How to write impactful case studies?

By Ashni walia & Priya Chetty on January 21, 2020

Case studies involve the examination of a person, place, events or any phenomena in order to extrapolate the key themes. The results help the researcher to predict future trends and illuminate previously hidden issues that can be applied in practice. They also provide the means for understanding a research problem with greater clarity. Generally, a case study report works towards examining a single subject of analysis. However, it can also be designed to show the relationship between two or more variables.

The main purpose of a case study is to experiment with existing theories or to come up with a new theory. Furthermore, they are also an effective tool for businesses to convert leads into customers by:

  • Establishing a topical authority,
  • Improving their reputation,
  • Explaining how their solutions solved real-world problems,
  • gaining concrete, conceptual and in-depth knowledge about a subject.

This method allows a researcher to explore the key characteristics, meaning and implications of a case. It is also preferred when the researcher does not have the time and resources to carry out large-scale research.

Clinical case studies

It is a narrative account of a medical experiment or therapy, therefore written by a scientist or a therapist. These case studies are engaging and are of particular advantage for trainees. It helps them understand the implications of therapy with real-life clients and possible problems that may arise. The major characteristic that makes clinical case studies important and valuable is that they do not rely on methodological guidelines of the research rather are based on the subjective account of the therapist.

While writing a critical case study the first page of the manuscript is dedicated to the title. The title should be such that it should give a clear image of the case. The abstract should cover the following:

  1. The background of the case.
  2. Importance of the case and the conclusion about what the reader will learn through the case.
  3. The introduction section to explain the problem.
  4. Present the case presentation and discussion. Also, good clinical research provides the patient perspective as well.

Naturalistic or systematic case study

This kind of case study rectifies methodological issues associated with clinical case studies. Under this kind of case study, the researcher gathers data through multiple sources such as questionnaires and participant interviews. This helps to construct a rich and comprehensive account or a case summary that is triangulated in order to find whether the data sources converges or not. Thus, systematic case studies represent the most appropriate and accessible method in order to develop the research evidence.

Teaching case studies

This kind of case studies is mostly developed in business schools. They are rich in detail and thus help learners to learn by the application of theoretical concepts and business conditions. One of the major characteristics of this kind of case studies is that it lets the students to develop the judgement and the reasoning skills by letting them evaluate different options and focusing on the complex problems which generally have no one right answer.

Experimental case studies

This is another type of case study approach that is used for testing the hypothesis about the effects and may be considered as an alternative to the largescale outcome research. The main characteristics of these kinds of case studies are to record or address specific changes that are attributable to the specific interventions. Under this, a standard test or the assessment is conducted and thus the changes are compared with the baseline target behaviour.

Common methods used in case studies

  1. Selection of the case: once the problem statement and the research questions have been developed select the case to focus on. A good case should:
    • provide new or the expected insight,
    • challenge the existing assumptions and theories,
    • propose practical actions in order to solve the issue underlying and,
    • open up the new directions.
  2. Build a theoretical framework: since the case studies provide more concrete details than the general theories. Thus, first, build some connection with the theory in the field. Hence, focusing on exemplifying, expanding and challenging the existing theories. Provide a solid academic grounding with a literature review and build a theoretical framework. This involves identifying the key concepts and theories that can guide analysis and interpretation.
  3. Collection of the primary data: There are various ways through which primary data can be collected. Some of which include interviews or observations.
  4. Describing and analyzing the case: while writing a case study, bring all relevant aspects together in order to provide a complete picture of the study. Present the case study like other standard scientific papers that provide a separate section for the methodology, results and discussions. While some can adopt more narrative way of writing with the main aim of exploring the case from different angles and perspectives and hence analyzing its meanings and implications. However, irrespective of way adopted it is important to give the contextual details and connecting it back to the theory and literature.
Type Purpose Method or process to write the paper Elements or structure
Clinical case Undertaken by therapists to report findings of medical or behavioural interventions Before reporting the findings, the relevance of the results must be checked and authenticated. Next, its potential solutions must be explored. Abstract, Introduction, Aim, Methods, Results, Discussion/ Conclusion and Recommendations.
Naturalistic/ systematic case To rectify methodological issues in clinical studies Interviews/ survey of participants to build explorative research that supports the findings of a clinical study. Therefore it is conducted after the clinical study. Abstract, Introduction, Aim, Methods, Results, Discussion/ Conclusion and Recommendations.
Teaching case To teach students, particularly management students to learn better through the application of theoretical concepts. The process starts with identifying a business case relevant to the problem being taught and elaborating the solution that was applied, along with its outcome Introduction, Case brief, Solution and Outcome.
Experimental case To test a hypothesis and record changes in the behaviour of a target population The process involves identifying the problem, framing the hypothesis, deciding the methodology, carrying out the experiment and finally testing and validating the findings. Abstract, Introduction, Literature Review, Methodology, Findings and Conclusion/ Recommendations.

Guidelines for writing case study articles

  • Reality: Since a case study is the simulation of the real world, authenticity is very crucial to engage readers. Cases tend to describe a real situation; thus it is important that the reader should not feel that the situation is fabricated.
  • Significance: Theoretical or practical concepts helps to improve the significance of a case. Thus, the case can either involve a unique way of doing something or it could provide a comparison between the two alternative ways of doing or dealing with the things.
  • Comprehensive: the case study should provide rich description regrading the context on which the reader should act. Thus, an exemplary case can be used that can enable the reader can make conclusions, if not at any particular decision.
  • Alternative perspective: Alternative perspectives have been generally found in case issues that are seen through the eyes of an individual decision-maker, a good case can involve rival explanations as well. This will enable the reader to understand as what has happened and how well different theories are relevant.

Limitations of case studies

  • A most common criticism or the limitation of the case studies is that the issue of generalizability looms larger here than with any other type of qualitative research. This is perhaps because the case studies normally focus on the single unit or the single instance.
  • Another major concern that arises in the case studies is known as the unusual problems of ethics. For example, an unethical writer can so select the data, so that he or she can present anything they wished to illustrate.
  • Further limitations might involve, the problem of reliability and validity. The case studies are generally characterized by a lack of representativeness. Thus, presents a lack of rigor in the collection, construction and analysis. This lack of rigor is the major reason behind the biasedness in the case study articles.