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Case Studies
Author: ADMIN (ukstudent at gmail dot com)
Published: Mon, 24-Apr-2006
Rating 8.00
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Case Studies. Article by Study Advice Services, The University of Hull

• What is a case study?

• Why are students asked to write case studies?

• How can you set about writing one?

What is a case study?

The definition given by Chambers English Dictionary (1998) is:

“…a study based on the analysis of one or more cases or case histories; (the gathering and organising of information for) a case history”

This indicates that a case study is much more than a mere description of what has happened in a case. Whatever the discipline, analysis of the case being studied is essential, relating what has actually happened to relevant theories. A case study will involve collecting information (though a certain amount will be presented to you), then organising the information in a logical and coherent manner, as with any written assignment. Following the task of analysis, there will be a section on solving any problems which have been identified and / or explaining why a particular action has been successful - or not.

Why are students asked to write case studies?

You will have gathered from the previous paragraph that writing a case study involves a number of key skills: information gathering, organisation, analysis and argument. These in themselves require mpractice but, in addition, case studies can provide experience in dealing with genuine situations and problems in your field of study in a “safe”, non-threatening learning environment.

Case studies enable you to demonstrate that you have understood theories you have studied and can relate them to real-world situations and problems. Furnished with the appropriate “conceptual tools” for analysis, you can act like a detective to discover what has happened, who was responsible and on the basis of the evidence gathered and presented, offer solutions and reasons.

As a follow-up activity to a written case-study you may be required to give an oral presentation - another key skill, involving a range of sub-skills. (See the Study Advice Services’ leaflet on Presentations.) Case studies may be individual assignments or carried out as a group activity. If the latter is the case, this brings into play more opportunities for self-development and the honing of the skills that are particularly needed in team work, such as time-management, role assignment, negotiation etc.

So case studies provide you with a range of learning opportunities, including:
• deepening your understanding of theories through viewing them in relation to practical
situations
• developing a greater appreciation of the complexity of problems that can arise in practice
• analysis and evaluation
• expressing ideas concisely and with clarity
• creating convincing, reasoned arguments
• proposing solutions to genuine problems

How can you set about writing a case study?

First you need to be thoroughly familiar with the case. This may involve reading the information you have been given several times, asking yourself questions about it to deepen your understanding of all the issues that it may raise. Then you will probably need to carry out research of your own to gain additional information and facts. In Business, for example, you will perhaps want to read the financial statements for the company you are investigating; in Nursing, the background of the treatment for the disorder from which “your” patient is suffering. You may have to ask yourself which theoretical approaches that you have covered in your course are relevant to the particular case you have before you. In some instances this may be obvious but in others it may be less so.

Once you have your information, you need to consider how it should be organised. As with any writing, you need to devise a structure that will assist your reader in understanding the points you want to make. Your study will necessarily include:

• an introduction with background information to the case being studied. For Business Studies, for example, this might include a description of what the company under scrutiny actually does; its aims and objectives; its historical development and problems encountered. In Social Work, there might be a history of how the client came to be referred to Social Services. In some areas it may be useful to explain why this particular case is of interest – in Microbiology, you might want to spell out why the organism whose resistance to antibiotics you have been examining might be a danger to human health. There will also be an indication of the approach and sequence your study will take so the reader is prepared for what will follow. Some subjects lay out clear guidelines for case studies in their own discipline; in Medicine, for example, patients’ case histories tend to follow a tightly prescribed formula.

• an analysis (for Business Studies, this may take the form of a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) followed by an analysis of the nature of the problems encountered and the strategies adopted. In Education, the student might consider the theories that explain why a particular computer program was adopted, why it succeeded and the reasons for the elements in it that did not work with the pupils involved.

The analysis section is critical. In writing it, it may be helpful to ask yourself a series of questions:
• What is this case study about in general?
• What specific issues are associated with it?
• What do I already know about these issues?
• How do they link with the theories we have studied?
• What alternative approaches to dealing with the issues would be appropriate?
• If an alternative approach were used, what impact might it have?

Using headings and subheadings will lead to greater clarity in your writing and assist your structuring. For example, again in Business Studies, there might be a section entitled “Porter’s five Forces”, which uses this model as a “conceptual tool”. You will need to tailor your sections and subsections to the particular issues you have identified. If you can use Microsoft Word’s tools for structuring - e.g. headings, document maps, outlines or master documents – you may be able to use them to organise your thoughts and make your structure clear.

Avoid being merely descriptive and restating or summarising information from the case itself. Instead extract information to illustrate and back up the points you are making. Ensure that the sections follow on logically so that they build up towards a climax. (Using sequence markers and connectives, such as “first”, “secondly”, “furthermore”, “nevertheless” etc., will help to clarify and underline the development of your arguments.) Accurate grammar and spelling are required, as with all academic writing. (Make use of the grammar and spell-check facilities on your computer but do not rely on them entirely: they need to be used with thought and discretion!) Try to follow up your analysis with the most recent research available. For example, if a case study relates to a certain company, discover whether the latest annual report is available on the web. What does an analysis of that report reveal?

solutions and recommendations. These will, of course, be based on your analysis and their quality will reflect the amount of effort you have expended on the study. They should be comprehensive, fit together and follow logically. If appropriate, you could mention any relevant contingency planning, which would show that you have thought beyond the immediate confines of the case as presented and would demonstrate insight into the case. Recommendations need not be absolute. It is advisable to mention possible drawbacks and risks. If you are trying to devise a plan for the better administration of a given estate, for example, in Social Policy, or cleaning up an environment in Ecology, you may well want to say that ‘Plan A’ can only be implemented if sufficient funding can be obtained. If there is inadequate money, then it is better to use ‘Plan B’ than an incomplete version of ‘Plan A’. Show that you know “how to cut your coat according to your cloth”.

Finally, when your study is completed (possibly having produced several drafts with revisions), put it to one side for at least 24 hours before giving it a last critical check. (The gap in time will allow you to be more objective.) Again a questioning technique may be helpful.

• Have I followed the structure I said I would in my introduction?
• Have I been too descriptive?
• Have I given a thorough analysis?
• Does this section follow logically from the previous one?
• Is all that I’ve written really relevant to the case?
• Are my references complete and accurate? Can my reader find and check anything
that I’ve cited from good sources? (if appropriate)
• What exactly did I mean by that sentence? It meant something when I wrote it but I’m
not sure what now…I’d better do some re-thinking and rephrasing.

Try to check your work at both a macro and micro level. That is, you need an overall check, looking at the assignment as a whole and whether you’ve addressed the issues appropriately and adequately. Then you need to consider the details of expression, punctuation (reading your work aloud often reveals the need for full stops or commas), spelling etc. You may even like to ask a friend to read your case study and make comments.

Remember that at any stage in the process of writing, you may make an appointment to see a Study Advice Services tutor to discuss your case study.

Once you are satisfied, submit your work. When it is marked, remember to take on board any feedback or comments by your tutor in order to make your following case study even better!


© Copyright for this article belongs to Study Advice Services, University of Hull

This document was re-printed with the kind permission of Kathleen Barnett. Original Source of the article is located here: http://www.hull.ac.uk/studyadvice/resources/acadw/01pdfs/casestud.pdf



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