How to Write a Case Study

There are different kinds of case studies. The two main situations where a case study is required are commerce and academic pursuits. In business and commerce the problem of how to write a case study to suit a particular circumstance, budget, location and category of goods and services are well documented. Here, how to write a case study within an academic situation is looked at in detail.

A case study is carried out to examine qualitative performance in research, and field studies in the case of naturalistic or scientific inquiries. The main thrust of any case study is investigative. This implies that the person carrying out the study must observe, read, examine, test, investigate, and write a report about the process and its results.

A case study usually has a practical application, and can be set to test a field of knowledge. It can also be used to train students for similar real-life situations in their career life after attending a university. They prepare people for work in offices, factories, hospitals, schools, and courtrooms, where investigative procedures are needed.

Stages of Writing a Case Study

  1. When the situation, process, location and time have been decided upon, you must carefully set out a plan. What will be observed or investigated? By whom? For how long?
  2. The language you use in your plan must be clear. The terminology and vocabulary must be identical to those used in the situation to be studied; that is, the factory, the courtroom, the restaurant or the accounting firm.
  3. Write a set of questions that will help you decide which data to collect, which data will be considered relevant to the study, and how to analyze it when it is all collected.
  4. The questions set out must take into consideration any proposals the study will make. Decide which units of calculation the study will use. (That is, scientific measurements such as metric, digital, analog, and so forth). Decide how the calculations will be linked to the proposals made. Decide the terms of reference and criteria for how the results will be analyzed or interpreted.
  5. Do not forget to write down the goals of the study.
  6. When the observations and investigation is taking place, make sure all participants understand the aims, the procedure, and which outcomes you wish to reach.
  7. Assemble all records, interview questions, materials and participants and hold a number of meetings to ensure everyone and everything is ready by the start of the study.
  8. Ensure that all records, writing, data and so forth are generated on compatible systems, software and language.
  9. Identify the person who will carry out any editing or crosschecking necessary, and the person who will do the final writing.
  10. Ensure that the writing up of the case study is done under similarly rigorous conditions as the investigation.

Topic Selection

A case study which is not aimed at a certain audience and doesn’t solve issues that people encounter, is not rather valuable. Therefore, before choosing a case study topic, you should determine your target audience and get acquainted with it. Only after you know its needs and the problems it faces, can you get a clear idea of what topic might be of interest for your audience. When formulating a topic, identify the main problems that may exist within it, and explain why they are important. This way you will make your case study more focused on solution, and thus more valuable.

Key Points to Consider

  • When students need to know how to write a case study, they must address two factors: the process involved, and the method of writing up the findings.
  • The case must be chosen or assigned. It might be the operations of a small business, the assessable aspects of a classroom, the procedures of a hospital emergency room, or the tasks undertaken in a bakery or restaurant, to name a few examples.
  • All materials must be assembled before starting to observe and take notes. Observations are usually recorded on a grid or spreadsheet after the different tasks or procedures are identified, listed, and named. All grids, sheets and books must be kept together, and pages of relevant material must be marked according to a scheme. Card systems are perfect – some students prefer a CSV spreadsheet.
  • More than in any other scholarly work, facts and figures are more important than ideas and opinions, when working on a case study. All facts and figures must adhere to a plan which sets out what the case study will examine, for how long, and under which conditions. The number of people who will participate, the premises or location where it will take place, and all relevant details, must be set out before commencement.
  • All accompanying text must be supported by properly formatted referencing, using APA, MLA or Chicago/Turabian styles.
  • A self-devised note-taking system is usually optimal, because it helps to keep all observations and calculations in precise order. Organization is vital, and time management skills must be carefully observed if the case study is to be successful.
  • The salient points of an observational or investigative case study must be sought, planned and reported. Each paragraph of the report must deal with one aspect or procedure, and explain what can be seen in the charts or spreadsheets.
  • The writing must be formal, academic and precise.

Dos and Don’ts

Dos

  • Do avoid the most common mistake found in case studies: using old data collected for some other study.
  • Do check for lack of structure, which sometimes weakens a student’s work in a case study. It is important to make a plan or outline for a successful piece of work.
  • Do list facts in order, rather than randomly. Writing arguments and data without organizing it in a logical sequence is not smart.
  • Do demonstrate broad consideration of all material, and show how it is relevant to the study
Don’ts

  • Don’t cut corners. Trying to hurry through a case study will produce errors and omissions.
  • Don’t forget that it should be mainly based on observation, investigation, reporting and analysis.
  • Don’t hesitate! It is an aspect that weakens an otherwise well-researched case study: take a confident stance, demonstrate your abilities.
  • Don’t present rushed or unprepared writing.
  • Don’t ignore the advice of fellow students and colleagues. Sometimes the opinions of others might give fresh ideas.

Common Mistakes

  • Try not to build a case study on an unbalanced or shaky premise.
  • Using old data collected for some other study.
  • Material presented in the wrong order is a frequent error – chronological is best. The report on figures and statistics should come last.
  • Using material and data from other studies runs the risk of repetition.
  • Indecision is an aspect that weakens an otherwise well-researched case study: a frequently seen flaw is dithering between one stance and another.
  • Not researching all the material thoroughly is another area of failure. Make sure the notes you write are clear and cogent, and create paragraphs of well-prepared writing steadily and surely.
  • Lack of structure is sometimes found to weaken a student’s work in a case study. It is important to make a plan or outline for a successful piece of work.
  • One must exhibit a deep understanding of the entire case. Disorganized work and confusion is not an effective way to persuade an examiner how well you have covered the material and accounted for your investigation.
  • Understand your aims. An effective case study demonstrates that a student or group of students will go out into a working life well-equipped to communicate ideas, research and concepts without taking short cuts. The ability to conduct an investigation into a procedure or operation is invaluable in a CV.
  • Poor language skills, inappropriate or irrelevant vocabulary, the wrong tone and errors of punctuation, grammar, syntax and structure demonstrate low aptitude.

Now that you have acquainted yourself with the basic case study writing tips and rules, you can check our case study samples to link theory with practice.

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Samples for Case Study

Sally Fordsman: Delusional Thinking and Visualization

(excerpt) 15 year-old Sally Fordman was acquired as a patient by the APC (Albuquerque Psychiatric Clinic) on November 3rd, 2009 after a case of severe delusions. With a family history of panic attacks and schizophrenia, this behavior is not unfounded. S...
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Case Study Sample

Initial Data for the Case (excerpt) It was 3am and you were dispatched from an inner Sydney suburb to a domestic disturbance. On arrival, you found a 24 year-old male, Darren, who had reportedly been shot after a heated argument with another ...
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Questions for Case Study