Summarizing and interpreting the information in case study research – PhD Help Series

In case study research,making sense of information collected from multiple sources is a recursive process in which the researcher interacts with the information throughout the investigative process.In other words, unlike some forms of research in which the data are examined only at the end of information collection period ,case study research involves ongoing examination and interpretation of the data in order to reach tentative conclusions and to refine the research questions .Case study researchers adhere to several guidelines as they simultaneously summarize and interpret information gathered when doing case study research.

One guideline involves ongoing refinement of the study’s fundamental research questions in light of data obtained early in the investigation. For example, a teacher interested in factors that contribute to student attrition may discern from initial observations of her school’s classroom that rates.As a result,she may refine her initial questions from , What factors contribute to student attrition? to, Why are attention rates higher in classrooms in which teachers lecture exclusively? 

Another guideline suggests constant focus on the research questions being investigated .A case study researcher can feel overwhelmed by the large amount of information normally obtained from interviews ,observations and documents. For example, a nurse exploring his hospital’s employment practices may generate 300 pages of transcribed interview data, several dozen pages of field notes describing observations of his hospital, and the number of pieces of potentially relevant physical evidence . A way to control the resulting sense of helplessness is to constantly remind oneself of the fundamental research questions being explored in the study.Each new piece of information should be examined in the light of these fundamental questions.

A third guideline involves collection and interpretation of only those data that are potentially meaningful to the research effort .Although premature elimination of potential information is equally counterproductive .For example, a technology specialist seeking insights into her companies software adoption policies may gain no useful information from her interviews of vendors of various software packages .As a result she should not spend an inordinate amount of time reflecting on the vendor’s comments.

Another guideline is to develop a method for labelling, storing and gaining access to information acquired during the research effort .As a minimum , every piece of information gathered must be labelled with the  date, location persons involved , and circumstances surroundings the collections of that piece of information ,such as his or her initial interpretations of the information. Although creation of a sound information management system may seem simplistic and its implementation laborious, the absence of such a system will jeopardize a researcher’s ability to interpret the vast amount of information accumulated in a case study research project. 

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