: What is a case study? What are case studies used for? How are case studies conducted? What are the potential pitfalls and how can these be avoided? We draw in particular on four of our own recently published examples of case studies (see Tables ​ Tables1, 1 , ​ ,2, 2 , ​ ,3 3 and ​ and4) 4 ) and those of others to illustrate our discussion[ 3 - 7 ].

Example of a case study investigating the reasons for differences in recruitment rates of minority ethnic people in asthma research[ 3 ]

Example of a case study investigating the process of planning and implementing a service in Primary Care Organisations[ 4 ]

Example of a case study investigating the introduction of the electronic health records[ 5 ]

Example of a case study investigating the formal and informal ways students learn about patient safety[ 6 ]

What is a case study?

A case study is a research approach that is used to generate an in-depth, multi-faceted understanding of a complex issue in its real-life context. It is an established research design that is used extensively in a wide variety of disciplines, particularly in the social sciences. A case study can be defined in a variety of ways (Table ​ (Table5), 5 ), the central tenet being the need to explore an event or phenomenon in depth and in its natural context. It is for this reason sometimes referred to as a "naturalistic" design; this is in contrast to an "experimental" design (such as a randomised controlled trial) in which the investigator seeks to exert control over and manipulate the variable(s) of interest.

Definitions of a case study

Stake's work has been particularly influential in defining the case study approach to scientific enquiry. He has helpfully characterised three main types of case study: intrinsic , instrumental and collective [ 8 ]. An intrinsic case study is typically undertaken to learn about a unique phenomenon. The researcher should define the uniqueness of the phenomenon, which distinguishes it from all others. In contrast, the instrumental case study uses a particular case (some of which may be better than others) to gain a broader appreciation of an issue or phenomenon. The collective case study involves studying multiple cases simultaneously or sequentially in an attempt to generate a still broader appreciation of a particular issue.

These are however not necessarily mutually exclusive categories. In the first of our examples (Table ​ (Table1), 1 ), we undertook an intrinsic case study to investigate the issue of recruitment of minority ethnic people into the specific context of asthma research studies, but it developed into a instrumental case study through seeking to understand the issue of recruitment of these marginalised populations more generally, generating a number of the findings that are potentially transferable to other disease contexts[ 3 ]. In contrast, the other three examples (see Tables ​ Tables2, 2 , ​ ,3 3 and ​ and4) 4 ) employed collective case study designs to study the introduction of workforce reconfiguration in primary care, the implementation of electronic health records into hospitals, and to understand the ways in which healthcare students learn about patient safety considerations[ 4 - 6 ]. Although our study focusing on the introduction of General Practitioners with Specialist Interests (Table ​ (Table2) 2 ) was explicitly collective in design (four contrasting primary care organisations were studied), is was also instrumental in that this particular professional group was studied as an exemplar of the more general phenomenon of workforce redesign[ 4 ].

What are case studies used for?

According to Yin, case studies can be used to explain, describe or explore events or phenomena in the everyday contexts in which they occur[ 1 ]. These can, for example, help to understand and explain causal links and pathways resulting from a new policy initiative or service development (see Tables ​ Tables2 2 and ​ and3, 3 , for example)[ 1 ]. In contrast to experimental designs, which seek to test a specific hypothesis through deliberately manipulating the environment (like, for example, in a randomised controlled trial giving a new drug to randomly selected individuals and then comparing outcomes with controls),[ 9 ] the case study approach lends itself well to capturing information on more explanatory ' how ', 'what' and ' why ' questions, such as ' how is the intervention being implemented and received on the ground?'. The case study approach can offer additional insights into what gaps exist in its delivery or why one implementation strategy might be chosen over another. This in turn can help develop or refine theory, as shown in our study of the teaching of patient safety in undergraduate curricula (Table ​ (Table4 4 )[ 6 , 10 ]. Key questions to consider when selecting the most appropriate study design are whether it is desirable or indeed possible to undertake a formal experimental investigation in which individuals and/or organisations are allocated to an intervention or control arm? Or whether the wish is to obtain a more naturalistic understanding of an issue? The former is ideally studied using a controlled experimental design, whereas the latter is more appropriately studied using a case study design.

Case studies may be approached in different ways depending on the epistemological standpoint of the researcher, that is, whether they take a critical (questioning one's own and others' assumptions), interpretivist (trying to understand individual and shared social meanings) or positivist approach (orientating towards the criteria of natural sciences, such as focusing on generalisability considerations) (Table ​ (Table6). 6 ). Whilst such a schema can be conceptually helpful, it may be appropriate to draw on more than one approach in any case study, particularly in the context of conducting health services research. Doolin has, for example, noted that in the context of undertaking interpretative case studies, researchers can usefully draw on a critical, reflective perspective which seeks to take into account the wider social and political environment that has shaped the case[ 11 ].

Example of epistemological approaches that may be used in case study research

How are case studies conducted?

Here, we focus on the main stages of research activity when planning and undertaking a case study; the crucial stages are: defining the case; selecting the case(s); collecting and analysing the data; interpreting data; and reporting the findings.

Defining the case

Carefully formulated research question(s), informed by the existing literature and a prior appreciation of the theoretical issues and setting(s), are all important in appropriately and succinctly defining the case[ 8 , 12 ]. Crucially, each case should have a pre-defined boundary which clarifies the nature and time period covered by the case study (i.e. its scope, beginning and end), the relevant social group, organisation or geographical area of interest to the investigator, the types of evidence to be collected, and the priorities for data collection and analysis (see Table ​ Table7 7 )[ 1 ]. A theory driven approach to defining the case may help generate knowledge that is potentially transferable to a range of clinical contexts and behaviours; using theory is also likely to result in a more informed appreciation of, for example, how and why interventions have succeeded or failed[ 13 ].

Example of a checklist for rating a case study proposal[ 8 ]

For example, in our evaluation of the introduction of electronic health records in English hospitals (Table ​ (Table3), 3 ), we defined our cases as the NHS Trusts that were receiving the new technology[ 5 ]. Our focus was on how the technology was being implemented. However, if the primary research interest had been on the social and organisational dimensions of implementation, we might have defined our case differently as a grouping of healthcare professionals (e.g. doctors and/or nurses). The precise beginning and end of the case may however prove difficult to define. Pursuing this same example, when does the process of implementation and adoption of an electronic health record system really begin or end? Such judgements will inevitably be influenced by a range of factors, including the research question, theory of interest, the scope and richness of the gathered data and the resources available to the research team.

Selecting the case(s)

The decision on how to select the case(s) to study is a very important one that merits some reflection. In an intrinsic case study, the case is selected on its own merits[ 8 ]. The case is selected not because it is representative of other cases, but because of its uniqueness, which is of genuine interest to the researchers. This was, for example, the case in our study of the recruitment of minority ethnic participants into asthma research (Table ​ (Table1) 1 ) as our earlier work had demonstrated the marginalisation of minority ethnic people with asthma, despite evidence of disproportionate asthma morbidity[ 14 , 15 ]. In another example of an intrinsic case study, Hellstrom et al.[ 16 ] studied an elderly married couple living with dementia to explore how dementia had impacted on their understanding of home, their everyday life and their relationships.

For an instrumental case study, selecting a "typical" case can work well[ 8 ]. In contrast to the intrinsic case study, the particular case which is chosen is of less importance than selecting a case that allows the researcher to investigate an issue or phenomenon. For example, in order to gain an understanding of doctors' responses to health policy initiatives, Som undertook an instrumental case study interviewing clinicians who had a range of responsibilities for clinical governance in one NHS acute hospital trust[ 17 ]. Sampling a "deviant" or "atypical" case may however prove even more informative, potentially enabling the researcher to identify causal processes, generate hypotheses and develop theory.

In collective or multiple case studies, a number of cases are carefully selected. This offers the advantage of allowing comparisons to be made across several cases and/or replication. Choosing a "typical" case may enable the findings to be generalised to theory (i.e. analytical generalisation) or to test theory by replicating the findings in a second or even a third case (i.e. replication logic)[ 1 ]. Yin suggests two or three literal replications (i.e. predicting similar results) if the theory is straightforward and five or more if the theory is more subtle. However, critics might argue that selecting 'cases' in this way is insufficiently reflexive and ill-suited to the complexities of contemporary healthcare organisations.

The selected case study site(s) should allow the research team access to the group of individuals, the organisation, the processes or whatever else constitutes the chosen unit of analysis for the study. Access is therefore a central consideration; the researcher needs to come to know the case study site(s) well and to work cooperatively with them. Selected cases need to be not only interesting but also hospitable to the inquiry [ 8 ] if they are to be informative and answer the research question(s). Case study sites may also be pre-selected for the researcher, with decisions being influenced by key stakeholders. For example, our selection of case study sites in the evaluation of the implementation and adoption of electronic health record systems (see Table ​ Table3) 3 ) was heavily influenced by NHS Connecting for Health, the government agency that was responsible for overseeing the National Programme for Information Technology (NPfIT)[ 5 ]. This prominent stakeholder had already selected the NHS sites (through a competitive bidding process) to be early adopters of the electronic health record systems and had negotiated contracts that detailed the deployment timelines.

It is also important to consider in advance the likely burden and risks associated with participation for those who (or the site(s) which) comprise the case study. Of particular importance is the obligation for the researcher to think through the ethical implications of the study (e.g. the risk of inadvertently breaching anonymity or confidentiality) and to ensure that potential participants/participating sites are provided with sufficient information to make an informed choice about joining the study. The outcome of providing this information might be that the emotive burden associated with participation, or the organisational disruption associated with supporting the fieldwork, is considered so high that the individuals or sites decide against participation.

In our example of evaluating implementations of electronic health record systems, given the restricted number of early adopter sites available to us, we sought purposively to select a diverse range of implementation cases among those that were available[ 5 ]. We chose a mixture of teaching, non-teaching and Foundation Trust hospitals, and examples of each of the three electronic health record systems procured centrally by the NPfIT. At one recruited site, it quickly became apparent that access was problematic because of competing demands on that organisation. Recognising the importance of full access and co-operative working for generating rich data, the research team decided not to pursue work at that site and instead to focus on other recruited sites.

Collecting the data

In order to develop a thorough understanding of the case, the case study approach usually involves the collection of multiple sources of evidence, using a range of quantitative (e.g. questionnaires, audits and analysis of routinely collected healthcare data) and more commonly qualitative techniques (e.g. interviews, focus groups and observations). The use of multiple sources of data (data triangulation) has been advocated as a way of increasing the internal validity of a study (i.e. the extent to which the method is appropriate to answer the research question)[ 8 , 18 - 21 ]. An underlying assumption is that data collected in different ways should lead to similar conclusions, and approaching the same issue from different angles can help develop a holistic picture of the phenomenon (Table ​ (Table2 2 )[ 4 ].

Brazier and colleagues used a mixed-methods case study approach to investigate the impact of a cancer care programme[ 22 ]. Here, quantitative measures were collected with questionnaires before, and five months after, the start of the intervention which did not yield any statistically significant results. Qualitative interviews with patients however helped provide an insight into potentially beneficial process-related aspects of the programme, such as greater, perceived patient involvement in care. The authors reported how this case study approach provided a number of contextual factors likely to influence the effectiveness of the intervention and which were not likely to have been obtained from quantitative methods alone.

In collective or multiple case studies, data collection needs to be flexible enough to allow a detailed description of each individual case to be developed (e.g. the nature of different cancer care programmes), before considering the emerging similarities and differences in cross-case comparisons (e.g. to explore why one programme is more effective than another). It is important that data sources from different cases are, where possible, broadly comparable for this purpose even though they may vary in nature and depth.

Analysing, interpreting and reporting case studies

Making sense and offering a coherent interpretation of the typically disparate sources of data (whether qualitative alone or together with quantitative) is far from straightforward. Repeated reviewing and sorting of the voluminous and detail-rich data are integral to the process of analysis. In collective case studies, it is helpful to analyse data relating to the individual component cases first, before making comparisons across cases. Attention needs to be paid to variations within each case and, where relevant, the relationship between different causes, effects and outcomes[ 23 ]. Data will need to be organised and coded to allow the key issues, both derived from the literature and emerging from the dataset, to be easily retrieved at a later stage. An initial coding frame can help capture these issues and can be applied systematically to the whole dataset with the aid of a qualitative data analysis software package.

The Framework approach is a practical approach, comprising of five stages (familiarisation; identifying a thematic framework; indexing; charting; mapping and interpretation) , to managing and analysing large datasets particularly if time is limited, as was the case in our study of recruitment of South Asians into asthma research (Table ​ (Table1 1 )[ 3 , 24 ]. Theoretical frameworks may also play an important role in integrating different sources of data and examining emerging themes. For example, we drew on a socio-technical framework to help explain the connections between different elements - technology; people; and the organisational settings within which they worked - in our study of the introduction of electronic health record systems (Table ​ (Table3 3 )[ 5 ]. Our study of patient safety in undergraduate curricula drew on an evaluation-based approach to design and analysis, which emphasised the importance of the academic, organisational and practice contexts through which students learn (Table ​ (Table4 4 )[ 6 ].

Case study findings can have implications both for theory development and theory testing. They may establish, strengthen or weaken historical explanations of a case and, in certain circumstances, allow theoretical (as opposed to statistical) generalisation beyond the particular cases studied[ 12 ]. These theoretical lenses should not, however, constitute a strait-jacket and the cases should not be "forced to fit" the particular theoretical framework that is being employed.

When reporting findings, it is important to provide the reader with enough contextual information to understand the processes that were followed and how the conclusions were reached. In a collective case study, researchers may choose to present the findings from individual cases separately before amalgamating across cases. Care must be taken to ensure the anonymity of both case sites and individual participants (if agreed in advance) by allocating appropriate codes or withholding descriptors. In the example given in Table ​ Table3, 3 , we decided against providing detailed information on the NHS sites and individual participants in order to avoid the risk of inadvertent disclosure of identities[ 5 , 25 ].

What are the potential pitfalls and how can these be avoided?

The case study approach is, as with all research, not without its limitations. When investigating the formal and informal ways undergraduate students learn about patient safety (Table ​ (Table4), 4 ), for example, we rapidly accumulated a large quantity of data. The volume of data, together with the time restrictions in place, impacted on the depth of analysis that was possible within the available resources. This highlights a more general point of the importance of avoiding the temptation to collect as much data as possible; adequate time also needs to be set aside for data analysis and interpretation of what are often highly complex datasets.

Case study research has sometimes been criticised for lacking scientific rigour and providing little basis for generalisation (i.e. producing findings that may be transferable to other settings)[ 1 ]. There are several ways to address these concerns, including: the use of theoretical sampling (i.e. drawing on a particular conceptual framework); respondent validation (i.e. participants checking emerging findings and the researcher's interpretation, and providing an opinion as to whether they feel these are accurate); and transparency throughout the research process (see Table ​ Table8 8 )[ 8 , 18 - 21 , 23 , 26 ]. Transparency can be achieved by describing in detail the steps involved in case selection, data collection, the reasons for the particular methods chosen, and the researcher's background and level of involvement (i.e. being explicit about how the researcher has influenced data collection and interpretation). Seeking potential, alternative explanations, and being explicit about how interpretations and conclusions were reached, help readers to judge the trustworthiness of the case study report. Stake provides a critique checklist for a case study report (Table ​ (Table9 9 )[ 8 ].

Potential pitfalls and mitigating actions when undertaking case study research

Stake's checklist for assessing the quality of a case study report[ 8 ]


The case study approach allows, amongst other things, critical events, interventions, policy developments and programme-based service reforms to be studied in detail in a real-life context. It should therefore be considered when an experimental design is either inappropriate to answer the research questions posed or impossible to undertake. Considering the frequency with which implementations of innovations are now taking place in healthcare settings and how well the case study approach lends itself to in-depth, complex health service research, we believe this approach should be more widely considered by researchers. Though inherently challenging, the research case study can, if carefully conceptualised and thoughtfully undertaken and reported, yield powerful insights into many important aspects of health and healthcare delivery.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors' contributions

AS conceived this article. SC, KC and AR wrote this paper with GH, AA and AS all commenting on various drafts. SC and AS are guarantors.

Pre-publication history

The pre-publication history for this paper can be accessed here:



We are grateful to the participants and colleagues who contributed to the individual case studies that we have drawn on. This work received no direct funding, but it has been informed by projects funded by Asthma UK, the NHS Service Delivery Organisation, NHS Connecting for Health Evaluation Programme, and Patient Safety Research Portfolio. We would also like to thank the expert reviewers for their insightful and constructive feedback. Our thanks are also due to Dr. Allison Worth who commented on an earlier draft of this manuscript.

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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Assignments

  • Annotated Bibliography
  • Analyzing a Scholarly Journal Article
  • Group Presentations
  • Dealing with Nervousness
  • Using Visual Aids
  • Grading Someone Else's Paper
  • Types of Structured Group Activities
  • Group Project Survival Skills
  • Leading a Class Discussion
  • Multiple Book Review Essay
  • Reviewing Collected Works
  • Writing a Case Analysis Paper
  • Writing a Case Study
  • About Informed Consent
  • Writing Field Notes
  • Writing a Policy Memo
  • Writing a Reflective Paper
  • Writing a Research Proposal
  • Generative AI and Writing
  • Acknowledgments

Definition and Introduction

Case analysis is a problem-based teaching and learning method that involves critically analyzing complex scenarios within an organizational setting for the purpose of placing the student in a “real world” situation and applying reflection and critical thinking skills to contemplate appropriate solutions, decisions, or recommended courses of action. It is considered a more effective teaching technique than in-class role playing or simulation activities. The analytical process is often guided by questions provided by the instructor that ask students to contemplate relationships between the facts and critical incidents described in the case.

Cases generally include both descriptive and statistical elements and rely on students applying abductive reasoning to develop and argue for preferred or best outcomes [i.e., case scenarios rarely have a single correct or perfect answer based on the evidence provided]. Rather than emphasizing theories or concepts, case analysis assignments emphasize building a bridge of relevancy between abstract thinking and practical application and, by so doing, teaches the value of both within a specific area of professional practice.

Given this, the purpose of a case analysis paper is to present a structured and logically organized format for analyzing the case situation. It can be assigned to students individually or as a small group assignment and it may include an in-class presentation component. Case analysis is predominately taught in economics and business-related courses, but it is also a method of teaching and learning found in other applied social sciences disciplines, such as, social work, public relations, education, journalism, and public administration.

Ellet, William. The Case Study Handbook: A Student's Guide . Revised Edition. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2018; Christoph Rasche and Achim Seisreiner. Guidelines for Business Case Analysis . University of Potsdam; Writing a Case Analysis . Writing Center, Baruch College; Volpe, Guglielmo. "Case Teaching in Economics: History, Practice and Evidence." Cogent Economics and Finance 3 (December 2015). doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/23322039.2015.1120977.

How to Approach Writing a Case Analysis Paper

The organization and structure of a case analysis paper can vary depending on the organizational setting, the situation, and how your professor wants you to approach the assignment. Nevertheless, preparing to write a case analysis paper involves several important steps. As Hawes notes, a case analysis assignment “...is useful in developing the ability to get to the heart of a problem, analyze it thoroughly, and to indicate the appropriate solution as well as how it should be implemented” [p.48]. This statement encapsulates how you should approach preparing to write a case analysis paper.

Before you begin to write your paper, consider the following analytical procedures:

  • Review the case to get an overview of the situation . A case can be only a few pages in length, however, it is most often very lengthy and contains a significant amount of detailed background information and statistics, with multilayered descriptions of the scenario, the roles and behaviors of various stakeholder groups, and situational events. Therefore, a quick reading of the case will help you gain an overall sense of the situation and illuminate the types of issues and problems that you will need to address in your paper. If your professor has provided questions intended to help frame your analysis, use them to guide your initial reading of the case.
  • Read the case thoroughly . After gaining a general overview of the case, carefully read the content again with the purpose of understanding key circumstances, events, and behaviors among stakeholder groups. Look for information or data that appears contradictory, extraneous, or misleading. At this point, you should be taking notes as you read because this will help you develop a general outline of your paper. The aim is to obtain a complete understanding of the situation so that you can begin contemplating tentative answers to any questions your professor has provided or, if they have not provided, developing answers to your own questions about the case scenario and its connection to the course readings,lectures, and class discussions.
  • Determine key stakeholder groups, issues, and events and the relationships they all have to each other . As you analyze the content, pay particular attention to identifying individuals, groups, or organizations described in the case and identify evidence of any problems or issues of concern that impact the situation in a negative way. Other things to look for include identifying any assumptions being made by or about each stakeholder, potential biased explanations or actions, explicit demands or ultimatums , and the underlying concerns that motivate these behaviors among stakeholders. The goal at this stage is to develop a comprehensive understanding of the situational and behavioral dynamics of the case and the explicit and implicit consequences of each of these actions.
  • Identify the core problems . The next step in most case analysis assignments is to discern what the core [i.e., most damaging, detrimental, injurious] problems are within the organizational setting and to determine their implications. The purpose at this stage of preparing to write your analysis paper is to distinguish between the symptoms of core problems and the core problems themselves and to decide which of these must be addressed immediately and which problems do not appear critical but may escalate over time. Identify evidence from the case to support your decisions by determining what information or data is essential to addressing the core problems and what information is not relevant or is misleading.
  • Explore alternative solutions . As noted, case analysis scenarios rarely have only one correct answer. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that the process of analyzing the case and diagnosing core problems, while based on evidence, is a subjective process open to various avenues of interpretation. This means that you must consider alternative solutions or courses of action by critically examining strengths and weaknesses, risk factors, and the differences between short and long-term solutions. For each possible solution or course of action, consider the consequences they may have related to their implementation and how these recommendations might lead to new problems. Also, consider thinking about your recommended solutions or courses of action in relation to issues of fairness, equity, and inclusion.
  • Decide on a final set of recommendations . The last stage in preparing to write a case analysis paper is to assert an opinion or viewpoint about the recommendations needed to help resolve the core problems as you see them and to make a persuasive argument for supporting this point of view. Prepare a clear rationale for your recommendations based on examining each element of your analysis. Anticipate possible obstacles that could derail their implementation. Consider any counter-arguments that could be made concerning the validity of your recommended actions. Finally, describe a set of criteria and measurable indicators that could be applied to evaluating the effectiveness of your implementation plan.

Use these steps as the framework for writing your paper. Remember that the more detailed you are in taking notes as you critically examine each element of the case, the more information you will have to draw from when you begin to write. This will save you time.

NOTE : If the process of preparing to write a case analysis paper is assigned as a student group project, consider having each member of the group analyze a specific element of the case, including drafting answers to the corresponding questions used by your professor to frame the analysis. This will help make the analytical process more efficient and ensure that the distribution of work is equitable. This can also facilitate who is responsible for drafting each part of the final case analysis paper and, if applicable, the in-class presentation.

Framework for Case Analysis . College of Management. University of Massachusetts; Hawes, Jon M. "Teaching is Not Telling: The Case Method as a Form of Interactive Learning." Journal for Advancement of Marketing Education 5 (Winter 2004): 47-54; Rasche, Christoph and Achim Seisreiner. Guidelines for Business Case Analysis . University of Potsdam; Writing a Case Study Analysis . University of Arizona Global Campus Writing Center; Van Ness, Raymond K. A Guide to Case Analysis . School of Business. State University of New York, Albany; Writing a Case Analysis . Business School, University of New South Wales.

Structure and Writing Style

A case analysis paper should be detailed, concise, persuasive, clearly written, and professional in tone and in the use of language . As with other forms of college-level academic writing, declarative statements that convey information, provide a fact, or offer an explanation or any recommended courses of action should be based on evidence. If allowed by your professor, any external sources used to support your analysis, such as course readings, should be properly cited under a list of references. The organization and structure of case analysis papers can vary depending on your professor’s preferred format, but its structure generally follows the steps used for analyzing the case.


The introduction should provide a succinct but thorough descriptive overview of the main facts, issues, and core problems of the case . The introduction should also include a brief summary of the most relevant details about the situation and organizational setting. This includes defining the theoretical framework or conceptual model on which any questions were used to frame your analysis.

Following the rules of most college-level research papers, the introduction should then inform the reader how the paper will be organized. This includes describing the major sections of the paper and the order in which they will be presented. Unless you are told to do so by your professor, you do not need to preview your final recommendations in the introduction. U nlike most college-level research papers , the introduction does not include a statement about the significance of your findings because a case analysis assignment does not involve contributing new knowledge about a research problem.

Background Analysis

Background analysis can vary depending on any guiding questions provided by your professor and the underlying concept or theory that the case is based upon. In general, however, this section of your paper should focus on:

  • Providing an overarching analysis of problems identified from the case scenario, including identifying events that stakeholders find challenging or troublesome,
  • Identifying assumptions made by each stakeholder and any apparent biases they may exhibit,
  • Describing any demands or claims made by or forced upon key stakeholders, and
  • Highlighting any issues of concern or complaints expressed by stakeholders in response to those demands or claims.

These aspects of the case are often in the form of behavioral responses expressed by individuals or groups within the organizational setting. However, note that problems in a case situation can also be reflected in data [or the lack thereof] and in the decision-making, operational, cultural, or institutional structure of the organization. Additionally, demands or claims can be either internal and external to the organization [e.g., a case analysis involving a president considering arms sales to Saudi Arabia could include managing internal demands from White House advisors as well as demands from members of Congress].

Throughout this section, present all relevant evidence from the case that supports your analysis. Do not simply claim there is a problem, an assumption, a demand, or a concern; tell the reader what part of the case informed how you identified these background elements.

Identification of Problems

In most case analysis assignments, there are problems, and then there are problems . Each problem can reflect a multitude of underlying symptoms that are detrimental to the interests of the organization. The purpose of identifying problems is to teach students how to differentiate between problems that vary in severity, impact, and relative importance. Given this, problems can be described in three general forms: those that must be addressed immediately, those that should be addressed but the impact is not severe, and those that do not require immediate attention and can be set aside for the time being.

All of the problems you identify from the case should be identified in this section of your paper, with a description based on evidence explaining the problem variances. If the assignment asks you to conduct research to further support your assessment of the problems, include this in your explanation. Remember to cite those sources in a list of references. Use specific evidence from the case and apply appropriate concepts, theories, and models discussed in class or in relevant course readings to highlight and explain the key problems [or problem] that you believe must be solved immediately and describe the underlying symptoms and why they are so critical.

Alternative Solutions

This section is where you provide specific, realistic, and evidence-based solutions to the problems you have identified and make recommendations about how to alleviate the underlying symptomatic conditions impacting the organizational setting. For each solution, you must explain why it was chosen and provide clear evidence to support your reasoning. This can include, for example, course readings and class discussions as well as research resources, such as, books, journal articles, research reports, or government documents. In some cases, your professor may encourage you to include personal, anecdotal experiences as evidence to support why you chose a particular solution or set of solutions. Using anecdotal evidence helps promote reflective thinking about the process of determining what qualifies as a core problem and relevant solution .

Throughout this part of the paper, keep in mind the entire array of problems that must be addressed and describe in detail the solutions that might be implemented to resolve these problems.

Recommended Courses of Action

In some case analysis assignments, your professor may ask you to combine the alternative solutions section with your recommended courses of action. However, it is important to know the difference between the two. A solution refers to the answer to a problem. A course of action refers to a procedure or deliberate sequence of activities adopted to proactively confront a situation, often in the context of accomplishing a goal. In this context, proposed courses of action are based on your analysis of alternative solutions. Your description and justification for pursuing each course of action should represent the overall plan for implementing your recommendations.

For each course of action, you need to explain the rationale for your recommendation in a way that confronts challenges, explains risks, and anticipates any counter-arguments from stakeholders. Do this by considering the strengths and weaknesses of each course of action framed in relation to how the action is expected to resolve the core problems presented, the possible ways the action may affect remaining problems, and how the recommended action will be perceived by each stakeholder.

In addition, you should describe the criteria needed to measure how well the implementation of these actions is working and explain which individuals or groups are responsible for ensuring your recommendations are successful. In addition, always consider the law of unintended consequences. Outline difficulties that may arise in implementing each course of action and describe how implementing the proposed courses of action [either individually or collectively] may lead to new problems [both large and small].

Throughout this section, you must consider the costs and benefits of recommending your courses of action in relation to uncertainties or missing information and the negative consequences of success.

The conclusion should be brief and introspective. Unlike a research paper, the conclusion in a case analysis paper does not include a summary of key findings and their significance, a statement about how the study contributed to existing knowledge, or indicate opportunities for future research.

Begin by synthesizing the core problems presented in the case and the relevance of your recommended solutions. This can include an explanation of what you have learned about the case in the context of your answers to the questions provided by your professor. The conclusion is also where you link what you learned from analyzing the case with the course readings or class discussions. This can further demonstrate your understanding of the relationships between the practical case situation and the theoretical and abstract content of assigned readings and other course content.

Problems to Avoid

The literature on case analysis assignments often includes examples of difficulties students have with applying methods of critical analysis and effectively reporting the results of their assessment of the situation. A common reason cited by scholars is that the application of this type of teaching and learning method is limited to applied fields of social and behavioral sciences and, as a result, writing a case analysis paper can be unfamiliar to most students entering college.

After you have drafted your paper, proofread the narrative flow and revise any of these common errors:

  • Unnecessary detail in the background section . The background section should highlight the essential elements of the case based on your analysis. Focus on summarizing the facts and highlighting the key factors that become relevant in the other sections of the paper by eliminating any unnecessary information.
  • Analysis relies too much on opinion . Your analysis is interpretive, but the narrative must be connected clearly to evidence from the case and any models and theories discussed in class or in course readings. Any positions or arguments you make should be supported by evidence.
  • Analysis does not focus on the most important elements of the case . Your paper should provide a thorough overview of the case. However, the analysis should focus on providing evidence about what you identify are the key events, stakeholders, issues, and problems. Emphasize what you identify as the most critical aspects of the case to be developed throughout your analysis. Be thorough but succinct.
  • Writing is too descriptive . A paper with too much descriptive information detracts from your analysis of the complexities of the case situation. Questions about what happened, where, when, and by whom should only be included as essential information leading to your examination of questions related to why, how, and for what purpose.
  • Inadequate definition of a core problem and associated symptoms . A common error found in case analysis papers is recommending a solution or course of action without adequately defining or demonstrating that you understand the problem. Make sure you have clearly described the problem and its impact and scope within the organizational setting. Ensure that you have adequately described the root causes w hen describing the symptoms of the problem.
  • Recommendations lack specificity . Identify any use of vague statements and indeterminate terminology, such as, “A particular experience” or “a large increase to the budget.” These statements cannot be measured and, as a result, there is no way to evaluate their successful implementation. Provide specific data and use direct language in describing recommended actions.
  • Unrealistic, exaggerated, or unattainable recommendations . Review your recommendations to ensure that they are based on the situational facts of the case. Your recommended solutions and courses of action must be based on realistic assumptions and fit within the constraints of the situation. Also note that the case scenario has already happened, therefore, any speculation or arguments about what could have occurred if the circumstances were different should be revised or eliminated.

Bee, Lian Song et al. "Business Students' Perspectives on Case Method Coaching for Problem-Based Learning: Impacts on Student Engagement and Learning Performance in Higher Education." Education & Training 64 (2022): 416-432; The Case Analysis . Fred Meijer Center for Writing and Michigan Authors. Grand Valley State University; Georgallis, Panikos and Kayleigh Bruijn. "Sustainability Teaching using Case-Based Debates." Journal of International Education in Business 15 (2022): 147-163; Hawes, Jon M. "Teaching is Not Telling: The Case Method as a Form of Interactive Learning." Journal for Advancement of Marketing Education 5 (Winter 2004): 47-54; Georgallis, Panikos, and Kayleigh Bruijn. "Sustainability Teaching Using Case-based Debates." Journal of International Education in Business 15 (2022): 147-163; .Dean,  Kathy Lund and Charles J. Fornaciari. "How to Create and Use Experiential Case-Based Exercises in a Management Classroom." Journal of Management Education 26 (October 2002): 586-603; Klebba, Joanne M. and Janet G. Hamilton. "Structured Case Analysis: Developing Critical Thinking Skills in a Marketing Case Course." Journal of Marketing Education 29 (August 2007): 132-137, 139; Klein, Norman. "The Case Discussion Method Revisited: Some Questions about Student Skills." Exchange: The Organizational Behavior Teaching Journal 6 (November 1981): 30-32; Mukherjee, Arup. "Effective Use of In-Class Mini Case Analysis for Discovery Learning in an Undergraduate MIS Course." The Journal of Computer Information Systems 40 (Spring 2000): 15-23; Pessoa, Silviaet al. "Scaffolding the Case Analysis in an Organizational Behavior Course: Making Analytical Language Explicit." Journal of Management Education 46 (2022): 226-251: Ramsey, V. J. and L. D. Dodge. "Case Analysis: A Structured Approach." Exchange: The Organizational Behavior Teaching Journal 6 (November 1981): 27-29; Schweitzer, Karen. "How to Write and Format a Business Case Study." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-write-and-format-a-business-case-study-466324 (accessed December 5, 2022); Reddy, C. D. "Teaching Research Methodology: Everything's a Case." Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods 18 (December 2020): 178-188; Volpe, Guglielmo. "Case Teaching in Economics: History, Practice and Evidence." Cogent Economics and Finance 3 (December 2015). doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/23322039.2015.1120977.

Writing Tip

Ca se Study and Case Analysis Are Not the Same!

Confusion often exists between what it means to write a paper that uses a case study research design and writing a paper that analyzes a case; they are two different types of approaches to learning in the social and behavioral sciences. Professors as well as educational researchers contribute to this confusion because they often use the term "case study" when describing the subject of analysis for a case analysis paper. But you are not studying a case for the purpose of generating a comprehensive, multi-faceted understanding of a research problem. R ather, you are critically analyzing a specific scenario to argue logically for recommended solutions and courses of action that lead to optimal outcomes applicable to professional practice.

To avoid any confusion, here are twelve characteristics that delineate the differences between writing a paper using the case study research method and writing a case analysis paper:

  • Case study is a method of in-depth research and rigorous inquiry ; case analysis is a reliable method of teaching and learning . A case study is a modality of research that investigates a phenomenon for the purpose of creating new knowledge, solving a problem, or testing a hypothesis using empirical evidence derived from the case being studied. Often, the results are used to generalize about a larger population or within a wider context. The writing adheres to the traditional standards of a scholarly research study. A case analysis is a pedagogical tool used to teach students how to reflect and think critically about a practical, real-life problem in an organizational setting.
  • The researcher is responsible for identifying the case to study; a case analysis is assigned by your professor . As the researcher, you choose the case study to investigate in support of obtaining new knowledge and understanding about the research problem. The case in a case analysis assignment is almost always provided, and sometimes written, by your professor and either given to every student in class to analyze individually or to a small group of students, or students select a case to analyze from a predetermined list.
  • A case study is indeterminate and boundless; a case analysis is predetermined and confined . A case study can be almost anything [see item 9 below] as long as it relates directly to examining the research problem. This relationship is the only limit to what a researcher can choose as the subject of their case study. The content of a case analysis is determined by your professor and its parameters are well-defined and limited to elucidating insights of practical value applied to practice.
  • Case study is fact-based and describes actual events or situations; case analysis can be entirely fictional or adapted from an actual situation . The entire content of a case study must be grounded in reality to be a valid subject of investigation in an empirical research study. A case analysis only needs to set the stage for critically examining a situation in practice and, therefore, can be entirely fictional or adapted, all or in-part, from an actual situation.
  • Research using a case study method must adhere to principles of intellectual honesty and academic integrity; a case analysis scenario can include misleading or false information . A case study paper must report research objectively and factually to ensure that any findings are understood to be logically correct and trustworthy. A case analysis scenario may include misleading or false information intended to deliberately distract from the central issues of the case. The purpose is to teach students how to sort through conflicting or useless information in order to come up with the preferred solution. Any use of misleading or false information in academic research is considered unethical.
  • Case study is linked to a research problem; case analysis is linked to a practical situation or scenario . In the social sciences, the subject of an investigation is most often framed as a problem that must be researched in order to generate new knowledge leading to a solution. Case analysis narratives are grounded in real life scenarios for the purpose of examining the realities of decision-making behavior and processes within organizational settings. A case analysis assignments include a problem or set of problems to be analyzed. However, the goal is centered around the act of identifying and evaluating courses of action leading to best possible outcomes.
  • The purpose of a case study is to create new knowledge through research; the purpose of a case analysis is to teach new understanding . Case studies are a choice of methodological design intended to create new knowledge about resolving a research problem. A case analysis is a mode of teaching and learning intended to create new understanding and an awareness of uncertainty applied to practice through acts of critical thinking and reflection.
  • A case study seeks to identify the best possible solution to a research problem; case analysis can have an indeterminate set of solutions or outcomes . Your role in studying a case is to discover the most logical, evidence-based ways to address a research problem. A case analysis assignment rarely has a single correct answer because one of the goals is to force students to confront the real life dynamics of uncertainly, ambiguity, and missing or conflicting information within professional practice. Under these conditions, a perfect outcome or solution almost never exists.
  • Case study is unbounded and relies on gathering external information; case analysis is a self-contained subject of analysis . The scope of a case study chosen as a method of research is bounded. However, the researcher is free to gather whatever information and data is necessary to investigate its relevance to understanding the research problem. For a case analysis assignment, your professor will often ask you to examine solutions or recommended courses of action based solely on facts and information from the case.
  • Case study can be a person, place, object, issue, event, condition, or phenomenon; a case analysis is a carefully constructed synopsis of events, situations, and behaviors . The research problem dictates the type of case being studied and, therefore, the design can encompass almost anything tangible as long as it fulfills the objective of generating new knowledge and understanding. A case analysis is in the form of a narrative containing descriptions of facts, situations, processes, rules, and behaviors within a particular setting and under a specific set of circumstances.
  • Case study can represent an open-ended subject of inquiry; a case analysis is a narrative about something that has happened in the past . A case study is not restricted by time and can encompass an event or issue with no temporal limit or end. For example, the current war in Ukraine can be used as a case study of how medical personnel help civilians during a large military conflict, even though circumstances around this event are still evolving. A case analysis can be used to elicit critical thinking about current or future situations in practice, but the case itself is a narrative about something finite and that has taken place in the past.
  • Multiple case studies can be used in a research study; case analysis involves examining a single scenario . Case study research can use two or more cases to examine a problem, often for the purpose of conducting a comparative investigation intended to discover hidden relationships, document emerging trends, or determine variations among different examples. A case analysis assignment typically describes a stand-alone, self-contained situation and any comparisons among cases are conducted during in-class discussions and/or student presentations.

The Case Analysis . Fred Meijer Center for Writing and Michigan Authors. Grand Valley State University; Mills, Albert J. , Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010; Ramsey, V. J. and L. D. Dodge. "Case Analysis: A Structured Approach." Exchange: The Organizational Behavior Teaching Journal 6 (November 1981): 27-29; Yin, Robert K. Case Study Research and Applications: Design and Methods . 6th edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2017; Crowe, Sarah et al. “The Case Study Approach.” BMC Medical Research Methodology 11 (2011):  doi: 10.1186/1471-2288-11-100; Yin, Robert K. Case Study Research: Design and Methods . 4th edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing; 1994.

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What Is a Case Study?

Weighing the pros and cons of this method of research

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

case study in practical research

Cara Lustik is a fact-checker and copywriter.

case study in practical research

Verywell / Colleen Tighe

  • Pros and Cons

What Types of Case Studies Are Out There?

Where do you find data for a case study, how do i write a psychology 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 many different fields, including psychology, medicine, education, anthropology, political science, and social work.

The point 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 sometimes difficult 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, we got you—here are some rules of APA format to reference.  

At a Glance

A case study, or an in-depth study of a person, group, or event, can be a useful research tool when used wisely. In many cases, case studies are best used in situations where it would be difficult or impossible for you to conduct an experiment. They are helpful for looking at unique situations and allow researchers to gather a lot of˜ information about a specific individual or group of people. However, it's important to be cautious of any bias we draw from them as they are highly subjective.

What Are the Benefits and Limitations of Case Studies?

A case study can have its 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 or impossible to replicate in a lab. Some other benefits of a case study:

  • Allows researchers to capture information on the 'how,' 'what,' and 'why,' of something that's implemented
  • Gives researchers the chance to collect information on why one strategy might be chosen over another
  • Permits researchers to develop hypotheses that can be explored in experimental research

On the other hand, a case study can have some drawbacks:

  • It cannot necessarily be generalized to the larger population
  • Cannot demonstrate cause and effect
  • It may not be scientifically rigorous
  • It can lead to bias

Researchers may choose to perform a case study if they want to explore a unique or recently discovered phenomenon. Through their insights, researchers develop additional ideas and study questions that might be explored in future studies.

It's important to remember that the insights 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 of  Freud's work and theories were developed through 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 learning was possible, even after missing critical periods for language development. 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 denied her the opportunity to learn a language at critical points in her development.

This is clearly not something researchers could ethically replicate, but conducting a case study on Genie allowed researchers to study phenomena that are otherwise impossible to reproduce.

There are a few different types of case studies that psychologists and other researchers might use:

  • Collective case studies : These involve 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 who live 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 : These   are 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 : These are 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 : These occur 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 case 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 use depends on the unique characteristics of the situation and the case itself.

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 researchers are:

  • 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.

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 you need to follow. If you are writing your case study for a professional publication, check with the publisher for their specific guidelines for submitting a case study.

Here is a general outline of what should be included in a case study.

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?

Need More Tips?

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, use 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 .

Crowe S, Cresswell K, Robertson A, Huby G, Avery A, Sheikh A. The case study approach .  BMC Med Res Methodol . 2011;11:100.

Crowe S, Cresswell K, Robertson A, Huby G, Avery A, Sheikh A. The case study approach . BMC Med Res Methodol . 2011 Jun 27;11:100. doi:10.1186/1471-2288-11-100

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, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

case study in practical research

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Doing Case Study Research: A Practical Guide for Beginning Researchers

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Dawson R. Hancock

Doing Case Study Research: A Practical Guide for Beginning Researchers 4th Edition, Kindle Edition

Now in a Fourth Edition, this how-to guide is an excellent starting point for anyone looking to begin case study research. The authors—all professors teaching graduate students in education and other professions—provide the structure, detail, and guidance needed for beginning researchers to complete a systematic case study. Improvements for this edition include more practical and detailed guidance for conducting a literature review, a more efficient and easy-to-understand reorganization of the case study examples, and updated citations throughout the text. As with previous editions, this succinct handbook emphasizes learning how to do case study research—from the first step of deciding whether a case study is the way to go to the last step of verifying and confirming findings before disseminating them. It shows students how to determine an appropriate research design, conduct informative interviews, record observations, document analyses, delineate ways to confirm case study findings, describe methods for deriving meaning from data, and communicate findings.

Book Features:

  • Straightforward introduction to the science of doing case study research.
  • A step-by-step approach that speaks directly to the novice investigator.
  • Many concrete examples to illustrate key concepts.
  • Questions, illustrations, and activities to reinforce what has been learned.
  • ISBN-13 978-0807765852
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  • Publication date October 1, 2021
  • Language English
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Case Study Research and Applications: Design and Methods

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Doing Case Study Research !

"A highly accessible introductory text and a very quick read…(the authors) are pedagogically savvy when introducing readers to case study research."

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"Exceptionally well organized and presented, Doing Case Study Research is unreservedly recommended for community and academic library Study Skills Improvement collections."

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" Doing Case Study Research provides a practical resource for beginning researchers who want a prescriptive step by step guide."

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“ Doing Case Study Research takes a complex research skill and makes it accessible. It’s a must-read for anyone conducting their first case study.” ― Claudia Flowers , The University of North Carolina at Charlotte

About the Author

Dawson R. Hancock was associate dean for research and graduate studies in the Cato College of Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and is currently a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership. Bob Algozzine is a First Citizens Bank Scholars Medal recipient and emeritus professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at UNC Charlotte. Jae Hoon Lim is a professor of educational research at UNC Charlotte.

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  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B09433N1Q4
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Teachers College Press; 4th edition (October 1, 2021)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ October 1, 2021
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 3815 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
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  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 144 pages
  • Page numbers source ISBN ‏ : ‎ 0807765864
  • #125 in Social Science Methodology
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The Practical Challenges of Case Study Research: Lessons from the field

Profile image of Leigh Ellen Potter

Case study research explores a specific situation in a real world context. This paper presents a narrative exploring the practical challenges that were faced when conducting case study research for a qualitative PhD research project which investigated the experiences with and attitudes towards technology held by several groups of individuals. We describe the case study approach, and present the experience of implementing the approach within two real world organisations. We describe the two sites used and the challenges faced and outline the lessons we learned from this experience: that the case study site is an active participant in the research, that the personalities within the case study sites will in turn influence the conduct of the research, and that organisations (and individuals) are political.

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Ali Haj Aghapour

Case-study as a qualitative research is a strongly debatable research strategy among all academicians and particularly practitioners. Therefore, in order to provide some upto-date insights into this controversial issue, the current paper seeks to investigate and document some aspects of case-study research. In fact, after reviewing some literatures in order to define, clarify and classify case-study research, the paper tries to consider and trade-off this qualitative strategy from different philosophical perspectives and approaches. Then, by relying on some recently outstanding papers and other highly recognized written resources, the paper gets into the appropriateness of casestudy including Generalizability, Validity, Construct validity, Internal validity and Reliability. Next, the role of case-study to build a social theory is investigated that leads to preset a step-bystep process to achieve this visionary goal. At the end, a brief comparison between case-study, as a common representative of qualitative research, and survey, an indicator of opposite view, is done. This paper contributes to research method’s development used by scholars looking to establish a case research by improving the level of understanding regarding the discussed issues. Index Terms- case-study appropriateness, case-study classification, case-study approaches.

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This paper presents a review of the literature on case study research and comments on the ongoing debate of the value of case study. A research paradigm and its theoretical framework is described. This review focuses extensively on the positions of

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To describe how case study research (CSR) was used inductively as an all-encompassing theoretical framework to examine learning in the workplace. Case study research is a method with strong philosophical underpinnings which provides a framework for exploratory research in real-life settings ( Yin 2009 ). A study of five students&#39; experiences of learning in healthcare environments to explore real-life contexts over the course of two years. The study was rich with empirical data, offering a pragmatic framework for learning in the workplace. Observations, interviews and documents were used. As a result of using CSR, the findings were analysed systematically and rigorously. Using multiple methods verified data and strengthened the significance of the findings. This paper focuses on the strengths of using the CSR methodology. CSR embraces qualitative research methods in a rigorous and systematic manner. CSR has been applied to one example of research, addressing each step of the rese...

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  • Published: 16 April 2024

Designing a framework for entrepreneurship education in Chinese higher education: a theoretical exploration and empirical case study

  • Luning Shao 1 ,
  • Yuxin Miao 2 ,
  • Shengce Ren 3 ,
  • Sanfa Cai 4 &
  • Fei Fan   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-8756-5140 5 , 6  

Humanities and Social Sciences Communications volume  11 , Article number:  519 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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Entrepreneurship education (EE) has rapidly evolved within higher education and has emerged as a pivotal mechanism for cultivating innovative and entrepreneurial talent. In China, while EE has made positive strides, it still faces a series of practical challenges. These issues cannot be effectively addressed solely through the efforts of universities. Based on the triple helix (TH) theory, this study delves into the unified objectives and practical content of EE in Chinese higher education. Through a comprehensive literature review on EE, coupled with educational objectives, planned behavior, and entrepreneurship process theories, this study introduces the 4H objective model of EE. 4H stands for Head (mindset), Hand (skill), Heart (attitude), and Help (support). Additionally, the research extends to a corresponding content model that encompasses entrepreneurial learning, entrepreneurial practice, startup services, and the entrepreneurial climate as tools for achieving the objectives. Based on a single-case approach, this study empirically explores the application of the content model at T-University. Furthermore, this paper elucidates how the university plays a role through the comprehensive development of entrepreneurial learning, practices, services, and climate in nurturing numerous entrepreneurs and facilitating the flourishing of the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem. This paper provides important contributions in its application of TH theory to develop EE within the Chinese context, and it provides clear guidance by elucidating the core objectives and practical content of EE. The proposed conceptual framework serves not only as a guiding tool but also as a crucial conduit for fostering the collaborative development of the EE ecosystem. To enhance the robustness of the framework, this study advocates strengthening empirical research on TH theory through multiple and comparative case studies.

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In the era of the knowledge economy, entrepreneurship has emerged as a fundamental driver of social and economic development. As early as 1911, Schumpeter proposed the well-known theory of economic development, wherein he first introduced the concepts of entrepreneurship and creative destruction as driving forces behind socioeconomic development. Numerous endogenous growth theories, such as the entrepreneurial ecosystem mechanism of Acs et al. ( 2018 ), which also underscores the pivotal role of entrepreneurship in economic development, are rooted in Schumpeter’s model. Recognized as a key means of cultivating entrepreneurs and enhancing their capabilities (Jin et al., 2023 ), entrepreneurship education (EE) has received widespread attention over the past few decades, especially in the context of higher education (Wong & Chan, 2022 ).

Driven by international trends and economic demands, China places significant emphasis on nurturing innovative talent and incorporating EE into the essential components of its national education system. The State Council’s “Implementation Opinions on Deepening the Reform of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Education in Higher Education” (hereafter referred to as the report) underscores the urgent necessity for advancing reforms in innovation and EE in higher education institutions. This initiative aligns with the national strategy of promoting innovation-driven development and enhancing economic quality and efficiency. Furthermore, institutions at various levels are actively and eagerly engaging in EE.

Despite the positive strides made in EE in China, its development still faces a series of formidable practical challenges. As elucidated in the report, higher education institutions face challenges such as a delay in the conceptualization of EE, inadequate integration with specialized education, and a disconnect from practical applications. Furthermore, educators exhibit a deficiency in awareness and capabilities, which manifests in a singular and less effective teaching methodology. The shortage of practical platforms, guidance, and support emphasizes the pressing need for comprehensive innovation and EE systems. These issues necessitate collaborative efforts from universities, industry, and policymakers.

Internationally established solutions for the current challenges have substantially matured, providing invaluable insights and guidance for the development of EE in the Chinese context. In the late 20th century, the concept of the entrepreneurial university gained prominence (Etzkowitz et al., 2000 ). Then, entrepreneurial universities expanded their role from traditional research and teaching to embrace a “third mission” centered on economic development. This transformation entailed fostering student engagement in entrepreneurial initiatives by offering resources and guidance to facilitate the transition of ideas into viable entrepreneurial ventures. Additionally, these entrepreneurial universities played a pivotal role in advancing the triple helix (TH) model (Henry, 2009 ). The TH model establishes innovation systems that facilitate knowledge conversion into economic endeavors by coordinating the functions of universities, government entities, and industry. The robustness of this perspective has been substantiated through comprehensive theoretical and empirical investigations (Mandrup & Jensen, 2017 ).

Therefore, this study aims to explore how EE in Chinese universities can adapt to new societal trends and demands through the guidance of TH theory. This research involves two major themes: educational objectives and content. Educational objectives play a pivotal role in regulating the entire process of educational activities, ensuring alignment with the principles and norms of education (Whitehead, 1967 ), while content provides a practical pathway to achieving these objectives. Specifically, the study has three pivotal research questions:

RQ1: What is the present landscape of EE research?

RQ2: What unified macroscopic goals should be formulated to guide EE in Chinese higher education?

RQ3: What specific EE system should be implemented to realize the identified goals in Chinese higher education?

The structure of this paper is as follows: First, we conduct a comprehensive literature review on EE to answer RQ1 , thereby establishing a robust theoretical foundation. Second, we outline our research methodology, encompassing both framework construction and case studies and providing a clear and explicit approach to our research process. Third, we derive the objectives and content model of EE guided by educational objectives, entrepreneurial motivations, and entrepreneurial process theories. Fourth, focusing on a typical university in China as our research subject, we conduct a case study to demonstrate the practical application of our research framework. Finally, we end the paper with the findings for RQ2 and RQ3 , discussions on the framework, and conclusions.

Literature review

The notion of TH first appeared in the early 1980s, coinciding with the global transition from an industrial to a knowledge-based economy (Cai & Etzkowitz, 2020 ). At that time, the dramatic increase in productivity led to overproduction, and knowledge became a valuable mechanism for driving innovation and economic growth (Mandrup & Jensen, 2017 ). Recognizing the potential of incorporating cutting-edge university technologies into industry and facilitating technology transfer and innovation, the US government took proactive steps to enhance the international competitiveness of American industries. This initiative culminated in the enactment of relevant legislation in 1980, which triggered a surge in technology transfer, patent licensing, and the establishment of new enterprises within the United States. Subsequently, European and Asian nations adopted similar measures, promoting the transformation of universities’ identity (Grimaldi et al., 2011 ). Universities assumed a central role in technology transfer, the formation of businesses, and regional revitalization within the knowledge society rather than occupying a secondary position within the industrial community. The conventional one-to-one relationships between universities, companies, and the government evolved into a dynamic TH model (Cai & Etzkowitz, 2020 ). Beyond their traditional roles in knowledge creation, wealth production, and policy coordination, these sectors began to engage in multifaceted interactions, effectively “playing the role of others” (Ranga & Etzkowitz, 2013 ).

The TH model encompasses three fundamental elements: 1) In a knowledge-based society, universities assume a more prominent role in innovation than in industry; 2) The three entities engage in collaborative relationships, with innovation policies emerging as a result of their mutual interactions rather than being solely dictated by the government; and 3) Each entity, while fulfilling its traditional functions, also takes on the roles of the other two parties (Henry, 2009 ). This model is closely aligned with EE.

On the one hand, EE can enhance the effectiveness of TH theory by strengthening the links between universities, industry, and government. The TH concept was developed based on entrepreneurial universities. The emerging entrepreneurial university model integrates economic development as an additional function. Etzkowitz’s research on the entrepreneurial university identified a TH model of academia-industry-government relations implemented by universities in an increasingly knowledge-based society (Galvao et al., 2019 ). Alexander and Evgeniy ( 2012 ) articulated that entrepreneurial universities are crucial to the implementation of triple-helix arrangements and that by integrating EE into their curricula, universities have the potential to strengthen triple-helix partnerships and boost the effectiveness of the triple-helix model.

On the other hand, TH theory also drives EE to achieve high-quality development. Previously, universities were primarily seen as sources of knowledge and human resources. However, they are now also regarded as reservoirs of technology. Within EE and incubation programs, universities are expanding their educational capabilities beyond individual education to shaping organizations (Henry, 2009 ). Surpassing their role as sources of new ideas for existing companies, universities blend their research and teaching processes in a novel way, emerging as pivotal sources for the formation of new companies, particularly in high-tech domains. Furthermore, innovation within one field of the TH influences others (Piqué et al., 2020 ). An empirical study by Alexander and Evgeniy ( 2012 ) outlined how the government introduced a series of initiatives to develop entrepreneurial universities, construct innovation infrastructure, and foster EE growth.

Overview of EE

EE occupies a crucial position in driving economic advancement, and this domain has been the focal point of extensive research. Fellnhofer ( 2019 ) examined 1773 publications from 1975 to 2014, introducing a more closely aligned taxonomy of EE research. This taxonomy encompasses eight major clusters: social and policy-driven EE, human capital studies related to self-employment, organizational EE and TH, (Re)design and evaluation of EE initiatives, entrepreneurial learning, EE impact studies, and the EE opportunity-related environment at the organizational level. Furthermore, Mohamed and Sheikh Ali ( 2021 ) conducted a systematic literature review of 90 EE articles published from 2009 to 2019. The majority of these studies focused on the development of EE (32%), followed by its benefits (18%) and contributions (12%). The selected research also addressed themes such as the relationship between EE and entrepreneurial intent, the effectiveness of EE, and its assessment (each comprising 9% of the sample).

Spanning from 1975 to 2019, these two reviews offer a comprehensive landscape of EE research. The perspective on EE has evolved, extending into multiple dimensions (Zaring et al., 2021 ). However, EE does not always achieve the expected outcomes, as challenges such as limited student interest and engagement as well as persistent negative attitudes are often faced (Mohamed & Sheikh Ali, 2021 ). In fact, the challenges faced by EE in most countries may be similar. However, the solutions may vary due to contextual differences (Fred Awaah et al., 2023 ). Furthermore, due to this evolution, there is a need for a more comprehensive grasp of pedagogical concepts and the foundational elements of modern EE (Hägg & Gabrielsson, 2020 ). Based on the objectives of this study, four specific themes were chosen for an in-depth literature review: the objectives, contents and methods, outcomes, and experiences of EE.

Objectives of EE

The objectives of EE may provide significant guidance for its implementation and the assessment of its effectiveness, and EE has evolved to form a diversified spectrum. Mwasalwiba ( 2010 ) presented a multifaceted phenomenon in which EE objectives are closely linked to entrepreneurial outcomes. These goals encompass nurturing entrepreneurial attitudes (34%), promoting new ventures (27%), contributing to local community development (24%), and imparting entrepreneurial skills (15%). Some current studies still emphasize particular dimensions of these goals, such as fostering new ventures or value creation (Jones et al., 2018 ; Ratten & Usmanij, 2021 ). These authors further stress the significance of incorporating practical considerations related to the business environment, which prompts learners to contemplate issues such as funding and resource procurement. This goal inherently underscores the importance of entrepreneurial thinking and encourages learners to transition from merely being students to developing entrepreneurial mindsets.

Additionally, Kuratko and Morris ( 2018 ) posit that the goal of EE should not be to produce entrepreneurs but to cultivate entrepreneurial mindsets in students, equipping them with methods for thinking and acting entrepreneurially and enabling them to perceive opportunities rapidly in uncertain conditions and harness resources as entrepreneurs would. While the objectives of EE may vary based on the context of the teaching institution, the fundamental goal is increasingly focused on conveying and nurturing an entrepreneurial mindset among diverse stakeholders. Hao’s ( 2017 ) research contends that EE forms a comprehensive system in which multidimensional educational objectives are established. These objectives primarily encompass cultivating students’ foundational qualities and innovative entrepreneurial personalities, equipping them with essential awareness of entrepreneurship, psychological qualities conducive to entrepreneurship, and a knowledge structure for entrepreneurship. Such a framework guides students towards independent entrepreneurship based on real entrepreneurial scenarios.

Various studies and practices also contain many statements about entrepreneurial goals. The Entrepreneurship Competence Framework, which was issued by the EU in 2016, delineates three competency domains: ideas and opportunities, resources and action. Additionally, the framework outlines 15 specific entrepreneurship competencies (Jun, 2017 ). Similarly, the National Content Standards for EE published by the US Consortium encompass three overarching strategies for articulating desired competencies for aspiring entrepreneurs: entrepreneurial skills, ready skills, and business functions (Canziani & Welsh, 2021 ). First, entrepreneurial skills are unique characteristics, behaviors, and experiences that distinguish entrepreneurs from ordinary employees or managers. Second, ready skills, which include business and entrepreneurial knowledge and skills, are prerequisites and auxiliary conditions for EE. Third, business functions help entrepreneurs create and operate business processes in business activities. These standards explain in the broadest terms what students need to be self-employed or to develop and grow a new venture. Although entrepreneurial skills may be addressed in particular courses offered by entrepreneurship faculties, it is evident that business readiness and functional skills significantly contribute to entrepreneurial success (Canziani & Welsh, 2021 ).

Contents and methods of EE

The content and methods employed in EE are pivotal factors for ensuring the delivery of high-quality entrepreneurial instruction, and they have significant practical implications for achieving educational objectives. The conventional model of EE, which is rooted in the classroom setting, typically features an instructor at the front of the room delivering concepts and theories through lectures and readings (Mwasalwiba, 2010 ). However, due to limited opportunities for student engagement in the learning process, lecture-based teaching methods prove less effective at capturing students’ attention and conveying new concepts (Rahman, 2020 ). In response, Okebukola ( 2020 ) introduced the Culturo-Techno-Contextual Approach (CTCA), which offers a hybrid teaching and learning method that integrates cultural, technological, and geographical contexts. Through a controlled experiment involving 400 entrepreneurship development students from Ghana, CTCA has been demonstrated to be a model for enhancing students’ comprehension of complex concepts (Awaah, 2023 ). Furthermore, learners heavily draw upon their cultural influences to shape their understanding of EE, emphasizing the need for educators to approach the curriculum from a cultural perspective to guide students in comprehending entrepreneurship effectively.

In addition to traditional classroom approaches, research has highlighted innovative methods for instilling entrepreneurial spirit among students. For instance, students may learn from specific university experiences or even engage in creating and running a company (Kolb & Kolb, 2011 ). Some scholars have developed an educational portfolio that encompasses various activities, such as simulations, games, and real company creation, to foster reflective practice (Neck & Greene, 2011 ). However, some studies have indicated that EE, when excessively focused on applied and practical content, yields less favorable outcomes for students aspiring to engage in successful entrepreneurship (Martin et al., 2013 ). In contrast, students involved in more academically oriented courses tend to demonstrate improved intellectual skills and often achieve greater success as entrepreneurs (Zaring et al., 2021 ). As previously discussed, due to the lack of a coherent theoretical framework in EE, there is a lack of uniformity and consistency in course content and methods (Ribeiro et al., 2018 ).

Outcomes of EE

Research on the outcomes of EE is a broad and continually evolving field, with most related research focusing on immediate or short-term impact factors. For example, Anosike ( 2019 ) demonstrated the positive effect of EE on human capital, and Chen et al. ( 2022 ) proposed that EE significantly moderates the impact of self-efficacy on entrepreneurial competencies in higher education students through an innovative learning environment. In particular, in the comprehensive review by Kim et al. ( 2020 ), six key EE outcomes were identified: entrepreneurial creation, entrepreneurial intent, opportunity recognition, entrepreneurial self-efficacy and orientation, need for achievement and locus of control, and other entrepreneurial knowledge. One of the more popular directions is the examination of the impact of EE on entrepreneurial intentions. Bae et al. ( 2014 ) conducted a meta-analysis of 73 studies to examine the relationship between EE and entrepreneurial intention and revealed little correlation. However, a meta-analysis of 389 studies from 2010 to 2020 by Zhang et al. ( 2022 ) revealed a positive association between the two variables.

Nabi et al. ( 2017 ) conducted a systematic review to determine the impact of EE in higher education. Their findings highlight that studies exploring the outcomes of EE have primarily concentrated on short-term and subjective assessments, with insufficient consideration of longer-term effects spanning five or even ten years. These longer-term impacts encompass factors such as the nature and quantity of startups, startup survival rates, and contributions to society and the economy. As noted in the Eurydice report, a significant impediment to advancing EE is the lack of comprehensive delineation concerning education outcomes (Bourgeois et al., 2016 ).

Experiences in the EE system

With the deepening exploration of EE, researchers have turned to studying university-centered entrepreneurship ecosystems (Allahar and Sookram, 2019 ). Such ecosystems are adopted to fill gaps in “educational and economic development resources”, such as entrepreneurship curricula. A growing number of universities have evolved an increasingly complex innovation system that extends from technology transfer offices, incubators, and technology parks to translational research and the promotion of EE across campuses (Cai & Etzkowitz, 2020 ). In the university context, the entrepreneurial ecosystem aligns with TH theory, in which academia, government, and industry create a trilateral network and hybrid organization (Ranga & Etzkowitz, 2013 ).

The EE system is also a popular topic in China. Several researchers have summarized the Chinese experience in EE, including case studies and overall experience, such as the summary of the progress and system development of EE in Chinese universities over the last decade by Weiming et al. ( 2013 ) and the summary of the Chinese experience in innovation and EE by Maoxin ( 2017 ). Other researchers take an in-depth look at the international knowledge of EE, such as discussions on the EE system of Denmark by Yuanyuan ( 2015 ), analyzes of the ecological system of EE at the Technical University of Munich by Yubing and Ziyan ( 2015 ), and comparisons of international innovation and EE by Ke ( 2017 ).

In general, although there has been considerable discussion on EE, the existing body of work has not properly addressed the practical challenges faced by EE in China. On the one hand, the literature is fragmented and has not yet formed a unified and mature theoretical framework. Regarding what should be taught and how it can be taught and assessed, the answers in related research are ambiguous (Hoppe, 2016 ; Wong & Chan, 2022 ). On the other hand, current research lacks empirical evidence in the context of China, and guidance on how to put the concept of EE into practice is relatively limited. These dual deficiencies impede the effective and in-depth development of EE in China. Consequently, it is imperative to comprehensively redefine the objectives and contents of EE to provide clear developmental guidance for Chinese higher education institutions.

Research methodology

To answer the research questions, this study employed a comprehensive approach by integrating both literature-based and empirical research methods. The initial phase focused on systematically reviewing the literature related to entrepreneurial education, aiming to construct a clear set of frameworks for the objectives and content of EE in higher education institutions. The second phase involved conducting a case study at T-University, in which the theoretical frameworks were applied to a real-world context. This case not only contributed to validating the theoretical constructs established through the literature review but also provided valuable insights into the practical operational dynamics of entrepreneurial education within the specific university setting.

Conceptual framework stage

This paper aims to conceptualize the objective and content frameworks for EE. The methodology sequence is as follows: First, we examine the relevant EE literature to gain insights into existing research themes. Subsequently, we identify specific research articles based on these themes, such as “entrepreneurial intention”, “entrepreneurial self-efficacy”, and “entrepreneurial approach”, among others. Third, we synthesize the shared objectives of EE across diverse research perspectives through an analysis of the selected literature. Fourth, we construct an objective model for EE within higher education by integrating Bloom’s educational objectives ( 1956 ) and Gagne’s five learning outcomes ( 1984 ), complemented by entrepreneurship motivation and process considerations. Finally, we discuss the corresponding content framework.

Case study stage

To further elucidate the conceptual framework, this paper delves into the methods for the optimization of EE in China through a case analysis. Specifically, this paper employs a single-case approach. While a single case study may have limited external validity (Onjewu et al., 2021 ), if a case study informs current theory and conceptualizes the explored issues, it can still provide valuable insights from its internal findings (Buchanan, 1999 ).

T-University, which is a comprehensive university in China, is chosen as the subject of the case study for the following reasons. First, T-University is located in Shanghai, which is a Chinese international technological innovation center approved by the State Council. Shanghai’s “14th Five-Year Plan” proposes the establishment of a multichannel international innovation collaboration platform and a global innovation cooperation network. Second, T-University has initiated curriculum reforms and established a regional knowledge economy ecosystem by utilizing EE as a guiding principle, which aligns with the characteristics of its geographical location, history, culture, and disciplinary settings. This case study will showcase T-University’s experiences in entrepreneurial learning, entrepreneurial practice, startup services, and the entrepreneurial climate, elucidating the positive outcomes of this triangular interaction and offering practical insights for EE in other contexts.

The data collection process of this study was divided into two main stages: field research and archival research. The obtained data included interview transcripts, field notes, photos, internal documents, websites, reports, promotional materials, and published articles. In the initial stage, we conducted a 7-day field trip, including visits to the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute, the Career Development Centre, the Academic Affairs Office, and the Graduate School. Moreover, we conducted semistructured interviews with several faculty members and students involved in entrepreneurship education at the university to understand the overall state of implementation of entrepreneurship education at the university. In the second stage, we contacted the Academic Affairs Office and the Student Affairs Office at the university and obtained internal materials related to entrepreneurship education. Additionally, we conducted a comprehensive collection and created a summary of publicly available documents, official school websites, public accounts, and other electronic files. To verify the validity of the multisource data, we conducted triangulation and ultimately used consistent information as the basis for the data analysis.

For the purpose of our study, thematic analysis was employed to delve deeply into the TH factors, the objective and content frameworks, and their interrelationships. Thematic analysis is a method for identifying, analyzing, and reporting patterns within data. This approach emphasizes a comprehensive interpretation of the data, as it extracts information from multiple perspectives and derives valuable conclusions through summary and induction (Onjewu et al., 2021 ). Therefore, thematic analysis likely serves as the foundation for most other qualitative data analysis methods (Willig, 2013 ). In this study, three researchers individually conducted rigorous analyses and comprehensive reviews to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the data. Subsequently, they engaged in collaborative discussions to explore their differences and ultimately reach a consensus.

Framework construction

Theoretical basis of ee in universities.

The study is grounded in the theories of educational objectives, planned behavior, and the entrepreneurial process. Planned behavior theory can serve to elucidate the emergence of entrepreneurial activity, while entrepreneurial process theory can be used to delineate the essential elements of successful entrepreneurship.

Theory of educational objectives. The primary goal of education is to assist students in shaping their future. Furthermore, education should directly influence students and facilitate their future development. Education can significantly enhance students’ prospects by imparting specific skills and fundamental principles and cultivating the correct attitudes and mindsets (Bruner, 2009 ). According to “The Aims of Education” by Whitehead, the objective of education is to stimulate creativity and vitality. Gagne identifies five learning outcomes that enable teachers to design optimal learning conditions based on the presentation of these outcomes, encompassing “attitude,” “motor skills,” “verbal information,” “intellectual skills,” and “cognitive strategies”. Bloom et al. ( 1956 ) argue that education has three aims, which concern the cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains. Gedeon ( 2017 ) posits that EE involves critical input and output elements. The key objectives encompass mindset (Head), skill (hand), attitude (heart), and support (help). The input objectives include EE teachers, resources, facilities, courses, and teaching methods. The output objectives encompass the impacts of the input factors, such as the number of students, the number of awards, and the establishment of new companies. The primary aims of Gedeon ( 2017 ) correspond to those of Bloom et al. ( 1956 ).

Theory of planned behavior. The theory of planned behavior argues that human behavior is the outcome of well-thought-out planning (Ajzen, 1991 ). Human behavior depends on behavioral intentions, which are affected by three main factors. The first is derived from the individual’s “attitude” towards taking a particular action; the second is derived from the influence of “subjective norms” from society; and the third is derived from “perceived behavioral control” (Ajzen, 1991 ). Researchers have adopted this theory to study entrepreneurial behavior and EE.

Theory of the entrepreneurship process. Researchers have proposed several entrepreneurial models, most of which are processes (Baoshan & Baobao, 2008 ). The theory of the entrepreneurship process focuses on the critical determinants of entrepreneurial success. The essential variables of the entrepreneurial process model significantly impact entrepreneurial performance. Timmons et al. ( 2004 ) argue that successful entrepreneurial activities require an appropriate match among opportunities, entrepreneurial teams, resources, and a dynamic balance as the business develops. Their model emphasizes flexibility and equilibrium, and it is believed that entrepreneurial activities change with time and space. As a result, opportunities, teams, and resources will be unbalanced and need timely adjustment.

4H objective model of EE

Guided by TH theory, the objectives of EE should consider universities’ transformational identity in the knowledge era and promote collaboration among students, faculty, researchers, and external players (Mandrup & Jensen, 2017 ). Furthermore, through a comprehensive analysis of the literature and pertinent theoretical underpinnings, the article introduces the 4H model for the EE objectives, as depicted in Fig. 1 .

figure 1

The 4H objective model of entrepreneurship education.

The model comprises two levels. The first level pertains to outcomes at the entrepreneurial behavior level, encompassing entrepreneurial intention and entrepreneurial performance. These two factors support universities’ endeavors to nurture individuals with an entrepreneurial mindset and potential and contribute to the region’s growth of innovation and entrepreneurship. The second level pertains to fundamentals, which form the foundation of the first level. The article defines these as the 4H model, representing mindset (Head), skill (Hand), attitude (Heart), and support (Help). This model integrates key theories, including educational objectives, the entrepreneurship process, and planned behavior.

First, according to the theory of educational objectives, the cognitive, emotional, and skill objectives proposed by Bloom et al. ( 1956 ) correspond to the key goals of education offered by Gedeon ( 2017 ), namely, Head, Hand, and Heart; thus, going forward, in this study, these three objectives are adopted. Second, according to the theory of planned behavior, for the promotion of entrepreneurial intention, reflection on the control of beliefs, social norms, and perceptual behaviors must be included. EE’s impact on the Head, Hand, and Heart will promote the power of entrepreneurs’ thoughts and perceptual actions. Therefore, this approach is beneficial for enhancing entrepreneurial intentions. Third, according to entrepreneurship process theory, entrepreneurial performance is affected by various factors, including entrepreneurial opportunities, teams, and resources. Consideration of the concepts of Head, Hand, and Heart can enhance entrepreneurial opportunity recognition and entrepreneurial team capabilities. However, as the primary means of obtaining external resources, social networks play an essential role in improving the performance of innovation and entrepreneurship companies (Gao et al., 2023 ). Therefore, an effective EE program should tell students how to take action, connect them with those who can help them succeed (Ronstadt, 1985 ), and help them access the necessary resources. If EE institutions can provide relevant help, they will consolidate entrepreneurial intentions and improve entrepreneurial performance, enabling the EE’s objective to better support the Head, Hand, and Heart.

Content model of EE

EE necessitates establishing a systematic implementation framework to achieve the 4H objectives. Current research on EE predominantly focuses on two facets: one focuses on EE methods to improve students’ skills, and the other focuses on EE outcome measurements, which consider the impact of EE on different stakeholders. Based on this, to foster innovation in EE approaches and enable long-term sustainable EE outcomes, the 4H Model of EE objectives mandates that pertinent institutions provide entrepreneurial learning, entrepreneurial practice, startup services, and a suitable entrepreneurial climate. These components constitute the four integral facets of the content model for EE, as depicted in Fig. 2 .

figure 2

The content model of entrepreneurship education.

Entrepreneurial learning

Entrepreneurial learning mainly refers to the learning of innovative entrepreneurial knowledge and theory. This factor represents the core of EE and can contribute significantly to the Head component. It can also improve the entrepreneurial thinking ability of academic subjects through classroom teaching, lectures, information reading and analysis, discussion, debates, etc. Additionally, it can positively affect the Hand and Heart elements of EE.

Entrepreneurial practice

Entrepreneurial practice mainly refers to academic subjects comprehensively enhancing their cognition and ability by participating in entrepreneurial activities. This element is also a key component of EE and plays a significant role in the cultivation of the Hand element. Entrepreneurial practice is characterized by participation in planning and implementing entrepreneurial programs, competitions, and simulation activities. Furthermore, it positively impacts EE’s Head, Heart, and Help factors.

Startup services

Startup services mainly refer to entrepreneurial-related support services provided by EE institutions, which include investment and financing, project declaration, financial and legal support, human resources, marketing, and intermediary services. These services can improve the success of entrepreneurship projects. Therefore, they can reinforce the expectations of entrepreneurs’ success and positively impact the Heart, Hand, and Head objectives of EE.

Entrepreneurial climate

The entrepreneurial climate refers to the entrepreneurial environment created by EE institutions and their community and is embodied mainly in the educational institutions’ external and internal entrepreneurial culture and ecology. The environment can impact the entrepreneurial attitude of educated individuals and the Heart objective of EE. Additionally, it is beneficial for realizing EE’s Head, Hand, and Help goals.

Case study: EE practice of T-University

Overview of ee at t-university.

T-University is one of the first in China to promote innovation and EE. Since the 1990s, a series of policies have been introduced, and different platforms have been set up. After more than 20 years of teaching, research, and practice, an innovation and entrepreneurship education system with unique characteristics has gradually evolved. The overall goal of this system is to ensure that 100% of students receive such education, with 10% of students completing the program and 1% achieving entrepreneurship with a high-quality standard. The overall employment rate of 2020 graduates reached 97.49%. In recent years, the proportion of those pursuing entrepreneurship has been more than 1% almost every year. The T-Rim Knowledge-Based Economic Circle, an industrial cluster formed around knowledge spillover from T-University’s dominant disciplines, employs more than 400 T-University graduates annually.

In 2016, T-University established the School of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, with the president serving as its dean. This school focuses on talent development and is pivotal in advancing innovation-driven development strategies. It coordinates efforts across various departments and colleges to ensure comprehensive coverage of innovation and EE, the integration of diverse academic disciplines, and the transformation of interdisciplinary scientific and technological advancements (see Fig. 3 ).

figure 3

T-University innovation and entrepreneurship education map.

T-University is dedicated to integrating innovation and EE into every stage of talent development. As the guiding framework for EE, the university has established the Innovation and EE sequence featuring “three-dimensional, linked, and cross-university cooperation” with seven educational elements. These elements include the core curriculum system of innovation and entrepreneurship, the “one top-notch and three excellences” and experimental zones of innovation and entrepreneurship talent cultivation model, the four-level “China-Shanghai-University-School” training programs for innovation and entrepreneurship, four-level “International-National-Municipal-University” science and technology competitions, four-level “National-Municipal-University-School” innovation and entrepreneurship practice bases, three-level “Venture Valley-Entrepreneurship Fund-Industry Incubation” startup services and a high-level teaching team with both full-time and part-time personnel.

T-University has implemented several initiatives. First, the university has implemented 100% student innovation and EE through reforming the credit setting and curriculum system. Through the Venture Valley class, mobile class, and “joint summer school”, more than 10% of the students completed the Innovation and EE program. Moreover, through the professional reform pilot and eight professional incubation platforms in the National Science and Technology Park of T-University and other measures, 1% of the students established high-quality entrepreneurial enterprises. Second, the university is committed to promoting the integration of innovation and entrepreneurship and training programs, exploring and practising a variety of innovative talent cultivation models, and adding undergraduate innovation ability development as a mandatory component of the training program. In addition, pilot reforms have been conducted in engineering, medicine, and law majors, focusing on integrating research and education.

T-University has constructed a high-level integrated innovation and entrepreneurship practice platform by combining internal and external resources. This platform serves as the central component in Fig. 3 , forming a sequence of innovation and entrepreneurship practice opportunities, including 1) the On-and-off Campus Basic Practice Platform, 2) the Entrepreneurship Practice Platform with the Integration of Production, Learning, and Research, 3) the Transformation Platform of Major Scientific Research Facilities and Achievements, and 4) the Strategic Platform of the T-Rim Knowledge-Based Economic Circle. All these platforms are accessible to students based on their specific tasks and objectives.

Moreover, the university has reinforced its support for entrepreneurship and collaborated with local governments in Sichuan, Dalian, and Shenzhen to establish off-campus bases jointly. In 2016, in partnership with other top universities in China, the university launched the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Alliance of Universities in the Yangtze River Delta. This alliance effectively brings together government bodies, businesses, social communities, universities, and funding resources in the Yangtze River Delta, harnessing the synergistic advantages of these institutions. In 2018, the university assumed the director role for the Ministry of Education’s Steering Committee for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Through collaborations with relevant government agencies and enterprises, T-University has continued its efforts to reform and advance innovation and EE, establishing multiple joint laboratories to put theory into practice.

Startup service

In terms of entrepreneurial services, T-University has focused on the employment guidance center and the science and technology Park, working closely with the local industrial and commercial bureaus in the campus area to provide centralized entrepreneurial services. Through entities such as the Shanghai Municipal College Entrepreneurship Guidance Station, entrepreneurship seedling gardens, the science and technology park, and off-campus bases such as the entrepreneurship valley, the university has established a full-cycle service system that is tailored to students’ innovative and entrepreneurial activities, providing continuous professional guidance and support from the early startup stage to maturity.

Notably, the T-University Science and Technology Park has set up nine professional incubation service platforms that cover investment and financing, human resources, entrepreneurship training, project declaration, financial services, professional intermediaries, market promotion, advanced assessment, and the labor union. Moreover, the Technology Park has established a corporate service mechanism for liaison officers, counselors, and entrepreneurship mentors to ensure that enterprises receive comprehensive support and guidance. Through these services, T-University has successfully cultivated numerous high-tech backbone enterprises, such as New Vision Healthcare, Zhong Hui Ecology, Tongjie Technology, Tonglei Civil Engineering, and Tongchen Environmental Protection, which indicates the positive effect of these entrepreneurial services.

T-University places significant emphasis on fostering the entrepreneurial climate, which is effectively nurtured through the T-Rim Knowledge-Based Economic Circle and on-campus entrepreneurship activities. Moreover, T-University is dedicated to establishing and cultivating a dynamic T-Rim Knowledge-Based Economic Circle in strategic alignment with the district government and key agencies. This innovative ecosystem strategically centers around three prominent industrial clusters: the creative and design industry, the international engineering consulting services industry, and the new energy/materials and environmental technology industry. These industrial clusters provide fertile ground for graduates’ employment and entrepreneurial pursuits and have yielded remarkable economic outputs. In 2020, the combined value of these clusters surged to a staggering RMB 50 billion, with 80% of entrepreneurs being teachers, students, or alumni from T-University.

This commitment has led to the establishment of an intricate design industry chain featuring architectural design and urban planning design; it also supports services in automobile design, landscape design, software design, environmental engineering design, art media design, and associated services such as graphic production, architectural modeling, and engineering consulting.

The EE system at T-University

T-University has undertaken a comprehensive series of initiatives to promote EE, focusing on four key aspects: entrepreneurial learning, entrepreneurial practice, startup service, and the entrepreneurial climate. As of the end of 2021, the National Technology Park at T-University has cumulatively supported more than 3000 enterprises. Notably, the park has played a pivotal role in assisting more than 300 enterprises established by college students.

In its commitment to EE, the university maintains an open approach to engaging with society. Simultaneously, it integrates innovative elements such as technology, information, and talent to facilitate students’ entrepreneurial endeavors. Through the synergy between the university, government entities, and the market, EE cultivates a cadre of entrepreneurial talent. The convergence of these talents culminates in the formation of an innovative and creative industry cluster within the region, representing the tangible outcome of the university’s “disciplinary chain—technology chain—industry chain” approach to EE. This approach has gradually evolved into the innovative ecosystem of the T-Rim Knowledge-Based Economic Circle.

Findings and discussion

Unified macroscopic objectives of ee.

To date, a widespread consensus on defining EE in practical terms has yet to be achieved (Mwasalwiba, 2010 ; Nabi et al., 2017 ). Entrepreneurial education should strive towards a common direction, which is reflected in the agreement on educational objectives and recommended teaching methods(Aparicio et al., 2019 ). Mason and Arshed ( 2013 ) criticized that entrepreneurial education should teach about entrepreneurship rather than for entrepreneurship. Therefore, EE should not only focus on singular outcome-oriented aspects but also emphasize the cultivation of fundamental aspects such as cognition, abilities, attitudes, and skills.

This study embarks on a synthesis of the EE-related literature, integrating educational objective theory, planned behavior theory, and entrepreneurial process theory. The 4H model of EE objectives, which consists of basic and outcome levels, is proposed. This model aims to comprehensively capture the core elements of EE, addressing both students’ performance in entrepreneurial outcomes and their development of various aspects of foundational cognitive attributes and skills.

The basic level of the EE objective model includes the 4Hs, namely Head (mindset), Hand (skill), Heart (attitude), and Help (support). First, Head has stood out as a prominent learning outcome within EE over the past decade (Fretschner & Lampe, 2019 ). Attention given to the “Head” aspect not only highlights the development of individuals recognized as “entrepreneurs” (Mitra, 2017 ) but also underscores its role in complementing the acquisition of skills and practical knowledge necessary for initiating new ventures and leading more productive lives (Neck & Corbett, 2018 ).

Second, the Hand aspect also constitutes a significant developmental goal and learning outcome of EE. The trajectory of EE is evolving towards a focus on entrepreneurial aspects, and the learning outcomes equip students with skills relevant to entrepreneurship (Wong & Chan, 2022 ). Higher education institutions should go beyond fundamental principles associated with knowledge and actively cultivate students’ entrepreneurial skills and spirit.

Third, Heart represents EE objectives that are related to students’ psychological aspects, as students’ emotions, attitudes, and other affective factors impact their perception of entrepreneurship (Cao, 2021 ). Moreover, the ultimate goal of EE is to instill an entrepreneurial attitude and pave the way for future success as entrepreneurs in establishing new businesses and fostering job creation (Kusumojanto et al., 2021 ). Thus, the cultivation of this mindset is not only linked to the understanding of entrepreneurship but also intricately tied to the aspiration for personal fulfillment (Yang, 2013 ).

Fourth, entrepreneurship support (Help) embodies the goal of providing essential resource support to students to establish a robust foundation for their entrepreneurial endeavors. The establishment of a comprehensive support system is paramount for EE in universities. This establishment encompasses the meticulous design of the curriculum, the development of training bases, and the cultivation of teacher resources (Xu, 2017 ). A well-structured support system is crucial for equipping students with the necessary knowledge and skills to successfully navigate the complexities of entrepreneurship (Greene & Saridakis, 2008 ).

The outcome level of the EE objective model encompasses entrepreneurial intention and entrepreneurial performance, topics that have been extensively discussed in the previous literature. Entrepreneurial intention refers to individuals’ subjective willingness and plans for entrepreneurial behavior (Wong & Chan, 2022 ) and represents the starting point of the entrepreneurial process. Entrepreneurial performance refers to individuals’ actual behaviors and achievements in entrepreneurial activities (Wang et al., 2021 ) and represents the ultimate manifestation of entrepreneurial goals. In summary, the proposed 4H model of the EE objectives covers fundamental attitudes, cognition, skills, support, and ultimate outcomes, thus answering the question of what EE should teach.

Specific implementable system of EE

To facilitate the realization of EE goals, this study developed a corresponding content model as an implementable system and conducted empirical research through a case university. Guided by the 4H objectives, the content model also encompasses four dimensions: entrepreneurial learning, entrepreneurial practice, startup service, and entrepreneurial climate. Through a detailed exposition of the practical methods at T-university, this study provides support for addressing the question of how to teach EE.

In the traditional EE paradigm, there is often an overreliance on the transmission of theoretical knowledge, which leads to a deficiency in students’ practical experience and capabilities (Kremel and Wetter-Edman, 2019 ). Moreover, due to the rapidly changing and dynamic nature of the environment, traditional educational methods frequently become disconnected from real-world demands. In response to these issues, the approach of “learning by doing” has emerged as a complementary and improved alternative to traditional methods (Colombelli et al., 2022 ).

The proposed content model applies the “learning by doing” approach to the construction of the EE system. For entrepreneurial learning, the university has constructed a comprehensive innovation and EE chain that encompasses courses, experimental areas, projects, competitions, practice bases, and teaching teams. For entrepreneurial practice, the university has built a high-level, integrated innovation and entrepreneurship practice platform that provides students with the opportunity to turn their ideas into actual projects. For startup services, the university has established close collaborative relationships with local governments and enterprises and has set up nine professional incubation service platforms. For the entrepreneurial climate, the university cultivated a symbiotic innovation and EE ecosystem by promoting the construction of the T-Rim Knowledge-Based Economic Circle. Through the joint efforts of multiple parties, the entrepreneurial activities of teachers, students, and alumni have become vibrant and have formed a complete design industry chain and an enterprise ecosystem that coexists with numerous SMEs.

Development of a framework based on the TH theory

Through the exploration of the interactive relationships among universities, governments, and industries, TH theory points out a development direction for solving the dilemma of EE. Through the lens of TH theory, this study developed a comprehensive framework delineating the macroscopic objectives and practical methods of EE, as depicted in Fig. 4 . In this context, EE has become a common undertaking for multiple participants. Therefore, universities can effectively leverage the featured external and internal resources, facilitating the organic integration of entrepreneurial learning, practice, services, and climate. This, in turn, will lead to better achievement of the unified goals of EE.

figure 4

Practical contents and objectives based on the triple helix theory.

Numerous scholars have explored the correlation between EE and the TH theory. Zhou and Peng ( 2008 ) articulated the concept of an entrepreneurial university as “the university that strongly influences the regional development of industries as well as economic growth through high-tech entrepreneurship based on strong research, technology transfer, and entrepreneurship capability.” Moreover, Tianhao et al. ( 2020 ) emphasized the significance of fostering collaboration among industry, academia, and research as the optimal approach to enhancing the efficacy of EE. Additionally, Ribeiro et al. ( 2018 ) underscored the pivotal role of MIT’s entrepreneurial ecosystem in facilitating startup launches. They called upon educators, university administrators, and policymakers to allocate increased attention to how university ecosystems can cultivate students’ knowledge, skills, and entrepreneurial mindsets. Rather than viewing EE within the confines of universities in isolation, we advocate for establishing an integrated system that encompasses universities, government bodies, and businesses. Such a system would streamline their respective roles and ultimately bolster regional innovation and entrepreneurship efforts.

Jones et al. ( 2021 ) reported that with the widespread embrace of EE by numerous countries, the boundaries between universities and external ecosystems are becoming increasingly blurred. This convergence not only fosters a stronger entrepreneurial culture within universities but also encourages students to actively establish startups. However, these startups often face challenges related to limited value and long-term sustainability. From the perspective of TH theory, each university can cultivate an ecosystem conducive to specialized entrepreneurial activities based on its unique resources and advantages. To do so, universities should actively collaborate with local governments and industries, leveraging shared resources and support to create a more open, inclusive, and innovation-supporting ecosystem that promotes lasting reform and sustainability.

There are two main ways in which this paper contributes to the literature. First, this study applies TH theory to both theoretical and empirical research on EE in China, presenting a novel framework for the operation of EE. Previous research has applied TH theory in contexts such as India, Finland, and Russia, showcasing the unique contributions of TH in driving social innovation. This paper introduces the TH model to the Chinese context, illustrating collaborative efforts and support for EE from universities, industries, and governments through the construction of EE objectives and content models. Therefore, this paper not only extends the applicability of the TH theory globally but also provides valuable insights for EE in the Chinese context.

Second, the proposed conceptual framework clarifies the core goals and practical content of EE. By emphasizing the comprehensive cultivation of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and resources, this framework provides a concrete reference for designing EE courses, activities, and support services. Moreover, the framework underscores the importance of collaborative efforts among stakeholders, facilitating resource integration to enhance the quality and impact of EE. Overall, the conceptual framework presented in this paper serves not only as a guiding tool but also as a crucial bridge for fostering the collaborative development of the EE ecosystem.

While EE has widespread global recognition, many regions still face similar developmental challenges, such as a lack of organized objectives and content delivery methods. This article, grounded in the context of EE in Chinese higher education institutions, seeks to address the current challenges guided by TH theory. By aligning EE with socioeconomic demands and leveraging TH theory, this study offers insights into the overall goals and practical content of EE.

This study presents a 4H objective model of EE comprising two levels. The first level focuses on outcomes related to entrepreneurial behavior, including entrepreneurial intentions and performance, which highlight the practical effects of EE. The second level is built as the foundation of the outcomes and encompasses the four elements of mindset, skill, attitude, and support. This multilayered structure provides a more systematic and multidimensional consideration for the cultivation of entrepreneurial talent. The framework offers robust support for practical instructional design and goal setting. Additionally, the research extends to the corresponding content model, incorporating four elements: entrepreneurial learning, entrepreneurial practice, startup services, and the entrepreneurial climate. This content model serves as a practical instructional means to achieve EE goals, enhancing the feasibility of implementing these objectives in practice.

Moreover, this study focused on a representative Chinese university, T-University, to showcase the successful implementation of the 4H and content models. Through this case, we may observe how the university, through comprehensive development in entrepreneurial learning, practice, services, and climate, nurtured many entrepreneurs and facilitated the formation of the innovation and entrepreneurship industry cluster. This approach not only contributes to the university’s reputation and regional economic growth but also offers valuable insights for other regions seeking to advance EE.

This study has several limitations that need to be acknowledged. First, the framework proposed is still preliminary. While its application has been validated through a case study, further exploration is required to determine the detailed classification and elaboration of its constituent elements to deepen the understanding of the EE system. Second, the context of this study is specific to China, and the findings may not be directly generalizable to other regions. Future research should investigate the adaptability of the framework in various cultural and educational contexts from a broader international perspective. Finally, the use of a single-case approach limits the generalizability of the research conclusions. Subsequent studies can enhance comprehensiveness by employing a comparative or multiple-case approach to assess the framework’s reliability and robustness.

In conclusion, this study emphasizes the need to strengthen the application of TH theory in EE and advocates for the enhancement of framework robustness through multiple and comparative case studies. An increase in the quantity of evidence will not only generate greater public interest but also deepen the dynamic interactions among universities, industries, and the nation. This, in turn, may expedite the development of EE in China and foster the optimization of the national economy and the overall employment environment.

Data availability

The datasets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study are not publicly available. Making the full data set publicly available could potentially breach the privacy that was promised to participants when they agreed to take part, in particular for the individual informants who come from a small, specific population, and may breach the ethics approval for the study. The data are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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We express our sincere gratitude to all individuals who contributed to the data collection process. Furthermore, we extend our appreciation to Linlin Yang and Jinxiao Chen from Tongji University for their invaluable suggestions on the initial draft. Special thanks are also due to Prof. Yuzhuo Cai from Tampere University for his insightful contributions to this paper. Funding for this study was provided by the Chinese National Social Science Funds [BIA190205] and the Shanghai Educational Science Research General Project [C2023033].

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All the authors contributed to the study’s conception and design. Material preparation, data collection, and analysis were performed by Luning Shao, Yuxin Miao, Sanfa Cai and Fei Fan. The first Chinese outline and draft were written by Luning Shao, Yuxin Miao, and Shengce Ren. The English draft of the manuscript was prepared by Fei Fan. All the authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All the authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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This research was approved by the Tongji University Ethics Committee for Human Research (No. tjdxsr079). The procedures used in this study adhere to the tenets of the Declaration of Helsinki.

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Shao, L., Miao, Y., Ren, S. et al. Designing a framework for entrepreneurship education in Chinese higher education: a theoretical exploration and empirical case study. Humanit Soc Sci Commun 11 , 519 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-024-03024-2

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DOI : https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-024-03024-2

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case study in practical research

A behind-the-scenes blog about research methods at Pew Research Center

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Can machines compete with humans in transcribing audio? A case study using sermons from U.S. religious services

case study in practical research

A 2019 Pew Research Center study and follow-up study in 2020 involved the complicated task of transcribing more than 60,000 audio and video files of sermons delivered during religious services at churches around the United States. The primary goal of this research was to evaluate relatively broad topics discussed in the sermons to determine if there were any notable patterns or denominational differences in their length and subject matter.

The huge number of audio and video files meant that it would have been too time-consuming and expensive to ask humans to transcribe all the sermons. Instead, we used Amazon Transcribe , a speech recognition service offered by Amazon Web Services (AWS). We hoped to identify the key themes in the sermons we collected, even if the machine transcriptions were not perfect or at times lacked elements like punctuation that would often come with a traditional human transcription service.

Overall, the machine transcriptions were legible. But we did run into a few challenges. The Amazon service did not always get specific religious terminology or names right. (A few examples included “punches pilot” instead of “Pontius Pilate” and “do Toronto me” in lieu of “Deuteronomy.”) There were also some recordings for which the machine transcription was simply of low quality across the board.

A notable body of research has found that machine transcription sometimes struggles with certain accents or dialects , like regional Southern accents and African American English (AAE). This led us to wonder if the errors we were seeing in the machine transcripts of sermons was coincidental, or if we were encountering performance biases that could be making some transcriptions more reliable than others in a way that might affect the conclusions of our research.

Since we downloaded our sermon files directly as audio or audio/video, we lacked an original written transcript to compare against the machine-transcribed text. Instead, as a test, we asked a third-party human transcription service to tackle portions of some of the sermons that Amazon Transcribe had already transcribed and then compared the results between the two.

What we did

For this experiment, we were interested in using sermons that included a variety of regional accents and dialects among the speakers. One obvious challenge, however, was that we didn’t know much about the speakers themselves. We knew the location of the church where the sermon was delivered, as well as its religious tradition, but these were not necessarily sufficient to assign an accent or a dialect to the person speaking in a recording. We could only use these features as approximations.

With that caveat in mind, we focused the analysis on audio files from the four main religious traditions for which we had a reportable sample size: mainline Protestant, evangelical Protestant, historically Black Protestant and Catholic. We also examined three large geographic regions: the Midwest, the South and a combined region that merges the Northeast and the West (again to account small sample sizes in those two regions).

We took a stratified random sample of 200 sermons from churches for each combination of religious tradition and region, proportional to the number of sermons each church had in the dataset. From this sample of full audio files, we took one random snippet of audio with a duration of 30 to 210 seconds from each file and sent those audio snippets to our external human transcription service. This service was a standard online provider that claimed to have native language speakers, a multistep quality check process and experience transcribing religious content, including sermons specifically. At the end of this process, we had a total sample size of 2,387 texts with both machine and human transcriptions.

How we compared transcriptions

There are a variety of computational methods to measure the similarity or difference between two sets of text. In this analysis, we used a metric known as Levenshtein distance to compare our machine and human transcriptions.

Levenshtein distance counts the number of discrete edits – insertions, deletions and substitutions – at the character level necessary to transform one text string into another. For example, if the word “COVID” is transcribed as “cove in,” there is a Levenshtein distance of three, as the transformation requires three edits: one edit to add a space between the “v” and the “i,” one edit to add an “e” after the “v,” and one edit to substitute the “d” for an “n.”

Levenshtein distance is useful as a comparison metric because it can be normalized and used to compare texts of different lengths. It also allows for nuance by focusing on character-level edits rather than entire words, providing more granularity than something like simple word error rate by scoring how incorrect a mistranscription is.

A table showing How Levenshtein distance is calculated

As a final bit of housekeeping, we standardized both our machine and human transcriptions to make sure that they matched one another stylistically. We transformed all the text into lower case, spelled out numbers and symbols when appropriate, and removed punctuation, filler words and words associated with vocalizations (such as “uh” or “ooh”). We also removed the “[UNINTELLIGIBLE]” annotations that the human transcription service included at our request to flag cases in which someone was speaking but their words couldn’t be clearly understood.

Across all the audio files we evaluated, the average difference between machine transcriptions and human transcriptions was around 11 characters per 100. That is, for every 100 characters in a transcription text, approximately 11 differed from one transcription method to the other.

We were also interested in looking at the difference across religious traditions and geographical regions. To do so, we used pairwise t-tests to test for differences in means across all religious traditions and all regions. (We did not calculate comparisons between each religious tradition and region combination after determining the interaction of the two variables was not statistically significant.)

The analysis found a small but statistically significant difference in Levenshtein distances between machine and human transcriptions for several religious traditions. Text taken from Catholic sermons, for example, had more inconsistency between transcripts than was true of those taken from evangelical Protestant sermons. And sermons from historically Black Protestant churches had significantly more inconsistency in transcriptions when compared with the other religious traditions.

While these differences were statistically significant, their magnitude was relatively small. Even for historically Black Protestant sermons – the tradition with the largest mismatch between machines and humans – the differences worked out to around just 15 characters per 100, or four more than the overall average. It’s also important to remember that we cannot assume the speaker is speaking AAE simply because the sermon was given in a historically Black Protestant church.

A chart showing that Transcription consistency varied based on the religious tradition of the church where the sermon was given

One expectation we had going into this experiment is that machine transcription would perform worst with Southern accents. However, we found that transcriptions of sermons from churches in the Midwest had significantly more inconsistency between machine and human transcriptions than those in other regions. Anecdotally, it appears this discrepancy may be because human transcribers had more difficulty than machines in understanding speakers in the Midwest: Sermon texts from the Midwest that were transcribed by humans included a greater number of “[UNINTELLIGIBLE]” annotations than those from other regions. There may also be other factors affecting transcription quality that we cannot account for, such as the possibility that sermons from the Midwest had systematically worse audio quality than those from other regions.

Again, although these differences were statistically significant, their magnitude was relatively small. Midwestern sermons, despite having the greatest inconsistency across regions, had only two more character differences per 100 characters than the overall average.

A chart showing that Transcription was significantly more inconsistent in sermons given in the Midwest than in other regions

Conclusions and suggestions

In social science research, automated transcription services have become a popular alternative to human transcription because of the costs and labor involved in the latter. All in all, we found that the machine transcriptions and the human transcriptions used in this experiment were comparable enough to justify our decision to use an automated service in our research on U.S. sermons.

However, our experience does suggest a few ideas that researchers should keep in mind should they find themselves in a similar situation.

First, issues with transcription quality can be tied to the quality of the audio being transcribed – which presents challenges for humans and computers alike. By the same token, machine transcription may perform worse or better on certain accents or dialects – but that’s also true for human transcribers.  When working with audio that has specialized vocabulary (in our case, religious terms), human transcribers sometimes made errors where machines did not. This is likely because a robust machine transcription service will have a larger dictionary of familiar terms than the average person. Similarly, we found that humans are more likely to make typos, something one will not run into with machine transcription.

More generally, reliability is usually an advantage of machine transcription. Human transcription can vary in quality based on the service used, and possibly from one transcript to another if there are multiple human transcribers. But the reliability of machine transcription can sometimes backfire. When presented with a segment of tricky audio, for example, humans can determine that the text is “unintelligible.” A machine, on the other hand, will try to match the sounds it hears as closely as possible to a word it knows with little to no regard for grammar or intelligibility. While this might produce a phonetically similar transcription, it may deviate far from what the speaker truly said.

Ultimately, both machine and human transcription services can be viable options. Beyond the obvious questions of budget and timeline that are often primary considerations, we would suggest evaluating the nature of the audio files that are being analyzed before transcription begins. Audio of mixed quality, or which features competing sound from an audience, can be tricky for humans and machines alike.

Researchers should also determine how important it is to have formatting and punctuation in the text they hope to analyze. Our researchers found that the lack of these elements can be a key barrier to understanding the meaning of a particular piece of text quickly. In our case, it wasn’t an insurmountable barrier, but it certainly added a significant cognitive burden to tasks like labeling training data. And it might have posed an even bigger problem had our analysis relied more heavily on unguided methods for identifying our topics of interest.

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