Basics of Research Process

How to Write a Case Study: Definition, Outline, Steps & Examples

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A case study is a research method that involves an in-depth examination of a particular subject, often a person, group, event, or organization. It's used to explore complex issues in real-world contexts. A case study can provide insights that might not be achieved with other research methods.

Are you struggling with writing a case study and don't know where to begin? You are not alone. Most students involved in the Psychology or Sociology field often find this task challenging. Especially if they are new to this research method. However, with the right structure and preparation, creating a case study paper will be a piece of cake. 

After reading this article, you will be armed with all essential details including:

  • Definition 
  • Case study types
  • Basic structure
  • Steps on how to write a case study
  • Examples that worked.

Let’s dive right in!

What Is a Case Study: Definition

A case study is a research method that involves examining a specific instance to let researchers learn more about an individual, event, organization or concept. It is like a magnifying glass for studying real-life situations. By looking at a single example, we can learn more about complex issues and understand patterns. 

Case studies are used in the fields like Psychology, Business, Statistics or Nursing. As a rule, students apply this research method when writing a dissertation or thesis

Depending on the research question and the data needed to address a problem, case studies can involve various research methods.

Research Methods Applied in Case Studies

Qualitative research methods 

Quantitative research methods 

Interviews

Surveys

Observations

Statistical analysis

Document analysis

Case Study Example

A researcher is interested in studying the effects of a newly implemented teaching method on student performance. To find out, they observe a class of 30 students over one semester. The researcher compares the test scores from before and after the method was used, documenting its effectiveness. 

The study results showed that academic performance had improved by 11.5% since the new teaching method was implemented. The researcher concluded that this approach works well and can be generalized to a broader population.

Let's recap the main points. 

Essay Structure Basics

What Is the Purpose of a Case Study?

The primary purpose of a case study is to gain insight into the real-world situations through the investigation and analysis of a single instance. This research design is often applied to meet such goals: 

  • Develop a better understanding of complex issues or phenomena 
  • Identify patterns and relationships
  • Test hypotheses and theories in natural settings
  • Provide practical solutions
  • Illustrate best practices or successful strategies.

Every case study writer can customize their work to fit the needs of a specific discipline, as shown below.

Use of Case Studies 

Field 

Use case 

Business

✓ Understand consumer behavior✓ Identify market trends✓ Develop efficient business strategies

Marketing

✓ Analyze successful marketing campaigns✓ Evaluate customer satisfaction✓ Assess brand loyalty

Law 

✓ Understand complex legal issues✓ Prepare for trials✓ Make decisions based on previous court cases

Psychology

✓ Examine individual behavior✓ Develop treatment plans✓ Test hypotheses

Sociology

✓ Understand social structures✓ Analyze group dynamics✓ Explore societal issues

Medicine

✓ Evaluate patient care✓ Diagnose rare conditions✓ Offer treatment


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Types of Case Studies


There are different types of case studies that scholars or students can bring into play. Each approach has its own focus and is chosen based on research objectives. 

  1. Descriptive case studies This approach involves a detailed examination of a particular situation or phenomenon to understand it better. Here, researchers see the context, events, and processes that led to a particular outcome, and get a comprehensive picture of the situation.
  2. Explanatory case studies Explanatory method allows us to understand the "why" and “how” behind a particular event or phenomenon. As the name suggests, this type of case study seeks to test and explain the causal relationship between independent and dependent variables
  3. Exploratory case studies Imagine being a detective and investigating a mystery or problem in its early stages. This is the main idea of an exploratory investigation. It helps to recognize key questions, potential patterns, and areas for further research. It's like peeling back the layers of an onion, revealing new insights and uncovering possible solutions. 
  4. Intrinsic case studies Unlike other case study methods, an intrinsic approach is used to explore a unique instance. Here, researchers focus on a particular scenario in its own right, rather than trying to apply the outcomes to a broader population. 
  5. Instrumental case studies This type of study examines one instance to shed light on a larger group or phenomenon. Instrumental technique is a good choice if you want to develop theoretical frameworks and obtain generalizable findings.
  6. Cumulative case studies While conducting cumulative research, students compile and synthesize information from multiple similar instances. Here, you combine the results of multiple studies to draw more generalized conclusions.
  7. Collective case reports Think of several individual instances being studied together to provide a broader understanding of a specific phenomenon. These instances are often connected by a common theme. This enables researchers to compare and contrast cases and uncover tendencies. 
  8. Critical case studies Researchers use this method to explore exceptional instances that are particularly interesting or thought-provoking. Critical approach helps to analyze why a specific situation occurred and what could have been done differently.

Case Study Structure: Main Parts

When investigating any phenomenon, it’s important to organize your sections in a logical manner. A structure of a case study usually includes such components:

  • Introduction This section is a place to present a case. Provide a brief overview of your instance, introduce your key research objectives and prepare the readers for further analysis.
  • Problem identification By laying out a problem, you will be able to show the scope and significance of your topic. Identify the main issue that will be examined and build a clear statement of the problem.
  • Background A properly established context sets the stage for research and lays a foundation for case evaluation. Offer relevant background information on the instance. This can be a historical, geographical or cultural context.
  • Methodology Describe your methodology in research – approach, data collection methods and analysis techniques used in your investigation.
  • Solution  Now is the time to determine potential solutions to address the problem, and evaluate the pros and cons of each resolution. Make sure solutions are realistic.
  • Results Once a case study is conducted, you should share your key findings. Mention any data or evidence that was collected and analyzed.
  • Discussion This part of a case study is a perfect opportunity for analysis. Discuss the implications of your outcomes and draw conclusions
  • Conclusion Summarize your main points, restate a problem and solutions, and offer final recommendations or next steps.
Case Study Structure

Case Study Outline

Before you create a case study, it’s a good idea to prepare an outline. It serves as a skeleton of your project. A well-structured outline of a case study helps organize your thoughts in a logical manner.

Below you can see an example of a basic template. Feel free to use it for inspiration. 

General Outline 

  • Introduction
    • Brief subject introduction
    • Research purpose and objectives
    • Necessary context
  • Problem description
    • Problem/issue
    • Problem significance
  • Case background
    • Subject/idea history
    • Setting or environment description
    • Key challenges, opportunities, or turning points
  • Methodology 
    • Research methods used to gather information
    • Data analysis methods
  • Proposed solution
    • Possible strategies
    • Assessment of solutions
    • Recommended solvents
  • Findings
    • Major discoveries from the data analysis
    • Implications
    • Limitations/challenges
  • Conclusion
    • Summary of key points
    • Restatement of the problem and solution
    • Final suggestions or next steps

Based on the sample template shown above, arrange your key ideas and highlight critical information. You may change the blocks to meet your assignment’s unique requirements.

Before You Start Writing a Case Study

Preparation  is the key to success. To make your case study flawless, you need to establish your goal and plan. This will lay the foundation of the whole process before you begin writing.

Ensure you follow these 3 crucial steps before moving further. 

1. Carefully Read the Instructions 

Your professor may provide you with special requirements, case study rubric or exemplary works. The instructions may include details on preferred format, structure, word count, writing style or analysis techniques. Read given material attentively and make sure you fully understand the guidelines. 

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2. Conduct Research

Researching is the most time-consuming part of writing a case study. Review relevant studies on the research topic to gain a deeper understanding of your subject. You may want to go through different sources and identify their strengths and limitations. Strive to build a bridge between your case study report and existing gaps. 

Make sure to jot down all your ideas, opinions, notes or questions related to your research. This approach will help you build an outline and write a case study accordingly.  

3. Gather Data

Now you are all set for the data collection process. Identify the most relevant type of information pertinent to your research question.

Consider using primary sources such as interviews, surveys or questionnaires. Secondary resources may include books, articles, case studies and public documents. 

Your data must be accurate and reliable so double-check your research results before integrating them into your project.

Collecting Data for a Case Study Using Different Methods

How to Write a Case Study in 7 Steps?

Now that you are familiar with the preparation stages, it's time to dive into the writing process. Writing case studies can be challenging. But by following a structured approach, you can produce a clear and engaging work. 

To create a strong project, it's important to carefully plan and execute each step of your flow, from identifying the research question to presenting your conclusions. Below we have prepared detailed guidelines on how to write a case study paper. 


7 Steps on How to Write a Case Study

1. Introduce a Case Study

Start your case study introduction by presenting your subject and providing a brief overview of the research objectives. It's important to highlight the significance of your case and explain why it warrants examination. One way to do this is to focus on innovative aspects, such as a novel approach to a problem or a new technology. You can also emphasize the broader implications. 


You should also preview a structure. This will give readers an idea of what to expect. Briefly describe your main points or provide a rough outline. 

Case Study Introduction Example

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating condition that can arise in individuals who have experienced a traumatic event. In this case study, we examine the experiences of a patient who was diagnosed with PTSD following a car accident. Our analysis focuses on the patient's symptoms, including intrusive thoughts, hyperarousal, and avoidance behaviors. We also explore the treatments employed to manage these symptoms. By analyzing this case, we aim to provide insights into the challenges of treating PTSD and offer recommendations for improving therapeutic interventions for individuals suffering from this condition.

2. Describe a Problem

Before you get to the problem, provide context that explains the issue at hand. Identify the scope and impact of this problem. One efficient strategy of creating case studies that trigger attention is integrating examples or statistics. This helps to understand how severe this situation is. 

Additionally, you may want to highlight any challenges or obstacles that have prevented a problem from being solved. 

Example of Problem Description in a Case Study

John is a 28-year-old man who was involved in a serious car accident three months ago. Since then, he has been experiencing PTSD symptoms, including recurring nightmares, flashbacks, and feelings of anxiety. These symptoms have affected his work performance and relationships with family and friends. Despite seeking help from his primary care physician and attending therapy sessions, John has not experienced significant improvement. The challenge is to identify effective treatments that can help John manage his PTSD and improve his quality of life.

>> Read more: How to Write a Problem Statement

3. Discuss Research Methods 

Research methods you apply will define how to make a case study. There are multiple ways to collect data. So your primary task here is to figure out what kind of information you want to obtain. 

Your research strategy should align with your objectives. For instance, interviews can help capture detailed information from a small sample of people. On the other hand, surveys involve large groups of individuals. If you are using interviews or surveys, provide a list of questions participants were asked. 

You can also do experiments to test out different theories or conduct document analysis to identify trends. 

>> Learn more: What Is Experimental Design
 

Example of How to Describe Research Methods 

In this research, both quantitative and qualitative data were utilized. 10 semi-structured interviews were conducted with participants who had experienced PTSD symptoms following a traumatic event. Additionally, data was collected from a survey of 253 individuals who had not been diagnosed with PTSD. We inquired about their experiences with trauma and the types of coping strategies they used to manage stress. Medical records from John's primary care physician were analyzed to track his progress over time. The combination of quantitative and qualitative data allowed for a comprehensive understanding of John's unique experiences with PTSD.

4. Offer Solutions to the Problem 

The next stage involves coming up with potential solutions. Explain what strategies could be used to address the problem.

For example, if you write a case study on a business-related problem, solutions may involve implementing procedures to improve efficiency. Alternatively, in a healthcare niche, you will offer a new medication or therapy.

Be sure to provide evidence from your research or expert opinions to support your suggestions.

Here’s how to do a case study solutions section. 

Example of Solution

One potential solution for addressing John's PTSD symptoms is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). According to a study by Bisson and colleagues (2013), CBT has been found to be effective in reducing symptoms of PTSD in individuals who have experienced traumatic events. The therapist can work with John to identify and challenge negative thought patterns related to his traumatic experience and teach him coping skills to manage his anxiety and stress.

5. Present Your Key Results

Most scholars judge case study reports by research outcomes. You need to show that your solution works. Analyze collected data and share your most significant findings in your results section. This can be an increase in profits or a patient's health improvement. 

When you write your case study outcomes, it is important to organize the information in a clear and concise manner. Use tables, graphs and charts to illustrate your data visually. 

Provide a short summary of your results and their implications. But don’t just tell. You need to back up your research with evidence. If you used interviews, be sure to include any statistical analysis done for those results. 

Example of Case Study Research Results

Our analysis showed that participants who received cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) reported a significant decrease in symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as compared to those who received no therapy. Specifically, the group who received CBT experienced a 35% reduction in symptoms. Meanwhile, the control group experienced no significant change. These findings suggest that CBT may be an effective treatment option for individuals with PTSD.

6. Conclude with Recommendations

A conclusion of a case study is where you wrap everything up and provide recommendations for further research. Sum up your key points and explain how they could be used to solve similar problems. You can also highlight any unexpected findings or insights that emerged during the study. Don’t forget to discuss any ethical considerations or limitations. 

You need to create a lasting impression. For this, end a case study with a thought-provoking statement or call to action. 

Case Study Conclusion Example

Our research highlighted the significant impact of PTSD on individuals who have experienced a traumatic event. The results suggested that cognitive-behavioral therapy and reprocessing therapy are effective treatments for PTSD. However, more research is needed to determine the long-term effects of these treatments. Additionally, the stigma surrounding mental health and seeking treatment remains a significant barrier to access to care. It is crucial for healthcare professionals and policymakers to address this issue and increase access to mental health services.

7. Proofread Your Case Study

Once you are done with writing a case study, you need to carefully review it. Keep an eye on these things when checking your work: 

  • Grammar mistakes Proofread your writing for typos and grammar errors. Feel free to use our Grammar Checker to make sure you got everything right.
  • Clarity Check whether your work is readable and concise. Avoid long sentences and complex structures.
  • Sources accuracy Make sure to check all sources for accuracy. It is also important to ensure that all reported data is up-to-date.
  • Citations Ascertain whether all sources are properly cited and the same style is used consistently throughout your paper.

Case Study Format

Besides the content, it is also important to stick to a specific case study paper format. The layout of your paper should follow guidelines of the chosen citation style.

There are different ways to format a case study. Commonly used styles include APA, MLA, Chicago and Harvard. Each format  presents specific requirements for formatting your text and references. 

Check out our detailed guides listed below to learn more about each style. 

>> How to Write a Paper in APA Format?

>> How to Do MLA Format? 

>> How to Write a Chicago Style Paper?

Case Study Examples

Getting actual examples of case studies can be a great way to learn and understand how to write one. To help you out, we have collected several sample case study paper examples for different disciplines. Feel free to use these samples as inspiration when writing your own paper.

Legal Case Study
Criminal Justice
Pages:
6
Level:
College
Paper type:
Case Study
Format:
APA
3.01 MB
file-pdf
Implementation of Iso Principle as a Primary Approach to Mood Management
Psychology
Pages:
8
Level:
University
Paper type:
Case Study
Format:
APA
4.66 MB
file-pdf

Case Study Writing Tips

With the right approach, your effort will reward you with an A+. In this section, we will list some actionable tips on how to write a good case study: 

  1. Planning your work ahead Planning your work ahead Make sure to create an outline before you start writing and stick to it throughout the entire process.
  2. Arranging your data logically Break down complex information into chunks and use visual elements (tables, graphs, diagrams) to present it.
  3. Structuring your writing Use headings and subheadings to organize your content and make key points easy to access.
  4. Keeping your text simple Write your case study in an easy-to-read language and refrain from complex sentence structures.
  5. Remaining impartial Be objective in your analysis and avoid personal biases.

Mistakes to Avoid When Writing a Case Study

Even a small mistake can undermine your whole work. Here are some common pitfalls students fail to account for in their case studies:

  1. Focusing too much on the background Provide enough space for analysis of your problem and solution.
  2. Stuffing with direct quotes Quotes can be used as evidence in your paper. But relying on them too much will make it sound overly repetitive.
  3. Not referring to all sources Always cite your sources correctly and use only reliable data in your paper.
  4. Being vague Avoid general statements and be more specific while discussing your results and solutions.
  5. Failing to mention possible gaps Always consider ethical considerations or limitations.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Case Study

Using a case study approach as your research method has its own pros and cons. On one hand, it is an effective way to explore a particular issue in detail. On the other, there are certain limitations that come with this approach. Below we will cover both strengths and limitations of case studies.

Benefits of Case Study

A case study is like a seed that can grow into a fruitful tree, providing resolutions to intricate problems. Here are the biggest case study benefits you can use to your advantage:

  • In-depth analysis Researchers can gather a lot of information on a specific topic or issue.
  • Insights into elaborate issues Allows researchers to examine complex issues in a controlled manner.
  • Real-life situations You are able to test theories or hypotheses in real-world settings.
  • Comprehensive approach Researchers can collect both quantitative and qualitative data.
  • Unique revelations This method can enlight on previously unexplored or understudied areas.

Limitations of Case Study

As with any research method, case studies have their fair share of drawbacks. Let's take a closer look at some of the most prevalent issues that can arise when using this approach.

  • Limited generalizability Due to the small sample size and unique nature of each case, it can be difficult to generalize findings to a larger population.
  • Observer bias Researchers may bring their own biases and perspectives, which can influence their results and interpretations.
  • Time-consuming and expensive This approach requires significant time and resources to conduct, making it less feasible for some research questions.
  • Lack of control In contrast to experimental research, case studies lack control over extraneous variables. This can make it difficult to establish cause-and-effect relationships.
  • Subjectivity Collected data is often subjective and open to interpretation, which can introduce potential errors.

Case Study Paper Writing Checklist

Before you write a case study assignment, make sure to recap all the information you have learnt today. Refer to this checklist to ensure you are on the right track. 

  • I thoroughly researched my topic and gathered relevant information.
  • A problem/issue is clearly defined. 
  • My case study structure is well-organized. 
  • I used appropriate research methods to gather data.
  • My findings are well-supported by analysis and evidence. 
  • I discussed possible limitations and ethical considerations. 
  • The work offers recommendations for further research.
  • My paper adheres to formatting guidelines required by my instructor.

Bottom Line on How to Write a Case Study

Writing a case study can be an incredibly challenging task for any student. However, with the right approach and tips, you can easily turn this daunting task into a pleasant experience. 

We hope this article helped you understand how to write a case study. Remember to focus on the practical part and avoid overgeneralizing or cherry-picking data.

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is a case study in research?

A case study is a research method that involves an in-depth analysis of a particular subject. This approach most often focuses on a single event, person or group. It provides insight into the context of a problem and can be used to explore solutions to intricate issues.

2. What is the difference between a case study and a research paper?

The main difference between a case study and a research paper is in their scope. A case study explores a limited number of subjects, while research papers investigate multiple variables and/or draw conclusions from larger data sets. While both works contain evidence-based information, the focus and approach taken are quite different. Research papers are more general in nature, while case studies focus on narrow problems.

3. How long should a case study be?

The length of a case study varies depending on the type of assignment. Case studies intended for scholarly articles range from 3,000 to 4,0000 words or more. Meanwhile, if it’s a separate chapter in your MA or PhD dissertation, you will need to keep it between 8,000-15,000 words. Follow specific guidelines provided by your professor or institution. 

4. Why is a case study important?

Case studies are an important research tool, as they provide detailed information on a particular issue. By exploring a single instance from multiple angles, researchers can uncover solutions to complicated problems that may not be immediately apparent. Using this method, scientists also test hypotheses and generate new theories.

5. What makes a good case study?

A good case study should be organized, well-researched, and contain evidence. Some characteristics of a case study include:

  • Precise subject overview
  • Thorough analysis that goes beyond surface-level information
  • Examination of a single scenario from various perspectives
  • Fact-based arguments
  • Validated findings.

6. How to start a case study?

To start a case study, begin by carefully reading requirements and identifying the main problem to be addressed. Don't jump to conclusions or make assumptions – take it one step at a time. Once you have a clear understanding of your goal, gather relevant data. This includes doing research, interviewing people, and analyzing relevant documents.

Article posted on:Apr 7, 2023
Article updated on:Feb 8, 2024

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