Why Case Studies?

Case Study General Guidelines

If you are new enough to business school that you have not experienced many written case studies, let me provide a simple introduction and approach.

What are Case Studies?

Case studies are basically just business stories. As such, they are about realistic, often complex situations that often involve a conflict, choice or challenge that one or more of the characters in the case must negotiate.

Why Case Studies?

Case studies “bridge the gap between theory and practice and between the academy and the workplace” (Barkley, Cross, and Major 2005, p.182). They also give students practice identifying the parameters of a problem, recognizing and articulating positions, evaluating courses of action, and arguing different points of view.

When designing the class, I consulted with a number of HR colleagues to find out what they thought was most important to cover in a course of this type. If you know HR people, it probably will not surprise you to learn they disagreed on many things, and gave me a list of course topics that would take three years to cover. What they all agreed on was that case studies were the best (two said “only”) way to teach this material.

Professional management experience usually exhibits itself through the identification of alternatives. Think of a time when someone (maybe you) saw a workplace problem through a different lens than others, and was able to provide a solution the rest of the stakeholders hadn’t thought of. In case studies we put you in a variety of circumstances as a decision maker. This provides an opportunity for you to research better approaches to those problems when you aren’t personally involved, and then when a similar circumstance arises in real life, you have an “alternative” to fall back on.

What is a good approach to use when answering a case study?

The following is not the only method to answer a case study, but is a one several colleagues have recommended, and it is a great way to begin if your experience is limited with cases.

1. Read, analyze and examine the case thoroughly- take notes on your reading, use a highlighter and search for details not easily noticed on a quick read-through.

2. Focus your analysis a. Identify at least 2-3 key problems that you have to cover in the case study. You may see

more than that, but recognize that it is almost never a single problem. b. Try to understand why these problems exist – Think in terms of a root cause. For

instance, if the case deals with low morale among all employees, “low wages” may be a contributor, but it probably isn’t the root cause of the problem.

c. What is the impact of these problems on the organization? – What is likely to happen next if nothing changes? This is your impetus for change.

d. Who and what is responsible for these problems? Is it cultural, financial, structural, a people problem, etc.?

3. Uncover possible solutions by reading, experience, outside research, and analysis. This is what makes it a college level course. You need to find data and solutions outside the readings provided in class. This does not mean Wikipedia, the Encyclopedia Britannica or your textbook. Search for companies that had similar issues, find a solution to the problem that has been used before in another industry, talk to someone you know who has experience, etc. Find answers to the problem that go beyond the obvious and cite every source according to APA guidelines.

4. Select the best solution by looking for its pros and cons and checking whether the solution is realistic or not. Research and latest trends are great- and they help your grade, but a solution that is practical, proven and inexpensive is usually the best approach.

What is a good outline to use when writing a case study analysis?

Try this format for your first case:


a. Introduction – start with a summary of the case and the main issues as you see them, formulate a thesis statement and elaborate on it.

b. Findings – describe the issues identified and a brief analysis of them. Analyses should be supported by proper evidence and facts given together with relevant theory and course concepts.

c. Discussion is the main and crucial part of the case. This is the largest part of the writing. d. Alternative solutions and Implementation e. References

How long does it have to be?

Most instructors hate answering this question, and many refuse to do so. I am not one of them. APA style formatting, double spaced, some standard font size 12, it should be a minimum of three pages, excluding the cover page and the reference page(s). I am of course more interested in content than length.