How to Write a Case Study
Case study is a training technique that uses a description of real economic, social and business situations. Trainees should investigate the situation, understand the essence of problems, suggest possible solutions and choose the best of them. Cases are based on actual factual material or are close to the real situation.
Classification of case studies
There are different types of case studies. They are classified by:
- Structured cases (highly structured cases) – short and precise statement of the situation with specific figures and data. For this type of case there is a certain number of correct answers. They are designed to assess the knowledge and / or ability to use one formula, skill, technique in a certain area of knowledge.
- Unstructured cases. They are a material with a lot of data and are designed to assess the style and speed of thinking, the ability to separate the main from the secondary and work skills in a certain area. For them, there are several correct answers and it is usually it may be possible to find a nonstandard solution.
- Ground breaking cases can be very short or long. Observation of solving such a case makes it possible to see whether a person is able to think outside the box, how many creative ideas he can give out in the allotted time. If there is a group decision, if he can pick up someone else’s idea, develop it and use it in practice.
- Full cases (an average of 20-25 pages) are designed for teamwork for several days and usually involve a team presentation of their solution.
- Compressed cases (3-5 pages) are intended for parsing directly in the class and imply a general discussion.
- Mini-cases (1-2 pages), like compressed cases, are designed for parsing in the classroom and are often used as an illustration to the theory taught in the lesson. In many cases, a mini-briefcase can be formulated briefly, in the form of one or two paragraphs, and is provided with questions that need to be answered in the discussion.
Practical steps to make when solving a case study
Case study is the study of a situation requiring systematic study, analysis and preparation of reports. The study is designed in such a way that a researcher needs to answer the questions “How?” and “Why?” regarding the event, procedure or some phenomenon. The case study can be a task for one person, or the whole team or organization. The research report includes opinions of experts, scientific sources are cited, therefore such dossiers are often used to develop new techniques in a wide range of areas – marketing, medicine, manufacturing, economics, sociology, etc. If you need to write a case study, it will take a long time to collect and analyze the information – some studies last for weeks, months and even years. After reading this manual, you will find out what to make when working on a case study.
Step 1. Formulate research objectives.
The question for the case-study can be provided by the teacher or the manager, or you can formulate it yourself. Make sure that the question is concretized, and you can use scientific or modern research techniques for its study.
- Do not use subjective variants of the research question. For example, the question “What kind of news portal do young people of 18-20 years old like?” is better to replace with “What is the news portal most often visited by young people aged 18-20 years.”
- There are several categories of case studies. Instrumental research is aimed at finding an in-depth study of a specific issue. Collective research analyzes several case studies of situations in order to gain an understanding of a wider phenomenon. Internal research is based on a deeper study of the issue, which is described in another, already completed case study.
Step 2. Develop strategy and structure for the case study.
This step will create a common sense for the task in order to know where to start and what should happen in the end. Below, you can find a few example questions for developing a case study strategy to create a full report:
- Define the purpose and relevance of the study. Create a list of 4-5 most important questions to which you intend to receive a response through your research. Consider how to approach a topic with these issues.
- Define the methodology for collecting information. Depending on the question, you may need one or more methods: collecting reports, searching online, working in the library, interviewing research staff and specialists in the field of research, field research (for example, for creating a map with applied objects), etc. The more different techniques you use, the more valuable and authoritative your case study is.
- Describe a common question and proceed with a systematic analysis. The main resources needed for this are time and a text editor. Also it is necessary to get acquainted with authoritative sources for quoting. In this case, you need to schedule the verification of the information received before using it for your report.
Step 3. Schedule your time for writing.
Clearly understand how much time you have and need to prepare your case study. Prepare a schedule for writing, leaving enough time for editing the paper. Time management is one of the keys to success. It is better to have some extra time in case you meet difficulties with some sections of the case study or find new points to highlight. Start with writing points of the plan you feel most confident about. Introduction and conclusion are usually prepared last.
As a rule, case study is a final paper in the course, so students have this task beforehand. Do not leave this task for the last week, as it requires sufficient work on study of literature, research and writing of report. Additional time is required for final editing.
Step 4. Create questionnaires for interviews and research.
Each of them should include some of the questions related to the topic of your case study. This is especially important if conducting interviews is planned.
- Make sure that asking a question excludes the answers “Yes” or “No”. To get more information, it’s better to ask: “What changes have been made to improve the technology?” And not “Did you make any changes to improve the technology?”
- Questions can also be formulated in the approval format, for example: “Please explain how the existing procedure / technology was created”.
Step 5. Start collecting information beforehand.
You might need from several weeks to several months for the collection of information for a serious case study. Make sure that by the time you need to start the analysis, you have a rich information base on the problem under study. Investigate new issues only if they are directly related to the main problem of the case study.
The reference list is a final section of case study, where you show all the sources of literature you refer to. Referencing sources of information is obligatory. As you read literature, choose the needed and take notes, you need to collect some information about the source. It will help you to easily and quickly assemble the reference list at the end. You need to note the following:
- For books: author, year of publication, title of the book, publisher, city where it was published.
- For journal articles: author, year of publication, article heading, journal title, volume and issue number, first and last page of the article.
- For electronic media: author, title, type of source (computer file, online image, database name, internet, CD ROM), URL (web address), date when the document was updated or date you accessed the source, Email-discussion name, email list address.
Step 6. Gather all the information in one place and proceed with the analysis.
It is necessary to constantly remember and re-read the questions that are written down in the list of the main tasks of the study. You may be surprised how much the perception of the received information can change, if we consider it through the prism of the case-study tasks. Before you start writing a report, you need to collect all the information together and focus on the tasks of the case-stage.
If more than one person is working with you, it’s better to think about the distribution of responsibilities. For example, someone can be responsible for building charts based on data collected by other team members. Also, each person can prepare a response to one particular topic from the list of main research tasks.
Step 7. Prepare a draft report
It is almost impossible to produce a perfect piece of text with the first attempt. So, students should be ready to a number of drafts to be written. Never neglect this stage, as careful planning, writing and editing ensures a consistent professional standard of the final report of the case study. Do the following:
- Revise the task and research flow often. Keep in mind not only report’s objectives when you gather information, but also reader’s needs. When taking notes, divide them by sections of the plan.
- Be selective when working with literature sources. Take clear notes and write them in your own words. Include the gathered information and your personal thoughts and comments about the usefulness of this information and think how it can be used. Read your notes again and decide what information is essential and should be included in the report.
- Structure of the case study must be logical. Check your plan of contents to decide where information goes and how sections follow one another.
- Be convincing. Make sure that your ideas, thoughts and propositions are supported by arguments. When you answer the question “what?”, you need to answer the questions “why?” and “how?”.
- Use visual means. If you have an opportunity to present the data with the help of charts, do that. Even using tables can help the reader to perceive information easier.
Step 8. Write a report in the form of a story.
Unlike scientific research, presentation of the case-study material should contain an introduction, development and conclusion, and it is better to present the material in a simple and accessible language. Thanks to this, the case-study will be understandable for any person, even if he is badly familiar with the issue under study.
- Start with an introduction describing the research task. It can be described as a problem or riddle, which must be disclosed.
- Describe the situation and the key authoritative sources that you will refer to in the report. Add all the appropriate information or description of the situation necessary for the reader to understand the analyzed data.
- The narrative style should be used in the rest of your work. In the following sections, include a description of the methods used and the results obtained. Add tables, charts, graphs, photos and other tools to help the reader understand your research.
- Describe in detail all questions and problems raised by the research.
- Write the conclusions. Here it is necessary to detail the main questions of the case study and try to formulate how your research answers them. Information should be submitted not as a final answer, but as a proof of the hypothesis. You can also indicate directions for further research that can help in the study of the question under consideration.
Step 9. Carry out fact and information check.
If you use quotes from unreliable sources, you need to find confirmation or exclude them. Make sure that the case file for the case study is trustworthy and verifiable, can be used for other tasks. Keep in mind that wrong statistics used in the case study will ruin the result.
Step 10. Edit, proofread and print a case study report.
After finishing writing the case study, leave it for couple days. After that, with a fresh head proof-read it and correct all mistakes. Later, the case study can become a part of coursework, marketing report or publication in the journal.