How to Write a Case Study: A Breakdown of Requirements
It can take months to develop a case study. First, a topic must be chosen. Then the researcher must state his hypothesis, and make certain it lines up with the chosen topic. Then all the research must be completed. The case study can require both quantitative and qualitative research, as well as interviews with subjects. Once that is all done, it is time to write the case study.
Not all case studies are written the same. Depending on the size and topic of the study, it could be hundreds of pages long. Regardless of the size, the case study should have four main sections. These sections are:
3. Presentation of Findings
The introduction should set the stage for the case study, and state the thesis for the report. The intro must clearly articulate what the study's intention is, as well as how you plan on explaining and answering the thesis.
Again, remember that a case study is not a formal scientific research report that will only be read by scientists. The case study must be able to be read and understood by the layperson, and should read almost as a story, with a clear narrative.
As the reader reads the introduction, they should fully understand what the study is about, and why it is important. They should have a strong foundation for the background they will learn about in the next section.
The introduction should not be long. You must be able to introduce your topic in one or two paragraphs. Ideally, the introduction is one paragraph of about 3-5 sentences.
The background should detail what information brought the researcher to pose his hypothesis. It should clearly explain the subject or subjects, as well as their background information. And lastly, the background must give the reader a full understanding of the issue at hand, and what process will be taken with the study. Photos and videos are always helpful when applicable.
When writing the background, the researcher must explain the research methods used, and why. The type of research used will be dependent on the type of case study. The reader should have a clear idea why a particular type of research is good for the field and type of case study.
For example, a case study that is trying to determine what causes PTSD in veterans will heavily use interviews as a research method. Directly interviewing subjects garners invaluable research for the researcher. If possible, reference studies that prove this.
Again, as with the introduction, you do not want to write an extremely long background. It is important you provide the right amount of information, as you do not want to bore your readers with too much information, and you don't want them under-informed.
How much background information should a case study provide?
What would happen if the case study had too much background info?
What would happen if the case study had too little background info?
The Presentation of Findings
While a case study might use scientific facts and information, a case study should not read as a scientific research journal or report. It should be easy to read and understand, and should follow the narrative determined in the first step.
The presentation of findings should clearly explain how the topic was researched, and summarize what the results are. Data should be summarized as simply as possible so that it is understandable by people without a scientific background. The researcher should describe what was learned from the interviews, and how the results answered the questions asked in the introduction.
When writing up the report, it is important to set the scene. The writer must clearly lay out all relevant facts and detail the most important points. While this section may be lengthy, you do not want to overwhelm the reader with too much information.
The final section of the study is the conclusion. The purpose of the study isn't necessarily to solve the problem, only to offer possible solutions. The final summary should be an end to the story.
Remember, the case study is about asking and answering questions. The conclusion should answer the question posed by the researcher, but also leave the reader with questions of his own. The researcher wants the reader to think about the questions posed in the study, and be free to come to their own conclusions as well.
When reading the conclusion, the reader should be able to have the following takeaways:
Was there a solution provided? If so, why was it chosen?
Was the solution supported with solid evidence?
Did the personal experiences and interviews support the solution?
The conclusion should also make any recommendations that are necessary. What needs to be done, and you exactly should do it? In the case of the vets with PTSD, once a cause is determined, who is responsible for making sure the needs of the veterans are met?
English Writing Standards For Case Studies
When writing the case study, it is important to follow standard academic and scientific rules when it comes to spelling and grammar.
Spelling and Grammar
It should go without saying that a thorough spell check should be done. Remember, many case studies will require words or terms that are not in standard online dictionaries, so it is imperative the correct spelling is used. If possible, the first draft of the case study should be reviewed and edited by someone other than yourself.
Case studies are normally written in the past tense, as the report is detailing an event or topic that has since passed. The report should be written using a very logical and clear tone. All case studies are scientific in nature and should be written as such.
The First Draft
You do not sit down and write the case study in one day. It is a long and detailed process, and it must be done carefully and with precision. When you sit down to first start writing, you will want to write in plain English, and detail the what, when and how.
When writing the first draft, note any relevant assumptions. Don't immediately jump to any conclusions; just take notes of any initial thoughts. You are not looking for solutions yet. In the first draft use direct quotes when needed, and be sure to identify and qualify all information used.
If there are any issues you do not understand, the first draft is where it should be identified. Make a note so you return to review later. Using a spreadsheet program like Excel or Google Sheets is very valuable during this stage of the writing process, and can help keep you and your information and data organized.
The Second Draft
To prepare the second draft, you will want to assemble everything you have written thus far. You want to reduce the amount of writing so that the writing is tightly written and cogent. Remember, you want your case study to be interesting to read.
When possible, you should consider adding images, tables, maps, or diagrams to the text to make it more interesting for the reader. If you use any of these, make sure you have permission to use them. You cannot take an image from the Internet and use it without permission.
Once you have completed the second draft, you are not finished! It is imperative you have someone review your work. This could be a coworker, friend, or trusted colleague. You want someone who will give you an honest review of your work, and is willing to give you feedback, whether positive or negative.
Remember, you cannot proofread enough! You do not want to risk all of your hard work and research, and end up with a final case study that has spelling or grammatical errors. One typo could greatly hurt your project and damage your reputation in your field.
All case studies should follow LIT – Logical – Inclusive – Thorough.
The case study obviously must be logical. There can be no guessing or estimating. This means that the report must state what was observed, but cannot include any opinion or assumptions that might come from such an observation.
For example, if a veteran subject arrives at an interview holding an empty liquor bottle and is slurring his words, that observation must be made. However, the researcher cannot make the inference that the subject was intoxicated. The report can only include the facts.
With the Genie case, researchers witnessed Genie hitting herself and practicing self-harm. It could be assumed that she did this when she was angry. However, this wasn't always the case. She would also hit herself when she was afraid, bored or apprehensive. It is essential that researchers not guess or infer.
In order for a report to be inclusive, it must contain ALL data and findings. The researcher cannot pick and choose which data or findings to use in the report.
Using the example above, if a veteran subject arrives for an interview holding an empty liquor bottle and is slurring his words; any and all additional information that can be garnered should be recorded. For instance, what the subject was wearing, what was his demeanor, was he able to speak and communicate, etc.
When observing a man who might be drunk, it can be easy to make assumptions. However, the researcher cannot allow personal biases or beliefs to sway the findings. Any and all relevant facts must be included, regardless of size or perceived importance. Remember, small details might not seem relevant at the time of the interview. But once it is time to catalog the findings, small details might become important.
The last tip is to be thorough. It is important to delve into every observation. The researcher shouldn't just write down what they see and move on. It is essential to detail as much as possible.
For example, when interviewing veteran subjects, there interview responses are not the only information that should be garnered from the interview. The interviewer should use all senses when detailing their subject.
How does the subject appear? Is he clean? How is he dressed?
How does his voice sound? Is he speaking clearly and making cohesive thoughts? Does his voice sound raspy? Does he speak with a whisper, or does he speak too loudly?
Does the subject smell? Is he wearing cologne, or can you smell that he hasn't bathed or washed his clothes? What do his clothes look like? Is he well dressed, or does he wear casual clothes?
What is the background of the subject? What are his current living arrangements? Does he have supportive family and friends? Is he a loner who doesn't have a solid support system? Is the subject working? If so, is he happy with the job? If he is not employed, why is that? What makes the subject unemployable?
Case Studies in Marketing
We have already determined that case studies are very valuable in the business world. This is particularly true in the marketing field, which includes advertising and public relations. While case studies are almost all the same, marketing case studies are usually more dependent on interviews and observations.
Well-Known Marketing Case Studies
DeBeers is a diamond company headquartered in Luxembourg, and based in South Africa. It is well known for its logo, "A diamond is forever", which has been voted the best advertising slogan of the 20th century.
Many studies have been done about DeBeers, but none are as well known as their marketing case study, and how they positioned themselves to be the most successful and well-known diamond company in the world.
DeBeers developed the idea for a diamond engagement ring. They also invented the "eternity band", which is a ring that has diamonds going all around it, signifying that long is forever.
They also invented the three-stone ring, signifying the past, present and future. De Beers was the first company to attribute their products, diamonds to the idea of love and romance. They originated the idea that an engagement ring should cost two-months salary.
The two-month salary standard is particularly unique, in that it is totally subjective. A ring should mean the same whether the man makes $25,000 a year or $250,000. And yet, the standard sticks due to DeBeers incredible marketing skills.
The De Beers case study is one of the most famous studies when it comes to both advertising and marketing, and is used worldwide as the ultimate example of a successful ongoing marketing campaign.
Planning the Market Research
The most important parts of the marketing case study are:
1. The case study's questions
2. The study's propositions
3. How information and data will be analyzed
4. The logic behind what is being proposed
5. How the findings will be interpreted
The study's questions should be either "how" or "why" questions, and their definitions are the researchers first job. These questions will help determine the study's goals.
Not every case study has a proposition. If you are doing an exploratory study, you will not have propositions. Instead, you will have a stated purpose, which will determine whether your study is successful, or not.
How the information will be analyzed will depend on what the topic is. This would vary depending on whether it was a person, group, or organization. Event and place studies are done differently.
When setting up your research, you will want to follow case study protocol. The protocol should have the following sections:
1. An overview of the case study, including the objectives, topic and issues.
2. Procedures for gathering information and conducting interviews.
3. Questions that will be asked during interviews and data collection.
4. A guide for the final case study report.
When deciding upon which research methods to use, these are the most important:
1. Documents and archival records
3. Direct observations (and indirect when possible)
4. Indirect observations, or observations of subjects
5. Physical artifacts and tools
Documents could include almost anything, including letters, memos, newspaper articles, Internet articles, other case studies, or any other document germane to the study.
Developing the Case Study
Developing a marketing case study follows the same steps and procedures as most case studies. It begins with asking a question, "what is missing?"
1. What is the background of the case study? Who requested the study to be done and why? What industry is the study in, and where will the study take place? What marketing needs are you trying to address?
2. What is the problem that needs a solution? What is the situation, and what are the risks? What are you trying to prove?
3. What questions are required to analyze the problem? What questions might the reader of the study have?
4. What tools are required to analyze the problem? Is data analysis necessary? Can the study use just interviews and observations, or will it require additional information?
5. What is your current knowledge about the problem or situation? How much background information do you need to procure? How will you obtain this background info?
6. What other information do you need to know to successfully complete the study?
7. How do you plan to present the report? Will it be a simple written report, or will you add PowerPoint presentations or images or videos? When is the report due? Are you giving yourself enough time to complete the project?
Formulating the Marketing Case Study
1. What is the marketing problem? Most case studies begin with a problem that management or the marketing department is facing. You must fully understand the problem and what caused it. That is when you can start searching for a solution.
However, marketing case studies can be difficult to research. You must turn a marketing problem into a research problem. For example, if the problem is that sales are not growing, you must translate that to a research problem.
What could potential research problems be?
Research problems could be poor performance or poor expectations. You want a research problem because then you can find an answer. Management problems focus on actions, such as whether to advertise more, or change advertising strategies. Research problems focus on finding out how to solve the management problem.
Method of Inquiry
As with the research for most case studies, the scientific method is standard. It allows you to use existing knowledge as a starting point. The scientific method has the following steps:
1. Ask a question – formulate a problem
2. Do background research
3. Formulate a problem
4. Develop/construct a hypothesis
5. Make predictions based on the hypothesis
6. Do experiments to test the hypothesis
7. Conduct the test/experiment
8. Analyze and communicate the results
The above terminology is very similar to the research process. The main difference is that the scientific method is objective and the research process is subjective. Quantitative research is based on impartial analysis, and qualitative research is based on personal judgment.
After selecting the method of inquiry, it is time to decide on a research method. There are two main research methodologies, experimental research and non-experimental research.
Experimental research allows you to control the variables and to manipulate any of the variables that influence the study.
Non-experimental research allows you to observe, but not intervene. You just observe and then report your findings.
The design is the plan for how you will conduct the study, and how you will collect the data. The design is the scientific method you will use to obtain the information you are seeking.
There are many different ways to collect data, with the two most important being interviews and observation.
Interviews are when you ask people questions and get a response. These interviews can be done face-to-face, by telephone, the mail, email, or even the Internet. This category of research techniques is survey research. Interviews can be done in both experimental and non-experimental research.
Observation is watching a person or company's behavior. For example, by observing a persons buying behavior, you could predict how that person will make purchases in the future.
When using interviews or observation, it is required that you record your results. How you record the data will depend on which method you use. As with all case studies, using a research notebook is key, and will be the heart of the study.
When developing your case study, you won't usually examine an entire population; those are done by larger research projects. Your study will use a sample, which is a small representation of the population. When designing your sample, be prepared to answer the following questions:
1. From which type of population should the sample be chosen?
2. What is the process for the selection of the sample?
3. What will be the size of the sample?
There are two ways to select a sample from the general population; probability and non-probability sampling. Probability sampling uses random sampling of everyone in the population. Non-probability sampling uses the judgment of the researcher.
The last step of designing your sample is to determine the sample size. This can depend on cost and accuracy. Larger samples are better and more accurate, but they can also be costly.
Analysis of the Data
In order to use the data, it first must be analyzed. How you analyze the data should be decided upon as early in the process as possible, and will vary depending on the type of info you are collecting, and the form of measurement being used. As stated repeatedly, make sure you keep track of everything in the research notebook.
The Marketing Case Study Report
The final stage of the process is the marketing case study. The final study will include all of the information, as well as detail the process. It will also describe the results, conclusions, and any recommendations. It must have all the information needed so that the reader can understand the case study.
As with all case studies, it must be easy to read. You don't want to use info that is too technical; otherwise you could potentially overwhelm your reader. So make sure it is written in plain English, with scientific and technical terms kept to a minimum.
Using Your Case Study
Once you have your finished case study, you have many opportunities to get that case study in front of potential customers. Here is a list of the ways you can use your case study to help your company's marketing efforts.
1. Have a page on your website that is dedicated to case studies. The page should have a catchy name and list all of the company's case studies, beginning with the most recent. Next to each case study list its goals and results.
2. Put the case study on your home page. This will put your study front and center, and will be immediately visible when customers visit your web page. Make sure the link isn't hidden in an area rarely visited by guests. You can highlight the case study for a few weeks or months, or until you feel your study has received enough looks.
3. Write a blog post about your case study. Obviously you must have a blog for this to be successful. This is a great way to give your case study exposure, and it allows you to write the post directly addressing your audience's needs.
4. Make a video from your case study. Videos are more popular than ever, and turning a lengthy case study into a brief video is a great way to get your case study in front of people who might not normally read a case study.
5. Use your case study on a landing page. You can pull quotes from the case study and use those on product pages. Again, this format works best when you use market segmentation.
6. Post about your case studies on social media. You can share links on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Write a little interesting tidbit, enough to capture your client's interest, and then place the link.
7. Use your case study in your email marketing. This is most effective if your email list is segmented, and you can direct your case study to those most likely to be receptive to it.
8. Use your case studies in your newsletters. This can be especially effective if you use segmentation with your newsletters, so you can gear the case study to those most likely to read and value it.