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How to Cite a Case Study in APA, MLA, or Chicago
When citing a case study, the format in MLA and APA is similar to that of a report, and in Chicago style, it is similar to that of a book. For all three citation styles, you will need the name of the author(s), the title of the case study, the year it was published, the publishing organization/publisher, and URL (if applicable). The templates and examples below will demonstrate how to cite a case study in MLA, APA, and Chicago styles.
Author Last Name, Author First Name. Title of Case Study . Edition (if applicable), volume number (if applicable), Publisher, year of publication, URL without http:// or https:// (if applicable).
Hill, Linda A., et al. HCL Technologies (A). Rev. edition, Harvard Business School, 2008, www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/item.aspx?num=34784.
(Author Last Name(s) page #)
(Hill et al. 8)
Author Last Name, Author Initial. (Publication Year). Title of Case Study (Case # if applicable). Publishing Organization. URL
Hill, L., Khanna, T., & Stecker, E. (2008). HCL Technologies (A) (Case 408-004). Harvard Business School. https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/item.aspx?num=34784
(Author Last Name, Publication Year)
(Hill et al., 2008)
Author Last Name, First Name. Title of the Case Study . Publishing City: Publishing Organization, Publication Year. URL.
Hill, Linda A., Tarun Khanna, and Emily Stecker. HCL Technologies (A). Boston: Harvard Business School, 2008. https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/item.aspx?num=34784.
1. Author First Name Last Name, Title of the Case Study (Publishing City: Publishing Organization, Publication Year), URL.
1. Linda A. Hill, Tarun Khanna, and Emily Stecker, HCL Technologies (A) ( Boston: Harvard Business School, 2008), https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/item.aspx?num=34784.
Author Last Name, First Name. Publication Year. Title of the Case Study . Publishing City: Publishing Organization. URL.
Hill, Linda A., Tarun Khanna, and Emily Stecker. 2008. HCL Technologies (A). Boston: Harvard Business School. https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/item.aspx?num=34784.
(Author Last Name Publication Date)
(Holl, Khanna, and Stecker 2008)
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How to Cite a Case Study
Last Updated: February 12, 2023 References
This article was co-authored by wikiHow staff writer, Jennifer Mueller, JD . Jennifer Mueller is a wikiHow Content Creator. She specializes in reviewing, fact-checking, and evaluating wikiHow's content to ensure thoroughness and accuracy. Jennifer holds a JD from Indiana University Maurer School of Law in 2006. This article has been viewed 37,011 times. Learn more...
Particularly in research for business studies or papers in the social sciences, you may want to cite a case study completed by a university or other organization. While case studies have titles and publication information like other articles, they often have a unique case study number that is typically included in your citation. While Chicago citation style is most frequently used in business schools, you may also use the American Psychological Association (APA) or Modern Language Association (MLA) style.
- Example: Lee, Stan.
- If there is more than one author, list the additional authors' names in first-middle initial-last format. Separate author's names with commas, with the word "and" before the last author's name.
- Example: Lee, Stan. "DC Comics in 2016." HBS No. 999-111.
- Example: Lee, Stan. "DC Comics in 2016." HBS No. 999-111. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2017.
- Example: Lee, Stan. "DC Comics in 2016." HBS No. 999-111. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2017. http://hbsp.harvard.edu, accessed July 2018.
- Print example: Stan Lee, "DC Comics in 2016," HBS No. 999-111 (Boston, Harvard Business School Publishing, 2017), p. 14.
- Online example: Stan Lee, "DC Comics in 2016," HBS No. 999-111 (Boston, Harvard Business School Publishing, 2017), http://hbsp.harvard.edu, accessed July 2018.
- Example: Lee, S.
- Separate the names of multiple authors with commas, placing an ampersand before the last author's name.
- Example: Lee, S. (2017).
- If there is no year of publication listed, use the abbreviation "n.d." in the parentheses.
- Example: Lee, S. (2017). DC Comics in 2016 .
- Example: Lee, S. (2017). DC Comics in 2016 . HBS No. 999-111.
- Example: Lee, S. (2017). DC Comics in 2016 . HBS No. 999-111. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.
- Example: (Lee, 2017).
- If there are 2 authors, place the word "and" between their names. For 3 or more, use commas with the word "and" before the final author. After the first author, list subsequent authors with their first name followed by their last name. For example: Lee, Stan and Clark Kent.
- Example: Lee, Stan. DC Comics in 2016. Case Study.
- Example: Lee, Stan. DC Comics in 2016. Case Study. Boston. Harvard Business School Publishing, 2017.
- Note that unlike many other citation styles, the unique case study number is not necessarily included for MLA citations. Ask your instructor or supervisor if they want this information included in your citation.
- Print example: Lee, Stan. DC Comics in 2016. Case Study. Boston. Harvard Business School Publishing, 2017. Print.
- Web example: Lee, Stan. DC Comics in 2016. Case Study. Boston. Harvard Business School Publishing, 2017. Web. 17 July 2018.
- If you accessed the case study online, you may put the URL of the case study. However, this isn't required by MLA style. Ask your instructor or supervisor for their preference.
- Example: (Lee 27).
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- ↑ https://www.library.hbs.edu/content/download/49322/786369/version/1/file/HBS_Citation_Guide
- ↑ https://guides.library.ualberta.ca/apa-citation-style/case-studies
- ↑ http://libanswers.snhu.edu/faq/128490
- ↑ http://libanswers.walsh.edu/faq/147917
- ↑ http://maag.guides.ysu.edu/businesscitations/mla
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Referencing case studies: Examples
Basic format to reference an online case study.
The basics of a Reference List entry for an case study:
- Author or authors. The surname is followed by first initials.
- Year of publication.
- Case study title, in italics .
- Date viewed.
- URL <in angled brackets>.
Example: Business Queensland 2016, Coastal Cruises Mooloolaba , case study, viewed 14 February 2017, < http://www.business.qld.gov.au/starting-business/advice-support/support/case-studies/coastal-cruises >.
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Reference : Author/editor Last name, Initials. (Year) 'Title of case study' [Case Study], Journal Title, Volume (Issue), pp. page numbers. Available at: URL [Accessed Day Month Year].
Ofek, E., Avery, J., Rudolph, S., Martins Gomes, V., Saadat, N., Tsui, A., & Shroff, Y. (2014) 'Case study second thoughts about a strategy shift' [Case Study], Harvard Business Review , 92(12), pp. 125-129. Available at: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=99621003&site=ehost-live [Accessed 10 December 2014].
- (Author last name, Year)
- Author last name (Year)...
- In their case study Ofek et al. (2014) describe how marketing to the young generation...
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Still unsure why you need to reference all this information? Check here .
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APA Citation Guide (APA 7th Edition): Case Studies
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The APA Style Guide does not have a separate style for case studies. The format would depend on whether the case study is located in a journal, book or separate publication. If it is a separate publication, cite it as a book. Check the formats at the Online Writing Lab for citations:
- in a journal https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/07/
- a book or book chapter https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/08/
- multiple authors in text citation see https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/06/
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Q. How do I cite a case study in APA Style?
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Answered By: Theresa Bell (she/her/hers) Last Updated: Nov 04, 2021 Views: 41638
APA Style (7th ed.)
Case study with a DOI
If the case study has an assigned DOI (print or online versions), include the DOI in the reference.
Khan, S. (2019). Managing a leadership transition in an non-governmental organization [Case study]. SAGE Business Cases Originals. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781526465061
- In-text citation: (Khan, 2019, p. X)
Case study without a DOI retrieved from an academic research database
Peters, C., Thomas, J., Aponte, M., Connelly, R., & Judge, S. (2014). Media Arts Group and the case of channel conflict [Case study]. Society for Case Research.
- In-text citation: (Peters et al., 2014, p. X)
American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1037/0000165-000
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- What Is a Case Study? | Definition, Examples & Methods
What Is a Case Study? | Definition, Examples & Methods
Published on May 8, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on June 22, 2023.
A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject, such as a person, group, place, event, organization, or phenomenon. Case studies are commonly used in social, educational, clinical, and business research.
A case study research design usually involves qualitative methods , but quantitative methods are sometimes also used. Case studies are good for describing , comparing, evaluating and understanding different aspects of a research problem .
Table of contents
When to do a case study, step 1: select a case, step 2: build a theoretical framework, step 3: collect your data, step 4: describe and analyze the case, other interesting articles.
A case study is an appropriate research design when you want to gain concrete, contextual, in-depth knowledge about a specific real-world subject. It allows you to explore the key characteristics, meanings, and implications of the case.
Case studies are often a good choice in a thesis or dissertation . They keep your project focused and manageable when you don’t have the time or resources to do large-scale research.
You might use just one complex case study where you explore a single subject in depth, or conduct multiple case studies to compare and illuminate different aspects of your research problem.
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Once you have developed your problem statement and research questions , you should be ready to choose the specific case that you want to focus on. A good case study should have the potential to:
- Provide new or unexpected insights into the subject
- Challenge or complicate existing assumptions and theories
- Propose practical courses of action to resolve a problem
- Open up new directions for future research
TipIf your research is more practical in nature and aims to simultaneously investigate an issue as you solve it, consider conducting action research instead.
Unlike quantitative or experimental research , a strong case study does not require a random or representative sample. In fact, case studies often deliberately focus on unusual, neglected, or outlying cases which may shed new light on the research problem.
Example of an outlying case studyIn the 1960s the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania was discovered to have extremely low rates of heart disease compared to the US average. It became an important case study for understanding previously neglected causes of heart disease.
However, you can also choose a more common or representative case to exemplify a particular category, experience or phenomenon.
Example of a representative case studyIn the 1920s, two sociologists used Muncie, Indiana as a case study of a typical American city that supposedly exemplified the changing culture of the US at the time.
While case studies focus more on concrete details than general theories, they should usually have some connection with theory in the field. This way the case study is not just an isolated description, but is integrated into existing knowledge about the topic. It might aim to:
- Exemplify a theory by showing how it explains the case under investigation
- Expand on a theory by uncovering new concepts and ideas that need to be incorporated
- Challenge a theory by exploring an outlier case that doesn’t fit with established assumptions
To ensure that your analysis of the case has a solid academic grounding, you should conduct a literature review of sources related to the topic and develop a theoretical framework . This means identifying key concepts and theories to guide your analysis and interpretation.
There are many different research methods you can use to collect data on your subject. Case studies tend to focus on qualitative data using methods such as interviews , observations , and analysis of primary and secondary sources (e.g., newspaper articles, photographs, official records). Sometimes a case study will also collect quantitative data.
Example of a mixed methods case studyFor a case study of a wind farm development in a rural area, you could collect quantitative data on employment rates and business revenue, collect qualitative data on local people’s perceptions and experiences, and analyze local and national media coverage of the development.
The aim is to gain as thorough an understanding as possible of the case and its context.
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In writing up the case study, you need to bring together all the relevant aspects to give as complete a picture as possible of the subject.
How you report your findings depends on the type of research you are doing. Some case studies are structured like a standard scientific paper or thesis , with separate sections or chapters for the methods , results and discussion .
Others are written in a more narrative style, aiming to explore the case from various angles and analyze its meanings and implications (for example, by using textual analysis or discourse analysis ).
In all cases, though, make sure to give contextual details about the case, connect it back to the literature and theory, and discuss how it fits into wider patterns or debates.
If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.
- Normal distribution
- Degrees of freedom
- Null hypothesis
- Discourse analysis
- Control groups
- Mixed methods research
- Non-probability sampling
- Quantitative research
- Ecological validity
- Rosenthal effect
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- Selection bias
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- Status quo bias
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McCombes, S. (2023, June 22). What Is a Case Study? | Definition, Examples & Methods. Scribbr. Retrieved November 14, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/methodology/case-study/
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A Guide to Harvard Referencing Style: Case Studies & Standards
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Referencing Case Studies
Spar and Burns (2000) ...
.... (Spar & Burns, 2000)
"....." (Spar & Burns, 2000:8)
FORMAT OF A REFERENCE TO A CASE STUDY
Author’s surname, Initials. Year. ‘Title.’ Case number. Place: Publisher or Institution.
Note that the title is not italicised.
EXAMPLE OF A REFERENCE TO A PRINTED CASE STUDY
Spar, D. and Burns, J. 2000. ‘Hitting the wall: Nike and International Labor Practices.’ HBS 700047. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing.
EXAMPLE OF A REFERENCE TO AN ELECTRONIC CASE STUDY FROM A DATABASE
Mathu, K.M. and Scheepers, C . 2016. 'L eading change towards sustainable green coal mining'. Available from: Emerald Emerging Markets Case Studies, < https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/ EEMCS-01-2016-0007> [Accessed on: 7 June 2017].
South African Bureau of Standards (2013) ...
... (South African Bureau of Standards, 2013).
"....." (South African Bureau of Standards, 2013: 3).
FORMAT OF A REFERENCE TO A STANDARD
Name of the Authorizing Body. Year. Number and Title of Standard. Place of Publication: Publisher.
EXAMPLE OF A REFERENCE TO A PRINT STANDARD
British Standards Institute.2015. BS ISO 14001:Environmental management systems. Requirements with guidance for use. London: British Standards Institute.
EXAMPLE OF A REFERENCE TO AN ELECTRONIC STANDARD TAKEN FROM A DATABASE
South African Bureau of Standards. 2013. SANS 1300: Quality management — Customer satisfaction — Guidelines for monitoring and measuring . [online]. Pretoria: South African Bureau of Standards. Available from:<https://www.sabs.co.za/Standardss/index.asp> [ Accessed on: 17 March 2014].
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How to Cite a Case Study in APA: A Comprehensive Guide
If you’re writing an academic paper, you may need to cite a case study. But how do you do that? This guide will explain everything you need to know about citing a case study in APA format.
Table of Contents
What is APA?
APA stands for American Psychological Association. It is a style guide used by many academic disciplines, including psychology, sociology, and business. The purpose of the APA style is to provide a consistent format for academic writing, making it easier for readers to understand and follow the author’s argument.
Why is it important to cite a case study?
Citing a case study is important for several reasons. First, it gives credit to the original author for their work. Second, it allows readers to find the source if they want to learn more. Finally, it adds credibility to your work by demonstrating that you have researched and referenced other relevant studies.
How to cite a case study in APA format
Here are the steps you need to follow to cite a case study in APA format:
Step 1: Start with the author’s last name and first initial.
The first step in citing a case study is to list the author’s last name and first initial. For example Smith, J.
Step 2: Include the year of publication in parentheses.
Next, you need to include the year of publication in parentheses. For example: (2018).
Step 3: Provide the title of the case study in italics.
After the year of publication, you need to provide the title of the case study in italics. For example The impact of social media on adolescent mental health.
Step 4: Add the name of the publisher.
The next step is to add the name of the publisher. For example Harvard Business Review Press.
Step 5: Include the DOI or URL.
Finally, you need to include the DOI or URL where the case study can be found. For example https://doi.org/10.1145/1234567.1234567
Here’s what the final citation should look like:
Smith, J. (2018). The impact of social media on adolescent mental health. Harvard Business Review Press. https://doi.org/10.1145/1234567.1234567
What to do if there is no DOI or URL
If you cannot find a DOI or URL for the case study, you can omit it from the citation. In that case, you should include the name of the database where you found the case study instead. For example:
Smith, J. (2018). The impact of social media on adolescent mental health. Harvard Business Review Press. Academic Search Complete.
Tips for citing a case study in APA format
- Always check the specific requirements of your instructor or publisher to ensure that you are following their guidelines correctly.
- Double-check your citations to make sure that you have included all the necessary information.
- If you are citing multiple case studies from the same author or publisher, you can use a shortened version of the citation after the first one. For example Smith (2018, p. 25).
Citing a case study in APA format may seem daunting at first, but it is quite simple once you know the steps. By following the guidelines in this article, you can ensure that your citations are accurate and complete and that you are giving credit to the original authors for their work.
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How do I reference a case study… in the Cranfield Author-date style?
If you have read our previous post Looking for case studies? , you’ll have discovered some of the best MIRC resources for finding case studies on a topic or company.
Now that you know the top sources for case studies, you now need to know how to reference and cite one in your work. If your case study is published in a journal, you just need to follow the format for referencing a journal article. For example:
Ojasalo, J. (2008) ‘Management of innovation networks: a case study of different approaches’, European Journal of Innovation Management , 11 (1), pp. 51-86.
Poczter, S. L. and Jankovic, L. M. (2014) ‘The Google Car: Driving Toward A Better Future?’, Journal of Business Case Studies , 10 (1). Available at: http://www.cluteinstitute.com/ojs/index.php/JBCS/article/view/8324 (Accessed: 21 October 2015).
If your case study isn’t published as a journal article, then you need to use the following format. Don’t worry it isn’t as difficult as it sounds!
This is what you need to include in your Author-date reference :
- Author(s) (surname, initials) or organisation
- (Year of publication)
- Number/identifier of case study (if available)
- Title of case
- Place of publication: Publisher
If the case study is available online, you can add the following:
- Available at: URL
- (Accessed: date)
Here are some examples of what your bibliographic references might look like in the Author-date style:
Aaker, J. and Chang, V. (2010) Case No. M321 : Obama and the power of social media and technology . Stanford: Stanford Business School.
Max, S. (2014) A Small Brand Tries to Escape the Confusing Shadow of a Big Brand. New York: The New York Times. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/08/business/smallbusiness/a-small-brand-tries-to-escape-the-confusing-shadow-of-a-big-brand.html?ref=topics&_r=0 (Accessed: 21 October 2015).
Polzer, J. T. (2003) Leading Teams . Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing.
As always if you have any questions about referencing, pop into MIRC or contact us .
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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Assignments
- Annotated Bibliography
- Analyzing a Scholarly Journal Article
- Group Presentations
- Dealing with Nervousness
- Using Visual Aids
- Grading Someone Else's Paper
- Types of Structured Group Activities
- Group Project Survival Skills
- Leading a Class Discussion
- Multiple Book Review Essay
- Reviewing Collected Works
- Writing a Case Analysis Paper
- Writing a Case Study
- About Informed Consent
- Writing Field Notes
- Writing a Policy Memo
- Writing a Reflective Paper
- Writing a Research Proposal
- Generative AI and Writing
A case study research paper examines a person, place, event, condition, phenomenon, or other type of subject of analysis in order to extrapolate key themes and results that help predict future trends, illuminate previously hidden issues that can be applied to practice, and/or provide a means for understanding an important research problem with greater clarity. A case study research paper usually examines a single subject of analysis, but case study papers can also be designed as a comparative investigation that shows relationships between two or more subjects. The methods used to study a case can rest within a quantitative, qualitative, or mixed-method investigative paradigm.
Case Studies. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Mills, Albert J. , Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010 ; “What is a Case Study?” In Swanborn, Peter G. Case Study Research: What, Why and How? London: SAGE, 2010.
How to Approach Writing a Case Study Research Paper
General information about how to choose a topic to investigate can be found under the " Choosing a Research Problem " tab in the Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper writing guide. Review this page because it may help you identify a subject of analysis that can be investigated using a case study design.
However, identifying a case to investigate involves more than choosing the research problem . A case study encompasses a problem contextualized around the application of in-depth analysis, interpretation, and discussion, often resulting in specific recommendations for action or for improving existing conditions. As Seawright and Gerring note, practical considerations such as time and access to information can influence case selection, but these issues should not be the sole factors used in describing the methodological justification for identifying a particular case to study. Given this, selecting a case includes considering the following:
- The case represents an unusual or atypical example of a research problem that requires more in-depth analysis? Cases often represent a topic that rests on the fringes of prior investigations because the case may provide new ways of understanding the research problem. For example, if the research problem is to identify strategies to improve policies that support girl's access to secondary education in predominantly Muslim nations, you could consider using Azerbaijan as a case study rather than selecting a more obvious nation in the Middle East. Doing so may reveal important new insights into recommending how governments in other predominantly Muslim nations can formulate policies that support improved access to education for girls.
- The case provides important insight or illuminate a previously hidden problem? In-depth analysis of a case can be based on the hypothesis that the case study will reveal trends or issues that have not been exposed in prior research or will reveal new and important implications for practice. For example, anecdotal evidence may suggest drug use among homeless veterans is related to their patterns of travel throughout the day. Assuming prior studies have not looked at individual travel choices as a way to study access to illicit drug use, a case study that observes a homeless veteran could reveal how issues of personal mobility choices facilitate regular access to illicit drugs. Note that it is important to conduct a thorough literature review to ensure that your assumption about the need to reveal new insights or previously hidden problems is valid and evidence-based.
- The case challenges and offers a counter-point to prevailing assumptions? Over time, research on any given topic can fall into a trap of developing assumptions based on outdated studies that are still applied to new or changing conditions or the idea that something should simply be accepted as "common sense," even though the issue has not been thoroughly tested in current practice. A case study analysis may offer an opportunity to gather evidence that challenges prevailing assumptions about a research problem and provide a new set of recommendations applied to practice that have not been tested previously. For example, perhaps there has been a long practice among scholars to apply a particular theory in explaining the relationship between two subjects of analysis. Your case could challenge this assumption by applying an innovative theoretical framework [perhaps borrowed from another discipline] to explore whether this approach offers new ways of understanding the research problem. Taking a contrarian stance is one of the most important ways that new knowledge and understanding develops from existing literature.
- The case provides an opportunity to pursue action leading to the resolution of a problem? Another way to think about choosing a case to study is to consider how the results from investigating a particular case may result in findings that reveal ways in which to resolve an existing or emerging problem. For example, studying the case of an unforeseen incident, such as a fatal accident at a railroad crossing, can reveal hidden issues that could be applied to preventative measures that contribute to reducing the chance of accidents in the future. In this example, a case study investigating the accident could lead to a better understanding of where to strategically locate additional signals at other railroad crossings so as to better warn drivers of an approaching train, particularly when visibility is hindered by heavy rain, fog, or at night.
- The case offers a new direction in future research? A case study can be used as a tool for an exploratory investigation that highlights the need for further research about the problem. A case can be used when there are few studies that help predict an outcome or that establish a clear understanding about how best to proceed in addressing a problem. For example, after conducting a thorough literature review [very important!], you discover that little research exists showing the ways in which women contribute to promoting water conservation in rural communities of east central Africa. A case study of how women contribute to saving water in a rural village of Uganda can lay the foundation for understanding the need for more thorough research that documents how women in their roles as cooks and family caregivers think about water as a valuable resource within their community. This example of a case study could also point to the need for scholars to build new theoretical frameworks around the topic [e.g., applying feminist theories of work and family to the issue of water conservation].
Eisenhardt, Kathleen M. “Building Theories from Case Study Research.” Academy of Management Review 14 (October 1989): 532-550; Emmel, Nick. Sampling and Choosing Cases in Qualitative Research: A Realist Approach . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2013; Gerring, John. “What Is a Case Study and What Is It Good for?” American Political Science Review 98 (May 2004): 341-354; Mills, Albert J. , Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010; Seawright, Jason and John Gerring. "Case Selection Techniques in Case Study Research." Political Research Quarterly 61 (June 2008): 294-308.
Structure and Writing Style
The purpose of a paper in the social sciences designed around a case study is to thoroughly investigate a subject of analysis in order to reveal a new understanding about the research problem and, in so doing, contributing new knowledge to what is already known from previous studies. In applied social sciences disciplines [e.g., education, social work, public administration, etc.], case studies may also be used to reveal best practices, highlight key programs, or investigate interesting aspects of professional work.
In general, the structure of a case study research paper is not all that different from a standard college-level research paper. However, there are subtle differences you should be aware of. Here are the key elements to organizing and writing a case study research paper.
As with any research paper, your introduction should serve as a roadmap for your readers to ascertain the scope and purpose of your study . The introduction to a case study research paper, however, should not only describe the research problem and its significance, but you should also succinctly describe why the case is being used and how it relates to addressing the problem. The two elements should be linked. With this in mind, a good introduction answers these four questions:
- What is being studied? Describe the research problem and describe the subject of analysis [the case] you have chosen to address the problem. Explain how they are linked and what elements of the case will help to expand knowledge and understanding about the problem.
- Why is this topic important to investigate? Describe the significance of the research problem and state why a case study design and the subject of analysis that the paper is designed around is appropriate in addressing the problem.
- What did we know about this topic before I did this study? Provide background that helps lead the reader into the more in-depth literature review to follow. If applicable, summarize prior case study research applied to the research problem and why it fails to adequately address the problem. Describe why your case will be useful. If no prior case studies have been used to address the research problem, explain why you have selected this subject of analysis.
- How will this study advance new knowledge or new ways of understanding? Explain why your case study will be suitable in helping to expand knowledge and understanding about the research problem.
Each of these questions should be addressed in no more than a few paragraphs. Exceptions to this can be when you are addressing a complex research problem or subject of analysis that requires more in-depth background information.
II. Literature Review
The literature review for a case study research paper is generally structured the same as it is for any college-level research paper. The difference, however, is that the literature review is focused on providing background information and enabling historical interpretation of the subject of analysis in relation to the research problem the case is intended to address . This includes synthesizing studies that help to:
- Place relevant works in the context of their contribution to understanding the case study being investigated . This would involve summarizing studies that have used a similar subject of analysis to investigate the research problem. If there is literature using the same or a very similar case to study, you need to explain why duplicating past research is important [e.g., conditions have changed; prior studies were conducted long ago, etc.].
- Describe the relationship each work has to the others under consideration that informs the reader why this case is applicable . Your literature review should include a description of any works that support using the case to investigate the research problem and the underlying research questions.
- Identify new ways to interpret prior research using the case study . If applicable, review any research that has examined the research problem using a different research design. Explain how your use of a case study design may reveal new knowledge or a new perspective or that can redirect research in an important new direction.
- Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies . This refers to synthesizing any literature that points to unresolved issues of concern about the research problem and describing how the subject of analysis that forms the case study can help resolve these existing contradictions.
- Point the way in fulfilling a need for additional research . Your review should examine any literature that lays a foundation for understanding why your case study design and the subject of analysis around which you have designed your study may reveal a new way of approaching the research problem or offer a perspective that points to the need for additional research.
- Expose any gaps that exist in the literature that the case study could help to fill . Summarize any literature that not only shows how your subject of analysis contributes to understanding the research problem, but how your case contributes to a new way of understanding the problem that prior research has failed to do.
- Locate your own research within the context of existing literature [very important!] . Collectively, your literature review should always place your case study within the larger domain of prior research about the problem. The overarching purpose of reviewing pertinent literature in a case study paper is to demonstrate that you have thoroughly identified and synthesized prior studies in relation to explaining the relevance of the case in addressing the research problem.
In this section, you explain why you selected a particular case [i.e., subject of analysis] and the strategy you used to identify and ultimately decide that your case was appropriate in addressing the research problem. The way you describe the methods used varies depending on the type of subject of analysis that constitutes your case study.
If your subject of analysis is an incident or event . In the social and behavioral sciences, the event or incident that represents the case to be studied is usually bounded by time and place, with a clear beginning and end and with an identifiable location or position relative to its surroundings. The subject of analysis can be a rare or critical event or it can focus on a typical or regular event. The purpose of studying a rare event is to illuminate new ways of thinking about the broader research problem or to test a hypothesis. Critical incident case studies must describe the method by which you identified the event and explain the process by which you determined the validity of this case to inform broader perspectives about the research problem or to reveal new findings. However, the event does not have to be a rare or uniquely significant to support new thinking about the research problem or to challenge an existing hypothesis. For example, Walo, Bull, and Breen conducted a case study to identify and evaluate the direct and indirect economic benefits and costs of a local sports event in the City of Lismore, New South Wales, Australia. The purpose of their study was to provide new insights from measuring the impact of a typical local sports event that prior studies could not measure well because they focused on large "mega-events." Whether the event is rare or not, the methods section should include an explanation of the following characteristics of the event: a) when did it take place; b) what were the underlying circumstances leading to the event; and, c) what were the consequences of the event in relation to the research problem.
If your subject of analysis is a person. Explain why you selected this particular individual to be studied and describe what experiences they have had that provide an opportunity to advance new understandings about the research problem. Mention any background about this person which might help the reader understand the significance of their experiences that make them worthy of study. This includes describing the relationships this person has had with other people, institutions, and/or events that support using them as the subject for a case study research paper. It is particularly important to differentiate the person as the subject of analysis from others and to succinctly explain how the person relates to examining the research problem [e.g., why is one politician in a particular local election used to show an increase in voter turnout from any other candidate running in the election]. Note that these issues apply to a specific group of people used as a case study unit of analysis [e.g., a classroom of students].
If your subject of analysis is a place. In general, a case study that investigates a place suggests a subject of analysis that is unique or special in some way and that this uniqueness can be used to build new understanding or knowledge about the research problem. A case study of a place must not only describe its various attributes relevant to the research problem [e.g., physical, social, historical, cultural, economic, political], but you must state the method by which you determined that this place will illuminate new understandings about the research problem. It is also important to articulate why a particular place as the case for study is being used if similar places also exist [i.e., if you are studying patterns of homeless encampments of veterans in open spaces, explain why you are studying Echo Park in Los Angeles rather than Griffith Park?]. If applicable, describe what type of human activity involving this place makes it a good choice to study [e.g., prior research suggests Echo Park has more homeless veterans].
If your subject of analysis is a phenomenon. A phenomenon refers to a fact, occurrence, or circumstance that can be studied or observed but with the cause or explanation to be in question. In this sense, a phenomenon that forms your subject of analysis can encompass anything that can be observed or presumed to exist but is not fully understood. In the social and behavioral sciences, the case usually focuses on human interaction within a complex physical, social, economic, cultural, or political system. For example, the phenomenon could be the observation that many vehicles used by ISIS fighters are small trucks with English language advertisements on them. The research problem could be that ISIS fighters are difficult to combat because they are highly mobile. The research questions could be how and by what means are these vehicles used by ISIS being supplied to the militants and how might supply lines to these vehicles be cut off? How might knowing the suppliers of these trucks reveal larger networks of collaborators and financial support? A case study of a phenomenon most often encompasses an in-depth analysis of a cause and effect that is grounded in an interactive relationship between people and their environment in some way.
NOTE: The choice of the case or set of cases to study cannot appear random. Evidence that supports the method by which you identified and chose your subject of analysis should clearly support investigation of the research problem and linked to key findings from your literature review. Be sure to cite any studies that helped you determine that the case you chose was appropriate for examining the problem.
The main elements of your discussion section are generally the same as any research paper, but centered around interpreting and drawing conclusions about the key findings from your analysis of the case study. Note that a general social sciences research paper may contain a separate section to report findings. However, in a paper designed around a case study, it is common to combine a description of the results with the discussion about their implications. The objectives of your discussion section should include the following:
Reiterate the Research Problem/State the Major Findings Briefly reiterate the research problem you are investigating and explain why the subject of analysis around which you designed the case study were used. You should then describe the findings revealed from your study of the case using direct, declarative, and succinct proclamation of the study results. Highlight any findings that were unexpected or especially profound.
Explain the Meaning of the Findings and Why They are Important Systematically explain the meaning of your case study findings and why you believe they are important. Begin this part of the section by repeating what you consider to be your most important or surprising finding first, then systematically review each finding. Be sure to thoroughly extrapolate what your analysis of the case can tell the reader about situations or conditions beyond the actual case that was studied while, at the same time, being careful not to misconstrue or conflate a finding that undermines the external validity of your conclusions.
Relate the Findings to Similar Studies No study in the social sciences is so novel or possesses such a restricted focus that it has absolutely no relation to previously published research. The discussion section should relate your case study results to those found in other studies, particularly if questions raised from prior studies served as the motivation for choosing your subject of analysis. This is important because comparing and contrasting the findings of other studies helps support the overall importance of your results and it highlights how and in what ways your case study design and the subject of analysis differs from prior research about the topic.
Consider Alternative Explanations of the Findings Remember that the purpose of social science research is to discover and not to prove. When writing the discussion section, you should carefully consider all possible explanations revealed by the case study results, rather than just those that fit your hypothesis or prior assumptions and biases. Be alert to what the in-depth analysis of the case may reveal about the research problem, including offering a contrarian perspective to what scholars have stated in prior research if that is how the findings can be interpreted from your case.
Acknowledge the Study's Limitations You can state the study's limitations in the conclusion section of your paper but describing the limitations of your subject of analysis in the discussion section provides an opportunity to identify the limitations and explain why they are not significant. This part of the discussion section should also note any unanswered questions or issues your case study could not address. More detailed information about how to document any limitations to your research can be found here .
Suggest Areas for Further Research Although your case study may offer important insights about the research problem, there are likely additional questions related to the problem that remain unanswered or findings that unexpectedly revealed themselves as a result of your in-depth analysis of the case. Be sure that the recommendations for further research are linked to the research problem and that you explain why your recommendations are valid in other contexts and based on the original assumptions of your study.
As with any research paper, you should summarize your conclusion in clear, simple language; emphasize how the findings from your case study differs from or supports prior research and why. Do not simply reiterate the discussion section. Provide a synthesis of key findings presented in the paper to show how these converge to address the research problem. If you haven't already done so in the discussion section, be sure to document the limitations of your case study and any need for further research.
The function of your paper's conclusion is to: 1) reiterate the main argument supported by the findings from your case study; 2) state clearly the context, background, and necessity of pursuing the research problem using a case study design in relation to an issue, controversy, or a gap found from reviewing the literature; and, 3) provide a place to persuasively and succinctly restate the significance of your research problem, given that the reader has now been presented with in-depth information about the topic.
Consider the following points to help ensure your conclusion is appropriate:
- If the argument or purpose of your paper is complex, you may need to summarize these points for your reader.
- If prior to your conclusion, you have not yet explained the significance of your findings or if you are proceeding inductively, use the conclusion of your paper to describe your main points and explain their significance.
- Move from a detailed to a general level of consideration of the case study's findings that returns the topic to the context provided by the introduction or within a new context that emerges from your case study findings.
Note that, depending on the discipline you are writing in or the preferences of your professor, the concluding paragraph may contain your final reflections on the evidence presented as it applies to practice or on the essay's central research problem. However, the nature of being introspective about the subject of analysis you have investigated will depend on whether you are explicitly asked to express your observations in this way.
Problems to Avoid
Overgeneralization One of the goals of a case study is to lay a foundation for understanding broader trends and issues applied to similar circumstances. However, be careful when drawing conclusions from your case study. They must be evidence-based and grounded in the results of the study; otherwise, it is merely speculation. Looking at a prior example, it would be incorrect to state that a factor in improving girls access to education in Azerbaijan and the policy implications this may have for improving access in other Muslim nations is due to girls access to social media if there is no documentary evidence from your case study to indicate this. There may be anecdotal evidence that retention rates were better for girls who were engaged with social media, but this observation would only point to the need for further research and would not be a definitive finding if this was not a part of your original research agenda.
Failure to Document Limitations No case is going to reveal all that needs to be understood about a research problem. Therefore, just as you have to clearly state the limitations of a general research study , you must describe the specific limitations inherent in the subject of analysis. For example, the case of studying how women conceptualize the need for water conservation in a village in Uganda could have limited application in other cultural contexts or in areas where fresh water from rivers or lakes is plentiful and, therefore, conservation is understood more in terms of managing access rather than preserving access to a scarce resource.
Failure to Extrapolate All Possible Implications Just as you don't want to over-generalize from your case study findings, you also have to be thorough in the consideration of all possible outcomes or recommendations derived from your findings. If you do not, your reader may question the validity of your analysis, particularly if you failed to document an obvious outcome from your case study research. For example, in the case of studying the accident at the railroad crossing to evaluate where and what types of warning signals should be located, you failed to take into consideration speed limit signage as well as warning signals. When designing your case study, be sure you have thoroughly addressed all aspects of the problem and do not leave gaps in your analysis that leave the reader questioning the results.
Case Studies. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Gerring, John. Case Study Research: Principles and Practices . New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007; Merriam, Sharan B. Qualitative Research and Case Study Applications in Education . Rev. ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1998; Miller, Lisa L. “The Use of Case Studies in Law and Social Science Research.” Annual Review of Law and Social Science 14 (2018): TBD; Mills, Albert J., Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010; Putney, LeAnn Grogan. "Case Study." In Encyclopedia of Research Design , Neil J. Salkind, editor. (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010), pp. 116-120; Simons, Helen. Case Study Research in Practice . London: SAGE Publications, 2009; Kratochwill, Thomas R. and Joel R. Levin, editors. Single-Case Research Design and Analysis: New Development for Psychology and Education . Hilldsale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1992; Swanborn, Peter G. Case Study Research: What, Why and How? London : SAGE, 2010; Yin, Robert K. Case Study Research: Design and Methods . 6th edition. Los Angeles, CA, SAGE Publications, 2014; Walo, Maree, Adrian Bull, and Helen Breen. “Achieving Economic Benefits at Local Events: A Case Study of a Local Sports Event.” Festival Management and Event Tourism 4 (1996): 95-106.
At Least Five Misconceptions about Case Study Research
Social science case studies are often perceived as limited in their ability to create new knowledge because they are not randomly selected and findings cannot be generalized to larger populations. Flyvbjerg examines five misunderstandings about case study research and systematically "corrects" each one. To quote, these are:
Misunderstanding 1 : General, theoretical [context-independent] knowledge is more valuable than concrete, practical [context-dependent] knowledge. Misunderstanding 2 : One cannot generalize on the basis of an individual case; therefore, the case study cannot contribute to scientific development. Misunderstanding 3 : The case study is most useful for generating hypotheses; that is, in the first stage of a total research process, whereas other methods are more suitable for hypotheses testing and theory building. Misunderstanding 4 : The case study contains a bias toward verification, that is, a tendency to confirm the researcher’s preconceived notions. Misunderstanding 5 : It is often difficult to summarize and develop general propositions and theories on the basis of specific case studies [p. 221].
While writing your paper, think introspectively about how you addressed these misconceptions because to do so can help you strengthen the validity and reliability of your research by clarifying issues of case selection, the testing and challenging of existing assumptions, the interpretation of key findings, and the summation of case outcomes. Think of a case study research paper as a complete, in-depth narrative about the specific properties and key characteristics of your subject of analysis applied to the research problem.
Flyvbjerg, Bent. “Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research.” Qualitative Inquiry 12 (April 2006): 219-245.
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How to Cite a Case Study in MLA: Works Cited, Text Citation, and Footnote
6 July 2023
Academic writing is a broad discipline that covers essay writing, report writing, and case study analysis. In all these writings, students use scholarly sources, such as books, case studies, and peer-reviewed journal articles, to validate arguments. Hence, academic writing standards require students to cite sources that they use to present evidence to back up arguments.
General Rules on Citing a Case Study in MLA
If students use a case study as a source and cite it following the MLA format, there some essential details that they must capture in their citation entry. For example, the main elements include:
- Name of the author(s)
- Title of a case study
- Location of a publisher
- Year of publication
Citing a Case Study as a Standalone Document in MLA on the Works Cited Page
If an author has published a case study as a standalone document, a student should cite this source in the Works Cited page in the way they would cite a book. Hence, a citation entry should appear as follows:
Author’s Last Name, First Name. Case Study Title (Title case study and italicized). Location of the Publisher. Publisher, Date. Case Study. An example would be:
Rosegrant, Susan. Leadership Failure at Wal-Mart: The Curse of Internationalization. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Publishing, 2015.
Citing a Case Study with In-Text Citations and Footnotes in MLA
When it comes to citing a case study in a body of a paper, a student should use a parenthetical citation (in-text) by indicating the last name of the author and the page number in a case study from where the information is picked.
In-Text Citation Example:
If students follow the rules of an MLA format, an in-text citation would appear as (Rosegrant 5).
Footnote Citation Example:
If a student has to use footnotes, a footnote citation example is
Susan Rosegrant, Leadership Failure at Wal-Mart: The Curse of Internationalization (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Publishing, 2015), 5.
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How to Write a Case Study in APA Format
30 Mar 2022
What is a case study in apa format, structure of case study report in apa, sample of apa case study outline.
Writing a Case Study in APA Step By Step
Whether you study social sciences or life sciences, you’re likely to encounter a case study analysis in your academic journey. These papers demand a lot from students. First, you must have impeccable research and analysis skills. Sample populations, particularly people, can be challenging to analyze. It’s easy to misinterpret data and come up with the wrong conclusions. Additionally, you’ll need to have a knack for writing to present your findings persuasively, backed up by evidence-based arguments that build confidence for your teacher to accept the results of your work. If you need to boost your paper, Papers Owl is here to help you with a wide range of guidelines on how to write a case study in APA.
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To make your success, first realize that a case study is detective work. Your research may have an unresolved question or to carry out some testing to validate a hypothesis; in this case, studies are born. Psychology, nursing, and business are common fields this method is applied. In this scientific method, you’ll approach an event, action, individual, etc. And apply a set of circumstances to observe outcomes. Most papers in this field are written in the APA format, which can be a burden for students, especially if they aren’t familiar with this style. If you lack time or motivation for writing, appeal to our professional writers to write a case study in APA format, and we will ensure your paper is perfectly formatted and gets a high grade.
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First, let's look at the sections in writing a case study in APA, which shares a few similarities to a typical research paper.
Introduction: Introduce your topic to the reader. Be sure to include the state of current research and where you plan to develop the current state of knowledge. You should include an interesting fact to reinforce your work's importance and develop an interest in your hypothesis. Finish off with a thesis statement that you’ll focus on your workaround.
Aims: In this section, you answer the questions regarding why you are conducting your research and any questions you’ll explore. Avid case study writer recommends focusing your questions around your thesis. You can develop a triangle with a diagram and drill down your questions in a logical format that matches your paper's main purpose.
Methods: Writing a case study in APA requires a methods section that details how you conducted your research. Did you conduct any interviews, send out questionnaires, or observe any behaviors? Detail them in this section, and state the environment and circumstances surrounding your data collection.
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Results: Now that you’ve identified what you’d planned to accomplish and how you went about it in your APA case study format, it’s time to post the results. Don’t be shy if things don't go swimmingly. Often in studies, we have unexpected results, which sometimes makes your paper more interesting to read.
Discussion: It’s time for the heart and soul of your paper. After all your research and observation, it is time to have a discourse on the results. The key to how to write a case paper in APA hangs on your ability to interpret the results in a meaningful way. Be sure to focus the discussion on your stated methods and how they pertain to your aims.
Recommendations: Here you want to detail what is to follow your research. Professional case study writers advise stating any knowledge gaps in your work and any unanswered or new questions you had found in the process. Your insights will be useful for others to follow in your footsteps and expand on your analysis.
Example of writing a case study analysis in APA format:
Writing a case study in APA Step By Step
Knowing how to write a case study in APA format is a common question for students. In addition to the typical academic standards, APA has its own requirements that must be adhered to. The first step is to create a heading, known as a running head, that will be present on each page of your paper. The running head includes:
- The page number on the right margin
- A shortened title of your paper in ALL-CAPS no longer than 50 characters to the right
Title Page in APA for Case Study Project
The title of a case study in an APA paper is a requirement. The purpose is to state the name of the work, who the author is, and the institution that sponsored the research. It has the following parts:
- The words “running head” at the top, followed by the actual running head
- The full title of your paper using APA titling no longer than 12 words
- Your name without any designations (Dr/Ph.D./Rev/etc.) and the institution you attend
The Abstract for an APA case study
The abstract of your paper works as a summary to give a brief overview of what it contains. Include the running head at the top; the first line should have the word “abstract” centered. Follow the abstract with 150-250 words summarizing your paper. You may also index some keywords to help find the contents of your work in academic databases. At the end of your summary, indent once, and in italics, indicate keywords related to your work.
Writing an effective college paper requires a lot of planning and formatting to get it done right. Brush up on these guidelines for how to write your paper in APA format . If you need someone to review your work or write any parts of your paper, reach out to our professional writers, who are always willing to lend a hand.
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Home / guides / How to Cite a Case Study
How to Cite a Case Study
Students are often puzzled about the proper citation format for unusual documents or sources. While they can easily find information on how to cite books, online sources, or periodicals, they may be puzzled about how to cite lesser known sources, like case studies.
Case studies may not a very common type of source, but they can absolutely add value to your research paper or dissertation. In fact, some schools, particularly a very well-known Ivy League’s business school, have become well-known for publishing case studies that challenge some of the assumptions in different industries.
Definition of Case Study
There are actually multiple different definitions for the term case study, each referring to slightly different versions of similar real-life studies of people or phenomenon, in context. In general, the term case study refers to a type of research methodology commonly used in the social sciences, which is an empirical inquiry into a phenomenon in its real-life setting. Case studies tend to be intensively in-depth. In contrast to other types of research, they do not have control groups. Instead, the focus on a single person, group, or event. Therefore, case studies cannot establish cause and effect relationships. Instead, they seek to explore potential causes of the principals being studies, and rather than being conclusory, tend to be both descriptive and exploratory.
While the term case study refers to a single study, research presented in a case study format may actually look at multiple case studies. In those instances, the case study may offer quantitative evidence in addition to qualitative evidence.
Basic Rules for Citing Case Studies
In general, case studies are going to be cited like books. That is because case studies are generally going to be published by publishing houses, giving you many of the same identifying information that you need when citing a book.
However, and this is an important thing to note, sometimes case studies are going to be located within other sources. You may find case studies within books, within periodicals, and within dissertations or thesis. If the case study you are citing is published within another type of publication, then you will cite the case study as an appropriate part of that publication. For example, if the case study is a chapter in a book, then you would cite to the book chapter. If the case study is found in an academic article, then you would cite to the academic article.
Can You Cite an Unpublished Case Study?
There may be times that you want to cite a case study prior to publication or even a case study that is not slated for publication. In those instances, you may wonder if you can use the case study, and, if so, how to properly cite to it.
The citation format for an unpublished case study is relatively easy. In both APA or MLA format, citing to unpublished works is similar to citing to published works. You would simply need the author’s name, the date it was published, the title of the case study, where it was located, and when it was accessed.
Basic APA Citation Format for a Case Study
Last Name, Initials. (Date published). Title. City of Publication: Publisher.
Basic MLA Citation Format for a Case Study
Last Name, First Name. Title . City of Publication: Publisher, Year Published.
Method of Publication. URL.
In MLA 7, it was up to the user to determine whether or not to include a URL with sources found on the web. However, MLA 8 suggests that URLs be included in a citation whenever the source has been found online.
For this example, we are going to look at a screenshot that gives us the publication information for a case study from the Harvard Business Review.
Looking at the screenshot, you can see the following information:
Authors: Elizabeth Collins and Larry E. Greiner
Title: A Day in the Life of Alex Sander: Driving in the Fast Lane at Landon Care Products
Publication Date: April 11, 2008
Source: HBS Brief Cases
This screenshot does not tell us the publisher or the place of publication, but the source was found searching through the Harvard Business Review. That tells us the following information:
Publisher: Harvard University Press.
Place of Publication: Boston
Collins, E. & Greiner, L.E. (2008, April 11). A Day in the Life of Alex Sander: Driving in the
Fast Lane at Landon Care Products. Boston: Harvard University Press.
Collins, Elizabeth and Larry E. Greiner. A Day in the Life of Alex Sander: Driving in the
Fast Lane at Landon Care Products. Boston: Harvard University Press, 2008. PDF.
Where to Find Case Studies Online
Case studies are an invaluable research tool, particularly in the social sciences and business. The Harvard Business Review is probably the best-known and most-reliable source for business cases studies. However, it is far from the only source for case studies online. You can often find case studies in: books, dissertations, theses, articles, and websites.
If you are having a problem finding case studies, you may find the following resources to be useful:
Harvard Business School
The Case Centre
The Richard Ivey School of Business
Your University Case Study Database
If you are at a university, then you may have student access to a great case study database, already. It is certainly worthwhile to check and see if your university has a database of case studies. If you are unsure how to locate this information, take a few moments to contact your school’s librarian to ask if your university has this resources, and, if so, how you can access it!
Case studies are highly-focused empirical investigations into specific people, groups, or phenomenon. Thought they cannot establish causal relationships; case studies are often a great research tool because they allow one to investigate the relationship between different factors. Case studies are often used as an initial exploratory research method, though they may be used in more highly-focused ways if the particular issue being researched does not lend itself to a more quantitative-type of analysis. For example, if what is being studied occurs so rarely that quantitative analysis is difficult, a case study may be the perfect way to investigate the topic.
If you are focusing on the social sciences or on business, then you will almost certainly need to make references to some case studies in some of your research and writing. Doing so is very easy. You either cite to the book, article, thesis, dissertation, or webpage where you found the case study, or, if the case study is published as a stand-alone document, cite to the case study like you would cite to a book. If the case study is one of many case studies included in a compilation-type book, then you should follow the instructions for citing to a chapter or section of a book.
Using the tips and example that we have provided, you should be able to easily cite to any case study you encounter. However, if you have any questions about how to incorporate case studies into your academic writing or any other aspects of your academic writing project, we would be happy to answer them.
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How to Cite Case Studies in APA Format
As a student researcher, you know the value of both quantitative and qualitative research to your chosen area of study. Case studies are forms of qualitative, descriptive research used often in fields such as psychology or business, fields in which the American Psychological Association (APA) style is used most often for writing these papers. APA style doesn't provide instructions for how to style a case study specifically, so you generally cite one according to the type of publication you found it in.
Case Studies from a Book
Many textbooks or books about a given subject include a series of case studies you can use as a source in your own work. The basic APA format for books includes the author’s name, year of publication, book title and the publisher’s name and location. Since you probably want to refer only to the specific case study in the book, you also include the study’s title to direct your audience straight to the source, as in the example :
Lecourt, E. (1991). Off-beat music therapy. In K. Bruscia (Ed.), Case studies in music therapy (pp.73-98). New York: Barcelona Publishers.
This book had an editor, so it was included before the book title. It also has the page numbers in parentheses after the title to lead the reader to the exact place you sourced the material.
Journal Article Citations
You might also find a variety of case studies in journals dedicated to your given field of study. These citations look similar to the format for books, but with some differences. The most notable difference is the addition of volume and page numbers, which is, again, of great value to your readers. A sample citation of a case study found in a journal looks like this:
Schwartz, M. F., Marin, O. S. M., & Saffran, E. M. (2004). Dissociations of language function in dementia: A case study. Brain and Language , 7 (3), 277-306.
In this example, the italicized volume number is followed, with no spaces between, the issue number, which is not italicized, in parentheses. Also notice the journal title follows traditional capitalization, where the first letter of all important words are capitalized. While you might not find many case studies in them, newspaper and magazine articles use the year, month day format for the date in parentheses.
Citations for Web Sources
You might find case studies online. If the study is an online version of a journal article, you could reference the original print source, or you could add the URL of the website. The rest of the citation would look like one for a journal article, with the addition “Retrieved from” followed by the URL. If your source is from an online journal with a digital object identifier, or DOI, you should use that number in place of the URL, as in this example :
Jacobsen, K. H., et al. (2015). Ebola in Freetown area, Sierra Leone: A case study of 581 patients. The New England Journal of Medicine , 372 , 587-588. doi: 10.1056/NEJMc1413685
DOIs provide long-lasting links to articles, whereas URLs can change frequently. DOIs are most often found on the first page of the case study, usually near the article title and the online journal’s title and volume number.
Business School Case Studies
APA style is also sometimes used in business, and case studies from Harvard or Ivey Business school have a slightly different citation format. As you will see in this example , the format is similar to that for a book:
Elberse, A. & Ferguson, A. (2013). Ferguson’s Formula . HBS No. R1310G-PDF-ENG. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.
The citation for an Ivey Business School case study is the same, except you will write “Ivey ID” without quotation marks in place of “HBS No.”, and the location and publisher is “London, Canada: Ivey Publishing.”
Reference list entries are only part of citing case studies in your work. You also need to provide in-text citations; APA style uses the author-date format, as follows: (Lecourt, 1991). There is a comma between the author and the date. These citations go at the end of the sentence or sentences referring to the case study material, and the sentence's period goes after the final parentheses. If you mention the author’s name in your sentence, you need put only the date in parentheses directly after the author’s name.
Need help with a citation? Try our citation generator .
- Colorado State University: Case Studies
- Purdue Online Writing Lab: Reference List; Books
- Northern Alberta Institute of Technology: APA Style Guidelines & Examples
- Purdue Online Writing Lab: Reference List; Articles in Periodicals
- Purdue Online Writing Lab: Reference List; Electronic Sources
- Purdue Online Writing Lab: In-Text Citations
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All You Need To Know About APA Case Study (Top Guide)
Citing a case study in APA is no mean feat for any student, whether in college or university. Most students would opt to have this task completed by expert writers instead of themselves. However, you can know how to cite a case study in APA and write an A+ paper painstakingly.
Well, all the answers you need for this are a few scrolls away. Follow me as we explore how to write a case study in APA like a pro!
Table of Contents
- 1. What Is the APA Citation Case Study?
- 2. Case Study Outline: Structure and Writing Tips
- 3. How To Cite a Case Study in APA: Outline
- 4. General APA Case Study Citation Template
- 5. Case Study Title Page For APA 6 and APA 7
- 5.1. APA 6 Case Study Title Page
- 5.2. APA 7 Case Study Title Page
- 6. APA Case Study Citations
- 7. APA Case Study References
What Is the APA Citation Case Study?
APA is an acronym for the American Psychological Association. It is an in-text and reference list citation format used for case studies, theoretical methodologies, literature reviews, empirical studies, and methodological articles. Its use is most prominent in the science fields.
An APA case study allows readers to understand the types of sources used in a project and their components. The information in the post follows the 7th edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.
It outlines how to properly organize and structure a research paper, explain the grammar guidelines, and cite sources correctly. You will also get the differences between the 6th and 7th editions at the end of this guide.
Case Study Outline: Structure and Writing Tips
A case study is a kind of report, where sections within the essay’s body deal with specific aspects of the case. For instance, your instructor may ask you to focus on particular questions about the issue and organize your writing around those questions.
There are different kinds of case studies, including:
- Critical and
- Illustrative case studies
The type of case study will depend on the topic of discussion. A case structure mainly comprises of the following parts, though this may vary depending on different institutions:
- Cover page: It comprises of the necessary details of the student and class information. These include all authors’ names, institutional affiliation, course number and title, instructor’s name, and due date.
- Table of contents provides an outline of where critical parts of the report can be found and direct the reader accordingly.
- Executive summary: It explains what you will examine in the case study. You will also give an overview of the field you’re researching.
- Introduction: It identifies the focal problem being faced together with background information and the most relevant facts. Any previous studies of the issue come here.
- Case Evaluation: It includes the study’s purpose and the specific questions you are trying to answer. You also have an explanation of why something is working or is not working.
- Proposed solutions: You will give the decision criteria and possible alternatives for solving the problem at hand. They should be realistic ways to decipher what isn’t working or how to improve their current condition.
- Recommendations: Highlight the strategies that you can use to better the situation with explanations on their appropriateness.
- Implementation: It has details on how to execute the recommendations and ensure their success.
- References: Provide citations of sources used in the case study project at any point.
Nonetheless, remember to refer to your assignment instructions to find out what you have to do in the writing process.
How To Cite a Case Study in APA: Outline
The standard in-text citation and reference list formats for a case study require that you have an in-depth understanding of the APA citation style. The APA case study format follows a list of stringent rules which you must abide by to have an A+ paper.
Before embarking on the citation process, ensure that you have the following elements in place:
- The author’s name
- Date of publication
- The title of the case study
- Number of case study
Once the details above are intact, it is now time to curate them into the order recommended for APA citation style. You can request one of our professionally tailored APA format case study example to understand this concept better.
Also, feel free to take any APA style case study paper example below for your motivation:
General APA Case Study Citation Template
- General Style
Author(s). (Year). Title of the case study. The number of the case study. URL. For example, Warbeck, D. (2010). Integrated Management. HBS No. 7-806-122. https://hbsp.oxford.edu/cases/
- Textbook Case Study Format APA
Author(s) or editor(s) of the chapter or case study (Year of the book publication). Title of chapter or case study.
For Example, Jameson, B. (2003). The Role of Online Writing. In J. Ness, Cases in College Students (pp.15-18). HMD Publishing.
- Footnote Structure:
1 Student rely on online sites for completing their assignments.
1 Adapted from “Content Management in the US,” by H. B. Gibbering, 08 June 2005, Harvard Business Review, 3(12), p. 34 ( https://hbr.org/case/hbs_22345 ).
- In-Text Appearance:
First footnote: Branding remains a crucial aspect of digital marketing. 1
Case Study Title Page For APA 6 and APA 7
Here are the differences between the two formats as presented in the screens below. Note, that the title page for APA 7 case study doesn’t require any running head, and the paper title is bold.
APA 6 Case Study Title Page
APA 7 Case Study Title Page
APA Case Study Citations
Apa case study references.
And that is how to reference a case study in APA 6th and 7th edition. Perhaps a sample from one of our professional writing experts can help you. With our online writing help , you can request for an APA style case study paper example and use it as a motivation to get started.
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What Are Clinical Trials and Studies?
On this page:
What is clinical research?
Why participate in a clinical trial, what happens in a clinical trial or study, what happens when a clinical trial or study ends, what are the different phases of clinical trials, questions to ask before participating in clinical research, how do researchers decide who will participate, clinical research needs participants with diverse backgrounds.
By participating in clinical research, you can help scientists develop new medications and other strategies to treat and prevent disease. Many effective treatments that are used today, such as chemotherapy, cholesterol-lowering drugs, vaccines, and cognitive-behavioral therapy, would not exist without research participants. Whether you’re healthy or have a medical condition, people of all ages and backgrounds can participate in clinical trials. This article can help you learn more about clinical research, why people choose to participate, and how to get involved in a study.
Mr. Jackson's story
Mr. Jackson is 73 years old and was just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease . He is worried about how it will affect his daily life. Will he forget to take his medicine? Will he forget his favorite memories, like the births of his children or hiking the Appalachian Trail? When Mr. Jackson talked to his doctor about his concerns, she told him about a clinical trial that is testing a possible new Alzheimer’s treatment. But Mr. Jackson has concerns about clinical trials. He does not want to feel like a lab rat or take the chance of getting a treatment that may not work or could make him feel worse. The doctor explained that there are both risks and benefits to being part of a clinical trial, and she talked with Mr. Jackson about research studies — what they are, how they work, and why they need volunteers. This information helped Mr. Jackson feel better about clinical trials. He plans to learn more about how to participate.
Clinical research is the study of health and illness in people. There are two main types of clinical research: observational studies and clinical trials.
Observational studies monitor people in normal settings. Researchers gather information from people and compare changes over time. For example, researchers may ask a group of older adults about their exercise habits and provide monthly memory tests for a year to learn how physical activity is associated with cognitive health . Observational studies do not test a medical intervention, such as a drug or device, but may help identify new treatments or prevention strategies to test in clinical trials.
Clinical trials are research studies that test a medical, surgical, or behavioral intervention in people. These trials are the primary way that researchers determine if a new form of treatment or prevention, such as a new drug, diet, or medical device (for example, a pacemaker), is safe and effective in people. Often, a clinical trial is designed to learn if a new treatment is more effective or has less harmful side effects than existing treatments.
Other aims of clinical research include:
- Testing ways to diagnose a disease early, sometimes before there are symptoms
- Finding approaches to prevent a health problem, including in people who are healthy but at increased risk of developing a disease
- Improving quality of life for people living with a life-threatening disease or chronic health problem
- Studying the role of caregivers or support groups
Learn more about clinical research from MedlinePlus and ClinicalTrials.gov .
People volunteer for clinical trials and studies for a variety of reasons, including:
- They want to contribute to discovering health information that may help others in the future.
- Participating in research helps them feel like they are playing a more active role in their health.
- The treatments they have tried for their health problem did not work or there is no treatment for their health problem.
Whatever the motivation, when you choose to participate in a clinical trial, you become a partner in scientific discovery. Participating in research can help future generations lead healthier lives. Major medical breakthroughs could not happen without the generosity of clinical trial participants — young and old, healthy, or diagnosed with a disease.
Where can I find a clinical trial?
Looking for clinical trials related to aging and age-related health conditions? Talk to your health care provider and use online resources to:
- Search for a clinical trial
- Look for clinical trials on Alzheimer's, other dementias, and caregiving
- Find a registry for a particular diagnosis or condition
- Explore clinical trials and studies supported by NIA
After you find one or more studies that you are interested in, the next step is for you or your doctor to contact the study research staff and ask questions. You can usually find contact information in the description of the study.
Let your health care provider know if you are thinking about joining a clinical trial. Your provider may want to talk to the research team to make sure the study is safe for you and to help coordinate your care.
Joining a clinical trial is a personal decision with potential benefits and some risks. Learn what happens in a clinical trial and how participant safety is protected . Read and listen to testimonials from people who decided to participate in research.
Here’s what typically happens in a clinical trial or study:
- Research staff explain the trial or study in detail, answer your questions, and gather more information about you.
- Once you agree to participate, you sign an informed consent form indicating your understanding about what to expect as a participant and the various outcomes that could occur.
- You are screened to make sure you qualify for the trial or study.
- If accepted into the trial, you schedule a first visit, which is called the “baseline” visit. The researchers conduct cognitive and/or physical tests during this visit.
- For some trials testing an intervention, you are assigned by chance (randomly) to a treatment group or a control group . The treatment group will get the intervention being tested, and the control group will not.
- You follow the trial procedures and report any issues or concerns to researchers.
- You may visit the research site at regularly scheduled times for new cognitive, physical, or other evaluations and discussions with staff. During these visits, the research team collects data and monitors your safety and well-being.
- You continue to see your regular physician(s) for usual health care throughout the study.
How do researchers decide which interventions are safe to test in people?
Before a clinical trial is designed and launched, scientists perform laboratory tests and often conduct studies in animals to test a potential intervention’s safety and effectiveness. If these studies show favorable results, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the intervention to be tested in humans. Learn more about how the safety of clinical trial participants is protected.
Once a clinical trial or study ends, the researchers analyze the data to determine what the findings mean and to plan the next steps. As a participant, you should be provided information before the study starts about how long it will last, whether you will continue receiving the treatment after the trial ends (if applicable), and how the results of the research will be shared. If you have specific questions about what will happen when the trial or study ends, ask the research coordinator or staff.
Clinical trials of drugs and medical devices advance through several phases to test safety, determine effectiveness, and identify any side effects. The FDA typically requires Phase 1, 2, and 3 trials to be conducted to determine if the drug or device can be approved for further use. If researchers find the intervention to be safe and effective after the first three phases, the FDA approves it for clinical use and continues to monitor its effects.
Each phase has a different purpose:
- A Phase 1 trial tests an experimental drug or device on a small group of people (around 20 to 80) to judge its safety, including any side effects, and to test the amount (dosage).
- A Phase 2 trial includes more people (around 100 to 300) to help determine whether a drug is effective. This phase aims to obtain preliminary data on whether the drug or device works in people who have a certain disease or condition. These trials also continue to examine safety, including short-term side effects.
- A Phase 3 trial gathers additional information from several hundred to a few thousand people about safety and effectiveness, studying different populations and different dosages, and comparing the intervention with other drugs or treatment approaches. If the FDA agrees that the trial results support the intervention’s use for a particular health condition, it will approve the experimental drug or device.
- A Phase 4 trial takes place after the FDA approves the drug or device. The treatment’s effectiveness and safety are monitored in large, diverse populations. Sometimes, side effects may not become clear until more people have used the drug or device over a longer period of time.
Clinical trials that test a behavior change, rather than a drug or medical device, advance through similar steps, but behavioral interventions are not regulated by the FDA. Learn more about clinical trials , including the types of trials and the four phases.
Choosing to participate in research is an important personal decision. If you are considering joining a trial or study, get answers to your questions and know your options before you decide. Here are questions you might ask the research team when thinking about participating.
- What is this study trying to find out?
- What treatment or tests will I have? Will they hurt? Will you provide me with the test or lab results?
- What are the chances I will be in the experimental group or the control group?
- If the study tests a treatment, what are the possible risks, side effects, and benefits compared with my current treatment?
- How long will the clinical trial last?
- Where will the study take place? Will I need to stay in the hospital?
- Will you provide a way for me to get to the study site if I need it, such as through a ride-share service?
- Will I need a trial or study partner (for example, a family member or friend who knows me well) to come with me to the research site visits? If so, how long will he or she need to participate?
- Can I participate in any part of the trial with my regular doctor or at a clinic closer to my home?
- How will the study affect my everyday life?
- What steps are being taken to ensure my privacy?
- How will you protect my health while I participate?
- What happens if my health problem gets worse during the trial or study?
- Can I take my regular medicines while participating?
- Who will be in charge of my care while I am in the trial or study? Will I be able to see my own doctors?
- How will you keep my doctor informed about my participation?
- If I withdraw from the trial or study, will this affect my normal care?
- Will it cost me anything to be in the trial or study? If so, will I be reimbursed for expenses, such as travel, parking, lodging, or meals?
- Will my insurance pay for costs not covered by the research, or must I pay out of pocket? If I don’t have insurance, am I still eligible to participate?
- Will my trial or study partner be compensated for his or her time?
- Will you follow up on my health after the end of the trial or study?
- Will I continue receiving the treatment after the trial or study ends?
- Will you tell me the results of the research?
- Whom do I contact if I have questions after the trial or study ends?
To be eligible to participate, you may need to have certain characteristics, called inclusion criteria. For example, a clinical trial may need participants to have a certain stage of disease, version of a gene, or family history. Some trials require that participants have a study partner who can accompany them to clinic visits.
Participants with certain characteristics may not be allowed to participate in some trials. These characteristics are called exclusion criteria. They include factors such as specific health conditions or medications that could interfere with the treatment being tested.
Many volunteers must be screened to find enough people who are eligible for a trial or study. Generally, you can participate in only one clinical trial at a time, although this is not necessarily the case for observational studies. Different trials have different criteria, so being excluded from one trial does not necessarily mean you will be excluded from another.
Researchers need older adults to participate in clinical research so that scientists can learn more about how new drugs, tests, and other interventions will work for them. Many older adults have health needs that are different from those of younger people. For example, as people age, their bodies may react differently to certain drugs. Older adults may need different dosages of a drug to have the intended result. Also, some drugs may have different side effects in older people than in younger individuals. Having older adults enrolled in clinical trials and studies helps researchers get the information they need to develop the right treatments for this age group.
Researchers know that it may be challenging for some older adults to join a clinical trial or study. For example, if you have multiple health problems, can you participate in research that is looking at only one condition? If you are frail or have a disability, will you be strong enough to participate? If you no longer drive, how can you get to the research site? Talk to the research coordinator or staff about your concerns. The research team may have already thought about some of the potential obstacles and have a plan to make it easier for you to participate.
Read more about diversity in clinical trials .
You may also be interested in
- Learning more about the benefits, risks, and safety of clinical research
- Finding out about participating in Alzheimer's disease research
- Downloading or sharing an infographic with the benefits of participating in clinical research
Sign up for email updates on healthy aging
For more information about clinical trials.
Alzheimers.gov www.alzheimers.gov Explore the Alzheimers.gov website for information and resources on Alzheimer’s and related dementias from across the federal government.
Clinical Research Trials and You National Institutes of Health www.nih.gov/health-information/nih-clinical-research-trials-you
This content is provided by the NIH National Institute on Aging (NIA). NIA scientists and other experts review this content to ensure it is accurate and up to date.
Content reviewed: March 22, 2023
An official website of the National Institutes of Health
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Computer Science > Computation and Language
Title: do llms exhibit human-like response biases a case study in survey design.
Abstract: As large language models (LLMs) become more capable, there is growing excitement about the possibility of using LLMs as proxies for humans in real-world tasks where subjective labels are desired, such as in surveys and opinion polling. One widely-cited barrier to the adoption of LLMs is their sensitivity to prompt wording -- but interestingly, humans also display sensitivities to instruction changes in the form of response biases. As such, we argue that if LLMs are going to be used to approximate human opinions, it is necessary to investigate the extent to which LLMs also reflect human response biases, if at all. In this work, we use survey design as a case study, where human response biases caused by permutations in wordings of ``prompts'' have been extensively studied. Drawing from prior work in social psychology, we design a dataset and propose a framework to evaluate whether LLMs exhibit human-like response biases in survey questionnaires. Our comprehensive evaluation of nine models shows that popular open and commercial LLMs generally fail to reflect human-like behavior. These inconsistencies tend to be more prominent in models that have been instruction fine-tuned. Furthermore, even if a model shows a significant change in the same direction as humans, we find that perturbations that are not meant to elicit significant changes in humans may also result in a similar change, suggesting that such a result could be partially due to other spurious correlations. These results highlight the potential pitfalls of using LLMs to substitute humans in parts of the annotation pipeline, and further underscore the importance of finer-grained characterizations of model behavior. Our code, dataset, and collected samples are available at this https URL
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Chatbots May ‘Hallucinate’ More Often Than Many Realize
When summarizing facts, ChatGPT technology makes things up about 3 percent of the time, according to research from a new start-up. A Google system’s rate was 27 percent.
Amr Awadallah, the chief executive of Vectara, warns that its chatbot software doesn’t always tell the truth. Credit... Cayce Clifford for The New York Times
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By Cade Metz
Cade Metz has been watching chatbots hallucinate since 2017.
- Published Nov. 6, 2023 Updated Nov. 8, 2023
When the San Francisco start-up OpenAI unveiled its ChatGPT online chatbot late last year , millions were wowed by the humanlike way it answered questions, wrote poetry and discussed almost any topic. But most people were slow to realize that this new kind of chatbot often makes things up .
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When Google introduced a similar chatbot several weeks later, it spewed nonsense about the James Webb telescope . The next day, Microsoft’s new Bing chatbot offered up all sorts of bogus information about the Gap, Mexican nightlife and the singer Billie Eilish. Then, in March, ChatGPT cited a half dozen fake court cases while writing a 10-page legal brief that a lawyer submitted to a federal judge in Manhattan.
Now a new start-up called Vectara, founded by former Google employees, is trying to figure out how often chatbots veer from the truth. The company’s research estimates that even in situations designed to prevent it from happening, chatbots invent information at least 3 percent of the time — and as high as 27 percent.
Experts call this chatbot behavior “hallucination.” It may not be a problem for people tinkering with chatbots on their personal computers, but it is a serious issue for anyone using this technology with court documents, medical information or sensitive business data.
Because these chatbots can respond to almost any request in an unlimited number of ways, there is no way of definitively determining how often they hallucinate. “You would have to look at all of the world’s information,” said Simon Hughes, the Vectara researcher who led the project.
Dr. Hughes and his team asked these systems to perform a single, straightforward task that is readily verified: Summarize news articles. Even then, the chatbots persistently invented information.
“We gave the system 10 to 20 facts and asked for a summary of those facts,” said Amr Awadallah, the chief executive of Vectara and a former Google executive. “That the system can still introduce errors is a fundamental problem.”
The researchers argue that when these chatbots perform other tasks — beyond mere summarization — hallucination rates may be higher.
Their research also showed that hallucination rates vary widely among the leading A.I. companies. OpenAI’s technologies had the lowest rate, around 3 percent. Systems from Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, hovered around 5 percent. The Claude 2 system offered by Anthropic, an OpenAI rival also based in San Francisco, topped 8 percent. A Google system, Palm chat, had the highest rate at 27 percent.
An Anthropic spokeswoman, Sally Aldous, said, “Making our systems helpful, honest and harmless, which includes avoiding hallucinations, is one of our core goals as a company.”
Google declined to comment, and OpenAI and Meta did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
With this research, Dr. Hughes and Mr. Awadallah want to show people that they must be wary of information that comes from chatbots and even the service that Vectara sells to businesses. Many companies are now offering this kind of technology for business use.
Based in Palo Alto, Calif., Vectara is a 30-person start-up backed by $28.5 million in seed funding. One of its founders, Amin Ahmad, a former Google artificial intelligence researcher, has been working with this kind of technology since 2017, when it was incubated inside Google and a handful of other companies.
Much as Microsoft’s Bing search chatbot can retrieve information from the open internet, Vectara’s service can retrieve information from a company’s private collection of emails, documents and other files.
The researchers also hope that their methods — which they are sharing publicly and will continue to update — will help spur efforts across the industry to reduce hallucinations. OpenAI, Google and others are working to minimize the issue through a variety of techniques, though it is not clear whether they can eliminate the problem.
“A good analogy is a self-driving car,” said Philippe Laban, a researcher at Salesforce who has long explored this kind of technology. “You cannot keep a self-driving car from crashing. But you can try to make sure it is safer than a human driver.”
Chatbots like ChatGPT are driven by a technology called a large language model , or L.L.M., which learns its skills by analyzing enormous amounts of digital text, including books, Wikipedia articles and online chat logs. By pinpointing patterns in all that data, an L.L.M. learns to do one thing in particular: guess the next word in a sequence of words .
Because the internet is filled with untruthful information, these systems repeat the same untruths. They also rely on probabilities: What is the mathematical chance that the next word is “playwright”? From time to time, they guess incorrectly.
The new research from Vectara shows how this can happen. In summarizing news articles, chatbots do not repeat untruths from other parts of the internet. They just get the summarization wrong.
For example, the researchers asked Google’s large language model, Palm chat, to summarize this short passage from a news article:
The plants were found during the search of a warehouse near Ashbourne on Saturday morning. Police said they were in “an elaborate grow house.” A man in his late 40s was arrested at the scene.
It gave this summary, completely inventing a value for the plants the man was growing and assuming — perhaps incorrectly — that they were cannabis plants:
Police have arrested a man in his late 40s after cannabis plants worth an estimated £100,000 were found in a warehouse near Ashbourne.
This phenomenon also shows why a tool like Microsoft’s Bing chatbot can get things wrong as it retrieves information from the internet. If you ask the chatbot a question, it can call Microsoft’s Bing search engine and run an internet search. But it has no way of pinpointing the right answer. It grabs the results of that internet search and summarizes them for you.
Sometimes, this summary is very flawed. Some bots will cite internet addresses that are entirely made up.
Companies like OpenAI, Google and Microsoft have developed ways to improve the accuracy of their technologies. OpenAI, for example, tries to refine its technology with feedback from human testers, who rate the chatbot’s responses, separating useful and truthful answers from those that are not. Then, using a technique called reinforcement learning, the system spends weeks analyzing the ratings to better understand what it is fact and what is fiction.
But researchers warn that chatbot hallucination is not an easy problem to solve. Because chatbots learn from patterns in data and operate according to probabilities, they behave in unwanted ways at least some of the time.
To determine how often the chatbots hallucinated when summarizing news articles, Vectara’s researchers used another large language model to check the accuracy of each summary. That was the only way of efficiently checking such a huge number of summaries.
But James Zou, a Stanford computer science professor, said this method came with a caveat. The language model doing the checking can also make mistakes.
“The hallucination detector could be fooled — or hallucinate itself,” he said.
Audio produced by Kate Winslett .
Cade Metz is a technology reporter and the author of “Genius Makers: The Mavericks Who Brought A.I. to Google, Facebook, and The World.” He covers artificial intelligence, driverless cars, robotics, virtual reality and other emerging areas. More about Cade Metz
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Research from Vectara, a new start-up founded by former Google employees, estimates that chatbots invent information at least 3% of the time — and as high as 27% . Experts call this chatbot behavior “hallucination.”
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