Academic Writing

Genres in academic writing: Case studies

A case-study is the most difficult to give clear advice about as it may contain many other genres. The main advantage of a case study is that it gives you a chance to study one aspect of a real-world problem in detail from many different viewpoints.  That is its main advantage. It does not just restrict itself to a single research procedure such as a library search or interview data – but it could use either.

At the beginning, therefore, you need a problem to solve. You will then lead the reader through the stages of the investigation, which you will describe and evaluate, to the solution.

A case-study can, for example, make use of:

  • Library research.
  • Interviews
  • Questionnaires
  • Observation
  • Diaries
  • Historical documents
  • Collection of current documents

First you need to identify a problem. This could be, for example, the introduction of a new working practice in a factory or office. You would then describe the new practice, what it is, how it works, why it was introduced; then observe how it works, talk to people who are affected by it, talk to managers and then evaluate the results and come to a conclusion.

The way you would write up a case-study depends on the purpose of the case-study. Yin (1994, pp. 4-6) identified three different types of case studies, which you could choose from according your purpose. They are exploratory, explanatory and descriptive case studies

  • An exploratory case-study is initial research that tries to look for patterns in the data and come up with a model within which to view this data. In this kind of research you would collect the data first. You would then try to make sense of it, doing any reading you needed to. Research questions for this kind of case-study can focus on “what” questions: What are the ways of increasing sales?
  • Descriptive case-studies take this further and try to obtain information on the particular features of an issue. This type of case study will require a theory to point the data collection in the correct direction. Research questions here can again focus on “what” but lead to questions such as: What have been the effects of a particular sales activity?
  • Explanatory research continues this even further by trying to analyse or explain why or how something happens or happened. Research question in this case are more likely to be of the “how” or “why” type: Why did a particular promotion activity lead to increased sales?

He then distinguishes six different types of case study report that can be used for the different types of case-study (p. 138).

1. Linear Analysis - This is the typical business or scientific research report structure, organised in the IMRAD style.See: Writing Reports

2. Comparative - A comparative study looks at the same issues several times from different points of view.

3. Chronological - A third type of report is to present the evidence in chronological order, gradually building up the descriptive and analytical structure.

4. Theory-building - In this structure, each new section of the report will show a new part of the theory being presented.

5. Suspense - In this case, the outcome or conclusion is presented initially. The remainder of the report will then develop the explanation.

6. Unsequenced - This is useful when the case study consist of many small sections or studies. It is important, though, at the end of this stage to pull everything together.

Yin (p. 138) then offers the following table to suggest ways in which you could write up the various kinds of case study.

Type of Structure

Purpose of Case Study

Exploratory

Descriptive

Explanatory

1. Linear Analysis

2. Comparative

3. Chronological

4. Theory-building

 

5. Suspense

 
 
 

6. Un-sequenced

 

 

 

The following sequence would probably be appropriate, with the sections changed round as necessary, depending on the type of study.

Case Study Report

Preliminaries

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Introduction

Introduce the situation

Describe the problem – why the study was undertaken

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Background reading

Describe previous research

Give examples

Evaluate previous research

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Methodology

Report what methods you used

Explain why you used each method

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Results

Report what you found from each method

Summary

Summarise all results

Compare and contrast the different results

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Evaluation

Evaluate findings in light of background reading.

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Conclusion

Summarise the main findings

Generalise from the findings

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Recommendations

Make recommendations for the future

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End matter

 

See: Writing Functions 1: DescribingWriting Functions 8: ExamplesWriting Functions 12: EvaluatingWriting Functions 2: ReportingWriting Functions 16: ReasonsWriting: SummaryWriting Functions 13: ComparingWriting Functions 23: ConcludingWriting Functions 14: GeneralisingWriting Functions 24: Recommending