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Merriam, Sharan B. (1998) Qualitative Research and Case Study Applications in Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

xi+275 pp.
ISBN 0-78791009-0

Reviewed by Laura M. Burgis
Arizona State University

June 11, 1998

Qualitative Research and Case Study Applications in Education is the second edition of Case Study Research in Education (Merriam, 1988). The focus of this new book is qualitative research in general with an emphasis on applications to case studies.

The first edition was widely used as an introductory text covering data collection techniques, data analysis, reporting validity, reliability and ethics. While included in the second edition, this content is expanded to include different types of qualitative research, and how to design a qualitative study.

Several publications on qualitative research have appeared in the last ten years, but resources specific to case study methods are still limited. Due to confusion about what a case study is and how it can be differentiated from other types of qualitative research, Merriam emphasizes this methodology. The intended audience includes teachers, researchers and graduate students in education who are interested in conducting a qualitative study. The organization of this text is intended to reflect the process of conducting a qualitative research investigation.

Overall, this is a practical volume which offers the reader an understanding of the process for conducting a case study. After an introduction to definitions, basic principles, methodologies, and strategies, this book provides step-by-step recipes for defining the research problem, identifying subjects of study, outlining data collection techniques and problems, approaches to data analysis, uses of technology, and communication of results.

Part One is a discussion of the nature of qualitative research. Chapter One begins this discussion with a review of philosophical foundations, including: the post-positivist position (quantitative research), the Ericksonian- Interpretivist position (qualitative symbolic interactionist research), as well as the critical theorist approach (qualitative research) of empowerment Chapter Two focuses on the role of the researcher, and the attributes of noteworthy qualitative researchers. In Chapter Three, five types of qualitative research commonly found in education are introduced: generic, ethnography, phenomenology, grounded theory and case study.

Part Two covers collecting qualitative data. The interview process, observation and documentation are all explored, emphasizing their applications for case study. Strategies and helpful hints are given and illustrated with examples. Strengths and limitations are also discussed.

Part Three includes analysis and reporting of qualitative data. The mechanics of data collection techniques, how to manage data, approaches to analysis, and reporting the findings are described in step-by-step detail. One chapter is devoted entirely to various data analysis strategies, including ethnographic analysis, narrative analysis, phenomenological analysis, analytic induction and the constant comparative method of Glaser and Strauss. Other chapters discuss the uses of various software packages, including: The Ethnograph, QUALPRO, and NUDIST. The last chapters of Part Three cover organization and management of the voluminous data typical of qualitative case studies. Finally, reporting methods are described, and the strengths and limitations are discussed.

This book focuses primarily on the technical aspects of methods and procedures of case study methodology. The author has created a resource which serves as a very general introduction to the process of case study but lacks fundamentals necessary for a stand-alone resource for the case study approach.

In Section One, Merriam covers two standard paradigms (postpositivist and interpretive) yet does not discuss the strengths or limitations of either. Nevertheless, Section One is an excellent introduction to qualitative research and is useful for the beginner to assess attributes of a good qualitative researcher in themselves. This reflective excercise helps the reader to determine if they are suited for qualitative research, based on the readers's understanding of his/her own personal world view and interests. Each chapter of Section One concludes with articulate summaries.

In Part Two, Merriam carefully demonstrates how to approach some of the major issues of case study research including how to select the case that is most likely to result in maximum data collection, how to generalize what is learned from one case to another, and how to interpret what is learned. She does this with plausible examples drawing from her research of adult education. The author clearly differentiates between quantitative and qualitative approaches to case study, coding, sorting and triangulation. In Chapter Seven, Merriam describes her approach to interviewing, observation, and document analysis. In addition to fieldwork, she also demonstrates coding of data, linking categories and concepts, and building theory. Merriam is also thorough in her explanation of internal and external validity, and reliability. The particulars of selecting units of analysis and establishing rival hypothesis are omitted in Chapter Nine, which instead focuses on developing categories, organizing data, and classification schemes.

Part Three focuses on how to analyze and report findings. Merriam provides a specific step-by-step outline of the written report, and explains how to disseminate results. The only disappointment in Part Three is the lack of recommendations in the discussion of software and limitations. The reader is left only knowing there is a plethora of products without insight to what works best with what. Given the number of technological advances and products designed specifically for qualitative analysis, this area deserves more thorough emphasis, particularly considering this intended audience.

Competing books, such as Glesne & Peshkin’s Becoming Qualitative Researchers (1992), give more detailed step-by-step explanation, despite the fact that their text does not focus on case study methodology. Yin’s Case Study Research (1994) and Applications of Case Study Research (1993) are more successful books specific to case study research because they provide students and researchers with extensive applications of actual case study research (rather than paragraph summary examples) as well as discussions of how case study research can be applied to broad areas of inquiry. Most importantly, Yin integrates theoretical concerns into case studies, showing how theory can shape the study. Merriam’s book lacks this theoretical orientation. Merriam fails to link or contrast her ideas to the existing literature, though a bibliography is provided. None of these reaches the depths that Stake reached in The Art of Case Study Research.

What also seems to be missing in the text is context; the author omits historical perspectives such as traditions of case study research from the Chicago School of Sociology, or the anthropological case studies of Malinowski, both to be considered landmarks in the evolution of case study. (See J. Hamel’s Case Study Methods (1993); for example, where one gains an understanding of the origins of qualitative social science research, its development, and changes over time, which did not include multiple case study or multiple researcher or group researcher positions. This was suprising, given the common practice of these approaches in case study, and the attention the field gives to these approaches overall.

The strength of Merriam's text lies in its simplicity for the beginning researcher. As a pedagogical instrument, it serves as a useful introduction to case study despite lacking both a thoeretical framework and connection to the research literature. For students, supplementing materials would thus be necessary With this proviso, instructors should consider it for introductory courses in qualitative research methods. It will enhance qualitative study to hear first hand, the seasoned practitioner's approach to case study.


Glesne, C. & Peshkin A. (1992) Becoming qualitative researchers, an introduction. White Plains, New York: Longman.

Hamel, J. (1993). Case study methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications

Merriam, S.B. (1992). Qualitative research in education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc.

Stake, R.E. (1995). The Art of Case Study Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Yin, R. (1994). Case study research. (second edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Copyright is retained by the first or sole author, who grants right of first publication to the Education Review.

Editors: Gene V Glass, Kate Corby, Gustavo Fischman

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