Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Assignments
- Annotated Bibliography
- Analyzing a Scholarly Journal Article
- Group Presentations
- Dealing with Nervousness
- Using Visual Aids
- Grading Someone Else's Paper
- Types of Structured Group Activities
- Group Project Survival Skills
- Leading a Class Discussion
- Multiple Book Review Essay
- Reviewing Collected Works
- Writing a Case Analysis Paper
- Writing a Case Study
- About Informed Consent
- Writing Field Notes
- Writing a Policy Memo
- Writing a Reflective Paper
- Writing a Research Proposal
- Generative AI and Writing
A case study research paper examines a person, place, event, condition, phenomenon, or other type of subject of analysis in order to extrapolate key themes and results that help predict future trends, illuminate previously hidden issues that can be applied to practice, and/or provide a means for understanding an important research problem with greater clarity. A case study research paper usually examines a single subject of analysis, but case study papers can also be designed as a comparative investigation that shows relationships between two or more subjects. The methods used to study a case can rest within a quantitative, qualitative, or mixed-method investigative paradigm.
Case Studies. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Mills, Albert J. , Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010 ; “What is a Case Study?” In Swanborn, Peter G. Case Study Research: What, Why and How? London: SAGE, 2010.
How to Approach Writing a Case Study Research Paper
General information about how to choose a topic to investigate can be found under the " Choosing a Research Problem " tab in the Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper writing guide. Review this page because it may help you identify a subject of analysis that can be investigated using a case study design.
However, identifying a case to investigate involves more than choosing the research problem . A case study encompasses a problem contextualized around the application of in-depth analysis, interpretation, and discussion, often resulting in specific recommendations for action or for improving existing conditions. As Seawright and Gerring note, practical considerations such as time and access to information can influence case selection, but these issues should not be the sole factors used in describing the methodological justification for identifying a particular case to study. Given this, selecting a case includes considering the following:
- The case represents an unusual or atypical example of a research problem that requires more in-depth analysis? Cases often represent a topic that rests on the fringes of prior investigations because the case may provide new ways of understanding the research problem. For example, if the research problem is to identify strategies to improve policies that support girl's access to secondary education in predominantly Muslim nations, you could consider using Azerbaijan as a case study rather than selecting a more obvious nation in the Middle East. Doing so may reveal important new insights into recommending how governments in other predominantly Muslim nations can formulate policies that support improved access to education for girls.
- The case provides important insight or illuminate a previously hidden problem? In-depth analysis of a case can be based on the hypothesis that the case study will reveal trends or issues that have not been exposed in prior research or will reveal new and important implications for practice. For example, anecdotal evidence may suggest drug use among homeless veterans is related to their patterns of travel throughout the day. Assuming prior studies have not looked at individual travel choices as a way to study access to illicit drug use, a case study that observes a homeless veteran could reveal how issues of personal mobility choices facilitate regular access to illicit drugs. Note that it is important to conduct a thorough literature review to ensure that your assumption about the need to reveal new insights or previously hidden problems is valid and evidence-based.
- The case challenges and offers a counter-point to prevailing assumptions? Over time, research on any given topic can fall into a trap of developing assumptions based on outdated studies that are still applied to new or changing conditions or the idea that something should simply be accepted as "common sense," even though the issue has not been thoroughly tested in current practice. A case study analysis may offer an opportunity to gather evidence that challenges prevailing assumptions about a research problem and provide a new set of recommendations applied to practice that have not been tested previously. For example, perhaps there has been a long practice among scholars to apply a particular theory in explaining the relationship between two subjects of analysis. Your case could challenge this assumption by applying an innovative theoretical framework [perhaps borrowed from another discipline] to explore whether this approach offers new ways of understanding the research problem. Taking a contrarian stance is one of the most important ways that new knowledge and understanding develops from existing literature.
- The case provides an opportunity to pursue action leading to the resolution of a problem? Another way to think about choosing a case to study is to consider how the results from investigating a particular case may result in findings that reveal ways in which to resolve an existing or emerging problem. For example, studying the case of an unforeseen incident, such as a fatal accident at a railroad crossing, can reveal hidden issues that could be applied to preventative measures that contribute to reducing the chance of accidents in the future. In this example, a case study investigating the accident could lead to a better understanding of where to strategically locate additional signals at other railroad crossings so as to better warn drivers of an approaching train, particularly when visibility is hindered by heavy rain, fog, or at night.
- The case offers a new direction in future research? A case study can be used as a tool for an exploratory investigation that highlights the need for further research about the problem. A case can be used when there are few studies that help predict an outcome or that establish a clear understanding about how best to proceed in addressing a problem. For example, after conducting a thorough literature review [very important!], you discover that little research exists showing the ways in which women contribute to promoting water conservation in rural communities of east central Africa. A case study of how women contribute to saving water in a rural village of Uganda can lay the foundation for understanding the need for more thorough research that documents how women in their roles as cooks and family caregivers think about water as a valuable resource within their community. This example of a case study could also point to the need for scholars to build new theoretical frameworks around the topic [e.g., applying feminist theories of work and family to the issue of water conservation].
Eisenhardt, Kathleen M. “Building Theories from Case Study Research.” Academy of Management Review 14 (October 1989): 532-550; Emmel, Nick. Sampling and Choosing Cases in Qualitative Research: A Realist Approach . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2013; Gerring, John. “What Is a Case Study and What Is It Good for?” American Political Science Review 98 (May 2004): 341-354; Mills, Albert J. , Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010; Seawright, Jason and John Gerring. "Case Selection Techniques in Case Study Research." Political Research Quarterly 61 (June 2008): 294-308.
Structure and Writing Style
The purpose of a paper in the social sciences designed around a case study is to thoroughly investigate a subject of analysis in order to reveal a new understanding about the research problem and, in so doing, contributing new knowledge to what is already known from previous studies. In applied social sciences disciplines [e.g., education, social work, public administration, etc.], case studies may also be used to reveal best practices, highlight key programs, or investigate interesting aspects of professional work.
In general, the structure of a case study research paper is not all that different from a standard college-level research paper. However, there are subtle differences you should be aware of. Here are the key elements to organizing and writing a case study research paper.
As with any research paper, your introduction should serve as a roadmap for your readers to ascertain the scope and purpose of your study . The introduction to a case study research paper, however, should not only describe the research problem and its significance, but you should also succinctly describe why the case is being used and how it relates to addressing the problem. The two elements should be linked. With this in mind, a good introduction answers these four questions:
- What is being studied? Describe the research problem and describe the subject of analysis [the case] you have chosen to address the problem. Explain how they are linked and what elements of the case will help to expand knowledge and understanding about the problem.
- Why is this topic important to investigate? Describe the significance of the research problem and state why a case study design and the subject of analysis that the paper is designed around is appropriate in addressing the problem.
- What did we know about this topic before I did this study? Provide background that helps lead the reader into the more in-depth literature review to follow. If applicable, summarize prior case study research applied to the research problem and why it fails to adequately address the problem. Describe why your case will be useful. If no prior case studies have been used to address the research problem, explain why you have selected this subject of analysis.
- How will this study advance new knowledge or new ways of understanding? Explain why your case study will be suitable in helping to expand knowledge and understanding about the research problem.
Each of these questions should be addressed in no more than a few paragraphs. Exceptions to this can be when you are addressing a complex research problem or subject of analysis that requires more in-depth background information.
II. Literature Review
The literature review for a case study research paper is generally structured the same as it is for any college-level research paper. The difference, however, is that the literature review is focused on providing background information and enabling historical interpretation of the subject of analysis in relation to the research problem the case is intended to address . This includes synthesizing studies that help to:
- Place relevant works in the context of their contribution to understanding the case study being investigated . This would involve summarizing studies that have used a similar subject of analysis to investigate the research problem. If there is literature using the same or a very similar case to study, you need to explain why duplicating past research is important [e.g., conditions have changed; prior studies were conducted long ago, etc.].
- Describe the relationship each work has to the others under consideration that informs the reader why this case is applicable . Your literature review should include a description of any works that support using the case to investigate the research problem and the underlying research questions.
- Identify new ways to interpret prior research using the case study . If applicable, review any research that has examined the research problem using a different research design. Explain how your use of a case study design may reveal new knowledge or a new perspective or that can redirect research in an important new direction.
- Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies . This refers to synthesizing any literature that points to unresolved issues of concern about the research problem and describing how the subject of analysis that forms the case study can help resolve these existing contradictions.
- Point the way in fulfilling a need for additional research . Your review should examine any literature that lays a foundation for understanding why your case study design and the subject of analysis around which you have designed your study may reveal a new way of approaching the research problem or offer a perspective that points to the need for additional research.
- Expose any gaps that exist in the literature that the case study could help to fill . Summarize any literature that not only shows how your subject of analysis contributes to understanding the research problem, but how your case contributes to a new way of understanding the problem that prior research has failed to do.
- Locate your own research within the context of existing literature [very important!] . Collectively, your literature review should always place your case study within the larger domain of prior research about the problem. The overarching purpose of reviewing pertinent literature in a case study paper is to demonstrate that you have thoroughly identified and synthesized prior studies in relation to explaining the relevance of the case in addressing the research problem.
In this section, you explain why you selected a particular case [i.e., subject of analysis] and the strategy you used to identify and ultimately decide that your case was appropriate in addressing the research problem. The way you describe the methods used varies depending on the type of subject of analysis that constitutes your case study.
If your subject of analysis is an incident or event . In the social and behavioral sciences, the event or incident that represents the case to be studied is usually bounded by time and place, with a clear beginning and end and with an identifiable location or position relative to its surroundings. The subject of analysis can be a rare or critical event or it can focus on a typical or regular event. The purpose of studying a rare event is to illuminate new ways of thinking about the broader research problem or to test a hypothesis. Critical incident case studies must describe the method by which you identified the event and explain the process by which you determined the validity of this case to inform broader perspectives about the research problem or to reveal new findings. However, the event does not have to be a rare or uniquely significant to support new thinking about the research problem or to challenge an existing hypothesis. For example, Walo, Bull, and Breen conducted a case study to identify and evaluate the direct and indirect economic benefits and costs of a local sports event in the City of Lismore, New South Wales, Australia. The purpose of their study was to provide new insights from measuring the impact of a typical local sports event that prior studies could not measure well because they focused on large "mega-events." Whether the event is rare or not, the methods section should include an explanation of the following characteristics of the event: a) when did it take place; b) what were the underlying circumstances leading to the event; and, c) what were the consequences of the event in relation to the research problem.
If your subject of analysis is a person. Explain why you selected this particular individual to be studied and describe what experiences they have had that provide an opportunity to advance new understandings about the research problem. Mention any background about this person which might help the reader understand the significance of their experiences that make them worthy of study. This includes describing the relationships this person has had with other people, institutions, and/or events that support using them as the subject for a case study research paper. It is particularly important to differentiate the person as the subject of analysis from others and to succinctly explain how the person relates to examining the research problem [e.g., why is one politician in a particular local election used to show an increase in voter turnout from any other candidate running in the election]. Note that these issues apply to a specific group of people used as a case study unit of analysis [e.g., a classroom of students].
If your subject of analysis is a place. In general, a case study that investigates a place suggests a subject of analysis that is unique or special in some way and that this uniqueness can be used to build new understanding or knowledge about the research problem. A case study of a place must not only describe its various attributes relevant to the research problem [e.g., physical, social, historical, cultural, economic, political], but you must state the method by which you determined that this place will illuminate new understandings about the research problem. It is also important to articulate why a particular place as the case for study is being used if similar places also exist [i.e., if you are studying patterns of homeless encampments of veterans in open spaces, explain why you are studying Echo Park in Los Angeles rather than Griffith Park?]. If applicable, describe what type of human activity involving this place makes it a good choice to study [e.g., prior research suggests Echo Park has more homeless veterans].
If your subject of analysis is a phenomenon. A phenomenon refers to a fact, occurrence, or circumstance that can be studied or observed but with the cause or explanation to be in question. In this sense, a phenomenon that forms your subject of analysis can encompass anything that can be observed or presumed to exist but is not fully understood. In the social and behavioral sciences, the case usually focuses on human interaction within a complex physical, social, economic, cultural, or political system. For example, the phenomenon could be the observation that many vehicles used by ISIS fighters are small trucks with English language advertisements on them. The research problem could be that ISIS fighters are difficult to combat because they are highly mobile. The research questions could be how and by what means are these vehicles used by ISIS being supplied to the militants and how might supply lines to these vehicles be cut off? How might knowing the suppliers of these trucks reveal larger networks of collaborators and financial support? A case study of a phenomenon most often encompasses an in-depth analysis of a cause and effect that is grounded in an interactive relationship between people and their environment in some way.
NOTE: The choice of the case or set of cases to study cannot appear random. Evidence that supports the method by which you identified and chose your subject of analysis should clearly support investigation of the research problem and linked to key findings from your literature review. Be sure to cite any studies that helped you determine that the case you chose was appropriate for examining the problem.
The main elements of your discussion section are generally the same as any research paper, but centered around interpreting and drawing conclusions about the key findings from your analysis of the case study. Note that a general social sciences research paper may contain a separate section to report findings. However, in a paper designed around a case study, it is common to combine a description of the results with the discussion about their implications. The objectives of your discussion section should include the following:
Reiterate the Research Problem/State the Major Findings Briefly reiterate the research problem you are investigating and explain why the subject of analysis around which you designed the case study were used. You should then describe the findings revealed from your study of the case using direct, declarative, and succinct proclamation of the study results. Highlight any findings that were unexpected or especially profound.
Explain the Meaning of the Findings and Why They are Important Systematically explain the meaning of your case study findings and why you believe they are important. Begin this part of the section by repeating what you consider to be your most important or surprising finding first, then systematically review each finding. Be sure to thoroughly extrapolate what your analysis of the case can tell the reader about situations or conditions beyond the actual case that was studied while, at the same time, being careful not to misconstrue or conflate a finding that undermines the external validity of your conclusions.
Relate the Findings to Similar Studies No study in the social sciences is so novel or possesses such a restricted focus that it has absolutely no relation to previously published research. The discussion section should relate your case study results to those found in other studies, particularly if questions raised from prior studies served as the motivation for choosing your subject of analysis. This is important because comparing and contrasting the findings of other studies helps support the overall importance of your results and it highlights how and in what ways your case study design and the subject of analysis differs from prior research about the topic.
Consider Alternative Explanations of the Findings Remember that the purpose of social science research is to discover and not to prove. When writing the discussion section, you should carefully consider all possible explanations revealed by the case study results, rather than just those that fit your hypothesis or prior assumptions and biases. Be alert to what the in-depth analysis of the case may reveal about the research problem, including offering a contrarian perspective to what scholars have stated in prior research if that is how the findings can be interpreted from your case.
Acknowledge the Study's Limitations You can state the study's limitations in the conclusion section of your paper but describing the limitations of your subject of analysis in the discussion section provides an opportunity to identify the limitations and explain why they are not significant. This part of the discussion section should also note any unanswered questions or issues your case study could not address. More detailed information about how to document any limitations to your research can be found here .
Suggest Areas for Further Research Although your case study may offer important insights about the research problem, there are likely additional questions related to the problem that remain unanswered or findings that unexpectedly revealed themselves as a result of your in-depth analysis of the case. Be sure that the recommendations for further research are linked to the research problem and that you explain why your recommendations are valid in other contexts and based on the original assumptions of your study.
As with any research paper, you should summarize your conclusion in clear, simple language; emphasize how the findings from your case study differs from or supports prior research and why. Do not simply reiterate the discussion section. Provide a synthesis of key findings presented in the paper to show how these converge to address the research problem. If you haven't already done so in the discussion section, be sure to document the limitations of your case study and any need for further research.
The function of your paper's conclusion is to: 1) reiterate the main argument supported by the findings from your case study; 2) state clearly the context, background, and necessity of pursuing the research problem using a case study design in relation to an issue, controversy, or a gap found from reviewing the literature; and, 3) provide a place to persuasively and succinctly restate the significance of your research problem, given that the reader has now been presented with in-depth information about the topic.
Consider the following points to help ensure your conclusion is appropriate:
- If the argument or purpose of your paper is complex, you may need to summarize these points for your reader.
- If prior to your conclusion, you have not yet explained the significance of your findings or if you are proceeding inductively, use the conclusion of your paper to describe your main points and explain their significance.
- Move from a detailed to a general level of consideration of the case study's findings that returns the topic to the context provided by the introduction or within a new context that emerges from your case study findings.
Note that, depending on the discipline you are writing in or the preferences of your professor, the concluding paragraph may contain your final reflections on the evidence presented as it applies to practice or on the essay's central research problem. However, the nature of being introspective about the subject of analysis you have investigated will depend on whether you are explicitly asked to express your observations in this way.
Problems to Avoid
Overgeneralization One of the goals of a case study is to lay a foundation for understanding broader trends and issues applied to similar circumstances. However, be careful when drawing conclusions from your case study. They must be evidence-based and grounded in the results of the study; otherwise, it is merely speculation. Looking at a prior example, it would be incorrect to state that a factor in improving girls access to education in Azerbaijan and the policy implications this may have for improving access in other Muslim nations is due to girls access to social media if there is no documentary evidence from your case study to indicate this. There may be anecdotal evidence that retention rates were better for girls who were engaged with social media, but this observation would only point to the need for further research and would not be a definitive finding if this was not a part of your original research agenda.
Failure to Document Limitations No case is going to reveal all that needs to be understood about a research problem. Therefore, just as you have to clearly state the limitations of a general research study , you must describe the specific limitations inherent in the subject of analysis. For example, the case of studying how women conceptualize the need for water conservation in a village in Uganda could have limited application in other cultural contexts or in areas where fresh water from rivers or lakes is plentiful and, therefore, conservation is understood more in terms of managing access rather than preserving access to a scarce resource.
Failure to Extrapolate All Possible Implications Just as you don't want to over-generalize from your case study findings, you also have to be thorough in the consideration of all possible outcomes or recommendations derived from your findings. If you do not, your reader may question the validity of your analysis, particularly if you failed to document an obvious outcome from your case study research. For example, in the case of studying the accident at the railroad crossing to evaluate where and what types of warning signals should be located, you failed to take into consideration speed limit signage as well as warning signals. When designing your case study, be sure you have thoroughly addressed all aspects of the problem and do not leave gaps in your analysis that leave the reader questioning the results.
Case Studies. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Gerring, John. Case Study Research: Principles and Practices . New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007; Merriam, Sharan B. Qualitative Research and Case Study Applications in Education . Rev. ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1998; Miller, Lisa L. “The Use of Case Studies in Law and Social Science Research.” Annual Review of Law and Social Science 14 (2018): TBD; Mills, Albert J., Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010; Putney, LeAnn Grogan. "Case Study." In Encyclopedia of Research Design , Neil J. Salkind, editor. (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010), pp. 116-120; Simons, Helen. Case Study Research in Practice . London: SAGE Publications, 2009; Kratochwill, Thomas R. and Joel R. Levin, editors. Single-Case Research Design and Analysis: New Development for Psychology and Education . Hilldsale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1992; Swanborn, Peter G. Case Study Research: What, Why and How? London : SAGE, 2010; Yin, Robert K. Case Study Research: Design and Methods . 6th edition. Los Angeles, CA, SAGE Publications, 2014; Walo, Maree, Adrian Bull, and Helen Breen. “Achieving Economic Benefits at Local Events: A Case Study of a Local Sports Event.” Festival Management and Event Tourism 4 (1996): 95-106.
At Least Five Misconceptions about Case Study Research
Social science case studies are often perceived as limited in their ability to create new knowledge because they are not randomly selected and findings cannot be generalized to larger populations. Flyvbjerg examines five misunderstandings about case study research and systematically "corrects" each one. To quote, these are:
Misunderstanding 1 : General, theoretical [context-independent] knowledge is more valuable than concrete, practical [context-dependent] knowledge. Misunderstanding 2 : One cannot generalize on the basis of an individual case; therefore, the case study cannot contribute to scientific development. Misunderstanding 3 : The case study is most useful for generating hypotheses; that is, in the first stage of a total research process, whereas other methods are more suitable for hypotheses testing and theory building. Misunderstanding 4 : The case study contains a bias toward verification, that is, a tendency to confirm the researcher’s preconceived notions. Misunderstanding 5 : It is often difficult to summarize and develop general propositions and theories on the basis of specific case studies [p. 221].
While writing your paper, think introspectively about how you addressed these misconceptions because to do so can help you strengthen the validity and reliability of your research by clarifying issues of case selection, the testing and challenging of existing assumptions, the interpretation of key findings, and the summation of case outcomes. Think of a case study research paper as a complete, in-depth narrative about the specific properties and key characteristics of your subject of analysis applied to the research problem.
Flyvbjerg, Bent. “Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research.” Qualitative Inquiry 12 (April 2006): 219-245.
- << Previous: Writing a Case Analysis Paper
- Next: Writing a Field Report >>
- Last Updated: Aug 29, 2023 10:01 AM
- URL: https://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide/assignments
All You Wanted to Know About How to Write a Case Study
What do you study in your college? If you are a psychology, sociology, or anthropology student, we bet you might be familiar with what a case study is. This research method is used to study a certain person, group, or situation. In this guide from our dissertation writing service , you will learn how to write a case study professionally, from researching to citing sources properly. Also, we will explore different types of case studies and show you examples — so that you won’t have any other questions left.
What Is a Case Study?
A case study is a subcategory of research design which investigates problems and offers solutions. Case studies can range from academic research studies to corporate promotional tools trying to sell an idea—their scope is quite vast.
What Is the Difference Between a Research Paper and a Case Study?
While research papers turn the reader’s attention to a certain problem, case studies go even further. Case study guidelines require students to pay attention to details, examining issues closely and in-depth using different research methods. For example, case studies may be used to examine court cases if you study Law, or a patient's health history if you study Medicine. Case studies are also used in Marketing, which are thorough, empirically supported analysis of a good or service's performance. Well-designed case studies can be valuable for prospective customers as they can identify and solve the potential customers pain point.
Case studies involve a lot of storytelling – they usually examine particular cases for a person or a group of people. This method of research is very helpful, as it is very practical and can give a lot of hands-on information. Most commonly, the length of the case study is about 500-900 words, which is much less than the length of an average research paper.
The structure of a case study is very similar to storytelling. It has a protagonist or main character, which in your case is actually a problem you are trying to solve. You can use the system of 3 Acts to make it a compelling story. It should have an introduction, rising action, a climax where transformation occurs, falling action, and a solution.
Here is a rough formula for you to use in your case study:
Problem (Act I): > Solution (Act II) > Result (Act III) > Conclusion.
Types of Case Studies
The purpose of a case study is to provide detailed reports on an event, an institution, a place, future customers, or pretty much anything. There are a few common types of case study, but the type depends on the topic. The following are the most common domains where case studies are needed:
- Historical case studies are great to learn from. Historical events have a multitude of source info offering different perspectives. There are always modern parallels where these perspectives can be applied, compared, and thoroughly analyzed.
- Problem-oriented case studies are usually used for solving problems. These are often assigned as theoretical situations where you need to immerse yourself in the situation to examine it. Imagine you’re working for a startup and you’ve just noticed a significant flaw in your product’s design. Before taking it to the senior manager, you want to do a comprehensive study on the issue and provide solutions. On a greater scale, problem-oriented case studies are a vital part of relevant socio-economic discussions.
- Cumulative case studies collect information and offer comparisons. In business, case studies are often used to tell people about the value of a product.
- Critical case studies explore the causes and effects of a certain case.
- Illustrative case studies describe certain events, investigating outcomes and lessons learned.
Case Study Format
The case study format is typically made up of eight parts:
- Executive Summary. Explain what you will examine in the case study. Write an overview of the field you’re researching. Make a thesis statement and sum up the results of your observation in a maximum of 2 sentences.
- Background. Provide background information and the most relevant facts. Isolate the issues.
- Case Evaluation. Isolate the sections of the study you want to focus on. In it, explain why something is working or is not working.
- Proposed Solutions. Offer realistic ways to solve what isn’t working or how to improve its current condition. Explain why these solutions work by offering testable evidence.
- Conclusion. Summarize the main points from the case evaluations and proposed solutions. 6. Recommendations. Talk about the strategy that you should choose. Explain why this choice is the most appropriate.
- Implementation. Explain how to put the specific strategies into action.
- References. Provide all the citations.
How to Write a Case Study
Let's discover how to write a case study.
Setting Up the Research
When writing a case study, remember that research should always come first. Reading many different sources and analyzing other points of view will help you come up with more creative solutions. You can also conduct an actual interview to thoroughly investigate the customer story that you'll need for your case study. Including all of the necessary research, writing a case study may take some time. The research process involves doing the following:
- Define your objective. Explain the reason why you’re presenting your subject. Figure out where you will feature your case study; whether it is written, on video, shown as an infographic, streamed as a podcast, etc.
- Determine who will be the right candidate for your case study. Get permission, quotes, and other features that will make your case study effective. Get in touch with your candidate to see if they approve of being part of your work. Study that candidate’s situation and note down what caused it.
- Identify which various consequences could result from the situation. Follow these guidelines on how to start a case study: surf the net to find some general information you might find useful.
- Make a list of credible sources and examine them. Seek out important facts and highlight problems. Always write down your ideas and make sure to brainstorm.
- Focus on several key issues – why they exist, and how they impact your research subject. Think of several unique solutions. Draw from class discussions, readings, and personal experience. When writing a case study, focus on the best solution and explore it in depth. After having all your research in place, writing a case study will be easy. You may first want to check the rubric and criteria of your assignment for the correct case study structure.
Read Also: 'CREDIBLE SOURCES: WHAT ARE THEY?'
Although your instructor might be looking at slightly different criteria, every case study rubric essentially has the same standards. Your professor will want you to exhibit 8 different outcomes:
- Correctly identify the concepts, theories, and practices in the discipline.
- Identify the relevant theories and principles associated with the particular study.
- Evaluate legal and ethical principles and apply them to your decision-making.
- Recognize the global importance and contribution of your case.
- Construct a coherent summary and explanation of the study.
- Demonstrate analytical and critical-thinking skills.
- Explain the interrelationships between the environment and nature.
- Integrate theory and practice of the discipline within the analysis.
Need Case Study DONE FAST?
Pick a topic, tell us your requirements and get your paper on time.
Case Study Outline
Let's look at the structure of an outline based on the issue of the alcoholic addiction of 30 people.
- Statement of the issue: Alcoholism is a disease rather than a weakness of character.
- Presentation of the problem: Alcoholism is affecting more than 14 million people in the USA, which makes it the third most common mental illness there.
- Explanation of the terms: In the past, alcoholism was commonly referred to as alcohol dependence or alcohol addiction. Alcoholism is now the more severe stage of this addiction in the disorder spectrum.
- Hypotheses: Drinking in excess can lead to the use of other drugs.
- Importance of your story: How the information you present can help people with their addictions.
- Background of the story: Include an explanation of why you chose this topic.
- Presentation of analysis and data: Describe the criteria for choosing 30 candidates, the structure of the interview, and the outcomes.
- Strong argument 1: ex. X% of candidates dealing with anxiety and depression...
- Strong argument 2: ex. X amount of people started drinking by their mid-teens.
- Strong argument 3: ex. X% of respondents’ parents had issues with alcohol.
- Concluding statement: I have researched if alcoholism is a disease and found out that…
- Recommendations: Ways and actions for preventing alcohol use.
Writing a Case Study Draft
After you’ve done your case study research and written the outline, it’s time to focus on the draft. In a draft, you have to develop and write your case study by using: the data which you collected throughout the research, interviews, and the analysis processes that were undertaken. Follow these rules for the draft:
- Your draft should contain at least 4 sections: an introduction; a body where you should include background information, an explanation of why you decided to do this case study, and a presentation of your main findings; a conclusion where you present data; and references.
- In the introduction, you should set the pace very clearly. You can even raise a question or quote someone you interviewed in the research phase. It must provide adequate background information on the topic. The background may include analyses of previous studies on your topic. Include the aim of your case here as well. Think of it as a thesis statement. The aim must describe the purpose of your work—presenting the issues that you want to tackle. Include background information, such as photos or videos you used when doing the research.
- Describe your unique research process, whether it was through interviews, observations, academic journals, etc. The next point includes providing the results of your research. Tell the audience what you found out. Why is this important, and what could be learned from it? Discuss the real implications of the problem and its significance in the world.
- Include quotes and data (such as findings, percentages, and awards). This will add a personal touch and better credibility to the case you present. Explain what results you find during your interviews in regards to the problem and how it developed. Also, write about solutions which have already been proposed by other people who have already written about this case.
- At the end of your case study, you should offer possible solutions, but don’t worry about solving them yourself.
Use Data to Illustrate Key Points in Your Case Study
Even though your case study is a story, it should be based on evidence. Use as much data as possible to illustrate your point. Without the right data, your case study may appear weak and the readers may not be able to relate to your issue as much as they should. Let's see the examples from essay writing service :
With data: Alcoholism is affecting more than 14 million people in the USA, which makes it the third most common mental illness there. Without data: A lot of people suffer from alcoholism in the United States.
Try to include as many credible sources as possible. You may have terms or sources that could be hard for other cultures to understand. If this is the case, you should include them in the appendix or Notes for the Instructor or Professor.
Finalizing the Draft: Checklist
After you finish drafting your case study, polish it up by answering these ‘ask yourself’ questions and think about how to end your case study:
- Check that you follow the correct case study format, also in regards to text formatting.
- Check that your work is consistent with its referencing and citation style.
- Micro-editing — check for grammar and spelling issues.
- Macro-editing — does ‘the big picture’ come across to the reader? Is there enough raw data, such as real-life examples or personal experiences? Have you made your data collection process completely transparent? Does your analysis provide a clear conclusion, allowing for further research and practice?
Problems to avoid:
- Overgeneralization – Do not go into further research that deviates from the main problem.
- Failure to Document Limitations – Just as you have to clearly state the limitations of a general research study, you must describe the specific limitations inherent in the subject of analysis.
- Failure to Extrapolate All Possible Implications – Just as you don't want to over-generalize from your case study findings, you also have to be thorough in the consideration of all possible outcomes or recommendations derived from your findings.
You can always buy an essay on our site. Just leave a request ' do my homework ' and we'll help asap.
How to Create a Title Page and Cite a Case Study
Let's see how to create an awesome title page.
Your title page depends on the prescribed citation format. The title page should include:
- A title that attracts some attention and describes your study
- The title should have the words “case study” in it
- The title should range between 5-9 words in length
- Your name and contact information
- Your finished paper should be only 500 to 1,500 words in length. With this type of assignment, write effectively and avoid fluff.
Here is a template for the APA and MLA format title page:
There are some cases when you need to cite someone else's study in your own one – therefore, you need to master how to cite a case study. A case study is like a research paper when it comes to citations. You can cite it like you cite a book, depending on what style you need.
Citation Example in MLA Hill, Linda, Tarun Khanna, and Emily A. Stecker. HCL Technologies. Boston: Harvard Business Publishing, 2008. Print.
Citation Example in APA Hill, L., Khanna, T., & Stecker, E. A. (2008). HCL Technologies. Boston: Harvard Business Publishing.
Citation Example in Chicago Hill, Linda, Tarun Khanna, and Emily A. Stecker. HCL Technologies.
Case Study Examples
To give you an idea of a professional case study example, we gathered and linked some below.
Eastman Kodak Case Study
Case Study Example: Audi Trains Mexican Autoworkers in Germany
To conclude, a case study is one of the best methods of getting an overview of what happened to a person, a group, or a situation in practice. It allows you to have an in-depth glance at the real-life problems that businesses, healthcare industry, criminal justice, etc. may face. This insight helps us look at such situations in a different light. This is because we see scenarios that we otherwise would not, without necessarily being there. If you need custom essays , try our research paper writing services .
Get Help Form Qualified Writers
Crafting a case study is not easy. You might want to write one of high quality, but you don’t have the time or expertise. If you’re having trouble with your case study, help with essay request - we'll help. EssayPro writers have read and written countless case studies and are experts in endless disciplines. Request essay writing, editing, or proofreading assistance from our writing service, and all of your worries will be gone.
Don't Know Where to Start?
Crafting a case study is not easy. You might want to write one of high quality, but you don’t have the time or expertise. Request essay writing, editing, or proofreading assistance from our writing service.
- 15.7 Evaluation: Presentation and Analysis of Case Study
- 1 Unit Introduction
- 1.1 "Reading" to Understand and Respond
- 1.2 Social Media Trailblazer: Selena Gomez
- 1.3 Glance at Critical Response: Rhetoric and Critical Thinking
- 1.4 Annotated Student Sample: Social Media Post and Responses on Voter Suppression
- 1.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically About a “Text”
- 1.6 Evaluation: Intention vs. Execution
- 1.7 Spotlight on … Academia
- 1.8 Portfolio: Tracing Writing Development
- Further Reading
- Works Cited
- 2.1 Seeds of Self
- 2.2 Identity Trailblazer: Cathy Park Hong
- 2.3 Glance at the Issues: Oppression and Reclamation
- 2.4 Annotated Sample Reading from The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois
- 2.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically about How Identity Is Constructed Through Writing
- 2.6 Evaluation: Antiracism and Inclusivity
- 2.7 Spotlight on … Variations of English
- 2.8 Portfolio: Decolonizing Self
- 3.1 Identity and Expression
- 3.2 Literacy Narrative Trailblazer: Tara Westover
- 3.3 Glance at Genre: The Literacy Narrative
- 3.4 Annotated Sample Reading: from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
- 3.5 Writing Process: Tracing the Beginnings of Literacy
- 3.6 Editing Focus: Sentence Structure
- 3.7 Evaluation: Self-Evaluating
- 3.8 Spotlight on … The Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives (DALN)
- 3.9 Portfolio: A Literacy Artifact
- Works Consulted
- 2 Unit Introduction
- 4.1 Exploring the Past to Understand the Present
- 4.2 Memoir Trailblazer: Ta-Nehisi Coates
- 4.3 Glance at Genre: Conflict, Detail, and Revelation
- 4.4 Annotated Sample Reading: from Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain
- 4.5 Writing Process: Making the Personal Public
- 4.6 Editing Focus: More on Characterization and Point of View
- 4.7 Evaluation: Structure and Organization
- 4.8 Spotlight on … Multilingual Writers
- 4.9 Portfolio: Filtered Memories
- 5.1 Profiles as Inspiration
- 5.2 Profile Trailblazer: Veronica Chambers
- 5.3 Glance at Genre: Subject, Angle, Background, and Description
- 5.4 Annotated Sample Reading: “Remembering John Lewis” by Carla D. Hayden
- 5.5 Writing Process: Focusing on the Angle of Your Subject
- 5.6 Editing Focus: Verb Tense Consistency
- 5.7 Evaluation: Text as Personal Introduction
- 5.8 Spotlight on … Profiling a Cultural Artifact
- 5.9 Portfolio: Subject as a Reflection of Self
- 6.1 Proposing Change: Thinking Critically About Problems and Solutions
- 6.2 Proposal Trailblazer: Atul Gawande
- 6.3 Glance at Genre: Features of Proposals
- 6.4 Annotated Student Sample: “Slowing Climate Change” by Shawn Krukowski
- 6.5 Writing Process: Creating a Proposal
- 6.6 Editing Focus: Subject-Verb Agreement
- 6.7 Evaluation: Conventions, Clarity, and Coherence
- 6.8 Spotlight on … Technical Writing as a Career
- 6.9 Portfolio: Reflecting on Problems and Solutions
- 7.1 Thumbs Up or Down?
- 7.2 Review Trailblazer: Michiko Kakutani
- 7.3 Glance at Genre: Criteria, Evidence, Evaluation
- 7.4 Annotated Student Sample: "Black Representation in Film" by Caelia Marshall
- 7.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically About Entertainment
- 7.6 Editing Focus: Quotations
- 7.7 Evaluation: Effect on Audience
- 7.8 Spotlight on … Language and Culture
- 7.9 Portfolio: What the Arts Say About You
- 8.1 Information and Critical Thinking
- 8.2 Analytical Report Trailblazer: Barbara Ehrenreich
- 8.3 Glance at Genre: Informal and Formal Analytical Reports
- 8.4 Annotated Student Sample: "U.S. Response to COVID-19" by Trevor Garcia
- 8.5 Writing Process: Creating an Analytical Report
- 8.6 Editing Focus: Commas with Nonessential and Essential Information
- 8.7 Evaluation: Reviewing the Final Draft
- 8.8 Spotlight on … Discipline-Specific and Technical Language
- 8.9 Portfolio: Evidence and Objectivity
- 9.1 Breaking the Whole into Its Parts
- 9.2 Rhetorical Analysis Trailblazer: Jamil Smith
- 9.3 Glance at Genre: Rhetorical Strategies
- 9.4 Annotated Student Sample: “Rhetorical Analysis: Evicted by Matthew Desmond” by Eliana Evans
- 9.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically about Rhetoric
- 9.6 Editing Focus: Mixed Sentence Constructions
- 9.7 Evaluation: Rhetorical Analysis
- 9.8 Spotlight on … Business and Law
- 9.9 Portfolio: How Thinking Critically about Rhetoric Affects Intellectual Growth
- 10.1 Making a Case: Defining a Position Argument
- 10.2 Position Argument Trailblazer: Charles Blow
- 10.3 Glance at Genre: Thesis, Reasoning, and Evidence
- 10.4 Annotated Sample Reading: "Remarks at the University of Michigan" by Lyndon B. Johnson
- 10.5 Writing Process: Creating a Position Argument
- 10.6 Editing Focus: Paragraphs and Transitions
- 10.7 Evaluation: Varied Appeals
- 10.8 Spotlight on … Citation
- 10.9 Portfolio: Growth in the Development of Argument
- 11.1 Developing Your Sense of Logic
- 11.2 Reasoning Trailblazer: Paul D. N. Hebert
- 11.3 Glance at Genre: Reasoning Strategies and Signal Words
- 11.4 Annotated Sample Reading: from Book VII of The Republic by Plato
- 11.5 Writing Process: Reasoning Supported by Evidence
- 12.1 Introducing Research and Research Evidence
- 12.2 Argumentative Research Trailblazer: Samin Nosrat
- 12.3 Glance at Genre: Introducing Research as Evidence
- 12.4 Annotated Student Sample: "Healthy Diets from Sustainable Sources Can Save the Earth" by Lily Tran
- 12.5 Writing Process: Integrating Research
- 12.6 Editing Focus: Integrating Sources and Quotations
- 12.7 Evaluation: Effectiveness of Research Paper
- 12.8 Spotlight on … Bias in Language and Research
- 12.9 Portfolio: Why Facts Matter in Research Argumentation
- 13.1 The Research Process: Where to Look for Existing Sources
- 13.2 The Research Process: How to Create Sources
- 13.3 Glance at the Research Process: Key Skills
- 13.4 Annotated Student Sample: Research Log
- 13.5 Research Process: Making Notes, Synthesizing Information, and Keeping a Research Log
- 13.6 Spotlight on … Ethical Research
- 14.1 Compiling Sources for an Annotated Bibliography
- 14.2 Glance at Form: Citation Style, Purpose, and Formatting
- 14.3 Annotated Student Sample: “Healthy Diets from Sustainable Sources Can Save the Earth” by Lily Tran
- 14.4 Writing Process: Informing and Analyzing
- 15.1 Tracing a Broad Issue in the Individual
- 15.2 Case Study Trailblazer: Vilayanur S. Ramachandran
- 15.3 Glance at Genre: Observation, Description, and Analysis
- 15.4 Annotated Sample Reading: Case Study on Louis Victor "Tan" Leborgne
- 15.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically About How People and Language Interact
- 15.6 Editing Focus: Words Often Confused
- 15.8 Spotlight on … Applied Linguistics
- 15.9 Portfolio: Your Own Uses of Language
- 3 Unit Introduction
- 16.1 An Author’s Choices: What Text Says and How It Says It
- 16.2 Textual Analysis Trailblazer: bell hooks
- 16.3 Glance at Genre: Print or Textual Analysis
- 16.4 Annotated Student Sample: "Artists at Work" by Gwyn Garrison
- 16.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically About Text
- 16.6 Editing Focus: Literary Works Live in the Present
- 16.7 Evaluation: Self-Directed Assessment
- 16.8 Spotlight on … Humanities
- 16.9 Portfolio: The Academic and the Personal
- 17.1 “Reading” Images
- 17.2 Image Trailblazer: Sara Ludy
- 17.3 Glance at Genre: Relationship Between Image and Rhetoric
- 17.4 Annotated Student Sample: “Hints of the Homoerotic” by Leo Davis
- 17.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically and Writing Persuasively About Images
- 17.6 Editing Focus: Descriptive Diction
- 17.7 Evaluation: Relationship Between Analysis and Image
- 17.8 Spotlight on … Video and Film
- 17.9 Portfolio: Interplay Between Text and Image
- 18.1 Mixing Genres and Modes
- 18.2 Multimodal Trailblazer: Torika Bolatagici
- 18.3 Glance at Genre: Genre, Audience, Purpose, Organization
- 18.4 Annotated Sample Reading: “Celebrating a Win-Win” by Alexandra Dapolito Dunn
- 18.5 Writing Process: Create a Multimodal Advocacy Project
- 18.6 Evaluation: Transitions
- 18.7 Spotlight on . . . Technology
- 18.8 Portfolio: Multimodalism
- 19.1 Writing, Speaking, and Activism
- 19.2 Podcast Trailblazer: Alice Wong
- 19.3 Glance at Genre: Language Performance and Visuals
- 19.4 Annotated Student Sample: “Are New DOT Regulations Discriminatory?” by Zain A. Kumar
- 19.5 Writing Process: Writing to Speak
- 19.6 Evaluation: Bridging Writing and Speaking
- 19.7 Spotlight on … Delivery/Public Speaking
- 19.8 Portfolio: Everyday Rhetoric, Rhetoric Every Day
- 20.1 Thinking Critically about Your Semester
- 20.2 Reflection Trailblazer: Sandra Cisneros
- 20.3 Glance at Genre: Purpose and Structure
- 20.4 Annotated Sample Reading: “Don’t Expect Congrats” by Dale Trumbore
- 20.5 Writing Process: Looking Back, Looking Forward
- 20.6 Editing Focus: Pronouns
- 20.7 Evaluation: Evaluating Self-Reflection
- 20.8 Spotlight on … Pronouns in Context
By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Revise writing to follow the genre conventions of case studies.
- Evaluate the effectiveness and quality of a case study report.
Case studies follow a structure of background and context , methods , findings , and analysis . Body paragraphs should have main points and concrete details. In addition, case studies are written in formal language with precise wording and with a specific purpose and audience (generally other professionals in the field) in mind. Case studies also adhere to the conventions of the discipline’s formatting guide ( APA Documentation and Format in this study). Compare your case study with the following rubric as a final check.
As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book uses the Creative Commons Attribution License and you must attribute OpenStax.
Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/writing-guide/pages/1-unit-introduction
- Authors: Michelle Bachelor Robinson, Maria Jerskey, featuring Toby Fulwiler
- Publisher/website: OpenStax
- Book title: Writing Guide with Handbook
- Publication date: Dec 21, 2021
- Location: Houston, Texas
- Book URL: https://openstax.org/books/writing-guide/pages/1-unit-introduction
- Section URL: https://openstax.org/books/writing-guide/pages/15-7-evaluation-presentation-and-analysis-of-case-study
© Apr 5, 2023 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License . The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.
Have a language expert improve your writing
Run a free plagiarism check in 10 minutes, generate accurate citations for free.
- Knowledge Base
- What Is a Case Study? | Definition, Examples & Methods
What Is a Case Study? | Definition, Examples & Methods
Published on May 8, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on June 22, 2023.
A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject, such as a person, group, place, event, organization, or phenomenon. Case studies are commonly used in social, educational, clinical, and business research.
A case study research design usually involves qualitative methods , but quantitative methods are sometimes also used. Case studies are good for describing , comparing, evaluating and understanding different aspects of a research problem .
Table of contents
When to do a case study, step 1: select a case, step 2: build a theoretical framework, step 3: collect your data, step 4: describe and analyze the case, other interesting articles.
A case study is an appropriate research design when you want to gain concrete, contextual, in-depth knowledge about a specific real-world subject. It allows you to explore the key characteristics, meanings, and implications of the case.
Case studies are often a good choice in a thesis or dissertation . They keep your project focused and manageable when you don’t have the time or resources to do large-scale research.
You might use just one complex case study where you explore a single subject in depth, or conduct multiple case studies to compare and illuminate different aspects of your research problem.
What can proofreading do for your paper?
Scribbr editors not only correct grammar and spelling mistakes, but also strengthen your writing by making sure your paper is free of vague language, redundant words, and awkward phrasing.
See editing example
Once you have developed your problem statement and research questions , you should be ready to choose the specific case that you want to focus on. A good case study should have the potential to:
- Provide new or unexpected insights into the subject
- Challenge or complicate existing assumptions and theories
- Propose practical courses of action to resolve a problem
- Open up new directions for future research
TipIf your research is more practical in nature and aims to simultaneously investigate an issue as you solve it, consider conducting action research instead.
Unlike quantitative or experimental research , a strong case study does not require a random or representative sample. In fact, case studies often deliberately focus on unusual, neglected, or outlying cases which may shed new light on the research problem.
Example of an outlying case studyIn the 1960s the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania was discovered to have extremely low rates of heart disease compared to the US average. It became an important case study for understanding previously neglected causes of heart disease.
However, you can also choose a more common or representative case to exemplify a particular category, experience or phenomenon.
Example of a representative case studyIn the 1920s, two sociologists used Muncie, Indiana as a case study of a typical American city that supposedly exemplified the changing culture of the US at the time.
While case studies focus more on concrete details than general theories, they should usually have some connection with theory in the field. This way the case study is not just an isolated description, but is integrated into existing knowledge about the topic. It might aim to:
- Exemplify a theory by showing how it explains the case under investigation
- Expand on a theory by uncovering new concepts and ideas that need to be incorporated
- Challenge a theory by exploring an outlier case that doesn’t fit with established assumptions
To ensure that your analysis of the case has a solid academic grounding, you should conduct a literature review of sources related to the topic and develop a theoretical framework . This means identifying key concepts and theories to guide your analysis and interpretation.
There are many different research methods you can use to collect data on your subject. Case studies tend to focus on qualitative data using methods such as interviews , observations , and analysis of primary and secondary sources (e.g., newspaper articles, photographs, official records). Sometimes a case study will also collect quantitative data.
Example of a mixed methods case studyFor a case study of a wind farm development in a rural area, you could collect quantitative data on employment rates and business revenue, collect qualitative data on local people’s perceptions and experiences, and analyze local and national media coverage of the development.
The aim is to gain as thorough an understanding as possible of the case and its context.
In writing up the case study, you need to bring together all the relevant aspects to give as complete a picture as possible of the subject.
How you report your findings depends on the type of research you are doing. Some case studies are structured like a standard scientific paper or thesis , with separate sections or chapters for the methods , results and discussion .
Others are written in a more narrative style, aiming to explore the case from various angles and analyze its meanings and implications (for example, by using textual analysis or discourse analysis ).
In all cases, though, make sure to give contextual details about the case, connect it back to the literature and theory, and discuss how it fits into wider patterns or debates.
If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.
- Normal distribution
- Degrees of freedom
- Null hypothesis
- Discourse analysis
- Control groups
- Mixed methods research
- Non-probability sampling
- Quantitative research
- Ecological validity
- Rosenthal effect
- Implicit bias
- Cognitive bias
- Selection bias
- Negativity bias
- Status quo bias
Cite this Scribbr article
If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.
McCombes, S. (2023, June 22). What Is a Case Study? | Definition, Examples & Methods. Scribbr. Retrieved August 31, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/methodology/case-study/
Is this article helpful?
Other students also liked, primary vs. secondary sources | difference & examples, what is a theoretical framework | guide to organizing, what is action research | definition & examples, what is your plagiarism score.
- AI in action
- AI in the enterprise
Words at work
- Inside Writer
- Content strategy
– 9 min read
Writing a case study? Approach it like a bestselling author.
Let’s be honest. Most case studies are excruciatingly boring. And in the world of content, boring is a death sentence.
Part of the issue is the default problem/solution/results formula. While this approach roughly mirrors the classic three-act story, marketers rarely use it to tell an actual narrative. Instead, most case studies focus too much on the company and not enough on the customer. Rather than telling an actual story that a reader can step into and experience, a lot of case studies turn into over-simplified and self-serving promotional pieces that readers see through immediately.
Case study writers who want to do better can benefit a lot from learning more about how to craft a truly engaging story — one that’s designed to hold the reader’s interest and evoke a very specific meaning.
As a New York Times bestselling author and bona fide story expert, Lani Diane Rich knows more than a little about story craft. In fact, she just published a new book on the topic. Based on her popular and comprehensive podcast of the same name, How Story Works , “an elegant guide to the craft of storytelling,” is an intentionally slim volume that boils Lani’s substantial expertise down to its essence. It’s a quick read, but one you’ll return to again and again as its wisdom starts to sink in.
Lani’s primary audience may be creative writers like novelists and screenwriters, but her frameworks can be just as valuable for marketing writers . We’re not saying that using Lani’s techniques will turn your next case study into an Oscar-worthy blockbuster, but we do believe they can level up your case study game so your customer stories are more engaging and more effective.
Three steps to reverse engineer an effective case study
One of the most helpful things Lani does in her work is to define her terms. It’s a running joke with her sometime co-host, researcher Dr. Kelly Jones. But understanding the difference between different story elements is no laughing matter.
In How Story Works , Lani breaks down some key terms that often cause confusion, especially in the marketing world:
- Story: A recounted event or series of events
- Narrative: The meaning evoked by a story
- Storytelling: The art of building a story purposefully to serve a particular narrative
- Meaning: The implied or explicit significance of a thing
The trick to creating a story that works is understanding how to weave all these elements together.
Early on, Lani starts to explain the connections between these terms by emphasizing the importance of the word “recounted” in her definition of story. She says,
“A story isn’t the event or series of events themselves; a story is the recounting of those events. This is incredibly important; because in order for a story to be a story, it has to be told, and in being told, it will be edited. Random events throughout a day are just events until someone edits out the unimportant details and recounts the story with a specific meaning in mind, thus creating a narrative.”
So, how can you apply these ideas to writing a kick-ass case study? You can start with the end in mind, and then reverse engineer your way back to crafting the actual story.
Step 1: Identify the MEANING you’re trying to convey
Like any other piece of marketing content, a case study is meant to deliver a specific message. What’s the point you’re trying to make with a particular customer story? Is it something about the efficacy of your solution, the collaborative skills of your team, your ability to innovate, your team’s speed? What’s the one thing you want a reader to take away from the case study?
Step 2: Collect and inventory the series of events that might go into the STORY you are trying to tell
As Lani points out, a story is an edited recounting of events — a selective retelling of what happened. The events and other details related to a customer project are like individual ingredients that you can use to create different dishes depending on which ones you select and how you mix them. Use your case study intake to collect as much information as you can. You will sort it all out later.
Step 3: Apply STORYTELLING skills to combine select STORY elements into a well-shaped NARRATIVE that illuminates the MEANING you want to convey.
One of the most powerful storytelling skills any writer has is knowing which events and details to use, and which to leave out. Review the story elements you have in the context of the meaning you’re trying to convey, and identify which details serve your narrative. It’s almost like building a legal case — all the pieces have to fit together to prove your point in an engaging and convincing manner. Applying structure and focus is what shapes a series of seemingly random events and details into an effective narrative.
Pro-tip: Sometimes, after going through Step 2, you’ll have to revisit Step 1. When it turns out that the events don’t align with the intended meaning, it’s best to adjust the meaning rather than trying to twist the events to tell a story that just isn’t there.
Key storytelling skill: how case study writers can use the SEE Change framework
Lani’s “SEE Change” framework is a helpful tool for building narrative structure. It provides a story-based lens through which to view a case study:
Start the conflict
Stories run on conflict. Without it, readers quickly lose interest. In fiction, we’re used to looking for the “good guy” (protagonist) and the “bad guy” (antagonist) in a story. In a business case study, your protagonist is your customer. The antagonist is the challenge they have to overcome. This might be a clunky legacy system that is slowing down their sales team, an aggressive competitor, an unexpected shift in user needs, a pandemic that wreaks havoc on business as usual.
Lani explains that the most effective conflicts are ones in which the antagonist and protagonist have goals that are mutually exclusive. In other words, if either wins, the other loses. For example, if your conflict is based on growing market share, there’s only one winner—your customer or a competitor. They can’t both claim the same market share, so their goals are mutually exclusive.
It’s also important to understand the “why” behind the conflict. While companies are not people, they are made up of people and they serve people. Weaving in what motivates a customer to engage in a particular conflict makes it easier for readers to connect with the story, and even see themselves in a similar story of their own.
Escalate the conflict
Very few projects go off without a single hitch. Sometimes, the urge is to gloss over any hiccups to try and make everything look super easy. This is a missed opportunity. Don’t hide the speed bumps. They are what make your story more realistic and more relatable. They also help heighten the tension and encourage readers to pull for your customer to succeed, despite the odds. Did you hit a wall with timing or budget? Did you run into technical difficulties? Was there a leadership change at the organization, or an emerging technology that changed the game mid-project? Think about additional challenges as more opportunities to show your strengths.
End the conflict
In fiction, story resolutions are about finding a new equilibrium, a new—and hopefully improved—status quo. Ending the conflict in a case study is all about showing the results of your labors. How did you resolve the original conflict? To bring things full circle, it’s helpful to revisit the original conflict and goals to show, clearly, how your protagonist measured up.
Change the world
Finally, a story is given meaning when you show how the events of the story have changed the world. In fiction, there’s a trick for identifying what any story or novel or screenplay is about, you look at the ending. The ending reveals the intended message.
But it’s not enough to simply show how the world has changed, you also want to show why the world changed. People care about the why. The why speaks to what motivates us, what drives us to do the things we do. The why is the mission or vision that we relate to. As Lani puts it, “The why is the reason why story is the most powerful force on earth, I’m not even joking with you.”
Case studies developed with story craft are better case studies
In the close of How Story Works , Lani offers this bit of inspiring perspective:
In a quote commonly attributed to Plato, but for which I cannot find a proper citation, “Those who tell the stories rule society.” And it makes sense; if humans are desperately and constantly in search of meaning, if we are perpetually on the hunt for the why, then the person who provides that meaning, who gives us the why … well, that person is running the whole game.
Your next case study probably won’t change the world at large, but it just might change someone’s world if it’s a well-constructed narrative that helps the reader find the meaning they’re searching for. Using story craft and storytelling skills well will help you elevate that meaning so it’s easier for readers to find.
And — who knows? — looking at case studies through a story lens might help inspire you as well.
--> “A wide screen just makes a bad film twice as bad.” -->
May Habib CEO, Writer.com
Here’s what else you should know about Ascending.
Ghostwriting isn’t ‘cheating’ — it’s a smart way to scale content
The Writer Team
– 5 min read
Is it occurred or occured?
– 12 min read
A comprehensive guide to the AP style of writing
Monthly dispatches on the AI revolution. Delivered to your inbox.
" (Required) " indicates required fields