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Writing Effective Case Studies

Thursday, January 10, 2019
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The first case studies I ever wrote were when I was earning a master’s degree in psychology. I loved writing these case studies because I could really get into the characters and situations described and provide potential solutions to fictional (but realistic) problems.

At ansrsource, where I work today, writing case studies is similar. However, instead of focusing on individual characters, we usually create stories that revolve around companies, products, and situations. These case studies are used by learners—typically within a course or training program—to help them better understand and contextualize specific concepts. Case studies give learners insight into realistic scenarios in their field of study or work and help them develop the skills to deal with similar situations in the real world.

It’s important to remember that people are not interested in companies, products, or services just for the sake of them, but rather because of the problem they will solve or the need they will fulfill. Consequently, effective case studies:

  • Explain a problem or situation to be analyzed.
  • Describe a solution (or proposed solution) and how to implement it.
  • Summarize the results and provide an analysis of the effectiveness of the solution.

When you’re ready to write a case study, you must first identify whether you are going to write a fictional or real-life story. Fictional stories are created from scratch, while real-life stories are based on actual scenarios (that must be paraphrased to avoid plagiarism!). Then, you need to use analytical skills and conduct research to nail down the details of your story.

Here are the important steps for creating fictional case studies.

Conduct Research

Because a case study is analytical in nature, it requires a fair amount of research—even if it is fictional. Your case study should tell a story from beginning to end, so you will need a thorough understanding of the different factors at play. This means that much of the work related to case study development is done before you do any actual writing. For instance, if you plan to write about a tech start-up company that created an app to solve a specific consumer problem, your first step is to gather relevant information about the problem. You may want to answer these questions:

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  • What information do you have that establishes this as a relevant problem?
  • What are the benefits and challenges of the app that was created as a solution to the problem?
  • How have similar solutions helped address this problem?

Develop Your Story

Now that you have the information you need, you can begin writing. Just like a story, good case studies have a beginning, a middle, and an end. First, introduce the protagonist of the story—the client, the consumer, the learner—as well as the problem they are trying to solve. Your audience should be able to relate to your case study. Understand your core demographic and target market and provide problems that are most commonly experienced by your target audience. For instance, if your audience consists of new entrepreneurs, your case study could be based on an entrepreneur who developed a product and how the product affected customers.

Then, introduce the solution. Don’t make the mistake of simply stating the obvious; for example, if a company used a product that caused its sales to soar, it isn’t necessary to say, “Due to the product, the company’s sales soared.” Instead, you should demonstrate this through a discussion of data and facts. Perhaps talk about why the solution is the best one for the protagonist and if not, why. Sometimes, unexpected complications that affect the positive impact of your solution will need to be discussed. This section contains the real meat of the story.

Drive Home the Data

Finally, include data to support the solution you propose in your case study. Discuss how your protagonist overcame their problem using the solution. Questions that follow case studies should require comprehension and analysis to answer correctly. The case need not explicitly state the answers; instead, you might need to analyze the effects of the solution on the problem.

You may be required to cite any source material used. If so, make sure you cite resources accurately and completely.

Case studies can be a useful tool for quickly communicating concepts and enhancing understanding. Incorporate the components described here to maximize their impact.

About the Author
Aruna Vira works with ansrsource, a learning design company. She started as a content author and now manages a practice of 20 authors creating learning experiences for universities. Aruna holds a master’s degree in psychology and has previous experience as a business development associate and trainer for an HR consulting company, content writer for a variety of industries, counselor, and teacher.
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