Case study is not synonymous to interviews. if you are reaching this post, it is probably because you are confused and believe that case studies and interviews may be the same thing. In this post I will try to put some order in the chaos of doing interviews for your thesis.

Should You Use a Case Study for your Thesis in Information Management?

One of they key reasons to why I feel it is important for a (Master’s) student to understand this aspect is because there is a strong tendency (from some students) to believe that “doing interviews is easy”. Such students tend to believe that they could write a thesis by asking to their external/company supervisor some questions. The overall philosophy is the following: “the thesis has a (research) question that I have to answer. If my external supervisor answers it for me and I write down the answer, my thesis is finished”.

Ok ok, perhaps I am exaggerating, but I guess you can grasp the idea here and why it is important to understand when you should use interviews for your thesis. Clearly, if you tend to have the mindset that I described above, there is not much that I can do for helping you.

In information management (IM) a theory usually belongs to one of the following categories:

  • Variance Theory: Focus on why something is happening
  • Process Theory : Focus on how something is happening
  • Taxonomy Theory: Categorize and classify what is happening
  • System Theory: Components that a part of a system can be better understood in the context of the all system
  • Design Science Theory: Develop and validate knowledge in a prescriptive manner

According to Wikipedia, a case study refers to an in-depth, detailed examination of a particular case (or cases) within a real-world context. Case studies are a particular way to validate a Variance Theory (most of the time) or a Taxonomy, or (eventually) a Process theory. In other words, you want to understand relationships between concepts that are part of your theory.

The above mentioned theories are usually expressed as relationships among constructs. A construct is a theoretical concept, theme, or idea based on empirical observations. It’s a variable that’s usually not directly measurable. If you want to know more please consider looking at what is a construct from a philosophical point of view and the importance of construct validity.

Not all case studies are suitable for being conducted using interviews; other data collection methods can be used, too. You should consider using interviews in a situation where your research question can best be answered with detailed verbal data reflecting the perspectives and experiences of a small sample of individuals. Moreover, you should not conduct interviews to have your participants answer your research question. A research question is not something you ask from your interviewees, it is something you ask from your data consisting of interviews.

In other words, if you want to use a case study approach using interviews, you need to be sure of the following:

  1. Your constructs cannot be measured in a quantitative way
  2. Nobody has explored before the definitions of the constructs that could be a part of your theory
  3. There is a lack of previous qualitative and quantitative studies and thus, an explorative approach is needed

Note that all the points imply that you will conduct a preliminary literature review for ensuring that a different approach can not be used and for defining the research gap that you will fill. By doing that you will observe that many of your ideas should probably be validated in a different manner than using interviews.

Should you use an interview-based case study for your thesis? It depends and a case study is not synonymous of interviews. In many cases, an interview-based investigation is suitable if you do not have any other way to prove your theory/hypothesis or answer your research question. What I mentioned here is just the tip of the iceberg and if you want to pursue a research following a case study approach (that uses interviews), I encourage you to watch the following lecture by Dr. Amiri:

You may find yourself in a situation where (i) after reading this post, (ii) performing your preliminary literature review, and (iii) watching the video above you still believe that an interview-based case study is the most appropriate approach. The next steps that you need to consider include considering (a) how to collect your data, (b) how to structure your interviews and (c) how to analyze your data. Once you have done all of that you should be able to smile after looking at the image below!

Should You Use a Case Study for your Thesis in Information Management?

Finally, I would suggest to check this article from Dr. Toivonen where she discusses quality in qualitative research and gives a few tips for improving your work.

Should you use an #interview based #casestudy for your #Thesis ? A simple checklist. #thesiswriting Share on X

Note from Dr. Toivonen: You don’t need to consider interviews and case studies as the last option only after you’re sure that your research question cannot be answered in a quantitative manner. Qualitative and quantitative approaches can also co-exist and enrich each other. However, I would recommend you not treating interviews as “the easy way out” from your thesis journey; conducting an interview study well is time consuming and complicated. I would also like to point out that replicating previous interview-based studies is possible in qualitative research, but that is a challenging endeavor because you have to formulate your research question carefully and do nuanced, sophisticated comparisons. Replicating does not mean repeating, and therefore, is best left for more experienced researchers at the PhD level and beyond.

This article (Should You Use a Case Study for your Thesis in Information Management?) is part of the miniseries on how to do a good thesis, you can see the full list of post at the following links:

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