Case Study Writing: Tips from 3 Academics


(Updated on June 11, 2020)

Many writers, students, and professionals dread writing case studies.  A case study essay is a document that uses one or more real-life or fictional examples of a problem to present a solution to that problem.  For instance, a case study might present the use of technology to solve records storage problems by citing examples of real-life organizations that used technology successfully for this purpose.  Case studies might also be presented in the fields of psychology, medicine, business, finance, and many other industries.  A good case study might also include one or more examples where the problem hasn't been resolved, and why.

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Case study essays can be difficult to write because students often find it difficult to focus on just the right aspect of the problem.  Additionally, it's often difficult to find real-world case examples for the document.  A case study paper is a highly analytical piece that ultimately requires a great deal of research, consistent analysis, and solid understanding of the theories and concepts behind the study itself.

Case Study Writing: Tips from 3 AcademicsBefore writing a case study paper, a student should consider some basics such as what the case study is about and the nature of the problem.  Then the student should conduct research into the problem or issue to be studied.  Research can include such sources as journal articles, text books, and even real-life interviews with organizations or individuals who have faced the problem.  Once all of the information has been gathered, the student should organize it into manageable bits.

A case study should be organized into several sections; introduction, background, body, and conclusion.  Although the background to the problem is technically a part of the body of the document, it helps most students to consider it separately so that they can ensure that they have included an adequate presentation of the background as part of their case study essay.

The introduction should introduce the focus of the case study and tell the reader why it's important to study the problem.  The body, which includes the background, should be three or more paragraphs which detail the research, interviews, and comparisons that the student has conducted.  The conclusion of the case study paper should wrap it all up but should avoid presenting a solid solution to the problem.  The conclusion of a professional case study might include a solution because the case study itself might serve as a sort of advertisement for a particular company or industry.  However, case studies completed by students should only study the issue, not present a solution.

Writing a Case Study

Case studies are papers that demonstrate how a situation was identified and how a solution was chosen to resolve the problem.  In addition, case study writing includes a summary of the results of the study in order to demonstrate whether or not the method of treatment was successful.  By learning how to write a case study effectively, others in a similar situation can determine whether or not the treatment method may be a good choice when they complete a case study on marketing, public administration, autism, business, nursing, etc.

Case studies can be written in a variety of fields, from IT to psychology and everything in between.  Ideally, the study should be kept short yet detailed and shouldn't include opinions.  Rather, it provides factual information regarding what took place.

Regardless of the subject area, a case study should be broken into three sections: the problem, the treatment implemented, and the results.  When describing the problem, care should be taken to grab the reader's attention.  This is best accomplished by making the problem meaningful to the reader.  The more specific the issue being addressed, the more likely your readers will find the case study writing to be meaningful and the more respected your results will be.

After detailing the issue that's being addressed, your case study should then discuss how you addressed the issue.  For example, if the problem being addressed by the case study is a child with ADHD and how he/she functions in the school setting, your treatment plan may involve utilizing behavior modification strategies.  If this is the case, you'll need to detail the specific behavior modification strategies you used.

In order to thoroughly complete a case study, you'll need to acquire a great deal of data before implementing treatment, as well as afterward.  In addition, you'll need to focus on specific areas.  With the ADHD student, for example, you might gather data regarding how often the student speaks out in class or leaves his/her chair without permission.  After implementing treatment, you'll then need to gather new data so you can compare the two.  As such, your case study should include graphs or other graphic representations of the data you gathered.  Furthermore, all of the data must be measurable and observable.

The purpose of completing a case study paper isn't meant to "sell" someone on a certain form of treatment, though some businesses do write case studies as a means of proving that their products or services are effective.  Rather, a case study should simple present the facts in a measurable way.  These facts include a description of the problem, specifics regarding how the problem is being treated, and detailed information regarding the effects of the treatment.

Case studies may also include a summary detailing the conclusions that can be drawn from the study.  These summaries should also be factual in nature.  For example, the summary might state, "Prior to treatment, the student left his/her seat an average of 10 times per class period whereas he/she left his/her seat an average of 5 times per class period."  Based on these statements, the reader can be left to draw his/her own conclusions.

Case Study Examples

A case study example is a case study that's intended to be used as a model text or a reference guide for writers unfamiliar with how to write case studies.  Case study examples may be distributed by professors, educational resource organizations, or professional writing services.  The primary audience for a case study example is typically college students.

Case study writing comes in two forms: annotated and un-annotated.  An annotated case study example features notes in the margins and within the text itself that point to important elements of the form, style, and content.  Annotated examples are particularly helpful for students who are unfamiliar with the case study genre in general, since they provide commentary explicitly noting the important elements of the genre.  Un-annotated case study examples will not feature this commentary; the reader is supposed to identify the important elements and conventions on his/her own.  These examples are best viewed after a student is somewhat familiar with the genre or has already studied an annotated example.

Whether using annotated or un-annotated case study examples, learners should pay particular attention to the ways in which the writer presents and analyzes information, as this is the primary objective of any case study.  In a case study, a writer interprets, analyzes, and synthesizes data presented from a real or fictional situation or problem.  For instance, in business school a student may be required to read about a particular business' proposed advertising model and then, based on knowledge he/she has gained through his/her study of business and advertising, suggest the ways in which the company should execute its advertising campaigns.  To do this effectively will require the student to work carefully with the provided information about the case and then draw on his/her creativity and knowledge reserves to propose a practical solution.  When completing case studies, all proposed solutions must be bolstered by accepted techniques and theories within the student's field.  Students using case study examples should note how the example writer makes use of this external knowledge.

Case study examples are intended to be model texts.  As such, they're meant to provide students with a general idea of the common conventions of case study writing and aren't meant to serve as templates.  Students should study and use case study examples to determine the important elements of case study writing, but should ideally look at multiple examples to see how the case study form can be flexible depending on its particular objective and audience.

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