Targeting Case Study Reports

Giving some initial thought to your likely or preferred audience and reporting formats serves as a good starting point for composing your case study. It can have a more diverse set of potential audiences than most other types of research, including (a) academic colleagues; (b) policy makers, practitioners, community leaders, and other professionals who do not specialize in case study or other social science research; (c) special groups such as a dissertation or thesis committee; and (d) funders of research.1

With most research reports, such as reports of experiments, the second audi­ence is not typically relevant, as few would expect the result of a laboratory experiment to be directed to nonspecialists. However, for case studies, this second audience may be a frequent target of the case study report. As another contrast, the third audience would rarely be relevant for some types of research—such as evaluations—because evaluations are not usually suitable as theses or dissertations. However, for case studies, this third audience also is a frequent consumer of the case study report, due to the large number of the­ses and dissertations in the social sciences that rely on case studies.

Because case studies have more potential audiences than other types of research, one of your essential tasks in designing the overall case study report is to identify the specific audiences for the report. Each audience has different needs, and no single report will serve all audiences simultaneously.

As examples, for academic colleagues, the relationships among the case study, its findings, and previous theory or research are likely to be most impor­tant (see BOX 36). For nonspecialists, the descriptive elements in portraying some real-life situation, as well as the implications for action, are likely to be more important. For a thesis committee, mastery of the methodology and the­oretical issues, along with an indication of the care with which the research was conducted, is important. Finally, for research funders, the significance of the case study findings, whether cast in academic or practical terms, is proba­bly as important as the rigor with which the research was conducted. Successful communication with more than one audience may mean the need for more than one version of a case study report. Investigators should seriously consider catering to such a need (see BOX 37).

BOX 36
Famous Case Study Reprinted

For many years, Philip Selznick’s TVA and the Crass Roots (1949) has stood as a clas­sic about public organizations. The case has been cited in many subsequent studies of federal agencies, political behavior, and organizational decentralization.

Fully 30 years after its original publication, this case was reprinted in 1980 as part of the Library Reprint Series by the University of California Press, the original pub­lisher. This type of reissuance allows numerous other researchers to have access to this famous case study and reflects its substantial contribution to the field.

BOX 37

Two Versions of the Same Case Study

The city planning office of Broward County, Florida, implemented an office automa­tion system beginning in 1982 (“The Politics of Automating a Planning Office,” Standerfer & Rider, 1983). The implementation strategies were innovative and sig­nificant—especially in relation to tensions with the county government’s computer department. As a result, the case study is interesting and informative, and a popu­larized version—appearing in a practitioner journal—is fun and easy to read.

Because this type of implementation also covers complex technical issues, the authors made supplementary information available to the interested reader. The popularized version provided a name, address, and telephone number, so that such a reader could obtain the additional information. This type of dual availability of case study reports is but one example of how different reports of the same case may be useful for communicating with different audiences.

EXERCISE 6.2 Defining the Audience

Name the alternative audiences for a case study you might compose. For each audience, indicate the features of the case study report that you should high­light or de-emphasize. Would the same report serve all the audiences, and why?

1. Communicating with Case Studies

One additional difference between the case study and other types of research is that your case study report can itself be a significant communica­tion device. For many nonspecialists, the description and analysis of a single case often suggests implications about a more general phenomenon.

A related situation, often overlooked, occurs with testimony before a leg­islative committee. If an elderly person, for instance, testifies about her or his health services before such a committee, its members may assume that they have acquired an understanding of health care for the elderly more generally— based on this “case.” Only then might the members be willing to review broader statistics about the prevalence of similar cases. Later, the committee may inquire about the representative nature of the initial case, before propos­ing new legislation. However, throughout this entire process, the initial “case”—represented by a witness—may have been the essential ingredient in gaining insight into the health care issue in the first place.

In these and other ways, your case study can communicate research-based information about a phenomenon to a variety of nonspecialists. Your case study may even assume the form of a videotape or other multimedia device and not a narrative report (e.g., see Naumes & Naumes, 1999, chap. 10). The usefulness of case studies therefore goes far beyond the role of the typical research report, which is generally addressed to research colleagues rather than nonspecialists. Obviously, descriptive as well as explanatory case studies can be important in this role, and you should not overlook the potential descriptive impact of a well-presented case study (see BOX 38).

BOX 38

Using a Metaphor to Organize Both Theory and
Presentation in Another Field

Whether four “countries”—the American colonies, Russia, England, and France—all underwent similar courses of events during their major political revolutions is the topic of Crane Brinton’s (1938) famous historical study, The Anatomy of a Revolution. Tracing and analyzing these events is done in a descriptive manner, as the author’s purpose is not so much to explain the revolutions as to determine whether they followed similar courses (also see BOX 41B, p. 173).

The “cross-case” analysis reveals major similarities: All societies were on the upgrade, economically; there were bitter class antagonisms; the intellectuals deserted their governments; government machinery was inefficient; and the ruling class exhibited immoral, dissolute, or inept behavior (or all three). However, rather than relying solely on this “factors” approach to description, the author also devel­ops the metaphor of a human body suffering from a fever as a way of describing the pattern of events over time. The author adeptly uses the cyclic pattern of fever and chills, rising to a critical point and followed by a false tranquility, to describe the ebb and flow of events in the four revolutions.

2. Orienting the Case Study Report to an Audience’s Needs

Overall, the preferences of the potential audience should dictate the form of your case study report. Although the research procedures and methodology should have followed other guidelines, suggested in Chapters 1 through 5, your report should reflect emphases, detail, compositional forms, and even a length suitable to the needs of the potential audience. The importance of the audience suggests that you might want to collect formal information about what the audiences need and their preferred types of communication (Morris, Fitz-Gibbon, & Freeman, 1987, p. 13). Along these lines, this author has fre­quently called the attention of thesis or dissertation students to the fact that the thesis or dissertation committee may be their only audience. The ultimate report, under these conditions, should attempt to communicate directly with this committee. A recommended tactic is to integrate the committee members’ previous research into the thesis or dissertation, creating greater conceptual (and methodological) overlap and thereby increasing the thesis or disserta­tion’s potential communicability to that particular audience.

Whatever the audience, the greatest error you can make is to compose a report from an egocentric perspective. This error will occur if you complete your report without identifying a specific audience or without understanding the specific needs of such an audience. To avoid this error, you should identify the audience, as previously noted. A second and equally important suggestion is to examine prior case study reports that have successfully communicated with this audience. Such earlier reports may offer helpful clues for composing a new report. For instance, consider again the thesis or dissertation student. The student should consult previous dissertations and theses that have passed the academic regimen successfully—or are known to have been exemplary works. The inspection of such works may yield sound information regarding the departmental norms (and reviewers’ likely preferences) for designing a new thesis or dissertation.

3. Formats for Written Case Study Reports

Among written forms of case studies, there are at least four important vari­eties. The first is the classic single-case study. A single narrative is used to describe and analyze the case. You may augment the narrative with tabular as well as graphic and pictorial displays. Depending upon the depth of the case study, these classic single cases are likely to appear as books, although some of the best discipline-based journals also run rather long articles.

A second type of written product is the multiple-case version of the classic single case. This type of multiple-case report will contain multiple narratives, covering each of the cases singly, usually presented as separate chapters or sections. In addition to these individual case narratives, your report also will contain a chapter or section covering the cross-case analysis and results. Some situations even may call for several cross-case chapters or sections, and the cross-case portion of the final text may justify a volume separate from the indi­vidual case narratives (see BOX 39). In these situations, a frequent form of presentation is to have the bulk of the main report contain the cross-case analy­sis, with the individual cases presented as part of a long appendix to that basic volume.

BOX 39

A Multiple-Case Report

Multiple-case studies often contain both the individual case studies and some cross­case chapters. The composition of such a multiple-case study also may be shared among several authors.

This type of arrangement was used in a study of eight innovations in mathematics and science education, edited by Raizen and Britton (1997). The study, titled Bold Ventures, appears in three separate and lengthy volumes (about 250, 350, and 650 pages, respectively). The individual case studies appear in the last two volumes, while the seven chapters in Volume 1 cover cross-case issues. Many different and multiple authors conducted both the individual case studies and the cross-case chapters, the entire study was orchestrated and coordinated as a single undertaking.

A third type of written product covers either a multiple- or a single-case study but does not contain the traditional narrative. Instead, the composition for each case follows a series of questions and answers, based on the questions and answers in the case study database (see Chapter 4). For reporting pur­poses, the content of the database is shortened and edited for readability, with the final product still assuming the format, analogously, of a comprehensive examination. (In contrast, the traditional case study narrative may be consid­ered similar to the format of a term paper.) This question-and-answer format may not reflect your full creative talent, but the format helps to avoid the prob­lems of writer’s cramps. This is because you can proceed immediately to answer the required set of questions. (Again, the comprehensive exam has a similar advantage over a term paper.)

If you use this question-and-answer format to report a multiple-case study, repeating the same set of questions in covering each individual case study, the advantages are potentially enormous: Your reader(s) need only examine the answers to the same question or questions within each case study to begin mak­ing her or his own cross-case comparisons. Because each reader may be inter­ested in different questions, the entire format facilitates the development of a cross-case analysis tailored to the specific interests of its readers (see BOX 40).
Yin (2003, chap. 2) contains a complete case study demonstrating this format.

BOX 40

A Question-and’Answer Format: Case Studies without
the Traditional Narrative

Case study evidence does not need to be presented in the traditional narrative form. An alternative format for presenting the same evidence is to write the narrative in question-and-answer form. A series of questions can be posed, with the answers tak­ing some reasonable length—for example, three or four paragraphs each. Each answer can contain all the relevant evidence and can even be augmented with tabular presentations and citations.

This alternative was followed in 40 case studies of community organizations pro­duced by the U.S. National Commission on Neighborhoods (1979), People, Building Neighborhoods. The same question-and-answer format was used in each case, so that the interested reader could do her or his own cross-case analysis by following the same question across all of the cases. The format allowed hurried readers to find exactly the relevant portions of each case. For people offended by the absence ofthe traditional narrative, each case also called for a summary, unconstrained in its form (but no longer than three pages), allowing the author to exercise her or his more lit­erary talents.

The fourth and last type of written product applies to multiple-case studies only. In this situation, there may be no separate chapters or sections devoted to the individual cases. Rather, your entire report may consist of the cross-case analysis, whether purely descriptive or also covering explanatory topics. In such a report, each chapter or section would be devoted to a separate cross­case issue, and the information from the individual cases would be dispersed throughout each chapter or section. With this format, summary information about the individual cases, if not ignored altogether (see BOX 41, as well as Chapter 1, p. 20, BOX 3B), might be presented in abbreviated vignettes.

As a final note, the specific type of case study composition, involving a choice among at least these four alternatives, should be identified during the design of the case study. Your initial choice always can be altered, as unex­pected conditions may arise, and a different type of composition may become more relevant than the one originally selected. However, early selection will facilitate both the design and the conduct of the case study. Such an initial selection should be part of the case study protocol, alerting you to the likely nature of the final composition and its requirements.

BOX 41

Writing a Multiple-Case Report

In a multiple-case study, the individual case studies need not always be presented in the final manuscript. The individual cases, in a sense, serve only as the evidentiary base for the study and may be cited sporadically in the cross-case analysis (also see BOX 3B, Chapter 1, p. 20).

41A. An Example in Which No Single Cases Are Presented

This approach was used in a book about six federal bureau chiefs, by Herbert Kaufman (1981), The Administrative Behavior of Federal Bureau Chiefs. Kaufman spent intensive periods of time with each chief to understand his day-to-day rou­tine. He interviewed the chiefs, listened in on their phone calls, attended meetings, and was present during staff discussions in the chiefs’ offices.

The book’s purpose, however, was not to portray any single one of these chiefs. Rather, the book synthesizes the lessons from all of them and is organized around such topics as how chiefs decide things, how they receive and review information, and how they motivate their staffs. Under each topic, Kaufman draws appropriate examples from the six cases, but none of the six is presented as a single-case study.

41B. Another Example (from Another Field) in Which No Single Cases Are Presented

A design similar to Kaufman’s is used in another field—history—in a famous book by Crane Brinton (1938), The Anatomy of a Revolution. Brinton’s book is based on four revolutions: the English, American, French, and Russian revolutions (also see BOX 38, p. 169). The book is an analysis and theory of revolutionary periods, with pertinent examples drawn from each of the four “cases”; however, as in Kaufman’s book, there is no attempt to present the single revolutions as individual case studies.

Source: Yin K Robert (2008), Case Study Research Designs and Methods, SAGE Publications, Inc; 4th edition.

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