Part of a systematic literature review, I'm looking to the methodologies of the papers I review, and many papers doesn't explain the methodology used. My questions is : Can I assume that a paper which talks about creating a system or a software is a Case Study? Please note that some researches do some exploratory steps to gain insights like from StackExchange for example, in this case I also assume that mixed methods used. Please help if you have ways to identify methodologies if they are not explicitly given or shown.

  • Even a case study needs to define its methodology, that is, how it collected the relevant data. I find it hard to understand how a paper could be published that did not explain the methods it used to find its results. To be honest, I'd simply throw away any paper that only presented its results without explaining how it found them, because I'd have no way of understanding whether the method was valid. Feb 4, 2016 at 8:19
  • I agree, that's why in systematic literature review, you also must define a quality for each paper you consider or appraise their approach
    – George
    Feb 4, 2016 at 8:27
  • 2
    The value that is placed on explicitly discussing the research methodology varies from field to field. Many more systems-oriented papers have a methodology that basically goes "problem -> proposed solution -> evaluation [rinse and repeat until results are ok]", but that is usually more implied than explicitly discussed. I guess you could call it a "case study", but the authors probably wouldn't consider it like that.
    – xLeitix
    Feb 4, 2016 at 9:01

1 Answer 1


What you've described is called design science or design science research; it is most certainly not a case study. In a comment on your original post, @XLeitix nailed it as the pattern:

problem -> proposed solution -> evaluation [rinse and repeat until results are ok]

In conducting a broad-based literature review of research on Wikipedia, my colleagues and I had to come up with a list of different research designs. Design science is in a category of its own, because it is quite different from the methods in social sciences. Design science is the default approach to research in computer science and software engineering, and so no one is going to explain the "research method" when they follow this pattern. It arises from the engineering paradigm where the goal of research is not to discover what exists or how or why things work, but rather to create something that is useful to people and prove that it is useful (usually by comparing its usefulness to some specified benchmark).

Ironically, the name "design science" does not come from computer science or software engineering, but rather from information systems (IS) research. IS research is primarily social science research, and so IS researchers had to come up with a name or a way to describe this type of research that is so different from social science, and yet scientifically rigorous. There are at least two major articles that describe its scientific characteristics in depth:

  • von Alan, R. Hevner, et al. "Design science in information systems research." MIS quarterly 28.1 (2004): 75-105.
  • Gregor, Shirley, and David Jones. "The anatomy of a design theory." Journal of the Association for Information Systems 8.5 (2007): 312.

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