Qualitative case study research can be a helpful methodology when conducting health research. However, it can be overlooked or dismissed as a possible methodological choice due to different epistemological positionings by case study theorists and often confusing and contradictory definitions and terminology. Much has been written about case studies, but it takes time to wade through volumes of often philosophically and methodologically dense material to locate a theorist who presents case study research at a depth the novice researcher can understand. Case study research literature may offer a condensed summary of processes but often needs more theoretical detail. Therefore, discerning where to begin can be time-consuming, frustrating, and overwhelming. There are very few qualitative case study protocols and no step-by-step guide describing the planning and decision-making process within nursing. To address the need for clarity, this article endeavors to set out how to conduct a qualitative case study in a step-by-step guide using the approaches of Merriam and Stake as the foundation using a palliative care setting as an application example. It contributes to knowledge and practice by developing a foundational understanding of case study methodology in the hope that novice researchers will consider case study research as a methodological choice for their study and conduct it in a trustworthy and rigorous manner.


qualitative, case study, palliative, end-of-life

Author Bio(s)

Elizabeth Miller is a Research Fellow with the Collaborative Evaluation & Research Group at Federation University Australia, Gippsland Campus. She is published in the field of palliative care and her PhD investigated environmental factors within the acute hospital setting - the natural, built, social (behaviour and language), and symbolic environments where people may receive bad news about their life-limiting illness. As well as research expertise, Elizabeth has medical, palliative, surgical and hospital in the home clinical experience. Please direct correspondence to l.miller@federation.edu.au.

Professor Joanne Porter is the Director of the Collaborative Evaluation & Research Group at Federation University Australia, Gippsland campus. She has an interest in high acuity research, simulation, deterioration, community health and evaluation, with an extensive publication and competitive grant record.

Dr Michael Barbagallo currently works in the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at Federation University Australia, Gippsland campus. His teaching areas include anatomy and physiology, bioscience, and research methodologies. His interests include reflective practice, the scholarship of teaching and learning and evaluation.


Author Contributions: The first author designed and drafted the manuscript. The second and third authors assisted with the manuscript’s editing and provided supervision throughout the study. All authors have read and agreed to the final manuscript.

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