Types of Case Studies: Main Features and Examples

Types of Case Studies

Writing different types of case studies can be challenging for many students. Although there are several formats and methods of research methodology, they all serve the purpose of answering complex questions through data analysis. This article provides an overview of various types of case studies to explain how they are utilized to address questions in everyday life.

What is a case study?

It’s essential to understand the meaning of this concept for everybody learning how to write a case study. This term can be defined as a particular research methodology that involves examining projects, subjects, or organizations to construct a narrative and draw conclusions based on evidence collected during the investigation.

This method provides an opportunity to explore new perspectives and gain insight into the decision-making and actions of the subject being studied. For first-year students, these tasks are an excellent way to cultivate their research skills. A case study scrutinizes a single project over an extended period, enabling learners to explore the subject thoroughly. It helps gain a deeper topic understanding and clarify how a hypothetical event can affect a group of people, individuals, or organizations in real-life conditions.

Essential types of case studies 

These academic papers can be classified into six categories and serve various purposes. Different types of case studies aim to explore the issues that occur within the confines of a particular situation, environment, or organization. The following methods can be applied to any subject area: the arts, psychology, economics, or politics.  


The illustrative case study is one of the principal types of qualitative research methodology. It investigates a specific event, phenomenon, or well-known case. It’s not focused on testing a hypothesis or establishing causality, but it’s primarily descriptive and commonly employs one or two instances to illustrate the situation's nature.


An illustrative approach can be applied to investigating a successful marketing campaign a company executes. In this scenario, the researcher would use qualitative methodologies, such as surveys and interviews, to accumulate data and understand the campaign’s purposes, messaging, target audience, and strategies. Additionally, the researcher would gather relevant statistics, such as sales figures, brand awareness measures, and customer engagement metrics, to evaluate the campaign’s effectiveness. Consequently, the resulting case study would offer an extensive and detailed analysis of the marketing campaign, its triumphs and difficulties, and the lessons learned. The findings from this research could then be applied to shape future marketing campaigns and strategies.


This approach is used in a preliminary investigation undertaken before a comprehensive study. Social sciences, such as political science and psychology, commonly utilize this type of research to examine real-life situations and contexts. Exploratory studies are frequently employed to determine methodologies and research questions for large and intricate studies. Their primary objective is to gain a broad phenomenon or case interpretation rather than testing a particular theory and hypothesis. Thus, you identify situations that require further investigation.


An exploratory paper can investigate a new service or product provided by a company, using methods like focus groups, interviews, and observation to collect information. The study would aim to understand the product’s features, advantages, and drawbacks, as well as its potential market and the key factors that impact its success or failure. The findings could be used to develop new research questions and hypotheses.


It is a prominent qualitative research method used to gather information from multiple sources at various times. Thus, it summarizes previous investigations to build a comprehensive and detailed issue or phenomenon interpretation without incurring additional expenses or investing time in new studies. As such, it is an approach applied to data analysis that uses individual cases to develop a broader perception rather than focusing on a single case.


A cumulative method may be used in a research project exploring the effectiveness of different treatments for a health condition. The researcher would gather data from numerous sources, such as patient records, surveys of patients who have undergone treatment, and interviews with healthcare providers, to define patterns and develop an overall understanding of the most effective treatments for the particular condition.

Critical instance

Case studies of critical instances are focused on a particular pivotal or critical case or event. This approach defines a particularly revealing event’s cause and effect. This investigation type is primarily conducted to scrutinize one or more sources with significant interest and, occasionally, even of little interest overall. A critical examination of a particular case can also challenge a universal claim, as it can shed light on a broader problem.


A critical instance can be applied to analyzing a specific legal case significantly impacting an industry or community. The researcher would gather data from court records, media coverage, and interviews with key individuals to gain insight into the social,  legal, and political factors that affected the case’s outcome and its consequences for the industry or community.


These studies are prevalent in psychology, although they can also be carried out in social work and healthcare. The primary focus of intrinsic studies is on an individual phenomenon or case with distinct characteristics and unique value. Intrinsic studies aim to comprehend the subject or subjects better and examine their past and how they interact with their surroundings. Exploring the subject’s relationship with their environment is critical in conducting this type of research. Moreover, these studies are centered around the case without being generalized to other situations and cases. Therefore, if you are searching for an approach to apply in social research or sociology, this is the one you need to consider.


A researcher may conduct an intrinsic case study to understand Huntington’s disease, a rare medical condition, and its impact on patients and their families. This may involve gathering data using interviews with patients, their family members, and healthcare specialists and examining medical records and other pertinent documents. The study’s objective is to produce a detailed description of what it’s like to live with Huntington’s disease and create new insights and understanding of this medical condition. While the outcomes of this investigation may not apply to other diseases or groups of individuals, they can offer a better comprehension of this specific case.


If you have a hypothesis, you can devise a descriptive study, which begins with defining the topic under investigation. The primary objective of this research is to establish links between the subject matter and a theoretical framework without definitely attempting to interpret or explain the findings. The investigation can be concluded upon establishing these connections, and the descriptive study results often suggest ways to elaborate the theory in the future. Additionally, a descriptive report would employ quantitative data as a starting point for conducting more comprehensive research.


A researcher could conduct a descriptive case study of a rare and unique archaeological artifact. By analyzing and interpreting the artifact and interviewing experts in the field, the researcher’s objective would be to provide a comprehensive assessment of the artifact’s characteristics, history, and cultural context. The goal of this study would be to describe the artifact and its potential significance without making any generalizations beyond this specific case.

Types of subjects in a case study 

There are various case study types, and it’s necessary to understand them well. Each type, critical, cumulative, or exploratory, can address one of five subjects. Let’s consider them in detail.

  • Person: This type aims at exploring an individual or a single subject and uses various approaches to define the outcome. 
  • Group: This methodology considers a group of people, such as family members, friends, or coworkers.
  • Location: This approach is focused on a place or location. It also takes into consideration why and how individuals use the location. 
  • Organization: This method focuses on a company or organization. It could also involve the employees of the institution or people who work at an event in the company. 
  • Event: This type concentrates on a particular event, such as a cultural or societal one, and explores its impact on the surrounding context. 

Researchers can choose the appropriate subject category by grasping these subjects' differences in an explanatory case study or when briefing a case. Moreover, it develops effective approaches and strategies to achieve their goals.

What are the case study benefits? 

Using case studies offers many benefits to researchers as it allows them to understand a phenomenon, disclose various patterns and relationships, and generate ideas for future investigations. Discover why conducting such research may be useful:

  • Profound knowledge: Case studies provide a clear understanding of a specific event,  phenomenon, or person taking into account its real-life context.
  • Determination of patterns and relationships: These assignments can help researchers reveal patterns, relationships, and causal factors that may not be apparent through other research methods.
  • Delivering hypotheses: Research of this type can produce approaches for further investigations and deliver practical solutions for real-world problems.
  • Exploring complex or rare phenomena: These investigations can give insights into complicated or extraordinary phenomena that may not be easily observable through other research methods.
  • Flexibility: Case studies add flexibility to research design, enabling students to adapt the methodologies to match the unique characteristics of the studied case.
  • Numerous data sources: The use of multiple data sources may be involved when doing research, such as interviews, observations, documents, and archival records, providing an in-depth case interpretation.

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What length should a case study have? 

The length of a case study is not fixed and can differ based on its objective, target audience, and substance. Ideally, a case study must be long enough to provide a complete issue examination and its resolutions while also being brief enough to hold the reader’s attention. A recommended guideline is to target around 500-1500 words, but this could change based on the case study's intricacy and its intended readership.

What are the methods of collecting data? 

There are several methods of collecting data in a case study. They include the following: 

  • Observation of the behavior, environment, and interactions of individuals and groups of people involved in the case study; 
  • Interviews with individuals and focus groups related to the case study, which can be conducted by phone, online, or in person; 
  • Documents, artifacts, and records (physical objects, photographs, reports, records, etc.) which can give valuable information about the history or context of the investigation; 
  • Questionnaires and surveys to gather data from a large group or individuals; 
  • Secondary sources supplement the primary information from observation, documents, and interviews. 

Researchers can choose the most suitable method based on the research questions and the nature of the studied case. A combination of methods is often used to ensure diversity and relevance to the research question.

What is the case study’s purpose?

Its essential purpose is to gain a deep understanding of a particular phenomenon, individual, or event by exploring it in detail within its real-life context. Various types of case studies can help students identify relationships, patterns, and causal factors that may not seem apparent through the use of other research methodologies. They can also give insights into complicated or unusual phenomena, offer hypotheses for further research, and provide practical solutions for real-world issues.

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