Writing a Case Study

There are essentially two approaches to writing a case study.

In the one (call it a "teaching case"), the author researches and assembles a set of circumstances and facts (including appropriate exhibits, such as charts, tables, figures, illustrations, etc.) which place a student in the middle of a decision which must be made. The student must sort through the exhibits and the text to arrive at a solution. A "real" solution, if it is provided at all, is usually provided in the teaching notes along with suggestions for relevant conceptual approaches and supporting literature. These cases are usually short--2 to 4 pages, single-spaced--although they often have 5 to 10 pages of exhibits. Teaching notes are often longer than the text of the case (4 to 6 pages) and may include a formal bibliography.

The other (call it a "research case") is essentially an applied research project, with the exception that the "sample size" is one--the specific case under study. In this approach, the author first lays out the conceptual issues which are about to be illustrated (these would have been in the teaching notes were it a "teaching case"). Then the facts of the case are related, usually in historical order (although clarity of presentation may require that the author vary from chronology at times). Rather than placing the reader in the middle of the decision, in this kind of case the author presents the situation as it was resolved and uses the stance of an omniscient observer. Finally, the concepts developed in the first part of the paper are compared to the events as they actually transpired, testing whether or not the underlying theory is valid. The author may demonstrate that events proceeded as predicted and all turned out well; or it may be seen that events did not proceed as predicted and it turned out poorly. On the other hand, the underlying theory may be shown to have been invalid (at least in this case), if events proceeded as predicted but things turned out poorly or if events did not proceed as predicted yet things still turned out well. The author then suggests ways in which the underlying theory might be modified (or even transformed) to better predict the way the events in this case proceeded.

Research cases are usually longer--10 to 20 pages--although they usually incorporate exhibits (if any) into the body of the text. They will usually include a formal introduction, conclusion, and bibliography. You may write either type of case study to satisfy the requirements for this course.

For more hints about writing—and studying—case studies, see “How to Teach a Case” and “Welcome to the Case Method.”


1996 A.J.Filipovitch
Revised 10 January 2004