Writing your first ever case study can feel like a daunting task. The best case studies are noted for their professional style, precision and accuracy. Additionally, you may have to present your case study to a client or have it read and wait for feedback, and these elements are added pressures.
Interestingly though, the thing that deters most first-time case study writers is that they simply don’t know where to begin. Then, of course, there is the structure. Even with the proliferation of case study templates online, novice writers often struggle with organisation. They don’t quite know how to structure the paper or what to emphasise. In fact, you could argue that online templates aren’t of much help because they force the author to stick to a structure that might not work for a subject or audience. Writers end up feeling as though they’re forcing square pegs into round holes.
Key things for the successful production of case studies are:
- The Story Approach
- Review and Polish.
Preparation: This is fairly obvious but I’ve included it because it’s surprising how many people fail to prepare. They sit before their computer and just expect words to flow. Be sure to take time to get ready for this work. Complete your research, review all client material and organise your source documents so that you can access them as you write. Don’t rush yourself, yet at the same time apply enough pressure to get your words flowing.
The Story Approach: This concept is central to successful case study writing and will make the process much easier than you imagine. Experienced case study writers say that when they write a case study they image that they are telling a story and hang the structure of the document around this central idea. After some time, the approach becomes so engrained it’s second nature.
With The Story Approach to case study writing you are chronicling the journey of something, usually a product or service. Of course it can be about a process, experience, person, group of people or travel experience – almost anything. You may be detailing a success, failure, or something that was neither. But that doesn’t matter. What is key is the telling of a story and the chronicling of events within that story.
This technique means that you take the reader by the hand and guide them through the story, making it interesting and engaging. Put things in context. In other words, introduce the subject and explain what it is in the relevant setting, be it the marketplace, culture, society, or whatever. Highlight important points and touch on other aspects that are relevant. Give a strong and complete conclusion so that the audience understands the impact and significance of what they have read.
Review and Polish: When you think you’ve finished, leave your draft for at least one full day and then go back and review it again. You’ll be surprised at the number of things need correcting or cutting from your case study.
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Despite what I wrote above about templates, I’m going to give you a structure which could be described as a template. Keep in mind though that this is a suggested structure and touches on the things a good case study might contain. It’s a model and I encourage you to change it as much as you need to so that it suits your needs. Be sure to re-word the headings where necessary so that they are descriptive and engaging.
Introduction: Introduce the subject and purpose or client request and provide relevant explanatory details. Give background about the subject and explain what might have prompted the need for a case study. Outline challenges, conditions, impacts, difficulties or successes. If a challenge is particularly big or significant, pull it out as a separate and independent section.
Journey: This is the heart of your document and it tells the story. Give detail about what you found out or uncovered. Write about what was done to facilitate success, respond to problems or resolve challenges. Conversely, what factors contributed to failure or disappointment? Keep The Story Approach in mind at all times and be clear and logical. Move from one step to another and use subheads if you feel they are helpful in moving the narrative along.
For the heading of the Journey section, focus on the topic or subject. If, for example, your case study is on a new app and its launch and success, a heading for this section could be “The Gardening App: Growth To Success”. If it is about the failure of a new software programme, a suitable heading might be “Bookkeeping Software: A Lack of Intuitive Features Lost Customers.”
Findings or Results: What things have been uncovered or discovered? What things facilitated the findings? What answers do you have in response to your findings? Can you give solutions? Do certain steps or things need to be implemented or changed? The best case studies are both creative and analytical, providing answers and suggestions.
Conclusion: Here, refer back to the original question or purpose of the document, touch on key findings and then highlight the most important points. Don’t make the mistake of adding new and important information in your conclusion, because people who skim will read only the introduction and body, and may miss the conclusion.
Methodology: Case studies written for academic institutions, social science professionals and government departments, including local authorities, will require a section either at the end or following the Introduction called Methodology. This explains the method used to do the work. In other words, explain how you went about finding your information. Detail groups and people interviewed, as well as your approach.
References: This section explains to the reader how they can find information you have quoted or referenced in your case study. If you read books, academic papers, magazines, newspaper, emails or letters to write your case study, list them here. If you interviewed people, document your questions and take detailed notes during the interviews or record them. List these too in your references. Follow an acceptable reference format, which you can find in books or online.