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Prepared by University of Guelph

Section B: Planning and Researching

In this section, you will find strategies and advice for getting started with your case study report.

What Will I Learn?

By successfully completing this section, you should be able to

  • analyze your case study report assignment to identify required components and tasks, and
  • create a writing plan for your report including key tasks and dates.

Overview

Getting started is often the most challenging part of the writing process. Assignments can feel daunting and unfamiliar at first. Breaking larger projects into smaller, more manageable tasks can help you reduce stress and produce a report that is complete and polished.

What Should You Look For in Your Assignment Instructions?

Once you are given a case study assignment you might be tempted to jump right in and start reading the case and writing up your case report. But taking some time to carefully read through the assignment—before you start—is one of the most important things you can do.

The following provides a summary of what key information to look for in your assignment, such due dates, required tasks, formatting requirements, grading criteria, presentation component, research requirements and citation format.

When Is It Due?

  • You will want to mark the due date in your calendar and take note of other assignments or activities you have during that time.
  • Find out how you are expected to submit the assignment (for example, using an online dropbox or handing it in at class).

Tip: Work backwards from the due date to plan the individual tasks you have to complete.

What Am I Being Asked To Do?

For example, you may be asked to do the following:

  1. Identify: Recognize or name a concept or object. For example, identify the internal strengths and weaknesses of the organization as well as the external opportunities and threats that are relevant to the organization.
  2. Apply: Explain how a concept or theory works in a specific context. For example, apply the organizational life cycle stages to the organization in order to identify their current stage of evolution as well as any associated crises.
  3. Analyze: Examine the parts of a concept and explain how they work together. For example, take the following SWOT (Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities and Threats) analysis information and use that information to create three mutually exclusive recommendations in order to make the organization more financially stable.
  4. Evaluate: Provide an assessment (e.g., good, fair, poor) and support your opinion with explanation and evidence. For example, evaluate each of the following three alternatives based on your understanding of the organization discussed in the case and select the one best alternative for solving the problem at hand.

What Should The Report Look Like?

Case report and presentation formats will vary from course to course. Be sure to find out about the following:

  • Word or page limit
  • Fonts
  • Margins
  • Referencing style (e.g., APA, MLA)
  • Cover page elements and layout
  • Table of contents requirements

How Am I Being Graded?

Pay special attention to how marks will be allocated across the different sections of the report and presentation, and allocate your time accordingly. For example, if the analysis section is worth 20% and the introduction only 5%, be sure to focus more of your time and effort on the analysis.

Tip: Don’t get caught by surprise! Keep the assignment instructions and rubric on hand and refer to it throughout the writing process.

Am I Required To Use Sources?

If you are asked to use sources, find out what kinds of sources are needed, such as journals, books, or reports.

Tip: Research almost always takes longer than expected. Start your research as soon as possible. Not sure how to begin? Take your assignment to a library and ask the librarians if they can help you start your search.

Is There A Presentation Component?

There may also be a case study report presentation component for your assignment, which may include the following guidelines:

  • Presentation length—practice to make sure you aren’t going over time
  • Visual aids or media required
  • Expectations about using (or not using) notes or cue cards
  • Question and answer period length
  • Referencing style
  • Deadline

How to analyze your case study assignment instructions

Assignment

Imagine you have read an assigned case and you are given the assignment below:

Identify and analyze the internal strengths and weaknesses of the organization in the case as well as the external opportunities and threats that are relevant to the organization.

Question 1: What key verbs tell you what to do?

Question 2: What are the key tasks of the assignment?

Tip: Use the words provided in the question (e.g., internal weaknesses) in your answer to help your instructor recognize what part of the question you are answering.

The following are common pitfalls students make when writing a case study report:

  1. Pitfall: Making assumptions or generalizing based on the industry or type of organization. Stick to the facts of the case, rather than giving your own opinion or commentary.
  2. Pitfall: Including irrelevant information. Remember, your job is to help identify strengths and address weaknesses. Avoid going on tangents about the company’s history or other details unless they directly relate to the problem at hand.

Whether you are working on your case study report assignment as an individual or with group members, developing a project plan and schedule is a great way to stay on track and on time with your project.

Here is one suggested breakdown for a typical case study assignment

  1. Review the assignment and identify key tasks. Clarify any questions with the instructor
  2. Review the case and take notes
  3. Gather sources from the library
  4. Conduct research and analysis
  5. Draft Analysis section
  6. Draft Alternatives and Decision Criteria
  7. Draft Recommendations
  8. Draft Implementation Plan
  9. Draft Introduction
  10. Draft Conclusion
  11. Draft Executive summary
  12. Prepare References page
  13. Prepare cover page and table of contents
  14. Review complete draft for clarity and correctness

Tip: Identify all the required tasks that lead up to the final report. Then, using a calendar, plot the activities out, working backwards from the deadline.

Worksheet: Project Schedule Worksheet

Use this helpful worksheet for your Case Study Report.

Download PDF

Preview: PDF Worksheet
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Working in groups

If you are completing your assignment as a group, you will want to spend some time at the beginning to plan your approach and assign tasks. You should also agree on how you will communicate and what you will do if problems arise.

Here are some suggested questions to discuss in your group:

  • What are the required tasks and how will we divide them?
  • Does everyone understand what is required of us?
  • What platform will we use to complete the assignment (e.g., Google Docs)?
  • How often will we meet?
  • What will we do if someone cannot meet their commitments?
  • How will we decide when the draft is ready to submit (will everyone sign off, or will we designate a final “editor”)?
  • Who will be responsible for submitting the final draft?

Tip: Check in throughout the process to make sure everyone agrees on an approach. A common pitfall of group papers is a lack of communication.

The editing process will be more complex if different students have written different parts of the report. Munter and Hamilton (2014) provide some excellent advice for writing in groups within a business context. Two key recommendations most relevant to writing business case reports in a group include:

  1. Agree on group guidelines: Spend some time up front proactively discussing and agreeing upon the types of components mentioned in the sample group contract (see the worksheet below).
  2. Budget more time for editing: perhaps even more time should be allocated to editing when working in a group as it is likely that there were multiple students contributing to the writing contained in the report. The aim of the editing process is to produce a document that reads as a coherent and integrated whole with one consistent “voice” throughout.

Worksheet: Group Work Contract

Use this helpful worksheet for your Case Study Report.

Download PDF

Preview: PDF Worksheet
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Why Do Research For Case Study Assignments?

Successfully meeting client needs hinges on understanding the factors in play in the case and the business environment. Nothing undermines your credibility more than making sweeping assumptions or leaving out key information about the client or context. The same is true in your case study report—impress your instructor by covering all the bases.

If the case study involves a real company, then information from company websites, financial documents, and a broader web search can be used in order to shed more light on the company’s past and present situation, the industry in which the company is operating, the company’s main competitors, and other relevant information.

Information from course textbooks and from academic journals and books can help you better understand and analyze the problem and develop sound recommendations. Research takes time, but solid references will also boost the credibility of the report and demonstrate that you have done your homework.

What Sources Are Used in Case Study Reports?

A variety of sources may be used in case study reports. If you are required to do research, pay close attention to the kinds of sources required, such as:

  • Company website
  • Company financial documents
  • Broader web search (e.g., industry, competitors)
  • Course textbooks
  • Academic journals and books

Tips On Getting The Most Out Of Your Sources

The following five tips will help you to get the most out of your sources.

  1. Start with the right sources: Pay attention to course requirements and look for sources that are reliable.
  2. Draw from several sources: Avoid relying too heavily on a single source. Reading several sources can help broaden your understanding and help you avoid copying one author’s voice or ideas too closely.
  3. Read carefully and make sure you understand the ideas: It’s not unusual to have to read a source several times to fully grasp its meaning. As you read, ask yourself if you could explain the ideas to someone else. If you couldn’t, re-read more slowly or look for another source that can help you understand.
  4. Go beyond the abstract and the introduction. If you rely only on these parts of the text, your research will be shallow. Impress your instructor by demonstrating a deeper understanding of the text.
  5. Use a consistent note-taking system: As you take notes, it is vital to keep track of what ideas are yours and what ideas come directly from the text.

If you are asked to find academic sources, use your library’s search tool and look for sources that are:

  • Relevant: Look for sources that directly address the problem or concept.
  • Recent: This can vary depending on the type of research you’re doing, but a good rule is to look for sources published in the last 5-10 years.
  • Reliable: Look for sources produced by an expert in the field, such as an academic researcher or a professional organization. If the source has no identifiable author, be suspicious.

Here are some suggestions for having a consistent note-taking system:

  • Put the text’s bibliographic information at the top of the page. Do this before you take any other notes, or you might forget and lose track of the source.
  • Avoid cutting and pasting from sources directly into your paper. Instead, create a “Notes” file and paste the passages there. Be sure to type in the source and page number with each passage you paste.
  • Distinguish text copied word-for-word from text that you have paraphrased by putting a “Q” or “P” at the start and end of the passage respectively OR use a different coloured pen for quoted or paraphrased ideas.
  • Be sure to add your own thoughts to your notes, too. You could do this in another colour, or by writing “Me:” and following with your idea.
  • Write down where and how you might use the noted ideas (e.g., “Refer to this point in my analysis of the company’s organizational structure.”)

Key Takeaways

Now that you've completed this section, keep the following things in mind:

  • Read your assignment carefully—several times—and keep it handy as you work. Paying attention to the details of the case study assignment is essential to your success.
  • Make a plan. Planning and scheduling can help you manage your time and reduce your stress. Break your assignment into smaller, more manageable tasks, and tackle it a little at a time.
  • Use sources to strengthen your analysis. In order to arrive at a fully comprehensive and practical solution to the case study problem, draw on appropriate and helpful sources.

References

Munter, M., & Hamilton, L. (2014). Guide to managerial communication: Effective business writing and speaking (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson.

Ohland, M. W., Loughry, M. L., Woehr, D. J., Finelli, C. J., Bullard, L. G., Felder, R. M., … Schmucker, D. G. (2012). The comprehensive assessment of team member effectiveness: Development of a behaviorally anchored rating scale for self- and peer-evaluation. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 11, 609–630.

Next Section Overview

In Section C: Parts of a Case Study, we will explore the components of case study reports and how to write them.

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