How to... write a case study Why write a case study?

Research Paper --- UGBS Scholars --- Richard Boateng 2009/10
How to... write a case study
Why write a case study?
Why might you wish to write a case study and what is it about case studies that makes them
appealing subjects for publication for both academics and practitioners?
A case study involves focusing on a set of issues in some contemporary setting, usually but not
exclusively an organization, or perhaps a department or sector of an organization. It may use just
one case or a number of cases linked together by a theme. Among its uses are:
To describe a particularly interesting set of circumstances, from which lessons can be
drawn for other organizations, for example why did Ford decline despite its globalization
To illustrate a particular theory or conceptual framework by reference to a specific
example, or to test how a particular set of circumstances may give rise to certain
outcomes by reference to a particular case.
To describe a rare phenonenon or very unusual organization, e.g. a library service for
Because of its real-world setting, it is a powerful tool of analysis, and one that obviously chimes
in with Emerald's concern to disseminate implications for practice. It is particularly good at
addressing 'how' and 'why' questions as in the following examples:
"Relates how leading escalator and elevator company Schindler employed the US Environmental
Systems Research Institute (ESRI) to develop an automated route-scheduling and planning
system for its maintenance operations."
"Optimizing periodic maintenance operations for Schindler Elevator Corporation"
F. Blakeley, B. Bozkaya, B. Cao, W. Hall and J. Knolmajer
Interfaces, Vol. 33 No. 1
"Construction of a new library for Brooklyn College required that the collections and staff move
out of the existing library building. This move into temporary quarters necessitated that the
library close its stacks. The author describes how the staff planned, implemented, and managed
an on-site as well as an off-site paging system for approximately one million volumes."
"Paging a library collection: the Brooklyn College Library experience"
Miriam Deutch
Collection Building, Vol. 20 No. 1
"The paper analyses the organization of the new product development process at FIAT from a
resource-based perspective. The focus is on organizational resources for integrating dispersed
specialist knowledge required in the development of complex products. The analysis shows how
Research Paper --- UGBS Scholars --- Richard Boateng 2009/10
the application of a resource-based perspective is able to uncover negative long-term effects of
outsourcing on the knowledge base (hollowing out), despite beneficial short-term effects on
"Organizing new product development: knowledge hollowing-out and knowledge integration –
the FIAT Auto case"
Markus C Becker and Francesco Zirpoli
International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 23 No. 9
Case studies are much used in business education, but the difference between case studies for
teaching purposes and for publication is that in the latter case, you need to be sure that:
the research behind your conclusions is rigorous;
you can demonstrate not so much teaching points as issues of relevance for research and
practice, and that fellow members of your particular community will find this particular
case of considerable importance and apply lessons that they can learn in their practice.
The case study is one of a range of techniques which is used in business and management
studies, as well as social studies and related fields – some others are experiments, surveys, and
historical reviews. The case study differs:
from the experiment in that the investigator is not in control of the variables;
from the survey in that it seeks to generalize from the particular rather than draw specific
conclusions from a wide range of data;
from the historical review in that while it also draws a lot from documents, it can also
use the tools of direct observation and structured interviews which are not normally
possible in a historical review.
And it can use a range of evidence including:
primary and secondary documents;
direct observation and systematic interviewing.
It is this use of a range of evidence which makes it a particularly powerful way for looking at
contemporary problems in a range of disciplines.
"The research method used is the case study approach. The case study method allows the
researcher to investigate a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context when the
boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident, and in which multiple
sources of evidence are used (Yin, 1989). Case studies provide a special way of collecting,
organizing, and analyzing data to gather comprehensive, systematic, and in-depth information
about each case of interest. The case study method allows people being interviewed to describe
experiences in their own language, rather than the researchers'. The case study method is the
most appropriate method for this research because it is capable of handling both qualitative and
quantitative data (Eisenhardt, 1989; Marshall and Rossman, 1989; Yin, 1989). A characteristic of
Research Paper --- UGBS Scholars --- Richard Boateng 2009/10
case study research is the combination of data collection methods, such as interviews,
questionnaires, and observations, discussed in the next section."
"A case study assessment of performance measurement in distribution centers"
Chun-Ho Kuo, Kimberly D. Dunn and Sabah U. Randhawa
Industrial Management & Data Systems, Vol. 99 No. 2
Design and data
This section focuses on the research design and data of a case study but note this is a huge topic
and we are here only concerned with basic pointers. If you are not familiar with case design
methodology, you would be well advised to study a good introduction to the subject such as
Case Study Research – Design and Methods by Robert K. Yin (Sage, 2003).
Planning the research design
In this section
Planning the research design
Collecting the data
Analysing the evidence
It is very important to remember that a case study should not be a mere narrative of events, but
should seek to study genuine research issues and find the answers to real questions, for example:
"The research questions (RQ) for this study were based on the discussion above and focus on the
following co-branding issues:
RQ1. What objectives underpinned the corporate co-brand?
RQ2. How were brand values deployed to establish the corporate co-brand within particular
discourse contexts?
RQ3. How was the desired rearticulation promoted to stakeholders?
RQ4. What are the sources of corporate co-brand equity?
This article employs a case study approach 'that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within
its real-life context' (Yin, 1989, p. 23). The case study examines the co-branding of the All
Blacks and adidas from a discourse perspective in order to facilitate the understanding of cobranding and the development of co-branding theory."
Research Paper --- UGBS Scholars --- Richard Boateng 2009/10
Example 1. The Dutch heart health community intervention "Hartslag Limburg": evaluation
design and baseline data (Gaby Ronda, Patricia Van Assema, Erik Ruland, Mieke Steenbakkers
and Johannes Brug, Health Education, Vol. 103 No. 6).
Example 2. An example of developing a business model for information and communication
technologies (ICT) adoption on construction projects – the National Museum of Australia project
(Bruce Duyshart, Derek Walker, Sherif Mohamed and Keith Hampson, Engineering,
Construction and Architectural Management, Vol. 10 No. 3).
Example 3. The emergence of e-market services in the Australian mining industry: Ludowici
Mineral Processing Pty Ltd, Quadrem eMarketplace, and Austrade eMarket Services (Helen
Lassen, Jay Kandampully and Sunita Barker, Managing Service Quality, Vol. 12 No. 4).
Research Paper --- UGBS Scholars --- Richard Boateng 2009/10
Example 4. Knowledge management and process innovation: the knowledge transformation path
in Samsung SDI (Seungkwon Jang, Kilpyo Hong, Gee Woo Bock and Ilhwan Kim, Journal of
Knowledge Management, Vol. 6 No. 5).
Research Paper --- UGBS Scholars --- Richard Boateng 2009/10
Example 5. Equity in corporate co-branding: the case of adidas and the All Blacks (Judy
Motion, Shirley Leitch and Roderick J. Brodie, European Journal of Marketing,Vol. 37 No. 7).
Example 6. Challenges and opportunities in mergers and acquisitions: three international case
studies – Deutsche Bank-Bankers Trust; British Petroleum-Amoco; Ford-Volvo (Alzira Salama,
Wayne Holland and Gerald Vinten, Journal of European Industrial Training, Vol. 27 No. 6).
Example 7. Achieving manufacturing excellence through proactive practices: a case study of
Taiwan's IC industry (Pao-Long Chang, Wei-Ling Chen and Chu-Kuang Tsa, Measuring
Business Excellence, Vol. 7 No. 4).
Research Paper --- UGBS Scholars --- Richard Boateng 2009/10
Example 8. Book Express: a mini-library for rail commuters (Alan A. Flores, New Library
World, Vol. 103 No. 7).
1. Have a case study protocol which is an overview document with a project summary,
procedures and key questions.
2. Remember that conducting a case study will require a great deal of patience and energy,
as well as excellent questioning and listening skills.
3. Try to approach the case study free of preconceptions and prejudices. If you can
maintain a critical and unbiased perspective, you are more likely to extract sensible
Collecting the data
There are many different sources of data and what you use will depend on your research design.
No one source of data is complete and it is important to triangulate by having more than one
source. Here is a brief summary of some important sources:
Documentation: this includes primary sources, i.e. from the unit of analysis itself, e.g.
emails, letters, meeting minutes and agendas, project proposals, press releases,
advertising texts, annual reports, and secondary sources in the form of other published
studies, market intelligence reports and press cuttings.
Archival records: probably from the company's databases, e.g. customer records,
organization charts, lists, survey data (e.g. if the unit of analysis was evaluated), personal
records (e.g. diaries, wall calendars, etc.)
Interviews: especially with key informants, e.g. the directors responsible for the
decisions exemplified in the case. These can be open-ended, where the informant is
probed for his or her version of events, or semi-structured, where the interrogator has a
number of pre-selected questions (the difference here from a written survey is that the
Research Paper --- UGBS Scholars --- Richard Boateng 2009/10
questions are more likely to be open than closed, intended to probe in further depth than
would be possible in a survey).
Questionnaires: may also be used for a particular population sample, as in the Dutch
heart health study considered as an example, or for a range of people involved in the case
who are too numerous to be interviewed individually.
Direct observation: for example, you might observe people using new technology, or
users using a new library system. Videos are often used here.
Participant observation: here, observation is based on actual involvement in the
process, say as a staff member.
Physical artifacts: these represent physical evidence of the case. For example, if one was
studying what use is made of a new software program, printouts or screen shots of how
people had used the software would constitute physical evidence.
Your final collection of data, which will incorporate original documents, your own notes, videos,
audio cassettes, reports of interviews, should be kept in a well-organized database so that they
can subsequently be easily retrieved, and accessed when you are providing references for your
conclusions. As stated earlier, you should always triangulate one type of data evidence with
others; it is reasonably easy to do this with case studies as by their very nature they are very
amenable to different research approaches and data sources.
Analysing the evidence
Before you can write up your case study, you have to analyse the data. The initial question is
likely to be important here. The most common methods of analysis currently used are:
Pattern matching: where a set of results is predicted, and then compared with the actual
Explanation building: where a particular explanation is used to analyse data about a
case. The explanation may be influenced by a particular theoretical stance, for example
discourse theory may explain aspects of branding practice.
Time-series analysis: looks at trends over time, matching them with possible
explanations, for example, looking at road deaths over a particular period and deciding
whether an apparent initial reduction in deaths is caused by reduction in the speed limit or
just a temporary fluctuation, or whether the flourishing of industry sectors in a small area
is to do with proactive practices. A complex time series analysis would cover a case
where there was more than one significant trend.
Logic models: this stipulates a complex chain of events over time, and looks at the
interplay between independent variables (causes) and dependent variables (events). The
latter are predicted and then compared with actual events. Similar to pattern matching
(see above) but differs because of importance of sequence of events.
Cross-case synthesis: findings are analysed across cases and generalizations made.
Tips for good analysis
1. Cover all relevant evidence and account for rival hypotheses and explanations.
Research Paper --- UGBS Scholars --- Richard Boateng 2009/10
2. Focus on the most significant aspect of the case study.
3. If you come to this case study with expert knowledge (e.g. of a particular market,
technique, etc.), then use it!
4. Your analysis should also cover the general points that can be extracted from this
particular case study, and in particular what are the implications for practice? Can you
make specific recommendations?
Writing up the case study
Who is my audience?
In other words, what practitioner, policy-making and/or academic community will want to hear
about the findings of this case study?
Once you have decided this, the next question is, what journals serve that community? To find
out what journals Emerald publishes for your community look on the Emerald website at the
journals listing by the relevant subject, and you will find summaries of the editorial policies of
the various journals within that subject classification. Select the journal/journals that seem most
appropriate in terms of their policies and their communities.
For example, let's suppose that your case study relates to the schemes developed by a particular
hotel in Scotland to mitigate the effects of bad weather on family holidays by providing
organized amusement for children. Your case is of obvious interest to others in the hotel
industry, so you look up the subject area 'Hospitality and Catering' and discover one journal that
seems to be geared to the hospitality industry, the International Journal of Contemporary
Hospitality Management, which is described thus:
"The International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management aims to communicate the
latest developments and thinking on the management of hospitality operations worldwide. A
multidisciplinary journal, it publishes double-blind reviewed papers covering issues relevant to
operations, marketing, finance and personnel and encourages an interchange between hospitality
managers, educators and researchers. Combining innovative international academic thinking
with practical examples of industry best practice, International Journal of Contemporary
Hospitality Management provides information and ideas for those seeking to raise standards,
increase market penetration and improve profitability in organizations across the hospitality
industry, from single unit concerns to large multinationals."
Having identified your journal, you will need to study carefully its editorial policy, and if you do
not have access to full-text then obtain some copies and look carefully at the type of articles it
The writing process
When should I start writing?
Research Paper --- UGBS Scholars --- Richard Boateng 2009/10
AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE! You will get used to the writing process, and writing the final paper
will present less of a burden. The bibliography, literature review, general descriptive information
about the case and the methodology are all sections which you should be able to write at a fairly
early stage.
Should I show drafts to other people?
Yes! Although your paper will eventually be reviewed as part of the peer review process
(discussed further in our 'How to... survive peer review and revise your paper' quide), it is good
Three types of people may be useful here: colleagues, experts in your field who have already
published (don't worry if you don't know these people personally, you can always ring or email
them and they are generally flattered to be asked), and people involved in the case study. The
latter may provide useful factual corrections which should add to the validity of your research.
What structure to follow?
As with any substantial piece of writing it is important to have an idea, before you hit the
keyboard with the first draft, of the structure of the piece, which means having a list of headings
in mind which should broadly correspond to the headings of your paper. There are two main
ways in which the report can be organized:
1. Narrative: the case study is described, and then analysed.
2. Question and answer: the report takes as its structure a series of questions proposed by
the design and data of the report.
Whether there is just one or several case studies will also affect the paper's structure: if there are
several, in a narrative structure, there may be one section per case but also sections which deal
with cross-case issues and analysis. Using the question and answer approach facilitates the
organization of multiple case studies as issues arising from all cases can be dealt with together
and narrative of the cases substituted by examples.
Yin (Case Study Research – Design and Methods, Sage, 2003) lists six different types of
1. Linear analytic: this is a very common approach, and adopts the viewpoint of the
researcher, dealing with issue/problem being studied, literature review, methods used,
findings, conclusions.
2. Comparative: the case study is looked at from a number of viewpoints, to consider
which gives the best explanation.
3. Chronological: case study evidence is presented in chronological order.
4. Theory-building: case study is presented in the context of a particular theory.
5. Suspense: the opposite of analytic, the outcome is given first and then the explanation.
6. Unsequenced: the structure follow no particular logic.
Research Paper --- UGBS Scholars --- Richard Boateng 2009/10
1. Be bullet-proof! Make sure that your research, both data and methodology, is rigorous
and can stand up to scrutiny. The conclusion should emerge logically out of the study,
and should not come as a surprise!
2. Engage with the reader! Your reader should want to read on, and be drawn into the
subject-matter. Clarity in conception should help here (see above) as does a clear writing
style, which comes with practice, and with redrafting. Leave your first draft for a few
days and come back to it, and do a thorough edit, eliminating any unnecessary words and
making sure that everything is expressed in the clearest way. You can also provide
pointers and hints about the conclusion: the outcome of this section is to provide an
insight into some valuable and exciting developments in marketing education that will
have resonance for other educators.
3. Set the scene! You need to provide sufficient descriptive and background elements to
enable the reader to build a good picture: remember, they will not be as familiar with the
organization as you! (This is particularly important when the subject of a case study is
your place of work as it is very easy here to make assumptions out of familiarity.)
4. Link to practice! Bring out the interesting general conclusions – i.e. why should your
community be interested in this particular case study – and tease out the implications for
practice, and/or for future research in that area.
Some examples of case studies
A good way of getting good at writing case studies is by looking at other examples. As an
academic publisher which focuses on practice-based research, Emerald has a lot of case studies
in its databases. See the Case Study Collection for a hand-picked selection. We have also
assembled some cases here as a start:
Computer-aided design system upgrade process: a case study
This example shows a case study concerning the implementation of a CAD upgrade. It uses a
fairly traditional narrative approach, following the survey through a series of stages including the
initial justification, system selection, implementation, and future plans. Note the use of the
literature survey and in particular the emphasis on a particular author, whose recommendations
are compared with what happened in this particular case – a pattern recognition approach.
A longitudinal study of corporate social reporting in Singapore: the case of the banking, food and
beverage and hotel industries
This is an example of a multiple case study – the unit of analysis is three particular industry
sectors in a particular place. It is also a very focused study: the literature review justifies it by
pointing it up as a gap in the literature, and the methodology is strong. As it is a longitudinal
study, a time series approach is adopted with a discussion of trends over the period of the study,
focusing in particular on one theory.
Research Paper --- UGBS Scholars --- Richard Boateng 2009/10
There can be no learning without action and no action without learning: a case study
A well-set out paper with plenty of signposts to guide the reader, this case study adopts a fairly
straightforward descriptive style to begin with, and then analyses the challenges of the program.
A case study assessment of performance measurement in distribution centres
The first couple of pages of this case study are worth reading simply for the way in which they
discuss the author's approach in terms of case study theory! The distribution centres are analysed
according to particular features of their measurement systems. This is an example of a multiplecase analysis where the authors have brief descriptions only of the cases concerned and analyse
the major themes that arise.
Developing entrepreneurship in West Yorkshire – West Yorkshire universities' partnership and
Business Start-up @ Leeds Met
A straightforward and easily readable descriptive case study.
Equity in corporate co-branding: the case of adidas and the All-Blacks
This article desribes several important issues in branding and co-branding with reference to
discourse theory – see especially p5ff. Note how the authors carefully design their research
questions, limiting their findings to salience to these. An explanation-building approach is used
for the analysis, and the structure exemplifies theory-building.
Restructuring Ford Europe
A very clearly written case study about one of the most significant developments in the car
industry, using a chronological approach within a consideration of the issue of globalization.
The Dutch heart health community intervention "Hartlag Limburg"
A very clear example of the linear-analytic structure. Note in particular the clear use of headings.
Challenges and opportunites in mergers and acquisitions – three international case studies
An example of a multiple case study, which uses cross-case synthesis.
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on Tuesday September 15th, 2009