Rigour in the Management Case Study Method: A Study on Master's Dissertations


  • Miguel Varela
  • Paula Lopes
  • Rosa Rodrigues




Many authors argue that the case study is a valid and advantageous research method for certain studies, having been used as a method of academic research in the field of social sciences as well as in management. This research method is an integrated system and offers the opportunity for a holistic view that combines data collection methods such as archival searches, interviews, questionnaires and observation. The data collection needed to build a case study is labour-intensive, can last months or even years, and data overload seems almost inevitable. The case study is an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within a real-life context. In this research method, qualitative data usually predominates, but quantitative data often appears in case studies. Some research studies consider the case study to be a research method for validating and constructing theory. Other research highlights that all social science studies must start with a theory based on a review of the literature relating to the subject under investigation and this theory must then be validated through the study of a specific object, phenomenon or social problem. The key point is that before a theory can be validated, it must be constructed. In other words, a theory or theoretical framework first emerges not through a deductive process but through the inductive approach of studying an empirical case or object, and finally all theories are initially based on a case or object. This type of research has traditionally been considered soft, due to the inexistence of criteria that allow to evaluate its validity as a method to study a phenomenon in its real context. The present work is part of this theme and intends to contribute to diminish the perception about the lack of rigour associated with the case study. The present research focuses on the analysis of the methodological rigour of defended master's dissertations. In this context an investigation was undertaken of master's dissertations in the management area of a higher education management institution that use the case study as the research method. In order to achieve our goals, four hundred and forty-two master's dissertations defended in management scientific master's degrees in a Portuguese higher education institution which specializes in the area of economic and business sciences were analysed. The results of the qualitative research indicate that 40.0% of the dissertations focus on case studies. The results obtained lead us to conclude that in general the dissertations analysed present a high level of methodological rigour with respect to the object of study and a moderate level with respect to data analysis and results. The most critical aspects are the way data are collected, namely the use of multiple sources of evidence in less than half of the cases, which makes triangulation of data impossible.





24 Mar 2021