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Assumptions that the researcher needs to be aware of when conducting such research:

As a researcher plans a qualitative case study procedure, it might prove useful to review the qualitative paradigm assumptions underlying qualitative case study research. Creswell (1994) suggests, for audiences not familiar with qualitative research, to discuss four or five underlying assumptions and refer to the distinctions between qualitative and quantitative research. Two approaches may be used. For the more philosophically sophisticated audiences, assumptions can be discussed based on ontological, epistemological, axiological, rhetorical and methodological approaches. The following table may be useful as a reference:



Ontological Assumption

What is the nature of reality? Reality is objective and singular, apart from the researcher. Reality is subjective and multiple as seen by participants in a study
Epistemological Assumption What is the relationship of the researcher to that researched? Researcher is independent from that being researched. Researcher interacts with that being researched.
Axiological Assumption What is the role of values? Value-free and unbiased Value-laden and biased
Rhetorical Assumption What is the language of research?

Based on set definitions
Impersonal voice
Use of accepted quantitative words

Evolving decisions
Personal voice
Accepted qualitative words
Methodological Assumption What is the process of research?

Deductive process
Cause and effect
Static design - categories isolated before study
Generalizations leading to prediction, explanation, and understanding
Accurate and reliable through validity and reliability


Inductive process
Mutual simultaneous shaping of factors
Emerging design - categories indentified during research process
Patterns, theories developed for understanding
Accurate and reliable through verification

A second approach is to rely on the assumptions primarily about the methodology of the research. For example, Merriam (1988) mentioned six assumptions:

  1. Qualitative case study researchers are concerned primarily with process, rather than outcomes or products. They ask questions like: How do certain things happen? What is the 'natural' history of the activity or event under study? What happens with the passage of time? And so on. (Merriam, 1998)

  2. Qualitative case study researchers are interested in meaning - how people make sense of their lives, experiences, and their structures of the world. The key philosophical assumption of all types of qualitative research is the view that reality is constructed by individuals interacting with their social worlds. It is assumed that meaning is embedded in people's experiences and that this meaning is mediated through the investigator's own perceptions. The key concern is understanding the phenomenon of interest from the participants' perspectives, not the researcher's.

  3. The researcher is the primary instrument for data collection and analysis. Data are mediated through this human instrument, the researcher, rather than through some inanimate inventories, questionnaires or machines (like computers). Certain characteristics differentiate the human researcher from other data collection instruments: the researcher is responsive to the context; he or she can adapt techniques to the circumstances; the total context can be considered; what is known about the situation can be expanded through sensitivity to nonverbal aspects; the researcher can process data immediately, can clarify and summarize as the study evolves, and can explore anomalous responses. (Guba & Lincoln, 1981)

  4. Qualitative research involves fieldwork. The researcher physically goes to the people, setting, or institution (the field) to observe or record behavior in its natural setting. Data collection methods include: interviews, observations and documents.

  5. Qualitative case study research is descriptive in that the researcher is interested in process, meaning and understanding gained through words or pictures. Typically, the findings are in the form of themes, categories, typologies, concepts, tentative hypotheses, or even theory. The product of a qualitative case study research is richly descriptive. Words and pictures rather than numbers are used to convey what the researcher has learned about a phenomenon. There are likely to be researcher descriptions of the context, the players involved, and the activities of interest. In addition, data in the form of participants' own words, direct citations from documents, excerpts of videotapes, and so on, are likely to be included to support the findings of the study. (Merriam, 1998)

  6. The process of qualitative case study research is inductive in that the researcher builds abstractions, concepts, hypothesis and theories from details rather than tests existing theories. Often qualitative case studies are undertaken because there is a lack of theory, or existing theory fails to adequately explain a phenomenon. There are thus no hypotheses to be deduced from theory to guide the investigation. Qualitative case study researchers build toward theory form observations and intuitive understandings gained in the field. (Merriam, 1998)
Merriam (1999) also provided differences between the two paradigms as follows:
Point of comparison
Qualitative research
Focus of research Quality (nature, essence) Quantity (how much, how many)
Goal of investigation Understanding, description, discovery, hypothesis generating Prediction, control, description, confirmation, hypothesis testing
Design characteristics Flexible, evolving, emerging Predetermined, structured
Setting Natural, familiar Unfamiliar, artificial
Sample Small, nonrandom, theoretical Large, random, representative
Data collection Researcher as primary instrument, interviews, observation Inanimate instruments (scales, tests, surveys, questionnaires, computers)
Mode of analysis Inductive (by researcher) Deductive (by statistical methods)
Findings Comprehensive, holistic, expansive Precise, narrow, reductionist