Case Study Harvard Style Of Writing

Case writing is a vital force behind research at HBS. Nearly 80 percent of cases used at business schools worldwide are developed by HBS faculty. HBS case studies have helped refine the skills and business judgment of tens of thousands of students, practitioners, and academics across the world. The School is continually expanding and refreshing course content as HBS faculty write new cases that span the globe, industries, disciplines, and organizational forms in the public, private for profit, and non-profit spaces. As its faculty continues to develop case studies, the School is shaping business learning and educating future leaders in a positive way for years to come.

What is a case study?

The HBS case study is a teaching vehicle that presents students with a critical management issue and serves as a springboard to lively classroom debate in which participants present and defend their analysis and prescriptions. The average case is 15 to 20 pages long (about 7 to 12 pages of prose and 5 to 7 pages of tables and figures). The two main types of cases at the School are field cases based on onsite research, and library cases written solely from public sources. HBS also writes "armchair" cases based entirely on faculty’s general knowledge and experience. Moreover, in 1995, the School’s Educational Technology Services began producing multimedia cases that provide a rich learning experience by bringing together video, audio, graphics, animation, and other mediums.

Case research and writing

At HBS, academic research and case development are connected and mutually reinforcing. Cases provide the opportunity for faculty to assess and develop ideas, spark insights on nascent research questions early in a project, illustrate theory in practice, and get feedback in the classroom on those very concepts. In addition, case writing provides faculty a means to collaborate and to develop research ideas both across disciplines and across institutions.

Field case development is a dynamic and collaborative process in which faculty engage business or governmental leaders, sometimes working together with a colleague at HBS or at other academic institutions. The Case Studies for Harvard Business School brochure is a helpful resource to organizations interested in working with the School on a case. Case leads are identified based on a faculty’s teaching purpose and may arise as the result of a past relationship with an executive, a former student, or from a professor’s interest in exploring with a company’s management team a situation that would provide a meaningful learning experience. HBS works closely with host organizations to guarantee confidentiality.

Field cases typically take two months to complete - from obtaining a host organization’s approval to move forward on a case, to conducting onsite interviews, and drafting a case that paints a picture of the management issue and provides a mix of real-world uncertainty and information required for decision-making analysis.

Case support

A vast array of case-writing support is available to HBS faculty. Support is provided by case writers who work as individual research associates or are available on a project by project basis through our on-campus Case Research and Writing Group and eight regional research centers (Asia-Pacific, California, Europe, India, Japan, Latin America, Harvard Center Shanghai, and Istanbul). Baker Library’s extensive business collection and specialist librarians comprise another invaluable research and case-writing resource.

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Guidelines for Writing a Case Study Analysis

A case study analysis requires you to investigate a business problem, examine the alternative solutions, and propose the most effective solution using supporting evidence. To see an annotated sample of a Case Study Analysis, click here.

Preparing the Case

Before you begin writing, follow these guidelines to help you prepare and understand the case study:

  1. Read and examine the case thoroughly
    • Take notes, highlight relevant facts, underline key problems.
  2. Focus your analysis
    • Identify two to five key problems
    • Why do they exist?
    • How do they impact the organization?
    • Who is responsible for them?
  3. Uncover possible solutions
    • Review course readings, discussions, outside research, your experience.
  4. Select the best solution
    • Consider strong supporting evidence, pros, and cons: is this solution realistic?

Drafting the Case

Once you have gathered the necessary information, a draft of your analysis should include these sections:

  1. Introduction
    • Identify the key problems and issues in the case study.
    • Formulate and include a thesis statement, summarizing the outcome of your analysis in 1–2 sentences.
  2. Background
    • Set the scene: background information, relevant facts, and the most important issues.
    • Demonstrate that you have researched the problems in this case study.
  3. Alternatives
    • Outline possible alternatives (not necessarily all of them)
    • Explain why alternatives were rejected
    • Constraints/reasons
    • Why are alternatives not possible at this time?
  4. Proposed Solution
    • Provide one specific and realistic solution
    • Explain why this solution was chosen
    • Support this solution with solid evidence
    • Concepts from class (text readings, discussions, lectures)
    • Outside research
    • Personal experience (anecdotes)
  5. Recommendations
    • Determine and discuss specific strategies for accomplishing the proposed solution.
    • If applicable, recommend further action to resolve some of the issues
    • What should be done and who should do it?

Finalizing the Case

After you have composed the first draft of your case study analysis, read through it to check for any gaps or inconsistencies in content or structure: Is your thesis statement clear and direct? Have you provided solid evidence? Is any component from the analysis missing?

When you make the necessary revisions, proofread and edit your analysis before submitting the final draft. (Refer to Proofreading and Editing Strategies to guide you at this stage).

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