You are here: Home Resources Student Resources case study writing for students

Professor Bwisa

Entreprenuership Resource Website

CASE STUDY WRITING FOR STUDENTS

E-mail Print PDF

 

FIRST THINGS FIRST€¦€¦  WHAT IS A CASE STUDY?

A case study is an in-depth, longitudinal examination of a single instance or event: a case. It is a collection and presentation of detailed information about a particular participant or small group, frequently including the accounts of subjects themselves. It is a form of qualitative descriptive research which looks intensely at an individual or small participant pool, drawing conclusions only about that participant or group and only in that specific context. In case studies researchers do not focus on the discovery of a universal, generalizable truth, nor do they typically look for cause-effect relationships; instead, emphasis is placed on exploration and description.

Put another way a case study is a detailed account of a company, industry, person, or project over a given amount of time. The content within a case study may include information about company objectives, strategies, challenges, results, recommendations, and more

A good case study presents an account of what happened to the object under study over a period of time. In industry it chronicles the events that managers had to deal with, such as changes in the competitive environment, and charts the managers' response, which usually involved changing the business- or corporate-level strategy.

Case studies provide a systematic way of looking at events, collecting data, analyzing information, and reporting the results. As a result the researcher may gain a sharpened understanding of why the instance happened as it did, and what might become important to look at more extensively in future research.

WHAT ARE THE USES OF CASE STUDIES?

Writing a case study involves focusing on a set of issues in some contemporary setting, usually but not exclusively an organization, or perhaps a department or sector of an organization. It may use just one case or a number of cases linked together by a theme. Among its uses are:

Ø      To describe a particularly interesting set of circumstances, from which lessons can be drawn for other organizations, for example why did Ford decline despite its globalization policies.

Ø      To illustrate a particular theory or conceptual framework by reference to a specific example, or to test how a particular set of circumstances may give rise to certain outcomes by reference to a particular case.

Ø      To describe a rare phenomenon or very unusual organization, e.g. a mobile toilet service for commuters.

Ø      To allow the researcher to investigate a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident, and in which multiple sources of evidence are used.

Ø      Case studies provide a special way of collecting, organizing, and analyzing data to gather comprehensive, systematic, and in-depth information about each case of interest. The case study method allows people being interviewed to describe experiences in their own language, rather than the researchers'.

THE VALUE OF CASES FOR STUDENTS

Case studies are invaluable to students. Below are 5 ways in which students can gain from case studies.

1.      Cases prove valuable in a course for several reasons. First, cases provide the student with experience of organizational problems that the student probably has not had the opportunity to experience firsthand. In a relatively short period of time, the student will have the chance to appreciate and analyze the problems faced by many different organizations and to understand how managers tried to deal with them.

2.      Second, cases help students verify what they learned in class; verify the theory with practice. When students analyze cases, they are like detectives who, with a set of conceptual tools and theories, probe what happened and what or who was responsible and then marshal the evidence that provides the solution. Management is an uncertain game, and using cases to see how theory can be put into practice is one way of improving students€™ skills of diagnostic investigation.

3.      Third, case studies provide students with the opportunity to participate in class and to gain experience in presenting their ideas to others. Instructors may sometimes call on students as a group to identify what is going on in a case and through classroom discussion the issues in and solutions to the case problem will reveal themselves.  Different students may analyze different issues differently. By presenting cases in class and arguing them out a cross fertilization of ideas takes place and this enhances learning. Indeed this is how decisions are made in the actual business world i.e. through discussions, debates and consensus building.

4.      When students present and discuss cases whether as individuals or groups they experience how to convey their ideas effectively to others. In real life a great deal of managers' time is spent in these kinds of situations, presenting their ideas and engaging in discussion with other managers, who have their own views about what is going on. Thus, via cases students experience in the classroom the actual process of what goes on in a business setting and this will serve them well in their future career.

5.      When students work in groups to analyze case studies, they learn about the group process involved in working as a team. Research shows that when people work in groups, it is often difficult to schedule time and allocate responsibility for the case analysis. There are always group members who shirk their responsibilities and group members who are so sure of their own ideas that they try to dominate the group's analysis. Since most business negotiations take place in groups this early exposure becomes invaluable for students in their future careers.

THE STRUCTURE OF A CASE STUDY

At a minimum a case study should be organized into: the introduction, background, body, and conclusion. Although the background to the problem is technically a part of the body of the paper, 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.

The introduction should introduce the focus of the case study and tell the reader why it is important to study the problem. The body should detail the research, interviews, and comparisons that the student has conducted during the course of the case study. The conclusion of the case study 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 written by students should only study the issue, not present a solution.

When writing a cases study make sure the sections and subsections of your discussion flow logically and smoothly from one to the next i.e. do build on what has gone before so that the analysis of the case study moves toward a climax. This is particularly important when working in groups because there is a tendency for group members to split up the work with one doing the beginning, middle, and another end. Resultantly the parts may not flow from one to the next revealing lack of team work in the group.

CASE STUDY METHODOLOGY

Case studies require a problem that seeks a holistic understanding of the event or situation in question using inductive logic--reasoning from specific to more general terms.

In a case study you typically examine the interplay of all variables in order to provide as complete an understanding of an event or situation as possible. This type of comprehensive understanding is arrived at through a process known as thick description, which involves an in-depth description of the entity being evaluated, the circumstances under which it is used, the characteristics of the people involved in it, and the nature of the community in which it is located. Thick description also involves interpreting the meaning of demographic and descriptive data such as cultural norms and mores, community values, ingrained attitudes and motives.

Unlike quantitative methods of research like the survey which focus on the questions of who, what, where, how much, and how many, case studies focus on how or why. Likewise case studies are the preferred method when the researcher has little control over the events, and when there is a contemporary focus within a real life context.

A GENERIC CASE STUDY WRITING GUIDE FOR STUDENTS

Often, as part of their course requirements, need arises for students to present their instructors with written case analyses. This may be an individual or a group report. Whatever the situation, there are certain guidelines to follow in writing a case study.

1.      The structure of the case is critical. All cases begin with an introduction to the case. If you are for example writing about a company then in the introduction you outline briefly what the company does, how it developed historically, what problems it is experiencing, and how you are going to approach the issues in the case write-up. This is done sequentially by writing, for example, "First, we discuss the environment of Company X...Third, we discuss Company X€™s business-level strategy... Last, we provide recommendations for turning around Company X€™s business."

2.      The second part of the case write-up is the strategic-analysis section. Here a SWOT analysis is done. An analysis and discussion of the nature and problems of the company€™s business-level and corporate strategy is made, and then an analysis of its structure and control systems. Use of as many headings and subheadings to structure the analysis is normally recommended. For example, have separate sections on any important conceptual tool you use. Thus, you might have a section on Porter€™s five forces model as part of your analysis of the environment. You might offer a separate section on portfolio techniques when analyzing a company€™s corporate strategy. Tailor the sections and subsections to the specific issues of importance in the case.

3.      The third part of the case write-up should present your solutions and recommendations. They should be comprehensive, and  in line with the previous analysis to make  the recommendations fit together and move logically from one to the next. The recommendations section is very revealing because your instructor will have a good idea of how much work you put into the case from the quality of your recommendations.

This is a generic framework that provides a good structure for most written reports but it must be shaped to fit the individual case being considered. Some cases may be about excellent companies experiencing no problems. In such instances, it is hard to write recommendations. Instead the focus can be on analyzing why the company is doing so well, using that analysis to structure the discussion.

 

WRITING A CASE STUDY ABOUT A COMPANY

To write a case about a company you need to focus on the company€™s various aspects including: 

1.      The company's history, development, and growth. A convenient way to write about how a company's past strategy and structure affect it in the present is to chart the critical incidents in its history - that is, the events that were the most unusual or the most essential for its development into the company it is today. Some of the events have to do with its founding, its initial products, how it makes new-product market decisions, and how it developed and chose functional competencies to pursue. Its entry into new businesses and shifts in its main lines of business are also important milestones to write about.

2.      The company's internal strengths and weaknesses. Once the historical profile is completed, you can write about the SWOT situation. State each of the value creation functions of the company, and identify the functions in which the company is currently strong and currently weak. Some companies might be weak in marketing; some might be strong in research and development.   

3.      The environmental opportunities and threats. Here you should apply all information you have learned on industry and macro environments, to identify the environment the company is confronting. Of particular importance at the industry level is Porter€™s five forces model and the stage of the life cycle model. 

4.      The company's corporate-level strategy. Here  you first need to define the company's mission and goals. The information you need to collect to find out the company's corporate strategy includes such factors as its line(s) of business and the nature of its subsidiaries and acquisitions. It is important to state the relationship among the company's businesses. Do they trade or exchange resources? Are there gains to be achieved from synergy? Alternatively, is the company just running a portfolio of investments? This investigation should enable you to define the corporate strategy that the company is pursuing (for example, related or unrelated diversification or a combination of both) and to show evidence as to whether the company operates in just one core business.

5.      The company€™s strategy. Has it changed over the time?  How and why? It is a good idea to state the company's businesses or products to assess its situation and identify which divisions contribute the most to or detract from its competitive advantage. It is also useful to explore how the company has built its portfolio over time. Did it acquire new businesses, or did it internally venture its own? All these factors provide clues about the company and indicate ways of improving its future performance.

6.      The company€™s business strategy. Once you have explained the company's corporate-level strategy and have done the SWOT situation, the next step is to identify the company's business-level strategy. If the company is a single-business company, its business-level strategy is identical to its corporate-level strategy. If the company is in many businesses, each business will have its own business-level strategy. You will need to explain the company's generic competitive strategy - differentiation, low cost, or focus - and its investment strategy, given the company's relative competitive position and the stage of the life cycle. The company also may market different products using different business-level strategies. For example, it may offer a low-cost product range and a line of differentiated products. Be sure to give a full account of a company's business-level strategy to show how it competes.

7.      The functional strategies. These are the strategies that a company pursues to build competitive advantage through superior efficiency, quality, innovation, and customer responsiveness and to achieve its business-level strategy. The SWOT analysis will have provided you with information on the company's functional competencies. You should further investigate its production, marketing, or research and development strategy to gain a picture of where the company is going. For example, pursuing a low-cost or a differentiation strategy successfully requires a very different set of competencies. Has the company developed the right ones? If it has, how can it exploit them further? Can it pursue both a low-cost and a differentiation strategy simultaneously?

A CHECKLIST FOR WRITING A CASE STUDY

This checklist is to help you to think through and collect information to write your case.

Start by considering your case as a €˜story€™, an account of a management or organizational situation, usually involving a significant issue, a decision or problem. Good cases are reflections of real life situations €“ about real companies/organizations, real managers and their problems which the reader can relate.

When identifying and analyzing your chosen topic consider the following checklist questions where relevant:

1.       Have I included the learning objective(s) of my case?

a.     It is important to determine what you want the case user to learn from your case study.

b.     Clear objectives would guide you to focus on the content and materials that you need to collect and put into the case.

c.     After having written the case, the objectives are checked to see if the case content meets your objectives. If they do not jive, you will have to identify what is lacking in the case content, and you will have to look for these materials. Alternatively, you may want to rewrite the objectives so that the contents reflect the objectives.

d.     Examples of learning objectives:

                                             i.            "To enable students to identify and analyze problems encountered in the management of training in organizations."

OR:

                                           ii.            "To identify the key success factors and barriers in implementing an effective performance appraisal system."

2.       Is the case study relevant to the theory covered in class?

Is the case relevant to the theory? Think about the usefulness of the case in articulating what was covered in class. How will your case add value to the theory?

3.   Have I articulated the problems/issues/opportunities I am  seeking to address in the case?

a.     Case studies highlight issues and problems which serve as learning lessons for the case user.

b.     Before writing the case, identify and list down the main issues and problems that you wish to highlight. Your case €˜story€™ will be built around these main issues and problems.

4.  Have I articulated the key actions or activities that the case will cover?

a.     A good case is one that €˜brings a chunk of reality€™ into the classroom.€™ A case study can unfold in the form of a drama. The actions and activities refer to the events in the case.

b.     The opening paragraph can relate a critical incident or give a historical background of the organization in question. The opening paragraph should be interesting to capture the interest of the reader to want to read on.

c.     The body of the case would unfold actions/activities/incidents that have led to the problems. When drafting the case study, it would be helpful to list activities/incidents in a sequential manner. The use of time and date would help us to list the events in a systematic manner.

d.     The closing paragraph of the case does not close the case, but opens it for discussion. It should end with a sense of urgency that triggers the reader to think about how to solve the problems.

5. Have I made clear why the problems/issues/opportunity arose; the external drivers that caused it?

a.     Case study writing is different from writing a study report. In a study report, it is well structured to tell everything in a systematic manner, which may include suggestions or recommendations to the problem.

b.     In a case study, suggestions and recommendations are not found directly from the case. A good case would enable the students to €˜dig€™ for the information. In the process they learn to analyze the situation, make a diagnosis of the situation, and suggest solutions to the problem.

c.     When you are writing the case, you yourself must be clear about the causes of the problem or the external drives that have caused the problem, and the suggested solutions to the problem. However, the suggested solutions should not appear in the case proper in a straight forward manner so that the case would challenge the thinking of the students when they are using it.

6.   Have I identified €œthe actors" in the case?

a.     By this we mean the organization(s) and individual(s) involved in the case. Most cases reflect some problems that need to be solved. The problems are caused by various factors (such as the 4 Ms i.e. man, machine, money, materials), which in most instances are people-related. By putting people in the case, it makes the case €˜real.€™

b.     The case should bring up the emotions and feelings of the main characters which can be in prose or dialogue format.

7.      Do I have the necessary hard data? Have I distinguished the subjective or contradictory information? Is there any missing information  to support my argument?

a.     Information and data to support your case can be profit/revenue records, cost figures, staffing structure, rainfall data, etc., depending on the area you are writing about.

b.     After you have collected information and data for your case, review them to see if they meet your needs.

c.     Select data that are relevant to the case.

d.     Information can be in the form of quotes or extracts of interview or discussion that you had with the people in the case who would appear as the €˜actor(s)€™ in the case.

e.     These can be presented in a prose or dialogue format in the case.

 

Bibliography

The following sources contain useful information on case study writing and analyzing

Busha, C. H., & Harter, S. P. (1980). Research methods in librarianship, techniques and interpretation. New York: Academic Press.

Chang, H. C. (1974). Library goals as responses to structural milieu requirements: A comparative case study. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

DuMont, R. R. (1975). The large urban public library as an agency of social reform, 1890-1915. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Eisenhardt, K. M. (1989). Building theories from case study research. Academy of Management Review, 14(4), 352-550.

Emory, C. W., & Cooper, D. R. (1991). Business research methods. (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Irvin.

Goldhor, H. (1972). An introduction to scientific research in librarianship. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois.

Hamel, J. (with Dufour, S., & Fortin, D.). (1993). Case study methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Harris, S., & Sutton, R. (1986). Functions of parting ceremonies in dying organizations. Academy of Management Journal, 19, 5-30.

Lawson, V. (1971). Reference service in university libraries, two case studies. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Columbia University, New York.

McAdams, D. C. (1979). Powerful actors in public land use decision making processes: A case study in Austin, Texas. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Texas, Austin.

McClure, C. R., & Hernon, P. (Eds.). (1991). Library and information science research: perspectives and strategies for improvement. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1984). Qualitative data analysis: A sourcebook of new methods. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Miller, F. (1986). Use, appraisal, and research: A case study of social history. The American Archivist: 49(4), 371-392.

Paris, M. (1988). Library school closings: Four case studies. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.

Patton, M. Q. (1980). Qualitative evaluation methods. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Powell, R. R. (1985). Basic research methods for librarians. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Schindler, D. (1996). Urban youth and the frail elderly: Reciprocal giving and receiving. New York: Garland.

Simons, H. (1980). Towards a science of the singular: Essays about case study in educational research and evaluation. Norwich, UK: University of East Anglia, Centre for Applied Research in Education.

Stake, R. E. (1995). The art of case study research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Swisher, R., & McClure, C. R. (1984). Research for decision making, methods for librarians. Chicago: American Library Association.

Taylor, R. S. (1967). Question-negotiation and information-seeking in libraries. Bethlehem, PA: Center for the Information Sciences.

U.S. Department of Education. (1988). Rethinking the library in the information age: Issues in library research: proposals for the 1990s. Volume II. Washington, DC.

Weiss, C.H., & Bucuvala, M. J. (1980). Social science research and decision-making. New York: Columbia University Press.

Wholey, J. S., Hatry, H. P., & Newcomer, K. E. (Eds.). (1994). Handbook of practical program evaluation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Yin, R. K. (1984). Case study research: Design and methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

 
Last Updated ( Thursday, 28 May 2009 14:50 )  

THOUGHT

Entrepreneurship is the practice of starting new organizations or revitalizing mature organizations, particularly new businesses generally in response to identified opportunities. Entrepreneurship is often a difficult undertaking, as a vast majority of new businesses fail.

New books


Bungoma, the Land of Opportunity.