HOW TO WRITE A CASE STUDY
There are two types of case studies: (1) factual ones
depicting real organizations, people, and situations and (2)
fictional ones that, although usually based loosely on actual
people and events, do not use real organization's or people's
The advantages of factual case studies are that they can
provide a wealth of detail, give credibility to situations and
problems, and, most important, provide real outcomes. Actual
results give those who analyze a case real-world solutions: How
did the organization or manager solve the problems? Did the
Although factual cases furnish concrete, not theoretical,
solutions, they also have some drawbacks. Often students or case
discussants get hung up debating the details of the case as they
may remember them. Some discussants claim inside information or
refer to later outcomes that bring the organization's solutions
into question. When discussing factual cases, analysts tend to
focus on the accuracy of the details rather than on the appro-
priateness of the solutions. Factual cases tend to become
outdated as organizations, strategies, problems, and people
change over time. Also, if a factual case portrays real or-
ganizations or people in a negative way, questions of taste,
fairness, and even libel can arise. Finally, in a factual case
writers must obviously stick to the facts, which means that they
are limited to dealing with only those management topics that are
implicit in the case.
The most effective use of factual cases are for describing
current organizational problems, then analyzing and attempting to
solve the problems using a consultative approach.
Fictional cases have the drawback that students can never
know if a solution worked or not. Fictional cases are theoreti-
cal ones, and thus often do not have the credibility that factual
ones do. On the other hand, fictional case writers are not
constrained by the facts. Case writers can exercise their poetic
license and embellish on problems, issues, situations, and people
in order to focus only on the problems they want to address.
Often the best solution for teaching is to write fictional
cases that closely parallel factual situations.
Case Study Organizing Tips
Before beginning to outline a case study, writers must
decide on less than six dominant problems. Case writers must
ask, "What is this case study about?" Each problem (topic meant
for discussion) should be written in the form of a simple ques-
tion (For example: What types of sales goals are effective?). If
it takes several sentences to ask a problem-defining question,
then it is too complicated and not likely to be recognized or
understood by readers. If there are more than five problems in a
case, readers are apt to become confused and fail to focus on the
important problems the writer intended to address. A case study
with more than five problems is difficult to discuss in a practi-
cal amount of time (a class period, for example) and apt to
require many hours of rambling discussion. If the situation
being studied contains more than five problems, then the case
study should be written in several sections. Each section, in
addition to being a continuation of the narrative, should be able
to stand on its own as a separate case study.
Next, before writing a case, a writer must outline the
possible solutions to the problems (answers to the questions).
(For example: Billing or revenue goals are not the most effective
ones, activity- and task-oriented goals are better.) Many case
writers may want to tie problems to topics discussed in assigned
reading material. There are often multiple approaches to solving
problems, several answers to the questions. However, case
writers should know what the potential solutions are and have a
sense of what the best solutions are.
Case studies do not have to be restricted to problems and
how-not-to situations; they can show solutions and how-to situa-
tions also. A case study can address several problems and show
what was done right in solving them.
Often the best teaching cases are those that contain both
appropriate and inappropriate problem solutions. By using this
technique, writers do not signal to readers that all the solu-
tions are either right or wrong--case analysts have to figure it
out for themselves.
The next step is to select or create situations that give
readers a clear delineation of the problems and point the way to
a discussion about possible solutions. The most effective way to
depict a problem is to write situations or scenes that have
conflict in them: scenes in which the characters have opposite
points of view, disagreements, or different solutions. Each
situation or scene in a case study should either: (1) carry the
narrative forward, (2) relate directly to one of the major
problems in the case, or (3) provide insight into the personality
and motives of one or more of the characters. The ideal situa-
tion is one that the writer knows will elicit conflicting opin-
ions about potential solutions.
Case Study Writing Tips
1. Keep your audience in mind: Remember that you are writing for
students or discussants who may not be familiar with the back-
ground, details, and terminology of the situation. Keep jargon
to a minimum.
2. Use short-story-writing techniques: A case has flesh-and-blood
characters who should be intriguing. Each story element should
move the narrative forward.
3. Openings: Grab the reader with a character facing his or her
biggest problem: set the scene for the confrontations, the
frustrations, and the main conflicts.
4. Present situations and scenes without any attempt at analysis:
Scenes must follow a logical order and should illustrate a point,
concept, or issue that relates to the problems that the writer
wants to have analyzed. Do not give any signals that one solu-
tion might be preferred.
5. Provide relevant details: After an opening that sets up the
situation, provide relevant details about goals, strategies,
dilemmas, issues, conflicts, roadblocks, appropriate research,
relevant financial information, people, and relationships. Be
stingy with numbers; they must help solve the problems, not
confuse readers or send them off on unproductive analytic tan-
6. Use as much dialogue as possible: Make the characters come
alive with dialogue. Straight narrative is boring.
7. Endings: Leave the reader with a clear picture of the major
problems--either ask or imply "what is to be done now?"