Case study

This resource will cover what a case study is, what is incorporated within this type of assessment and what aspects to consider when planning and writing your response to a case study.

What is a case study?

A case study presents a hypothetical or actual event, issue or situation. The purpose of a case study assessment is to provide you with the opportunity to apply the theoretical information you have received in class to a real-life problem. In general, you will need to analyse and reflect on the event/issue/situation presented in the case study to determine how and/or why it happened as it did, and then discuss it in relation to the theoretical concepts you have learnt, often in order to demonstrate how you would manage the situation.

A case study can vary depending on your subject, the purpose of the assessment and your role. For example:

  • You may be provided with a case that describes a critical incident in the workplace, and your role as the manager is to use your understanding and knowledge of management concepts and theories to determine the causes and propose strategies to avoid and/or resolve it.
  • You may be provided with a case that describes a particular technical problem, and your role as the engineer is to design a solution that will fix it, describing why you have chosen the particular design and how it will function effectively.
  • You may be provided with a case where a patient has been recently diagnosed with an illness, and your role as the nurse is to review his lifestyle factors and blood results and determine the indications for this diagnosis.

Writing a response to a case study

The form your response to the case study will take should be specified in the assessment schedule in your subject outline. If this is not clear, make some time to clarify this with your subject coordinator. In general, however, a case study response will either take the form of an essay or a report. The figure below shows whether it is appropriate to structure your response as an essay or a report.

Image transcription
  1. Essay Structure
    1. Answer questions regarding the case study
  2. Report Structure
    1. Analyse data
    2. Show results
    3. Make recommendations

A useful process for answering a case study is as follows:

  1. Carefully analyse the case: Develop a clear outline of the most significant people/incidents/details; write a short description of the most important aspects of the case, and consider what actions need to be taken for it to be resolved.
  2. Brainstorm: Map out your knowledge of the concepts and theories you have studied throughout your subject and determine which are most helpful for making sense of the case. Jot down ideas and solutions for the key issues.
  3. Focus: Determine the core elements of the case that you will focus on. Sometimes it is necessary to only focus on the top three or four factors rather than dealing with all the minor details.
  4. Plan and write: Create a plan of your response (essay or report form). Describe the event/issue/situation. Address one key factor at a time integrating evidence from the case and the theoretical sources. Provide recommendations where required.  

Consider your audience

It is important to keep in mind that within a case study, a real-life scenario has been created and you will need to consider the audience or the person who will be reading the case study.

  • Who is the hypothetical audience? If you are a manager, then perhaps it is the CEO of the company.
  • What is the main goal of your response to the case study? Are recommendations required?

Your response to the case study is a great opportunity to describe how you would handle a situation, so be sure to anticipate the questions the audience might have and have them covered in the text. This includes explanations of terminology or implementation.

What evidence can be used in a case study?

When writing a response, you will be expected to describe and interpret the facts of the case and integrate these with the theoretical material you have found to help you to explain, justify or recommend particular actions.

In a case study, the core sets of evidence include:

  • the facts of the case (including statistical information if applicable)
  • reference to relevant theories and concepts that assist in explaining aspects of the facts of the case (as found in course material and reliable peer reviewed journal articles).

Further resources