Every investigator should have a well-developed set of procedures for analyzing social science data and for composing an empirical report. Numerous texts offer good advice on how you can develop your own customized procedures, including the benefits and pitfalls of using word-processing software (Becker, 1986, p. 160). One common warning is that writing means rewriting—a function not commonly practiced by students and therefore underestimated during the early years of research careers (Becker, 1986, pp. 43-47). The more rewriting, especially in response to others’ comments, the better a report is likely to be. In this respect, the case study report is not much different from other research reports.
However, three important procedures pertain specifically to case studies and deserve further mention. The first deals with a general tactic for starting a composition, the second covers the problem of whether to leave the case identities anonymous, and the third describes a review procedure for increasing the construct validity of a case study.
1. When and How to Start Composing
The first procedure is to start composing early in the analytic process. One guide in fact admonishes that “you cannot begin writing early enough” (Wolcott, 1990, p. 20). From nearly the beginning of an investigation, certain sections of your report will always be draftable, and this drafting should proceed even before data collection and analysis have been completed.
For instance, after the literature has been reviewed and the case study has been designed, two sections of a case study report can be drafted: the bibliography and the methodological sections. The bibliography always can be augmented later with new citations if necessary, but by and large, the major citations will have been covered in relation to the literature review. This is therefore the time to formalize the references, to be sure that they are complete, and to construct a draft bibliography. If some references are incomplete, the remaining details can be tracked down while the rest of the case study proceeds. This will avoid the usual practice among researchers who do the bibliography last and who therefore spend much clerical time at the very end of their research, rather than attending to the more important (and pleasurable!) tasks of writing, rewriting, and editing.
The methodological section also can be drafted at this stage because the major procedures for data collection and analysis should have become part of the case study design. This section may not become a formal part of the final narrative but may be designated as an appendix. Whether part of the text or an appendix, however, the methodological section can and should be drafted at this early stage. You will remember your methodological procedures with greater precision at this juncture.
A third section is the preliminary literature review and how it led to or complemented your research questions and the propositions being studied. Because your case study will already have settled on these questions and propositions in order to proceed with protocol development and data collection, much of the connectivity to the literature will be known. Although you may need to revisit this early version after completing your data collection and analysis, having a preliminary draft never hurts.
After data collection but before analysis begins, a fourth section that can be composed covers the descriptive data about the cases being studied. Whereas the methodological section should have included the issues regarding the selection of the case(s), the descriptive data should cover qualitative and quantitative information about the case(s). At this stage in the research process, you still may not have finalized your ideas about the type of case study format to be used and the type of structure to be followed. However, the descriptive data are likely to be useful regardless of the format or structure. Furthermore, drafting the descriptive sections, even in abbreviated form, may stimulate your thinking about the overall format and structure.
If you can draft these four sections before analysis has been completed, you will have made a major advance. These sections also may call for substantial documentation (e.g., copies of your final case study protocol), and an opportune time to put such documentation into presentable form (possibly even “camera ready”) occurs at this stage of the research. You also will be at an advantage if all details—citations, references, organizational titles, and spellings of people’s names—have been accurately recorded during data collection and are integrated into the text at this time (Wolcott, 1990, p. 41).
If these sections are drafted properly, more attention can then be devoted to the analysis itself, as well as to the findings and conclusions. To begin composing early also serves another important psychological function: You may get accustomed to the compositional process as an ongoing (possibly even daily) practice and have a chance to routinize it before the task becomes truly awesome. Thus, if you can identify other sections that can be drafted at these early stages, you should draft them as well.
2. Case Identities: Real or Anonymous?
Nearly every case study presents an investigator with a choice regarding the anonymity of the case. Should the case study and its informants be accurately identified, or should the names of the entire case and its participants be disguised? Note that the anonymity issue can be raised at two levels: that of the entire case (or cases) and that of an individual person within a case (or cases).
The most desirable option is to disclose the identities of both the case and the individuals, within the constraints for protecting human subjects, discussed in Chapter 3. Disclosure produces two helpful outcomes. First, the reader has the opportunity to recollect any other previous information he or she may have learned about the same case—from previous research or other sources—in reading and interpreting your case study. This ability to become familiar with a new case study in light of prior knowledge is invaluable, similar to the ability to recall previous experimental results when reading about a new set of experiments. Second, the absence of disguised names will make the entire case easier to review, so that footnotes and citations can be checked, if necessary, and appropriate external comments can be solicited about the published case.
Nevertheless, anonymity is necessary on some occasions. The most common rationale occurs when a case study has been on a controversial topic. Anonymity then serves to protect the real case and its real participants. A second occasion occurs when the issuance of the final case report may affect the subsequent actions of those that were studied. This rationale was used in Whyte’s (1943/1955) famous case study, Street Comer Society (which was about an anonymous neighborhood, “Comerville”).2 As a third illustrative situation, the purpose of the case study may be to portray an “ideal type,” and there may be no reason for disclosing the tme identities. This rationale was used by the Lynds in their study Middletown (Lynd & Lynd, 1929), in which the names of the small town, its residents, and its industries all were disguised.
On such occasions when anonymity may appear justifiable, however, other compromises should still be sought. First, you should determine whether the anonymity of the individuals alone might be sufficient, thereby leaving the case itself to be identified accurately.
A second compromise would be to name the individuals but to avoid attributing any particular point of view or comment to a single individual, again allowing the case itself to be identified accurately. This second alternative is most relevant when you want to protect the confidentiality of specific individuals. However, the lack of attribution may not always be completely protective— you also may have to disguise the comments so that no one involved in the case can infer the likely source.
For multiple-case studies, a third compromise would be to avoid composing any single-case reports and to report only a cross-case analysis. This last situation would be roughly parallel to the procedure used in surveys, in which the individual responses are not disclosed and in which the published report is limited to the aggregate evidence.
Only if these compromises are impossible should you consider making the entire case study and its informants anonymous. However, anonymity is not to be considered a desirable choice. Not only does it eliminate some important background information about the case, but it also makes the mechanics of composing the case difficult. The case and its components must be systematically converted from their real identities to fictitious ones, and you must make a considerable effort to keep track of the conversions. The cost of undertaking such a procedure should not be underestimated.
EXERCISE 6.3 Maintaining Anonymity in Case Studies
Identify a case study whose “case” has been given a fictitious name (or check some of the boxes in this book for an example). What are the advantages and disadvantages of using such a technique? What approach would you use in reporting your own case study, and why?
3. Reviewing the Draft Case Study: A Validating Procedure
A third procedure to be followed in doing the case study report is related to the overall quality of the study. The procedure is to have the draft report reviewed, not just by peers (as would be done for any research manuscript) but also by the participants and informants in the case. If the comments are exceptionally helpful, the investigator may even want to publish them as part of the entire case study (see BOX 44).
Such review is more than a matter of professional courtesy. The procedure has been correctly identified as a way of corroborating the essential facts and evidence presented in a case report (Schatzman & Strauss, 1973, p. 134). The informants and participants may still disagree with an investigator’s conclusions and interpretations, but these reviewers should not disagree over the actual facts of the case. If such disagreement emerges during the review process, an investigator knows that the case study report is not finished and that such disagreements must be settled through a search for further evidence.
Reviewing Case Studies—and Printing the Comments
A major way of improving the quality of case studies and ensuring their construct validity is to have the draft cases reviewed by those who have been the subjects of study. This procedure was followed to an exemplary degree in a set of five case studies by Alkin, Daillak, and White (1979).
Each case study was about a school district and the way that the district used evaluative information about its students’ performance. As part of the analytic and reporting procedure, the draft for each case was reviewed by the informants from the relevant district. The comments were obtained in part as a result of an open- ended questionnaire devised by the investigators for just this purpose. In some instances, the responses were so insightful and helpful that the investigators modified their original material and also printed the responses as part of their book.
With such presentation of supplementary evidence and comments, any reader can reach her or his own conclusions about the adequacy of the cases—an opportunity that has occurred, unfortunately, all too seldom in traditional case study research.
Often, the opportunity to review the draft also produces further evidence, as the informants and participants may remember new materials that they had forgotten during the initial data collection period.
This type of review should be followed even if the case study or some of its components are to remain anonymous. Under this condition, some recognizable version of the draft must be shared with the case study informants or participants. After they have reviewed this draft, and after any differences in facts have been settled, the investigator can disguise the identities so that only the informants or participants will know the true identities. When Whyte (1943/1955) first completed Street Comer Society, he followed this procedure by sharing drafts of his book with “Doc,” his major informant. He notes,
As I wrote, I showed the various parts to Doc and went over them with him in detail. His criticisms were invaluable in my revision, (p. 341)
From a methodological standpoint, the corrections made through this process will enhance the accuracy of the case study, hence increasing the construct validity of the study. The likelihood of falsely reporting an event should be reduced. In addition, where no objective truth may exist—as when different participants indeed have different renditions of the same event—the procedure should help to identify the various perspectives, which can then be represented in the case study report. At the same time, you need not respond to all the comments made about the draft. For example, you are entitled to your own interpretation of the evidence and should not automatically incorporate your informants’ reinterpretations. In this respect, your discretionary options are no different from how you might respond to comments made in the conventional peer review process.
The review of the draft case study by its informants will clearly extend the period of time needed to complete the case study report. Informants, unlike academic reviewers, may use the review cycle as an opportunity to begin a fresh dialogue about various facets of the case, thereby extending the review period even further. You must anticipate these extensions and not use them as an excuse to avoid the review process altogether. When the process has been given careful attention, the potential result is the production of a high-quality case study (see BOX 45).
Formal Reviews of Case Studies
As with any other research product, the review process plays an important role in enhancing and ensuring the quality of the final results. For case studies, such a review process should involve, at a minimum, a review of the draft case study.
One set of case studies that followed this procedure, to an exemplary degree, was sponsored by the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment (1980-1981). Each of 17 case studies, which were about medical technologies, was “seen by at least 20, and some by 40 or more, outside reviewers.” Furthermore, the reviewers reflected differ- ent perspectives, including those of government agencies, professional societies, consumer and public interest groups, medical practice, academic medicine, and economics and decision sciences.
In one of the case studies, a contrary view of the case—put forth by one of the reviewers—was included as part of the final published version of the case, as well as a response by the case study authors. This type of open printed interchange adds to the reader’s ability to interpret the case study’s conclusions and therefore to the overall quality of the case study evidence.
Source: Yin K Robert (2008), Case Study Research Designs and Methods, SAGE Publications, Inc; 4th edition.