A case study is one of the many kinds of written assignments that you have to face throughout your college years. It is your report about a person, a group of people, a situation or a phenomenon that you are studying. What differs a case study from other kinds of written assignments is its practical nature and narrow focus. For instance, if you are studying the behavior of a group of people in a certain situation, you disregard their behavior in other situations, as well as the behavior of separate individuals within the group.
Same as with any other written task, writing a case study can be divided into several stages to make the process easier and more effective. You should put all these stages into the timetable and follow it strictly. However, you will probably have to revisit some stages in the course of writing your report as new findings show up, writing is a somewhat cyclical process. These stages are as follows:
1. CLARIFY YOUR TASK
Carefully read the case and the instructions that you have received. Every point that leaves any ambiguity is a reason for doubt. Anything that can be understood in different ways is better to be discussed with your fellow students or even with your professor. It is a good idea to take a large sheet of paper and draw mind maps to visualize your findings, ideas, and the connections between them. Answering the following questions should also help you to define your task:
- Do we have the background or context of the case? What is it?
- Are there any problems with the case? What are they?
- Has your professor given you any guidelines for your study?
- Are you using any other tools for analyzing your case, besides mind maps? Matrix, template, SWOT, any specific software, etc.?
- Do what do you know about the situation that you are studying besides the case background?
- What do you not know? What is yet to be researched and found out?
- What are the details of your case study’s presentation (date, volume, structure, auxiliary materials, presentation)?
Answers to these questions can be integrated into your mind map. Alternatively, you can print this list of questions with large amounts of space left for answers and comments, and use it as a checklist.
2. THINK ABOUT THE THEORIES AND THE TOOLS FOR ANALYZING THE SITUATION
All the necessary methodology can be found in your course notes and textbooks. You can also find books, articles and other resources with detailed descriptions of relevant analysis tools for case study both online and offline; many schools provide comprehensive guides for that.
Detect the problems
At the initial stage of analyzing the case, you should understand which problems and risks are bound with the case. For example, if you are analyzing a company, read its history to see what has led it to its success or failure and translate them to the companies’ current activities and ongoing processes. Pay attention to the points relevant to the questions provided by your professor who has assigned you this task.
Remember to put all your findings onto your mind map – this includes both problems and the possible solutions; that is, both questions and answers to them. Prioritize the problems and questions by marking them with different colors on your mind map.
Remember to note the causes and effects of each problem, as well as all possible solutions that you think of or come across, even though at this stage they will be only preliminary. So, keep it in mind that you may discover more problems, as well as solutions, as you go on with writing your case study.
Use your tools to analyze the problem
Check out the available tools that you have at your disposal and see which ones can best be applied in your case. To make the best choices, carefully read and brainstorm the possible applications of each tool and discuss it with your fellow students and your professor.
Write down your findings
Remember to put down everything that you find out in notes. It is critical that you have everything documented, should you need to return to some point of your study. Also, write down what you think about those findings and how you have come to them. If you used calculations or testings for finding a possible solution to a problem, they also need to be thoroughly documented in detail.
3. WORK OUT YOUR RECOMMENDATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS
This is your advice on what can be done to eliminate, solve, or at least minimize a problem in the case. There should be recommendations for each problem that you have found out. They can be shaped in the form of plain text or put in a table. They must be detailed and include not only the solution but also a plan of actions that need to be done to achieve positive results. Each solution should answer the following questions:
- Why should this solution work?
- What can possibly prevent it from working?
- Who will be responsible for implementing the solution?
- Who may be blocking it from being executed?
- How much time is needed for each action?
- What will be the pay-off and/or savings in detail?
Here you summarize your analysis of the case from the perspective of the objectives – both compulsory and desired ones. Remember to follow the recommendations from your professor regarding your conclusions to the letter, especially when it comes to your original assumptions.
4. MOVE ON TO WRITING YOUR REPORT
- Make up a plan
Same as with any other academic writing, a case study report needs to be carefully planned before writing. The plan or the structure of your report will most probably start taking shape in your head as early as the beginning of your investigation.
First, make up your preliminary outline with all the sections and subsections. Since this outline is for your use only, it does not necessarily have to be in the format of a list, like with most academic papers that you have to submit. You can make it in any format that you find convenient – for example, a mind map.
Then, just sort your notes by adding them to the corresponding sections and subsections. Creating the outline will help you visualize the order in which you will put the bits of information that you have in your notes. Mind that this outline does not need to be final, and you are free to change it as your ideas develop. Only when you see that it is finalized, you can translate your outline into the contents page of your case study report.
Create a schedule for your writing and follow it strictly. Meticulously plan how much time you can spare on writing and editing your report. Exceed the time limits for each portion of work in case you find some section harder to write than others and need some extra time for them. It is recommended to begin with the sections about which you feel most confident. Naturally, these will be the sections that are your won to the biggest extent: the methodology and the conclusions, – because at this point these ideas are fresh in your mind. The auxiliary and secondary sections are the ones to finish with. These are the introduction, reference list, appendices, etc.
Consider your readership. Your case study report is meant for someone to read it. Therefore, you should always imagine this person or group of people when writing your report. Your (at this point, imaginary) readership should have the decisive vote over your choice of style, language, and, of course, content. Clearly, you use different language when speaking, for example, to one person versus when you are talking before an audience of people. So, try your best to think about what the people in your readership need to know, what they want to hear and in what form, etc. Answering the following questions will help you understand your readership better.
For whom is your report written? As we have mentioned before, a case study report is a practical piece of work, meaning that it has practical application. Therefore, your potential readership should be not only your professor but also your fellow-students, as well as other people working in the given field(s). For example, a case study in human psychology can be applied in a wide variety of fields – from marketing to psychiatry.
What does your readership expect from reading your case study report? As we have discussed, a case study report is a work of a practical nature. Therefore, the findings from your report can potentially be used by specialists working in a certain field. You are expected to visualize their professional interest if you want your writing to look convincing. For example, a practicing psychotherapist will be interested in innovative approaches to psychology in regards to his or her practice, whereas a marketing manager will most probably rather favor old patterns which have already proven to be successful on many occasions.
How to communicate my ideas clearly? Unlike with other writings, here your writing must be exact, simple, and laconic. Think of your readership as busy people who value their precious time and will to have it wasted by an overly wordy writer. They only want useful information. This should influence not only your choice of words but the very structure of your case study report. Ideally, to reach out to your audience most effectively, don’t use too much specific terminology or slang; the amount of background and subsidiary information should be limited but sufficient. Also, remember to make sure that the sections and paragraphs flow into one another smoothly and logically.
Which parts of your report might your audience object against and what might they favor? Clearly, you should be ready that not every reader will like the solutions that you offer in your case study report. Therefore, you should adopt such point of view and address it in your report. This will not only reveal your multi-angled understanding of the problem and your empathy toward people who have different views from yours, but will also add to your authority in the eyes of the reader, which will make your report more convincing in general.
- Write your first draft
It is wrong to assume that you will write your case study report perfectly from scratch. A properly written report can only be achieved through an accurate planning of work and meticulous editing. So, same as with any other writing, it is necessary to put one or several drafts before you can finalize your paper. Here are a few tips for this stage:
- Re-read your assignment whenever you have questions. When gathering the information, it is easy to get carried away and spend your precious time studying something irrelevant to your case. Therefore, return to the task given to you by your professor, so that you always keep your objectives in mind.
- Be scrupulous about your choice of materials. Upon reviewing the notes that you have taken while gathering the information, don’t think twice to leave out something that you think is irrelevant to your report. Only essential information should stay.
- Stay logical. Create a comprehensive outline, follow it strictly, and use it as your contents page. Add as many subsections as you deem necessary, but take care that you put them in the correct logical order. Every subsection should be devoted to a certain idea. All ideas should not only be supported by substantial arguments and/or evidence, but every subsequent idea/subsection must flow into the consequent one organically. If you use any visual aid, make sure that it is well integrated into the paper and that the reader can easily follow why it is put there and what it tells. If necessary, show it to someone who may represent your target audience to see how well it works.
- Proofread and edit. Even if you estimate your writing skills as good or expert, there will be no harm in running your draft through a grammar- and spelling-checking software (or online service). It will be even better to run it through several of those. Although, you should not rely on them solely. There are possible errors that such programs are bound to overlook. So, it is good to find someone who is expert in writing to edit and proofread