Prof Martyn Denscombe, author of “The Good Research Guide, 6th edition”, gives expert advice on using a case study for your master’s dissertation. Case studies can be a good basis for a master’s dissertation. There are two main reasons for this. First, a case study provides a platform that allows you to study a situation in depth and produce the level of academic inquiry that is expected in a master’s degree. In the context of any master’s programme the dissertation operates as something of a showcase for a student’s abilities.

It can easily make the difference between getting a merit and a distinction in the final award of degree. It is important, therefore, to base the work on an approach that allows things to be explored in sufficient depth and detail to warrant a good grade. Second, case studies can be useful in a practical sense. It is possible to complete a case study in a relatively short period of intense study and so it is the kind of research that is feasible in terms of the kind of time constraints that face master’s students as they enter the final stages of their programme of study.

Added to which a case study can also be a rather convenient form of research, avoiding the time and costs of travel to multiple research sites. The use of case studies, then, would appear to be an attractive proposition. But it is not an approach that should be used naively without consideration of its limitations or potential pitfalls.

To be a good case study the research needs to consider certain key issues which, if they are not addressed, might considerably lower the value of the case study as part of a master’s degree. For instance, a good case study needs to:

  • Be crystal clear about the purpose for which the research is being conducted
  • Justify the selection of the particular case being studied
  • Describe how the chosen case compares with others of its type
  • Explain the basis on which any generalizations can be made from the findings

This is where The Good Research Guide, 6th edition becomes so valuable. It not only identifies the key points that need to be addressed in order to conduct a competent questionnaire survey, it gets right to the heart of the matter with plenty of practical guidance on how to deal with the issues. In a straightforward style, using plain language, this bestselling book covers a range of alternative strategies and methods for conducting small-scale social research projects and outlines some of the main ways in which the data can be analysed.

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