Difference Between Action Research and Case Study

Main Difference – Action Research vs Case Study

Research is the careful study of a given field or problem in order to discover new facts or principles. Action research and case study are two types of research, which are mainly used in the field of social sciences and humanities. The main difference between action research and case study is their purpose; an action research study aims to solve an immediate problem whereas a case study aims to provide an in-depth analysis of a situation or case over a long period of time.

1. What is Action Research?
     – Definition, Features, Purpose, Process

2. What is Case Study?
     – Definition, Features, Purpose, Process

3. What is the difference between Action Research and Case Study?Difference Between Action Research and Case Study - Comparison Summary

What is Action Research

Action research is a type of a research study that is initiated to solve an immediate problem. It may involve a variety of analytical, investigative and evaluative research methods designed to diagnose and solve problems. It has been defined as “a disciplined process of inquiry conducted by and for those taking the action. The primary reason for engaging in action research is to assist the “actor” in improving and/or refining his or her actions” (Sagor, 2000). This type of research is typically used in the field of education. Action research studies are generally conductors by educators, who also act as participants.

Here, an individual researcher or a group of researchers identify a problem, examine its causes and try to arrive at a solution to the problem. The action research process is as follows.

Action Research Process

  • Identify a problem to research
  • Clarify theories
  • Identify research questions
  • Collect data on the problem
  • Organise, analyse, and interpret the data
  • Create a plan to address the problem
  • Implement the above-mentioned plan
  • Evaluate the results of the actions taken

The above process will keep repeating. Action research is also known as cycle of inquiry or cycle of action since it follows a specific process that is repeated over time.

Main Difference - Action Research vs Case Study

What is a Case Study

A case study is basically an in-depth examination of a particular event, situation or an individual. It is a type of research that is designed to explore and understand complex issues; however, it involves detailed contextual analysis of only a limited number of events or situations. It has been defined as “an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context; when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident; and in which multiple sources of evidence are used.” (Yin, 1984)

Case studies are used in a variety of fields, but fields like sociology and education seem to use them the most. They can be used to probe into community-based problems such as illiteracy, unemployment, poverty, and drug addiction. 

Case studies involve both quantitative and qualitative data and allow the researchers to see beyond statistical results and understand human conditions. Furthermore, case studies can be classified into three categories, known as exploratory, descriptive and explanatory case studies.

However, case studies are also criticised since the study of a limited number of events or cases cannot easily establish generality or reliability of the findings. The process of a case study is generally as follows:

Case Study Process

  • Identifying and defining the research questions
  • Selecting the cases and deciding techniques for data collection and analysis
  • Collecting data in the field
  • Evaluating and analysing the data
  • Preparing the report

Difference Between Action Research and Case Study


Action Research: Action research is a type of a research study that is initiated to solve an immediate problem.

Case Study: Case study is an in-depth analysis of a particular event or case over a long period of time.                         


Action Research: Action research involves solving a problem.

Case Study: Case studies involve observing and analysing a situation.


Action Research: Action research studies are mainly used in the field of education.

Case Study: Case studies are used in many fields; they can be specially used with community problems such as unemployment, poverty, etc.


Action Research: Action research always involve providing a solution to a problem.

Case Study: Case studies do not provide a solution to a problem.


Action Research: Researchers can also act as participants of the research.

Case Study: Researchers generally don’t take part in the research study.


Zainal, Zaidah. Case study as a research method. N.p.: n.p., 7 June 2007. PDF.

 Soy, Susan K. (1997). The case study as a research method. Unpublished paper, University of Texas at Austin.

Sagor, Richard. Guiding school improvement with action research. Ascd, 2000.

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About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

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