This case study aims to provide researchers who are interested in developing international research projects with some practical advice in terms of research design and implementation. This case study centres on a transnational higher education research project that occurred in 2014. This study sought to engage faculty members in both the United Kingdom and China, who deliver Sino-British ‘joint programme’ partnerships. This study aimed to understand how the operational activities of faculty members tasked with delivering these partnerships, affected the development of social relationships. As trade in overseas higher education increases, how these relationships develop is important, particularly if transnational higher education partnerships are to survive and generate value over time. This case study outlines in detail four choices the researcher faced when investigating three Sino-British transnational higher education ‘joint programme’ partnerships. First, it provides a rationale for the adoption of critical realism as the philosophical foundation from which to launch an empirical investigation into transnational higher education ‘partnership’ research. Second, it identifies the challenges of designing qualitative international case studies. Third, it considers the role of the researcher in the collection and analysis of data, particularly where they are personally involved in one of the cases. Finally, it highlights how research ethics and researcher reflexivity can aid in the creation of credible and trustworthy research.