Harvard Educational Review
  1. Case Study Research

    Designs and Methods (3rd Ed.)

    By Robert K. Yin

    Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2003. 181 pp. $26.95.

    This third edition of Robert Yin’s Case Study Research: Designs and Methods updates and slightly expands earlier editions of the book. The new edition retains much of what made the first two best-selling research methods books, includes new analytic strategies, and explains in greater detail the strengths of different types of case study research. This book also contains what many methods books lack: numerous specific examples of case study data collection, analysis, and interpretation on a wide variety of topics.

    Those who have used earlier editions of Yin’s book will find the third edition comfortably familiar. As in earlier editions, each chapter opens with an introduction of questions and topics that will be explored, and ends with exercises that are useful guides for reviewing information in the chapter. Readers will be glad to know that the book’s straightforward, clearly written style has not been altered.

    Chapter one specifies that case study research is most appropriate when researchers are interested in learning how or why something occurs, when the research focuses on contemporary events, and when no controls of behavioral events are necessary. Yin readily acknowledges that the results of case studies are not generalizeable to populations, and that their purpose is to “expand and generalize theories” (p. 10). He makes clear that the case study is “an all-encompassing method” (p. 14), including design, data collection, and data analysis techniques. He also carefully distinguishes between the case study strategy and other qualitative research methods, writing that, while case studies may be based on detailed observation and attempts to “avoid prior commitment to any theoretical model,” they may include both qualitative and quantitative research, and actually need not include “direct, detailed observations as a source of evidence” (p. 15).

    Chapter two covers case study design in great depth. Yin explores the five major components of case study research design: the study’s questions, propositions, units of analysis, logic linking data to the propositions, and criteria for interpreting the findings. Yin also provides criteria for assessing the quality of research design, explaining that case studies must meet construct validity, internal validity, external validity, and reliability checks in order to be useful designs. This chapter explains and discusses the strengths and weaknesses of single and multiple case designs. Yin presents clear examples of each so that readers can easily identify differences among designs and, more importantly, choose the design that is best for their own research questions and interests.

    In chapters three and four, Yin describes the preparation for and the collection of data. Beginning with a description of skills that case study researchers need to bring to the table, he truly prepares the researcher to enter the field by exploring the role of case study (as opposed to interview) protocols and by describing how to conduct pilot case studies. Further, Yin provides clear guidance for researchers in their data collection processes by enumerating the different types of data that may be collected in the field, by considering how these data may be triangulated (with each other, as well as among different researchers exploring the same data), and by presenting ways to keep track of case study through case study databases and notes.

    Chapter six, “Analyzing Case Study Evidence,” is where experienced readers will find the greatest amount of new information. Here Yin describes three analysis strategies: relying on the theoretical propositions that lead to the study, thinking about rival explanations, and developing a case description. In earlier versions, while Yin advised that researchers always attempt to consider rival explanations, this was not listed as an analysis strategy in its own right. Yin also adds a lengthy discussion of logic models to his list of specific analysis strategies discussed in earlier editions (namely, pattern matching, explanation building, time series analysis, and cross-case synthesis). Citing Peterson and Brickman and Rog and Huebner, Yin writes, “The logic model deliberately stipulates a complex chain of events over time. The events are staged in repeated cause-effect-cause-effect patterns, whereby a dependent variable (event) at an earlier stage becomes the independent variable (causal event) for the next stage” (p. 127). Yin discusses different types of logic models and provides useful explanations of when such models would be fitting. He cautions that, while newer computer tools may assist in organizing and coding data, it still remains the job of the researcher to choose and implement an appropriate analytic strategy.

    Case Study Research
    concludes with practical guidance on how to report case studies, keeping in mind the study’s analytic strategy, structure, and purpose (e.g., explanatory, descriptive, or exploratory). Yin offers advice on issues common to many researchers and research methods, such as when to start composing the report, how to deal with anonymity concerns, and identifying who should review the draft report and how their input should be incorporated into the text. Yin concludes with hallmarks of good case study research. While these are not new, they are worth repeating. First, case studies should be significant; that is, they should be of general interest and should deal with important issues. Second, they should be complete. Third, case studies should consider alternative perspectives to avoid presenting only one side of a story. Fourth, they must display sufficient evidence. Finally, case studies should be composed in an engaging manner so as to draw readers in.

    Case Study Research: Designs and Methods provides a useful and straightforward guide for those considering case study research. By including samples of case studies throughout the book, Yin helps readers gain solid footing in how to conceive and conduct this research. For those familiar with the second edition, Yin provides new analytic approaches and a more extensive discussion of different approaches to conducting case studies. For new and old readers alike, the book remains a definitive guide to this ubiquitous research method.

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