A PhD thesis with just 2 case studies?


Hi everyone,

I really need some advice.

My PhD is in Applied Linguistics and my title is 'Subjectivity and the discursive positioning of Saudi women in interview talk: A feminist poststructuralist inquiry'. It takes an ethnographic case study approach but I am running out of time. I have about 2 months left and I have only the Lit Review and Methodology chapters written (I work full time and am a single mum of two).

I had intended to do 3 case studies, but I am wondering if I will only have time for two. Does anybody know if this would suffice? My supervisor says that 3 is the norm, but if I can only manage two then there's nothing I can do. Does anybody have any experience or knowledge about this? I am with a British university if that makes any difference.

Any words of wisdom much appreciated.



I think you should ask your supervisor whether with two case studies you run the risk of being told at viva you don't have enough data for a PhD thesis.

You might also want to consider getting an extension. Sounds like you've still got a lot of work to do over the next two months otherwise. Or ask for reduced hours at work, or take holoday, or ask for unpaid leave if you can afford it.


Thanks. I have already taken 2 LOAs and my submission date is the absolute final. No more extensions. I have three weeks holiday coming up I will have to do what I can then. Unpaid leave etc is impossible as I am head of department at a busy international school and we have so much going on at the end and start of term. However, I am very determined and I can achieve a lot when I really put my mind to it. It's short term pain for long term gain I guess. I have asked mu supervisor, she thinks it might be OK but can't guarantee.

Thank you for the advice.


Ask your supervisor to get a second opinion from someone senior in your department, or approach them yourself.


I would also advise you to choose your external examiner very carefully (if you have the chance to have some input), to make sure it's someone who will be on board with small participant numbers.


Have you done any of the analysis yet? I think the answer would depend on the quality of the material you have already. With a very in-depth study it may be possible to have fewer participants but examine the material more closely. The trouble is until you have done the analysis it is difficult to say whether what you have is enough.


How's it going?


Hi there,

Thanks for asking. It's actually going OK now. I have completed one case study of about 10k words and almost finished the next one which is about 8k. I am into the swing of it now and just going to push on to the next one. Writing the analysis, although very intensive, has been faster that the lit review or methodology chapters, it's like once the momentum kicks in, it falls into place. I think my thesis is more likely to be around 70k words than the max 80k, but I am not overly concerned about that.

I didn't bother to pursue asking about just doing two case studies as somehow it just feels a bit risky. In the end I wondered if I would be writing the same amount of words anyway, but just in more detail.

This is a really tough time and I am having good days and bad, but I just need to keep going. I am almost there. For anyone who has felt that it isn't possible to complete in a short space of time, I would say, just give it your best shot, but don't give up. Adrenaline is a great thing!!!!


Mine was an ethnographic study of one department. The analysis examined the department in the bigger picture of the organisation, and then narrowed down to department level. Each of the (three) analysis chapters included a life history narrative of either one or two of the department members - they were each about 18000 words long. Only using one department did not prove to be an issue - if doing an ethnography, see the work of Harry Wolcott. One of his ethnographies is based on an examination of one school principal.