how to approach a case study

The Ultimate Guide to Qualitative Research - Part 1: The Basics

how to approach a case study

  • Introduction and overview
  • What is qualitative research?
  • What is qualitative data?
  • Examples of qualitative data
  • Qualitative vs. quantitative research
  • Mixed methods
  • Qualitative research preparation
  • Theoretical perspective
  • Theoretical framework
  • Literature reviews

Research question

  • Conceptual framework
  • Conceptual vs. theoretical framework

Data collection

  • Qualitative research methods
  • Focus groups
  • Observational research

What is a case study?

Applications for case study research, what is a good case study, process of case study design, benefits and limitations of case studies.

  • Ethnographical research
  • Ethical considerations
  • Confidentiality and privacy
  • Power dynamics
  • Reflexivity

Case studies

Case studies are essential to qualitative research , offering a lens through which researchers can investigate complex phenomena within their real-life contexts. This chapter explores the concept, purpose, applications, examples, and types of case studies and provides guidance on how to conduct case study research effectively.

how to approach a case study

Whereas quantitative methods look at phenomena at scale, case study research looks at a concept or phenomenon in considerable detail. While analyzing a single case can help understand one perspective regarding the object of research inquiry, analyzing multiple cases can help obtain a more holistic sense of the topic or issue. Let's provide a basic definition of a case study, then explore its characteristics and role in the qualitative research process.

Definition of a case study

A case study in qualitative research is a strategy of inquiry that involves an in-depth investigation of a phenomenon within its real-world context. It provides researchers with the opportunity to acquire an in-depth understanding of intricate details that might not be as apparent or accessible through other methods of research. The specific case or cases being studied can be a single person, group, or organization – demarcating what constitutes a relevant case worth studying depends on the researcher and their research question .

Among qualitative research methods , a case study relies on multiple sources of evidence, such as documents, artifacts, interviews , or observations , to present a complete and nuanced understanding of the phenomenon under investigation. The objective is to illuminate the readers' understanding of the phenomenon beyond its abstract statistical or theoretical explanations.

Characteristics of case studies

Case studies typically possess a number of distinct characteristics that set them apart from other research methods. These characteristics include a focus on holistic description and explanation, flexibility in the design and data collection methods, reliance on multiple sources of evidence, and emphasis on the context in which the phenomenon occurs.

Furthermore, case studies can often involve a longitudinal examination of the case, meaning they study the case over a period of time. These characteristics allow case studies to yield comprehensive, in-depth, and richly contextualized insights about the phenomenon of interest.

The role of case studies in research

Case studies hold a unique position in the broader landscape of research methods aimed at theory development. They are instrumental when the primary research interest is to gain an intensive, detailed understanding of a phenomenon in its real-life context.

In addition, case studies can serve different purposes within research - they can be used for exploratory, descriptive, or explanatory purposes, depending on the research question and objectives. This flexibility and depth make case studies a valuable tool in the toolkit of qualitative researchers.

Remember, a well-conducted case study can offer a rich, insightful contribution to both academic and practical knowledge through theory development or theory verification, thus enhancing our understanding of complex phenomena in their real-world contexts.

What is the purpose of a case study?

Case study research aims for a more comprehensive understanding of phenomena, requiring various research methods to gather information for qualitative analysis . Ultimately, a case study can allow the researcher to gain insight into a particular object of inquiry and develop a theoretical framework relevant to the research inquiry.

Why use case studies in qualitative research?

Using case studies as a research strategy depends mainly on the nature of the research question and the researcher's access to the data.

Conducting case study research provides a level of detail and contextual richness that other research methods might not offer. They are beneficial when there's a need to understand complex social phenomena within their natural contexts.

The explanatory, exploratory, and descriptive roles of case studies

Case studies can take on various roles depending on the research objectives. They can be exploratory when the research aims to discover new phenomena or define new research questions; they are descriptive when the objective is to depict a phenomenon within its context in a detailed manner; and they can be explanatory if the goal is to understand specific relationships within the studied context. Thus, the versatility of case studies allows researchers to approach their topic from different angles, offering multiple ways to uncover and interpret the data .

The impact of case studies on knowledge development

Case studies play a significant role in knowledge development across various disciplines. Analysis of cases provides an avenue for researchers to explore phenomena within their context based on the collected data.

how to approach a case study

This can result in the production of rich, practical insights that can be instrumental in both theory-building and practice. Case studies allow researchers to delve into the intricacies and complexities of real-life situations, uncovering insights that might otherwise remain hidden.

Types of case studies

In qualitative research , a case study is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Depending on the nature of the research question and the specific objectives of the study, researchers might choose to use different types of case studies. These types differ in their focus, methodology, and the level of detail they provide about the phenomenon under investigation.

Understanding these types is crucial for selecting the most appropriate approach for your research project and effectively achieving your research goals. Let's briefly look at the main types of case studies.

Exploratory case studies

Exploratory case studies are typically conducted to develop a theory or framework around an understudied phenomenon. They can also serve as a precursor to a larger-scale research project. Exploratory case studies are useful when a researcher wants to identify the key issues or questions which can spur more extensive study or be used to develop propositions for further research. These case studies are characterized by flexibility, allowing researchers to explore various aspects of a phenomenon as they emerge, which can also form the foundation for subsequent studies.

Descriptive case studies

Descriptive case studies aim to provide a complete and accurate representation of a phenomenon or event within its context. These case studies are often based on an established theoretical framework, which guides how data is collected and analyzed. The researcher is concerned with describing the phenomenon in detail, as it occurs naturally, without trying to influence or manipulate it.

Explanatory case studies

Explanatory case studies are focused on explanation - they seek to clarify how or why certain phenomena occur. Often used in complex, real-life situations, they can be particularly valuable in clarifying causal relationships among concepts and understanding the interplay between different factors within a specific context.

how to approach a case study

Intrinsic, instrumental, and collective case studies

These three categories of case studies focus on the nature and purpose of the study. An intrinsic case study is conducted when a researcher has an inherent interest in the case itself. Instrumental case studies are employed when the case is used to provide insight into a particular issue or phenomenon. A collective case study, on the other hand, involves studying multiple cases simultaneously to investigate some general phenomena.

Each type of case study serves a different purpose and has its own strengths and challenges. The selection of the type should be guided by the research question and objectives, as well as the context and constraints of the research.

The flexibility, depth, and contextual richness offered by case studies make this approach an excellent research method for various fields of study. They enable researchers to investigate real-world phenomena within their specific contexts, capturing nuances that other research methods might miss. Across numerous fields, case studies provide valuable insights into complex issues.

Critical information systems research

Case studies provide a detailed understanding of the role and impact of information systems in different contexts. They offer a platform to explore how information systems are designed, implemented, and used and how they interact with various social, economic, and political factors. Case studies in this field often focus on examining the intricate relationship between technology, organizational processes, and user behavior, helping to uncover insights that can inform better system design and implementation.

Health research

Health research is another field where case studies are highly valuable. They offer a way to explore patient experiences, healthcare delivery processes, and the impact of various interventions in a real-world context.

how to approach a case study

Case studies can provide a deep understanding of a patient's journey, giving insights into the intricacies of disease progression, treatment effects, and the psychosocial aspects of health and illness.

Asthma research studies

Specifically within medical research, studies on asthma often employ case studies to explore the individual and environmental factors that influence asthma development, management, and outcomes. A case study can provide rich, detailed data about individual patients' experiences, from the triggers and symptoms they experience to the effectiveness of various management strategies. This can be crucial for developing patient-centered asthma care approaches.

Other fields

Apart from the fields mentioned, case studies are also extensively used in business and management research, education research, and political sciences, among many others. They provide an opportunity to delve into the intricacies of real-world situations, allowing for a comprehensive understanding of various phenomena.

Case studies, with their depth and contextual focus, offer unique insights across these varied fields. They allow researchers to illuminate the complexities of real-life situations, contributing to both theory and practice.

how to approach a case study

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Understanding the key elements of case study design is crucial for conducting rigorous and impactful case study research. A well-structured design guides the researcher through the process, ensuring that the study is methodologically sound and its findings are reliable and valid. The main elements of case study design include the research question , propositions, units of analysis, and the logic linking the data to the propositions.

The research question is the foundation of any research study. A good research question guides the direction of the study and informs the selection of the case, the methods of collecting data, and the analysis techniques. A well-formulated research question in case study research is typically clear, focused, and complex enough to merit further detailed examination of the relevant case(s).

Propositions

Propositions, though not necessary in every case study, provide a direction by stating what we might expect to find in the data collected. They guide how data is collected and analyzed by helping researchers focus on specific aspects of the case. They are particularly important in explanatory case studies, which seek to understand the relationships among concepts within the studied phenomenon.

Units of analysis

The unit of analysis refers to the case, or the main entity or entities that are being analyzed in the study. In case study research, the unit of analysis can be an individual, a group, an organization, a decision, an event, or even a time period. It's crucial to clearly define the unit of analysis, as it shapes the qualitative data analysis process by allowing the researcher to analyze a particular case and synthesize analysis across multiple case studies to draw conclusions.

Argumentation

This refers to the inferential model that allows researchers to draw conclusions from the data. The researcher needs to ensure that there is a clear link between the data, the propositions (if any), and the conclusions drawn. This argumentation is what enables the researcher to make valid and credible inferences about the phenomenon under study.

Understanding and carefully considering these elements in the design phase of a case study can significantly enhance the quality of the research. It can help ensure that the study is methodologically sound and its findings contribute meaningful insights about the case.

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Conducting a case study involves several steps, from defining the research question and selecting the case to collecting and analyzing data . This section outlines these key stages, providing a practical guide on how to conduct case study research.

Defining the research question

The first step in case study research is defining a clear, focused research question. This question should guide the entire research process, from case selection to analysis. It's crucial to ensure that the research question is suitable for a case study approach. Typically, such questions are exploratory or descriptive in nature and focus on understanding a phenomenon within its real-life context.

Selecting and defining the case

The selection of the case should be based on the research question and the objectives of the study. It involves choosing a unique example or a set of examples that provide rich, in-depth data about the phenomenon under investigation. After selecting the case, it's crucial to define it clearly, setting the boundaries of the case, including the time period and the specific context.

Previous research can help guide the case study design. When considering a case study, an example of a case could be taken from previous case study research and used to define cases in a new research inquiry. Considering recently published examples can help understand how to select and define cases effectively.

Developing a detailed case study protocol

A case study protocol outlines the procedures and general rules to be followed during the case study. This includes the data collection methods to be used, the sources of data, and the procedures for analysis. Having a detailed case study protocol ensures consistency and reliability in the study.

The protocol should also consider how to work with the people involved in the research context to grant the research team access to collecting data. As mentioned in previous sections of this guide, establishing rapport is an essential component of qualitative research as it shapes the overall potential for collecting and analyzing data.

Collecting data

Gathering data in case study research often involves multiple sources of evidence, including documents, archival records, interviews, observations, and physical artifacts. This allows for a comprehensive understanding of the case. The process for gathering data should be systematic and carefully documented to ensure the reliability and validity of the study.

Analyzing and interpreting data

The next step is analyzing the data. This involves organizing the data , categorizing it into themes or patterns , and interpreting these patterns to answer the research question. The analysis might also involve comparing the findings with prior research or theoretical propositions.

Writing the case study report

The final step is writing the case study report . This should provide a detailed description of the case, the data, the analysis process, and the findings. The report should be clear, organized, and carefully written to ensure that the reader can understand the case and the conclusions drawn from it.

Each of these steps is crucial in ensuring that the case study research is rigorous, reliable, and provides valuable insights about the case.

The type, depth, and quality of data in your study can significantly influence the validity and utility of the study. In case study research, data is usually collected from multiple sources to provide a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the case. This section will outline the various methods of collecting data used in case study research and discuss considerations for ensuring the quality of the data.

Interviews are a common method of gathering data in case study research. They can provide rich, in-depth data about the perspectives, experiences, and interpretations of the individuals involved in the case. Interviews can be structured , semi-structured , or unstructured , depending on the research question and the degree of flexibility needed.

Observations

Observations involve the researcher observing the case in its natural setting, providing first-hand information about the case and its context. Observations can provide data that might not be revealed in interviews or documents, such as non-verbal cues or contextual information.

Documents and artifacts

Documents and archival records provide a valuable source of data in case study research. They can include reports, letters, memos, meeting minutes, email correspondence, and various public and private documents related to the case.

how to approach a case study

These records can provide historical context, corroborate evidence from other sources, and offer insights into the case that might not be apparent from interviews or observations.

Physical artifacts refer to any physical evidence related to the case, such as tools, products, or physical environments. These artifacts can provide tangible insights into the case, complementing the data gathered from other sources.

Ensuring the quality of data collection

Determining the quality of data in case study research requires careful planning and execution. It's crucial to ensure that the data is reliable, accurate, and relevant to the research question. This involves selecting appropriate methods of collecting data, properly training interviewers or observers, and systematically recording and storing the data. It also includes considering ethical issues related to collecting and handling data, such as obtaining informed consent and ensuring the privacy and confidentiality of the participants.

Data analysis

Analyzing case study research involves making sense of the rich, detailed data to answer the research question. This process can be challenging due to the volume and complexity of case study data. However, a systematic and rigorous approach to analysis can ensure that the findings are credible and meaningful. This section outlines the main steps and considerations in analyzing data in case study research.

Organizing the data

The first step in the analysis is organizing the data. This involves sorting the data into manageable sections, often according to the data source or the theme. This step can also involve transcribing interviews, digitizing physical artifacts, or organizing observational data.

Categorizing and coding the data

Once the data is organized, the next step is to categorize or code the data. This involves identifying common themes, patterns, or concepts in the data and assigning codes to relevant data segments. Coding can be done manually or with the help of software tools, and in either case, qualitative analysis software can greatly facilitate the entire coding process. Coding helps to reduce the data to a set of themes or categories that can be more easily analyzed.

Identifying patterns and themes

After coding the data, the researcher looks for patterns or themes in the coded data. This involves comparing and contrasting the codes and looking for relationships or patterns among them. The identified patterns and themes should help answer the research question.

Interpreting the data

Once patterns and themes have been identified, the next step is to interpret these findings. This involves explaining what the patterns or themes mean in the context of the research question and the case. This interpretation should be grounded in the data, but it can also involve drawing on theoretical concepts or prior research.

Verification of the data

The last step in the analysis is verification. This involves checking the accuracy and consistency of the analysis process and confirming that the findings are supported by the data. This can involve re-checking the original data, checking the consistency of codes, or seeking feedback from research participants or peers.

Like any research method , case study research has its strengths and limitations. Researchers must be aware of these, as they can influence the design, conduct, and interpretation of the study.

Understanding the strengths and limitations of case study research can also guide researchers in deciding whether this approach is suitable for their research question . This section outlines some of the key strengths and limitations of case study research.

Benefits include the following:

  • Rich, detailed data: One of the main strengths of case study research is that it can generate rich, detailed data about the case. This can provide a deep understanding of the case and its context, which can be valuable in exploring complex phenomena.
  • Flexibility: Case study research is flexible in terms of design , data collection , and analysis . A sufficient degree of flexibility allows the researcher to adapt the study according to the case and the emerging findings.
  • Real-world context: Case study research involves studying the case in its real-world context, which can provide valuable insights into the interplay between the case and its context.
  • Multiple sources of evidence: Case study research often involves collecting data from multiple sources , which can enhance the robustness and validity of the findings.

On the other hand, researchers should consider the following limitations:

  • Generalizability: A common criticism of case study research is that its findings might not be generalizable to other cases due to the specificity and uniqueness of each case.
  • Time and resource intensive: Case study research can be time and resource intensive due to the depth of the investigation and the amount of collected data.
  • Complexity of analysis: The rich, detailed data generated in case study research can make analyzing the data challenging.
  • Subjectivity: Given the nature of case study research, there may be a higher degree of subjectivity in interpreting the data , so researchers need to reflect on this and transparently convey to audiences how the research was conducted.

Being aware of these strengths and limitations can help researchers design and conduct case study research effectively and interpret and report the findings appropriately.

how to approach a case study

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Home » Case Study – Methods, Examples and Guide

Case Study – Methods, Examples and Guide

Table of Contents

Case Study Research

A case study is a research method that involves an in-depth examination and analysis of a particular phenomenon or case, such as an individual, organization, community, event, or situation.

It is a qualitative research approach that aims to provide a detailed and comprehensive understanding of the case being studied. Case studies typically involve multiple sources of data, including interviews, observations, documents, and artifacts, which are analyzed using various techniques, such as content analysis, thematic analysis, and grounded theory. The findings of a case study are often used to develop theories, inform policy or practice, or generate new research questions.

Types of Case Study

Types and Methods of Case Study are as follows:

Single-Case Study

A single-case study is an in-depth analysis of a single case. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to understand a specific phenomenon in detail.

For Example , A researcher might conduct a single-case study on a particular individual to understand their experiences with a particular health condition or a specific organization to explore their management practices. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as content analysis or thematic analysis. The findings of a single-case study are often used to generate new research questions, develop theories, or inform policy or practice.

Multiple-Case Study

A multiple-case study involves the analysis of several cases that are similar in nature. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to identify similarities and differences between the cases.

For Example, a researcher might conduct a multiple-case study on several companies to explore the factors that contribute to their success or failure. The researcher collects data from each case, compares and contrasts the findings, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as comparative analysis or pattern-matching. The findings of a multiple-case study can be used to develop theories, inform policy or practice, or generate new research questions.

Exploratory Case Study

An exploratory case study is used to explore a new or understudied phenomenon. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to generate hypotheses or theories about the phenomenon.

For Example, a researcher might conduct an exploratory case study on a new technology to understand its potential impact on society. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as grounded theory or content analysis. The findings of an exploratory case study can be used to generate new research questions, develop theories, or inform policy or practice.

Descriptive Case Study

A descriptive case study is used to describe a particular phenomenon in detail. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to provide a comprehensive account of the phenomenon.

For Example, a researcher might conduct a descriptive case study on a particular community to understand its social and economic characteristics. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as content analysis or thematic analysis. The findings of a descriptive case study can be used to inform policy or practice or generate new research questions.

Instrumental Case Study

An instrumental case study is used to understand a particular phenomenon that is instrumental in achieving a particular goal. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to understand the role of the phenomenon in achieving the goal.

For Example, a researcher might conduct an instrumental case study on a particular policy to understand its impact on achieving a particular goal, such as reducing poverty. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as content analysis or thematic analysis. The findings of an instrumental case study can be used to inform policy or practice or generate new research questions.

Case Study Data Collection Methods

Here are some common data collection methods for case studies:

Interviews involve asking questions to individuals who have knowledge or experience relevant to the case study. Interviews can be structured (where the same questions are asked to all participants) or unstructured (where the interviewer follows up on the responses with further questions). Interviews can be conducted in person, over the phone, or through video conferencing.

Observations

Observations involve watching and recording the behavior and activities of individuals or groups relevant to the case study. Observations can be participant (where the researcher actively participates in the activities) or non-participant (where the researcher observes from a distance). Observations can be recorded using notes, audio or video recordings, or photographs.

Documents can be used as a source of information for case studies. Documents can include reports, memos, emails, letters, and other written materials related to the case study. Documents can be collected from the case study participants or from public sources.

Surveys involve asking a set of questions to a sample of individuals relevant to the case study. Surveys can be administered in person, over the phone, through mail or email, or online. Surveys can be used to gather information on attitudes, opinions, or behaviors related to the case study.

Artifacts are physical objects relevant to the case study. Artifacts can include tools, equipment, products, or other objects that provide insights into the case study phenomenon.

How to conduct Case Study Research

Conducting a case study research involves several steps that need to be followed to ensure the quality and rigor of the study. Here are the steps to conduct case study research:

  • Define the research questions: The first step in conducting a case study research is to define the research questions. The research questions should be specific, measurable, and relevant to the case study phenomenon under investigation.
  • Select the case: The next step is to select the case or cases to be studied. The case should be relevant to the research questions and should provide rich and diverse data that can be used to answer the research questions.
  • Collect data: Data can be collected using various methods, such as interviews, observations, documents, surveys, and artifacts. The data collection method should be selected based on the research questions and the nature of the case study phenomenon.
  • Analyze the data: The data collected from the case study should be analyzed using various techniques, such as content analysis, thematic analysis, or grounded theory. The analysis should be guided by the research questions and should aim to provide insights and conclusions relevant to the research questions.
  • Draw conclusions: The conclusions drawn from the case study should be based on the data analysis and should be relevant to the research questions. The conclusions should be supported by evidence and should be clearly stated.
  • Validate the findings: The findings of the case study should be validated by reviewing the data and the analysis with participants or other experts in the field. This helps to ensure the validity and reliability of the findings.
  • Write the report: The final step is to write the report of the case study research. The report should provide a clear description of the case study phenomenon, the research questions, the data collection methods, the data analysis, the findings, and the conclusions. The report should be written in a clear and concise manner and should follow the guidelines for academic writing.

Examples of Case Study

Here are some examples of case study research:

  • The Hawthorne Studies : Conducted between 1924 and 1932, the Hawthorne Studies were a series of case studies conducted by Elton Mayo and his colleagues to examine the impact of work environment on employee productivity. The studies were conducted at the Hawthorne Works plant of the Western Electric Company in Chicago and included interviews, observations, and experiments.
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment: Conducted in 1971, the Stanford Prison Experiment was a case study conducted by Philip Zimbardo to examine the psychological effects of power and authority. The study involved simulating a prison environment and assigning participants to the role of guards or prisoners. The study was controversial due to the ethical issues it raised.
  • The Challenger Disaster: The Challenger Disaster was a case study conducted to examine the causes of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986. The study included interviews, observations, and analysis of data to identify the technical, organizational, and cultural factors that contributed to the disaster.
  • The Enron Scandal: The Enron Scandal was a case study conducted to examine the causes of the Enron Corporation’s bankruptcy in 2001. The study included interviews, analysis of financial data, and review of documents to identify the accounting practices, corporate culture, and ethical issues that led to the company’s downfall.
  • The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster : The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster was a case study conducted to examine the causes of the nuclear accident that occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan in 2011. The study included interviews, analysis of data, and review of documents to identify the technical, organizational, and cultural factors that contributed to the disaster.

Application of Case Study

Case studies have a wide range of applications across various fields and industries. Here are some examples:

Business and Management

Case studies are widely used in business and management to examine real-life situations and develop problem-solving skills. Case studies can help students and professionals to develop a deep understanding of business concepts, theories, and best practices.

Case studies are used in healthcare to examine patient care, treatment options, and outcomes. Case studies can help healthcare professionals to develop critical thinking skills, diagnose complex medical conditions, and develop effective treatment plans.

Case studies are used in education to examine teaching and learning practices. Case studies can help educators to develop effective teaching strategies, evaluate student progress, and identify areas for improvement.

Social Sciences

Case studies are widely used in social sciences to examine human behavior, social phenomena, and cultural practices. Case studies can help researchers to develop theories, test hypotheses, and gain insights into complex social issues.

Law and Ethics

Case studies are used in law and ethics to examine legal and ethical dilemmas. Case studies can help lawyers, policymakers, and ethical professionals to develop critical thinking skills, analyze complex cases, and make informed decisions.

Purpose of Case Study

The purpose of a case study is to provide a detailed analysis of a specific phenomenon, issue, or problem in its real-life context. A case study is a qualitative research method that involves the in-depth exploration and analysis of a particular case, which can be an individual, group, organization, event, or community.

The primary purpose of a case study is to generate a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the case, including its history, context, and dynamics. Case studies can help researchers to identify and examine the underlying factors, processes, and mechanisms that contribute to the case and its outcomes. This can help to develop a more accurate and detailed understanding of the case, which can inform future research, practice, or policy.

Case studies can also serve other purposes, including:

  • Illustrating a theory or concept: Case studies can be used to illustrate and explain theoretical concepts and frameworks, providing concrete examples of how they can be applied in real-life situations.
  • Developing hypotheses: Case studies can help to generate hypotheses about the causal relationships between different factors and outcomes, which can be tested through further research.
  • Providing insight into complex issues: Case studies can provide insights into complex and multifaceted issues, which may be difficult to understand through other research methods.
  • Informing practice or policy: Case studies can be used to inform practice or policy by identifying best practices, lessons learned, or areas for improvement.

Advantages of Case Study Research

There are several advantages of case study research, including:

  • In-depth exploration: Case study research allows for a detailed exploration and analysis of a specific phenomenon, issue, or problem in its real-life context. This can provide a comprehensive understanding of the case and its dynamics, which may not be possible through other research methods.
  • Rich data: Case study research can generate rich and detailed data, including qualitative data such as interviews, observations, and documents. This can provide a nuanced understanding of the case and its complexity.
  • Holistic perspective: Case study research allows for a holistic perspective of the case, taking into account the various factors, processes, and mechanisms that contribute to the case and its outcomes. This can help to develop a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of the case.
  • Theory development: Case study research can help to develop and refine theories and concepts by providing empirical evidence and concrete examples of how they can be applied in real-life situations.
  • Practical application: Case study research can inform practice or policy by identifying best practices, lessons learned, or areas for improvement.
  • Contextualization: Case study research takes into account the specific context in which the case is situated, which can help to understand how the case is influenced by the social, cultural, and historical factors of its environment.

Limitations of Case Study Research

There are several limitations of case study research, including:

  • Limited generalizability : Case studies are typically focused on a single case or a small number of cases, which limits the generalizability of the findings. The unique characteristics of the case may not be applicable to other contexts or populations, which may limit the external validity of the research.
  • Biased sampling: Case studies may rely on purposive or convenience sampling, which can introduce bias into the sample selection process. This may limit the representativeness of the sample and the generalizability of the findings.
  • Subjectivity: Case studies rely on the interpretation of the researcher, which can introduce subjectivity into the analysis. The researcher’s own biases, assumptions, and perspectives may influence the findings, which may limit the objectivity of the research.
  • Limited control: Case studies are typically conducted in naturalistic settings, which limits the control that the researcher has over the environment and the variables being studied. This may limit the ability to establish causal relationships between variables.
  • Time-consuming: Case studies can be time-consuming to conduct, as they typically involve a detailed exploration and analysis of a specific case. This may limit the feasibility of conducting multiple case studies or conducting case studies in a timely manner.
  • Resource-intensive: Case studies may require significant resources, including time, funding, and expertise. This may limit the ability of researchers to conduct case studies in resource-constrained settings.

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Muhammad Hassan

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  • Case Study | Definition, Examples & Methods

Case Study | Definition, Examples & Methods

Published on 5 May 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on 30 January 2023.

A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject, such as a person, group, place, event, organisation, or phenomenon. Case studies are commonly used in social, educational, clinical, and business research.

A case study research design usually involves qualitative methods , but quantitative methods are sometimes also used. Case studies are good for describing , comparing, evaluating, and understanding different aspects of a research problem .

Table of contents

When to do a case study, step 1: select a case, step 2: build a theoretical framework, step 3: collect your data, step 4: describe and analyse the case.

A case study is an appropriate research design when you want to gain concrete, contextual, in-depth knowledge about a specific real-world subject. It allows you to explore the key characteristics, meanings, and implications of the case.

Case studies are often a good choice in a thesis or dissertation . They keep your project focused and manageable when you don’t have the time or resources to do large-scale research.

You might use just one complex case study where you explore a single subject in depth, or conduct multiple case studies to compare and illuminate different aspects of your research problem.

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Once you have developed your problem statement and research questions , you should be ready to choose the specific case that you want to focus on. A good case study should have the potential to:

  • Provide new or unexpected insights into the subject
  • Challenge or complicate existing assumptions and theories
  • Propose practical courses of action to resolve a problem
  • Open up new directions for future research

Unlike quantitative or experimental research, a strong case study does not require a random or representative sample. In fact, case studies often deliberately focus on unusual, neglected, or outlying cases which may shed new light on the research problem.

If you find yourself aiming to simultaneously investigate and solve an issue, consider conducting action research . As its name suggests, action research conducts research and takes action at the same time, and is highly iterative and flexible. 

However, you can also choose a more common or representative case to exemplify a particular category, experience, or phenomenon.

While case studies focus more on concrete details than general theories, they should usually have some connection with theory in the field. This way the case study is not just an isolated description, but is integrated into existing knowledge about the topic. It might aim to:

  • Exemplify a theory by showing how it explains the case under investigation
  • Expand on a theory by uncovering new concepts and ideas that need to be incorporated
  • Challenge a theory by exploring an outlier case that doesn’t fit with established assumptions

To ensure that your analysis of the case has a solid academic grounding, you should conduct a literature review of sources related to the topic and develop a theoretical framework . This means identifying key concepts and theories to guide your analysis and interpretation.

There are many different research methods you can use to collect data on your subject. Case studies tend to focus on qualitative data using methods such as interviews, observations, and analysis of primary and secondary sources (e.g., newspaper articles, photographs, official records). Sometimes a case study will also collect quantitative data .

The aim is to gain as thorough an understanding as possible of the case and its context.

In writing up the case study, you need to bring together all the relevant aspects to give as complete a picture as possible of the subject.

How you report your findings depends on the type of research you are doing. Some case studies are structured like a standard scientific paper or thesis, with separate sections or chapters for the methods , results , and discussion .

Others are written in a more narrative style, aiming to explore the case from various angles and analyse its meanings and implications (for example, by using textual analysis or discourse analysis ).

In all cases, though, make sure to give contextual details about the case, connect it back to the literature and theory, and discuss how it fits into wider patterns or debates.

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How to write a case study — examples, templates, and tools

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It’s a marketer’s job to communicate the effectiveness of a product or service to potential and current customers to convince them to buy and keep business moving. One of the best methods for doing this is to share success stories that are relatable to prospects and customers based on their pain points, experiences, and overall needs.

That’s where case studies come in. Case studies are an essential part of a content marketing plan. These in-depth stories of customer experiences are some of the most effective at demonstrating the value of a product or service. Yet many marketers don’t use them, whether because of their regimented formats or the process of customer involvement and approval.

A case study is a powerful tool for showcasing your hard work and the success your customer achieved. But writing a great case study can be difficult if you’ve never done it before or if it’s been a while. This guide will show you how to write an effective case study and provide real-world examples and templates that will keep readers engaged and support your business.

In this article, you’ll learn:

What is a case study?

How to write a case study, case study templates, case study examples, case study tools.

A case study is the detailed story of a customer’s experience with a product or service that demonstrates their success and often includes measurable outcomes. Case studies are used in a range of fields and for various reasons, from business to academic research. They’re especially impactful in marketing as brands work to convince and convert consumers with relatable, real-world stories of actual customer experiences.

The best case studies tell the story of a customer’s success, including the steps they took, the results they achieved, and the support they received from a brand along the way. To write a great case study, you need to:

  • Celebrate the customer and make them — not a product or service — the star of the story.
  • Craft the story with specific audiences or target segments in mind so that the story of one customer will be viewed as relatable and actionable for another customer.
  • Write copy that is easy to read and engaging so that readers will gain the insights and messages intended.
  • Follow a standardized format that includes all of the essentials a potential customer would find interesting and useful.
  • Support all of the claims for success made in the story with data in the forms of hard numbers and customer statements.

Case studies are a type of review but more in depth, aiming to show — rather than just tell — the positive experiences that customers have with a brand. Notably, 89% of consumers read reviews before deciding to buy, and 79% view case study content as part of their purchasing process. When it comes to B2B sales, 52% of buyers rank case studies as an important part of their evaluation process.

Telling a brand story through the experience of a tried-and-true customer matters. The story is relatable to potential new customers as they imagine themselves in the shoes of the company or individual featured in the case study. Showcasing previous customers can help new ones see themselves engaging with your brand in the ways that are most meaningful to them.

Besides sharing the perspective of another customer, case studies stand out from other content marketing forms because they are based on evidence. Whether pulling from client testimonials or data-driven results, case studies tend to have more impact on new business because the story contains information that is both objective (data) and subjective (customer experience) — and the brand doesn’t sound too self-promotional.

89% of consumers read reviews before buying, 79% view case studies, and 52% of B2B buyers prioritize case studies in the evaluation process.

Case studies are unique in that there’s a fairly standardized format for telling a customer’s story. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for creativity. It’s all about making sure that teams are clear on the goals for the case study — along with strategies for supporting content and channels — and understanding how the story fits within the framework of the company’s overall marketing goals.

Here are the basic steps to writing a good case study.

1. Identify your goal

Start by defining exactly who your case study will be designed to help. Case studies are about specific instances where a company works with a customer to achieve a goal. Identify which customers are likely to have these goals, as well as other needs the story should cover to appeal to them.

The answer is often found in one of the buyer personas that have been constructed as part of your larger marketing strategy. This can include anything from new leads generated by the marketing team to long-term customers that are being pressed for cross-sell opportunities. In all of these cases, demonstrating value through a relatable customer success story can be part of the solution to conversion.

2. Choose your client or subject

Who you highlight matters. Case studies tie brands together that might otherwise not cross paths. A writer will want to ensure that the highlighted customer aligns with their own company’s brand identity and offerings. Look for a customer with positive name recognition who has had great success with a product or service and is willing to be an advocate.

The client should also match up with the identified target audience. Whichever company or individual is selected should be a reflection of other potential customers who can see themselves in similar circumstances, having the same problems and possible solutions.

Some of the most compelling case studies feature customers who:

  • Switch from one product or service to another while naming competitors that missed the mark.
  • Experience measurable results that are relatable to others in a specific industry.
  • Represent well-known brands and recognizable names that are likely to compel action.
  • Advocate for a product or service as a champion and are well-versed in its advantages.

Whoever or whatever customer is selected, marketers must ensure they have the permission of the company involved before getting started. Some brands have strict review and approval procedures for any official marketing or promotional materials that include their name. Acquiring those approvals in advance will prevent any miscommunication or wasted effort if there is an issue with their legal or compliance teams.

3. Conduct research and compile data

Substantiating the claims made in a case study — either by the marketing team or customers themselves — adds validity to the story. To do this, include data and feedback from the client that defines what success looks like. This can be anything from demonstrating return on investment (ROI) to a specific metric the customer was striving to improve. Case studies should prove how an outcome was achieved and show tangible results that indicate to the customer that your solution is the right one.

This step could also include customer interviews. Make sure that the people being interviewed are key stakeholders in the purchase decision or deployment and use of the product or service that is being highlighted. Content writers should work off a set list of questions prepared in advance. It can be helpful to share these with the interviewees beforehand so they have time to consider and craft their responses. One of the best interview tactics to keep in mind is to ask questions where yes and no are not natural answers. This way, your subject will provide more open-ended responses that produce more meaningful content.

4. Choose the right format

There are a number of different ways to format a case study. Depending on what you hope to achieve, one style will be better than another. However, there are some common elements to include, such as:

  • An engaging headline
  • A subject and customer introduction
  • The unique challenge or challenges the customer faced
  • The solution the customer used to solve the problem
  • The results achieved
  • Data and statistics to back up claims of success
  • A strong call to action (CTA) to engage with the vendor

It’s also important to note that while case studies are traditionally written as stories, they don’t have to be in a written format. Some companies choose to get more creative with their case studies and produce multimedia content, depending on their audience and objectives. Case study formats can include traditional print stories, interactive web or social content, data-heavy infographics, professionally shot videos, podcasts, and more.

5. Write your case study

We’ll go into more detail later about how exactly to write a case study, including templates and examples. Generally speaking, though, there are a few things to keep in mind when writing your case study.

  • Be clear and concise. Readers want to get to the point of the story quickly and easily, and they’ll be looking to see themselves reflected in the story right from the start.
  • Provide a big picture. Always make sure to explain who the client is, their goals, and how they achieved success in a short introduction to engage the reader.
  • Construct a clear narrative. Stick to the story from the perspective of the customer and what they needed to solve instead of just listing product features or benefits.
  • Leverage graphics. Incorporating infographics, charts, and sidebars can be a more engaging and eye-catching way to share key statistics and data in readable ways.
  • Offer the right amount of detail. Most case studies are one or two pages with clear sections that a reader can skim to find the information most important to them.
  • Include data to support claims. Show real results — both facts and figures and customer quotes — to demonstrate credibility and prove the solution works.

6. Promote your story

Marketers have a number of options for distribution of a freshly minted case study. Many brands choose to publish case studies on their website and post them on social media. This can help support SEO and organic content strategies while also boosting company credibility and trust as visitors see that other businesses have used the product or service.

Marketers are always looking for quality content they can use for lead generation. Consider offering a case study as gated content behind a form on a landing page or as an offer in an email message. One great way to do this is to summarize the content and tease the full story available for download after the user takes an action.

Sales teams can also leverage case studies, so be sure they are aware that the assets exist once they’re published. Especially when it comes to larger B2B sales, companies often ask for examples of similar customer challenges that have been solved.

Now that you’ve learned a bit about case studies and what they should include, you may be wondering how to start creating great customer story content. Here are a couple of templates you can use to structure your case study.

Template 1 — Challenge-solution-result format

  • Start with an engaging title. This should be fewer than 70 characters long for SEO best practices. One of the best ways to approach the title is to include the customer’s name and a hint at the challenge they overcame in the end.
  • Create an introduction. Lead with an explanation as to who the customer is, the need they had, and the opportunity they found with a specific product or solution. Writers can also suggest the success the customer experienced with the solution they chose.
  • Present the challenge. This should be several paragraphs long and explain the problem the customer faced and the issues they were trying to solve. Details should tie into the company’s products and services naturally. This section needs to be the most relatable to the reader so they can picture themselves in a similar situation.
  • Share the solution. Explain which product or service offered was the ideal fit for the customer and why. Feel free to delve into their experience setting up, purchasing, and onboarding the solution.
  • Explain the results. Demonstrate the impact of the solution they chose by backing up their positive experience with data. Fill in with customer quotes and tangible, measurable results that show the effect of their choice.
  • Ask for action. Include a CTA at the end of the case study that invites readers to reach out for more information, try a demo, or learn more — to nurture them further in the marketing pipeline. What you ask of the reader should tie directly into the goals that were established for the case study in the first place.

Template 2 — Data-driven format

  • Start with an engaging title. Be sure to include a statistic or data point in the first 70 characters. Again, it’s best to include the customer’s name as part of the title.
  • Create an overview. Share the customer’s background and a short version of the challenge they faced. Present the reason a particular product or service was chosen, and feel free to include quotes from the customer about their selection process.
  • Present data point 1. Isolate the first metric that the customer used to define success and explain how the product or solution helped to achieve this goal. Provide data points and quotes to substantiate the claim that success was achieved.
  • Present data point 2. Isolate the second metric that the customer used to define success and explain what the product or solution did to achieve this goal. Provide data points and quotes to substantiate the claim that success was achieved.
  • Present data point 3. Isolate the final metric that the customer used to define success and explain what the product or solution did to achieve this goal. Provide data points and quotes to substantiate the claim that success was achieved.
  • Summarize the results. Reiterate the fact that the customer was able to achieve success thanks to a specific product or service. Include quotes and statements that reflect customer satisfaction and suggest they plan to continue using the solution.
  • Ask for action. Include a CTA at the end of the case study that asks readers to reach out for more information, try a demo, or learn more — to further nurture them in the marketing pipeline. Again, remember that this is where marketers can look to convert their content into action with the customer.

While templates are helpful, seeing a case study in action can also be a great way to learn. Here are some examples of how Adobe customers have experienced success.

Juniper Networks

One example is the Adobe and Juniper Networks case study , which puts the reader in the customer’s shoes. The beginning of the story quickly orients the reader so that they know exactly who the article is about and what they were trying to achieve. Solutions are outlined in a way that shows Adobe Experience Manager is the best choice and a natural fit for the customer. Along the way, quotes from the client are incorporated to help add validity to the statements. The results in the case study are conveyed with clear evidence of scale and volume using tangible data.

A Lenovo case study showing statistics, a pull quote and featured headshot, the headline "The customer is king.," and Adobe product links.

The story of Lenovo’s journey with Adobe is one that spans years of planning, implementation, and rollout. The Lenovo case study does a great job of consolidating all of this into a relatable journey that other enterprise organizations can see themselves taking, despite the project size. This case study also features descriptive headers and compelling visual elements that engage the reader and strengthen the content.

Tata Consulting

When it comes to using data to show customer results, this case study does an excellent job of conveying details and numbers in an easy-to-digest manner. Bullet points at the start break up the content while also helping the reader understand exactly what the case study will be about. Tata Consulting used Adobe to deliver elevated, engaging content experiences for a large telecommunications client of its own — an objective that’s relatable for a lot of companies.

Case studies are a vital tool for any marketing team as they enable you to demonstrate the value of your company’s products and services to others. They help marketers do their job and add credibility to a brand trying to promote its solutions by using the experiences and stories of real customers.

When you’re ready to get started with a case study:

  • Think about a few goals you’d like to accomplish with your content.
  • Make a list of successful clients that would be strong candidates for a case study.
  • Reach out to the client to get their approval and conduct an interview.
  • Gather the data to present an engaging and effective customer story.

Adobe can help

There are several Adobe products that can help you craft compelling case studies. Adobe Experience Platform helps you collect data and deliver great customer experiences across every channel. Once you’ve created your case studies, Experience Platform will help you deliver the right information to the right customer at the right time for maximum impact.

To learn more, watch the Adobe Experience Platform story .

Keep in mind that the best case studies are backed by data. That’s where Adobe Real-Time Customer Data Platform and Adobe Analytics come into play. With Real-Time CDP, you can gather the data you need to build a great case study and target specific customers to deliver the content to the right audience at the perfect moment.

Watch the Real-Time CDP overview video to learn more.

Finally, Adobe Analytics turns real-time data into real-time insights. It helps your business collect and synthesize data from multiple platforms to make more informed decisions and create the best case study possible.

Request a demo to learn more about Adobe Analytics.

https://business.adobe.com/blog/perspectives/b2b-ecommerce-10-case-studies-inspire-you

https://business.adobe.com/blog/basics/business-case

https://business.adobe.com/blog/basics/what-is-real-time-analytics

How to write a case study — examples, templates, and tools card image

Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Assignments

  • Annotated Bibliography
  • Analyzing a Scholarly Journal Article
  • Group Presentations
  • Dealing with Nervousness
  • Using Visual Aids
  • Grading Someone Else's Paper
  • Types of Structured Group Activities
  • Group Project Survival Skills
  • Leading a Class Discussion
  • Multiple Book Review Essay
  • Reviewing Collected Works
  • Writing a Case Analysis Paper
  • Writing a Case Study
  • About Informed Consent
  • Writing Field Notes
  • Writing a Policy Memo
  • Writing a Reflective Paper
  • Writing a Research Proposal
  • Generative AI and Writing
  • Acknowledgments

A case study research paper examines a person, place, event, condition, phenomenon, or other type of subject of analysis in order to extrapolate  key themes and results that help predict future trends, illuminate previously hidden issues that can be applied to practice, and/or provide a means for understanding an important research problem with greater clarity. A case study research paper usually examines a single subject of analysis, but case study papers can also be designed as a comparative investigation that shows relationships between two or more subjects. The methods used to study a case can rest within a quantitative, qualitative, or mixed-method investigative paradigm.

Case Studies. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Mills, Albert J. , Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010 ; “What is a Case Study?” In Swanborn, Peter G. Case Study Research: What, Why and How? London: SAGE, 2010.

How to Approach Writing a Case Study Research Paper

General information about how to choose a topic to investigate can be found under the " Choosing a Research Problem " tab in the Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper writing guide. Review this page because it may help you identify a subject of analysis that can be investigated using a case study design.

However, identifying a case to investigate involves more than choosing the research problem . A case study encompasses a problem contextualized around the application of in-depth analysis, interpretation, and discussion, often resulting in specific recommendations for action or for improving existing conditions. As Seawright and Gerring note, practical considerations such as time and access to information can influence case selection, but these issues should not be the sole factors used in describing the methodological justification for identifying a particular case to study. Given this, selecting a case includes considering the following:

  • The case represents an unusual or atypical example of a research problem that requires more in-depth analysis? Cases often represent a topic that rests on the fringes of prior investigations because the case may provide new ways of understanding the research problem. For example, if the research problem is to identify strategies to improve policies that support girl's access to secondary education in predominantly Muslim nations, you could consider using Azerbaijan as a case study rather than selecting a more obvious nation in the Middle East. Doing so may reveal important new insights into recommending how governments in other predominantly Muslim nations can formulate policies that support improved access to education for girls.
  • The case provides important insight or illuminate a previously hidden problem? In-depth analysis of a case can be based on the hypothesis that the case study will reveal trends or issues that have not been exposed in prior research or will reveal new and important implications for practice. For example, anecdotal evidence may suggest drug use among homeless veterans is related to their patterns of travel throughout the day. Assuming prior studies have not looked at individual travel choices as a way to study access to illicit drug use, a case study that observes a homeless veteran could reveal how issues of personal mobility choices facilitate regular access to illicit drugs. Note that it is important to conduct a thorough literature review to ensure that your assumption about the need to reveal new insights or previously hidden problems is valid and evidence-based.
  • The case challenges and offers a counter-point to prevailing assumptions? Over time, research on any given topic can fall into a trap of developing assumptions based on outdated studies that are still applied to new or changing conditions or the idea that something should simply be accepted as "common sense," even though the issue has not been thoroughly tested in current practice. A case study analysis may offer an opportunity to gather evidence that challenges prevailing assumptions about a research problem and provide a new set of recommendations applied to practice that have not been tested previously. For example, perhaps there has been a long practice among scholars to apply a particular theory in explaining the relationship between two subjects of analysis. Your case could challenge this assumption by applying an innovative theoretical framework [perhaps borrowed from another discipline] to explore whether this approach offers new ways of understanding the research problem. Taking a contrarian stance is one of the most important ways that new knowledge and understanding develops from existing literature.
  • The case provides an opportunity to pursue action leading to the resolution of a problem? Another way to think about choosing a case to study is to consider how the results from investigating a particular case may result in findings that reveal ways in which to resolve an existing or emerging problem. For example, studying the case of an unforeseen incident, such as a fatal accident at a railroad crossing, can reveal hidden issues that could be applied to preventative measures that contribute to reducing the chance of accidents in the future. In this example, a case study investigating the accident could lead to a better understanding of where to strategically locate additional signals at other railroad crossings so as to better warn drivers of an approaching train, particularly when visibility is hindered by heavy rain, fog, or at night.
  • The case offers a new direction in future research? A case study can be used as a tool for an exploratory investigation that highlights the need for further research about the problem. A case can be used when there are few studies that help predict an outcome or that establish a clear understanding about how best to proceed in addressing a problem. For example, after conducting a thorough literature review [very important!], you discover that little research exists showing the ways in which women contribute to promoting water conservation in rural communities of east central Africa. A case study of how women contribute to saving water in a rural village of Uganda can lay the foundation for understanding the need for more thorough research that documents how women in their roles as cooks and family caregivers think about water as a valuable resource within their community. This example of a case study could also point to the need for scholars to build new theoretical frameworks around the topic [e.g., applying feminist theories of work and family to the issue of water conservation].

Eisenhardt, Kathleen M. “Building Theories from Case Study Research.” Academy of Management Review 14 (October 1989): 532-550; Emmel, Nick. Sampling and Choosing Cases in Qualitative Research: A Realist Approach . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2013; Gerring, John. “What Is a Case Study and What Is It Good for?” American Political Science Review 98 (May 2004): 341-354; Mills, Albert J. , Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010; Seawright, Jason and John Gerring. "Case Selection Techniques in Case Study Research." Political Research Quarterly 61 (June 2008): 294-308.

Structure and Writing Style

The purpose of a paper in the social sciences designed around a case study is to thoroughly investigate a subject of analysis in order to reveal a new understanding about the research problem and, in so doing, contributing new knowledge to what is already known from previous studies. In applied social sciences disciplines [e.g., education, social work, public administration, etc.], case studies may also be used to reveal best practices, highlight key programs, or investigate interesting aspects of professional work.

In general, the structure of a case study research paper is not all that different from a standard college-level research paper. However, there are subtle differences you should be aware of. Here are the key elements to organizing and writing a case study research paper.

I.  Introduction

As with any research paper, your introduction should serve as a roadmap for your readers to ascertain the scope and purpose of your study . The introduction to a case study research paper, however, should not only describe the research problem and its significance, but you should also succinctly describe why the case is being used and how it relates to addressing the problem. The two elements should be linked. With this in mind, a good introduction answers these four questions:

  • What is being studied? Describe the research problem and describe the subject of analysis [the case] you have chosen to address the problem. Explain how they are linked and what elements of the case will help to expand knowledge and understanding about the problem.
  • Why is this topic important to investigate? Describe the significance of the research problem and state why a case study design and the subject of analysis that the paper is designed around is appropriate in addressing the problem.
  • What did we know about this topic before I did this study? Provide background that helps lead the reader into the more in-depth literature review to follow. If applicable, summarize prior case study research applied to the research problem and why it fails to adequately address the problem. Describe why your case will be useful. If no prior case studies have been used to address the research problem, explain why you have selected this subject of analysis.
  • How will this study advance new knowledge or new ways of understanding? Explain why your case study will be suitable in helping to expand knowledge and understanding about the research problem.

Each of these questions should be addressed in no more than a few paragraphs. Exceptions to this can be when you are addressing a complex research problem or subject of analysis that requires more in-depth background information.

II.  Literature Review

The literature review for a case study research paper is generally structured the same as it is for any college-level research paper. The difference, however, is that the literature review is focused on providing background information and  enabling historical interpretation of the subject of analysis in relation to the research problem the case is intended to address . This includes synthesizing studies that help to:

  • Place relevant works in the context of their contribution to understanding the case study being investigated . This would involve summarizing studies that have used a similar subject of analysis to investigate the research problem. If there is literature using the same or a very similar case to study, you need to explain why duplicating past research is important [e.g., conditions have changed; prior studies were conducted long ago, etc.].
  • Describe the relationship each work has to the others under consideration that informs the reader why this case is applicable . Your literature review should include a description of any works that support using the case to investigate the research problem and the underlying research questions.
  • Identify new ways to interpret prior research using the case study . If applicable, review any research that has examined the research problem using a different research design. Explain how your use of a case study design may reveal new knowledge or a new perspective or that can redirect research in an important new direction.
  • Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies . This refers to synthesizing any literature that points to unresolved issues of concern about the research problem and describing how the subject of analysis that forms the case study can help resolve these existing contradictions.
  • Point the way in fulfilling a need for additional research . Your review should examine any literature that lays a foundation for understanding why your case study design and the subject of analysis around which you have designed your study may reveal a new way of approaching the research problem or offer a perspective that points to the need for additional research.
  • Expose any gaps that exist in the literature that the case study could help to fill . Summarize any literature that not only shows how your subject of analysis contributes to understanding the research problem, but how your case contributes to a new way of understanding the problem that prior research has failed to do.
  • Locate your own research within the context of existing literature [very important!] . Collectively, your literature review should always place your case study within the larger domain of prior research about the problem. The overarching purpose of reviewing pertinent literature in a case study paper is to demonstrate that you have thoroughly identified and synthesized prior studies in relation to explaining the relevance of the case in addressing the research problem.

III.  Method

In this section, you explain why you selected a particular case [i.e., subject of analysis] and the strategy you used to identify and ultimately decide that your case was appropriate in addressing the research problem. The way you describe the methods used varies depending on the type of subject of analysis that constitutes your case study.

If your subject of analysis is an incident or event . In the social and behavioral sciences, the event or incident that represents the case to be studied is usually bounded by time and place, with a clear beginning and end and with an identifiable location or position relative to its surroundings. The subject of analysis can be a rare or critical event or it can focus on a typical or regular event. The purpose of studying a rare event is to illuminate new ways of thinking about the broader research problem or to test a hypothesis. Critical incident case studies must describe the method by which you identified the event and explain the process by which you determined the validity of this case to inform broader perspectives about the research problem or to reveal new findings. However, the event does not have to be a rare or uniquely significant to support new thinking about the research problem or to challenge an existing hypothesis. For example, Walo, Bull, and Breen conducted a case study to identify and evaluate the direct and indirect economic benefits and costs of a local sports event in the City of Lismore, New South Wales, Australia. The purpose of their study was to provide new insights from measuring the impact of a typical local sports event that prior studies could not measure well because they focused on large "mega-events." Whether the event is rare or not, the methods section should include an explanation of the following characteristics of the event: a) when did it take place; b) what were the underlying circumstances leading to the event; and, c) what were the consequences of the event in relation to the research problem.

If your subject of analysis is a person. Explain why you selected this particular individual to be studied and describe what experiences they have had that provide an opportunity to advance new understandings about the research problem. Mention any background about this person which might help the reader understand the significance of their experiences that make them worthy of study. This includes describing the relationships this person has had with other people, institutions, and/or events that support using them as the subject for a case study research paper. It is particularly important to differentiate the person as the subject of analysis from others and to succinctly explain how the person relates to examining the research problem [e.g., why is one politician in a particular local election used to show an increase in voter turnout from any other candidate running in the election]. Note that these issues apply to a specific group of people used as a case study unit of analysis [e.g., a classroom of students].

If your subject of analysis is a place. In general, a case study that investigates a place suggests a subject of analysis that is unique or special in some way and that this uniqueness can be used to build new understanding or knowledge about the research problem. A case study of a place must not only describe its various attributes relevant to the research problem [e.g., physical, social, historical, cultural, economic, political], but you must state the method by which you determined that this place will illuminate new understandings about the research problem. It is also important to articulate why a particular place as the case for study is being used if similar places also exist [i.e., if you are studying patterns of homeless encampments of veterans in open spaces, explain why you are studying Echo Park in Los Angeles rather than Griffith Park?]. If applicable, describe what type of human activity involving this place makes it a good choice to study [e.g., prior research suggests Echo Park has more homeless veterans].

If your subject of analysis is a phenomenon. A phenomenon refers to a fact, occurrence, or circumstance that can be studied or observed but with the cause or explanation to be in question. In this sense, a phenomenon that forms your subject of analysis can encompass anything that can be observed or presumed to exist but is not fully understood. In the social and behavioral sciences, the case usually focuses on human interaction within a complex physical, social, economic, cultural, or political system. For example, the phenomenon could be the observation that many vehicles used by ISIS fighters are small trucks with English language advertisements on them. The research problem could be that ISIS fighters are difficult to combat because they are highly mobile. The research questions could be how and by what means are these vehicles used by ISIS being supplied to the militants and how might supply lines to these vehicles be cut off? How might knowing the suppliers of these trucks reveal larger networks of collaborators and financial support? A case study of a phenomenon most often encompasses an in-depth analysis of a cause and effect that is grounded in an interactive relationship between people and their environment in some way.

NOTE:   The choice of the case or set of cases to study cannot appear random. Evidence that supports the method by which you identified and chose your subject of analysis should clearly support investigation of the research problem and linked to key findings from your literature review. Be sure to cite any studies that helped you determine that the case you chose was appropriate for examining the problem.

IV.  Discussion

The main elements of your discussion section are generally the same as any research paper, but centered around interpreting and drawing conclusions about the key findings from your analysis of the case study. Note that a general social sciences research paper may contain a separate section to report findings. However, in a paper designed around a case study, it is common to combine a description of the results with the discussion about their implications. The objectives of your discussion section should include the following:

Reiterate the Research Problem/State the Major Findings Briefly reiterate the research problem you are investigating and explain why the subject of analysis around which you designed the case study were used. You should then describe the findings revealed from your study of the case using direct, declarative, and succinct proclamation of the study results. Highlight any findings that were unexpected or especially profound.

Explain the Meaning of the Findings and Why They are Important Systematically explain the meaning of your case study findings and why you believe they are important. Begin this part of the section by repeating what you consider to be your most important or surprising finding first, then systematically review each finding. Be sure to thoroughly extrapolate what your analysis of the case can tell the reader about situations or conditions beyond the actual case that was studied while, at the same time, being careful not to misconstrue or conflate a finding that undermines the external validity of your conclusions.

Relate the Findings to Similar Studies No study in the social sciences is so novel or possesses such a restricted focus that it has absolutely no relation to previously published research. The discussion section should relate your case study results to those found in other studies, particularly if questions raised from prior studies served as the motivation for choosing your subject of analysis. This is important because comparing and contrasting the findings of other studies helps support the overall importance of your results and it highlights how and in what ways your case study design and the subject of analysis differs from prior research about the topic.

Consider Alternative Explanations of the Findings Remember that the purpose of social science research is to discover and not to prove. When writing the discussion section, you should carefully consider all possible explanations revealed by the case study results, rather than just those that fit your hypothesis or prior assumptions and biases. Be alert to what the in-depth analysis of the case may reveal about the research problem, including offering a contrarian perspective to what scholars have stated in prior research if that is how the findings can be interpreted from your case.

Acknowledge the Study's Limitations You can state the study's limitations in the conclusion section of your paper but describing the limitations of your subject of analysis in the discussion section provides an opportunity to identify the limitations and explain why they are not significant. This part of the discussion section should also note any unanswered questions or issues your case study could not address. More detailed information about how to document any limitations to your research can be found here .

Suggest Areas for Further Research Although your case study may offer important insights about the research problem, there are likely additional questions related to the problem that remain unanswered or findings that unexpectedly revealed themselves as a result of your in-depth analysis of the case. Be sure that the recommendations for further research are linked to the research problem and that you explain why your recommendations are valid in other contexts and based on the original assumptions of your study.

V.  Conclusion

As with any research paper, you should summarize your conclusion in clear, simple language; emphasize how the findings from your case study differs from or supports prior research and why. Do not simply reiterate the discussion section. Provide a synthesis of key findings presented in the paper to show how these converge to address the research problem. If you haven't already done so in the discussion section, be sure to document the limitations of your case study and any need for further research.

The function of your paper's conclusion is to: 1) reiterate the main argument supported by the findings from your case study; 2) state clearly the context, background, and necessity of pursuing the research problem using a case study design in relation to an issue, controversy, or a gap found from reviewing the literature; and, 3) provide a place to persuasively and succinctly restate the significance of your research problem, given that the reader has now been presented with in-depth information about the topic.

Consider the following points to help ensure your conclusion is appropriate:

  • If the argument or purpose of your paper is complex, you may need to summarize these points for your reader.
  • If prior to your conclusion, you have not yet explained the significance of your findings or if you are proceeding inductively, use the conclusion of your paper to describe your main points and explain their significance.
  • Move from a detailed to a general level of consideration of the case study's findings that returns the topic to the context provided by the introduction or within a new context that emerges from your case study findings.

Note that, depending on the discipline you are writing in or the preferences of your professor, the concluding paragraph may contain your final reflections on the evidence presented as it applies to practice or on the essay's central research problem. However, the nature of being introspective about the subject of analysis you have investigated will depend on whether you are explicitly asked to express your observations in this way.

Problems to Avoid

Overgeneralization One of the goals of a case study is to lay a foundation for understanding broader trends and issues applied to similar circumstances. However, be careful when drawing conclusions from your case study. They must be evidence-based and grounded in the results of the study; otherwise, it is merely speculation. Looking at a prior example, it would be incorrect to state that a factor in improving girls access to education in Azerbaijan and the policy implications this may have for improving access in other Muslim nations is due to girls access to social media if there is no documentary evidence from your case study to indicate this. There may be anecdotal evidence that retention rates were better for girls who were engaged with social media, but this observation would only point to the need for further research and would not be a definitive finding if this was not a part of your original research agenda.

Failure to Document Limitations No case is going to reveal all that needs to be understood about a research problem. Therefore, just as you have to clearly state the limitations of a general research study , you must describe the specific limitations inherent in the subject of analysis. For example, the case of studying how women conceptualize the need for water conservation in a village in Uganda could have limited application in other cultural contexts or in areas where fresh water from rivers or lakes is plentiful and, therefore, conservation is understood more in terms of managing access rather than preserving access to a scarce resource.

Failure to Extrapolate All Possible Implications Just as you don't want to over-generalize from your case study findings, you also have to be thorough in the consideration of all possible outcomes or recommendations derived from your findings. If you do not, your reader may question the validity of your analysis, particularly if you failed to document an obvious outcome from your case study research. For example, in the case of studying the accident at the railroad crossing to evaluate where and what types of warning signals should be located, you failed to take into consideration speed limit signage as well as warning signals. When designing your case study, be sure you have thoroughly addressed all aspects of the problem and do not leave gaps in your analysis that leave the reader questioning the results.

Case Studies. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Gerring, John. Case Study Research: Principles and Practices . New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007; Merriam, Sharan B. Qualitative Research and Case Study Applications in Education . Rev. ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1998; Miller, Lisa L. “The Use of Case Studies in Law and Social Science Research.” Annual Review of Law and Social Science 14 (2018): TBD; Mills, Albert J., Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010; Putney, LeAnn Grogan. "Case Study." In Encyclopedia of Research Design , Neil J. Salkind, editor. (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010), pp. 116-120; Simons, Helen. Case Study Research in Practice . London: SAGE Publications, 2009;  Kratochwill,  Thomas R. and Joel R. Levin, editors. Single-Case Research Design and Analysis: New Development for Psychology and Education .  Hilldsale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1992; Swanborn, Peter G. Case Study Research: What, Why and How? London : SAGE, 2010; Yin, Robert K. Case Study Research: Design and Methods . 6th edition. Los Angeles, CA, SAGE Publications, 2014; Walo, Maree, Adrian Bull, and Helen Breen. “Achieving Economic Benefits at Local Events: A Case Study of a Local Sports Event.” Festival Management and Event Tourism 4 (1996): 95-106.

Writing Tip

At Least Five Misconceptions about Case Study Research

Social science case studies are often perceived as limited in their ability to create new knowledge because they are not randomly selected and findings cannot be generalized to larger populations. Flyvbjerg examines five misunderstandings about case study research and systematically "corrects" each one. To quote, these are:

Misunderstanding 1 :  General, theoretical [context-independent] knowledge is more valuable than concrete, practical [context-dependent] knowledge. Misunderstanding 2 :  One cannot generalize on the basis of an individual case; therefore, the case study cannot contribute to scientific development. Misunderstanding 3 :  The case study is most useful for generating hypotheses; that is, in the first stage of a total research process, whereas other methods are more suitable for hypotheses testing and theory building. Misunderstanding 4 :  The case study contains a bias toward verification, that is, a tendency to confirm the researcher’s preconceived notions. Misunderstanding 5 :  It is often difficult to summarize and develop general propositions and theories on the basis of specific case studies [p. 221].

While writing your paper, think introspectively about how you addressed these misconceptions because to do so can help you strengthen the validity and reliability of your research by clarifying issues of case selection, the testing and challenging of existing assumptions, the interpretation of key findings, and the summation of case outcomes. Think of a case study research paper as a complete, in-depth narrative about the specific properties and key characteristics of your subject of analysis applied to the research problem.

Flyvbjerg, Bent. “Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research.” Qualitative Inquiry 12 (April 2006): 219-245.

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What the Case Study Method Really Teaches

  • Nitin Nohria

how to approach a case study

Seven meta-skills that stick even if the cases fade from memory.

It’s been 100 years since Harvard Business School began using the case study method. Beyond teaching specific subject matter, the case study method excels in instilling meta-skills in students. This article explains the importance of seven such skills: preparation, discernment, bias recognition, judgement, collaboration, curiosity, and self-confidence.

During my decade as dean of Harvard Business School, I spent hundreds of hours talking with our alumni. To enliven these conversations, I relied on a favorite question: “What was the most important thing you learned from your time in our MBA program?”

  • Nitin Nohria is the George F. Baker Professor of Business Administration, Distinguished University Service Professor, and former dean of Harvard Business School.

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What Is a Case Study?

Weighing the pros and cons of this method of research

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

how to approach a case study

Cara Lustik is a fact-checker and copywriter.

how to approach a case study

Verywell / Colleen Tighe

  • Pros and Cons

What Types of Case Studies Are Out There?

Where do you find data for a case study, how do i write a psychology case study.

A case study is an in-depth study of one person, group, or event. In a case study, nearly every aspect of the subject's life and history is analyzed to seek patterns and causes of behavior. Case studies can be used in many different fields, including psychology, medicine, education, anthropology, political science, and social work.

The point of a case study is to learn as much as possible about an individual or group so that the information can be generalized to many others. Unfortunately, case studies tend to be highly subjective, and it is sometimes difficult to generalize results to a larger population.

While case studies focus on a single individual or group, they follow a format similar to other types of psychology writing. If you are writing a case study, we got you—here are some rules of APA format to reference.  

At a Glance

A case study, or an in-depth study of a person, group, or event, can be a useful research tool when used wisely. In many cases, case studies are best used in situations where it would be difficult or impossible for you to conduct an experiment. They are helpful for looking at unique situations and allow researchers to gather a lot of˜ information about a specific individual or group of people. However, it's important to be cautious of any bias we draw from them as they are highly subjective.

What Are the Benefits and Limitations of Case Studies?

A case study can have its strengths and weaknesses. Researchers must consider these pros and cons before deciding if this type of study is appropriate for their needs.

One of the greatest advantages of a case study is that it allows researchers to investigate things that are often difficult or impossible to replicate in a lab. Some other benefits of a case study:

  • Allows researchers to capture information on the 'how,' 'what,' and 'why,' of something that's implemented
  • Gives researchers the chance to collect information on why one strategy might be chosen over another
  • Permits researchers to develop hypotheses that can be explored in experimental research

On the other hand, a case study can have some drawbacks:

  • It cannot necessarily be generalized to the larger population
  • Cannot demonstrate cause and effect
  • It may not be scientifically rigorous
  • It can lead to bias

Researchers may choose to perform a case study if they want to explore a unique or recently discovered phenomenon. Through their insights, researchers develop additional ideas and study questions that might be explored in future studies.

It's important to remember that the insights from case studies cannot be used to determine cause-and-effect relationships between variables. However, case studies may be used to develop hypotheses that can then be addressed in experimental research.

Case Study Examples

There have been a number of notable case studies in the history of psychology. Much of  Freud's work and theories were developed through individual case studies. Some great examples of case studies in psychology include:

  • Anna O : Anna O. was a pseudonym of a woman named Bertha Pappenheim, a patient of a physician named Josef Breuer. While she was never a patient of Freud's, Freud and Breuer discussed her case extensively. The woman was experiencing symptoms of a condition that was then known as hysteria and found that talking about her problems helped relieve her symptoms. Her case played an important part in the development of talk therapy as an approach to mental health treatment.
  • Phineas Gage : Phineas Gage was a railroad employee who experienced a terrible accident in which an explosion sent a metal rod through his skull, damaging important portions of his brain. Gage recovered from his accident but was left with serious changes in both personality and behavior.
  • Genie : Genie was a young girl subjected to horrific abuse and isolation. The case study of Genie allowed researchers to study whether language learning was possible, even after missing critical periods for language development. Her case also served as an example of how scientific research may interfere with treatment and lead to further abuse of vulnerable individuals.

Such cases demonstrate how case research can be used to study things that researchers could not replicate in experimental settings. In Genie's case, her horrific abuse denied her the opportunity to learn a language at critical points in her development.

This is clearly not something researchers could ethically replicate, but conducting a case study on Genie allowed researchers to study phenomena that are otherwise impossible to reproduce.

There are a few different types of case studies that psychologists and other researchers might use:

  • Collective case studies : These involve studying a group of individuals. Researchers might study a group of people in a certain setting or look at an entire community. For example, psychologists might explore how access to resources in a community has affected the collective mental well-being of those who live there.
  • Descriptive case studies : These involve starting with a descriptive theory. The subjects are then observed, and the information gathered is compared to the pre-existing theory.
  • Explanatory case studies : These   are often used to do causal investigations. In other words, researchers are interested in looking at factors that may have caused certain things to occur.
  • Exploratory case studies : These are sometimes used as a prelude to further, more in-depth research. This allows researchers to gather more information before developing their research questions and hypotheses .
  • Instrumental case studies : These occur when the individual or group allows researchers to understand more than what is initially obvious to observers.
  • Intrinsic case studies : This type of case study is when the researcher has a personal interest in the case. Jean Piaget's observations of his own children are good examples of how an intrinsic case study can contribute to the development of a psychological theory.

The three main case study types often used are intrinsic, instrumental, and collective. Intrinsic case studies are useful for learning about unique cases. Instrumental case studies help look at an individual to learn more about a broader issue. A collective case study can be useful for looking at several cases simultaneously.

The type of case study that psychology researchers use depends on the unique characteristics of the situation and the case itself.

There are a number of different sources and methods that researchers can use to gather information about an individual or group. Six major sources that have been identified by researchers are:

  • Archival records : Census records, survey records, and name lists are examples of archival records.
  • Direct observation : This strategy involves observing the subject, often in a natural setting . While an individual observer is sometimes used, it is more common to utilize a group of observers.
  • Documents : Letters, newspaper articles, administrative records, etc., are the types of documents often used as sources.
  • Interviews : Interviews are one of the most important methods for gathering information in case studies. An interview can involve structured survey questions or more open-ended questions.
  • Participant observation : When the researcher serves as a participant in events and observes the actions and outcomes, it is called participant observation.
  • Physical artifacts : Tools, objects, instruments, and other artifacts are often observed during a direct observation of the subject.

If you have been directed to write a case study for a psychology course, be sure to check with your instructor for any specific guidelines you need to follow. If you are writing your case study for a professional publication, check with the publisher for their specific guidelines for submitting a case study.

Here is a general outline of what should be included in a case study.

Section 1: A Case History

This section will have the following structure and content:

Background information : The first section of your paper will present your client's background. Include factors such as age, gender, work, health status, family mental health history, family and social relationships, drug and alcohol history, life difficulties, goals, and coping skills and weaknesses.

Description of the presenting problem : In the next section of your case study, you will describe the problem or symptoms that the client presented with.

Describe any physical, emotional, or sensory symptoms reported by the client. Thoughts, feelings, and perceptions related to the symptoms should also be noted. Any screening or diagnostic assessments that are used should also be described in detail and all scores reported.

Your diagnosis : Provide your diagnosis and give the appropriate Diagnostic and Statistical Manual code. Explain how you reached your diagnosis, how the client's symptoms fit the diagnostic criteria for the disorder(s), or any possible difficulties in reaching a diagnosis.

Section 2: Treatment Plan

This portion of the paper will address the chosen treatment for the condition. This might also include the theoretical basis for the chosen treatment or any other evidence that might exist to support why this approach was chosen.

  • Cognitive behavioral approach : Explain how a cognitive behavioral therapist would approach treatment. Offer background information on cognitive behavioral therapy and describe the treatment sessions, client response, and outcome of this type of treatment. Make note of any difficulties or successes encountered by your client during treatment.
  • Humanistic approach : Describe a humanistic approach that could be used to treat your client, such as client-centered therapy . Provide information on the type of treatment you chose, the client's reaction to the treatment, and the end result of this approach. Explain why the treatment was successful or unsuccessful.
  • Psychoanalytic approach : Describe how a psychoanalytic therapist would view the client's problem. Provide some background on the psychoanalytic approach and cite relevant references. Explain how psychoanalytic therapy would be used to treat the client, how the client would respond to therapy, and the effectiveness of this treatment approach.
  • Pharmacological approach : If treatment primarily involves the use of medications, explain which medications were used and why. Provide background on the effectiveness of these medications and how monotherapy may compare with an approach that combines medications with therapy or other treatments.

This section of a case study should also include information about the treatment goals, process, and outcomes.

When you are writing a case study, you should also include a section where you discuss the case study itself, including the strengths and limitiations of the study. You should note how the findings of your case study might support previous research. 

In your discussion section, you should also describe some of the implications of your case study. What ideas or findings might require further exploration? How might researchers go about exploring some of these questions in additional studies?

Need More Tips?

Here are a few additional pointers to keep in mind when formatting your case study:

  • Never refer to the subject of your case study as "the client." Instead, use their name or a pseudonym.
  • Read examples of case studies to gain an idea about the style and format.
  • Remember to use APA format when citing references .

Crowe S, Cresswell K, Robertson A, Huby G, Avery A, Sheikh A. The case study approach .  BMC Med Res Methodol . 2011;11:100.

Crowe S, Cresswell K, Robertson A, Huby G, Avery A, Sheikh A. The case study approach . BMC Med Res Methodol . 2011 Jun 27;11:100. doi:10.1186/1471-2288-11-100

Gagnon, Yves-Chantal.  The Case Study as Research Method: A Practical Handbook . Canada, Chicago Review Press Incorporated DBA Independent Pub Group, 2010.

Yin, Robert K. Case Study Research and Applications: Design and Methods . United States, SAGE Publications, 2017.

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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How to Analyse a Case Study

Last Updated: April 13, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Sarah Evans . Sarah Evans is a Public Relations & Social Media Expert based in Las Vegas, Nevada. With over 14 years of industry experience, Sarah is the Founder & CEO of Sevans PR. Her team offers strategic communications services to help clients across industries including tech, finance, medical, real estate, law, and startups. The agency is renowned for its development of the "reputation+" methodology, a data-driven and AI-powered approach designed to elevate brand credibility, trust, awareness, and authority in a competitive marketplace. Sarah’s thought leadership has led to regular appearances on The Doctors TV show, CBS Las Vegas Now, and as an Adobe influencer. She is a respected contributor at Entrepreneur magazine, Hackernoon, Grit Daily, and KLAS Las Vegas. Sarah has been featured in PR Daily and PR Newswire and is a member of the Forbes Agency Council. She received her B.A. in Communications and Public Relations from Millikin University. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 411,238 times.

Case studies are used in many professional education programs, primarily in business school, to present real-world situations to students and to assess their ability to parse out the important aspects of a given dilemma. In general, a case study should include, in order: background on the business environment, description of the given business, identification of a key problem or issue, steps taken to address the issue, your assessment of that response, and suggestions for better business strategy. The steps below will guide you through the process of analyzing a business case study in this way.

Step 1 Examine and describe the business environment relevant to the case study.

  • Describe the nature of the organization under consideration and its competitors. Provide general information about the market and customer base. Indicate any significant changes in the business environment or any new endeavors upon which the business is embarking.

Step 2 Describe the structure and size of the main business under consideration.

  • Analyze its management structure, employee base, and financial history. Describe annual revenues and profit. Provide figures on employment. Include details about private ownership, public ownership, and investment holdings. Provide a brief overview of the business's leaders and command chain.

Step 3 Identify the key issue or problem in the case study.

  • In all likelihood, there will be several different factors at play. Decide which is the main concern of the case study by examining what most of the data talks about, the main problems facing the business, and the conclusions at the end of the study. Examples might include expansion into a new market, response to a competitor's marketing campaign, or a changing customer base. [3] X Research source

Step 4 Describe how the business responds to these issues or problems.

  • Draw on the information you gathered and trace a chronological progression of steps taken (or not taken). Cite data included in the case study, such as increased marketing spending, purchasing of new property, changed revenue streams, etc.

Step 5 Identify the successful aspects of this response as well as its failures.

  • Indicate whether or not each aspect of the response met its goal and whether the response overall was well-crafted. Use numerical benchmarks, like a desired customer share, to show whether goals were met; analyze broader issues, like employee management policies, to talk about the response as a whole. [4] X Research source

Step 6 Point to successes, failures, unforeseen results, and inadequate measures.

  • Suggest alternative or improved measures that could have been taken by the business, using specific examples and backing up your suggestions with data and calculations.

Step 7 Describe what changes...

Community Q&A

Community Answer

  • Always read a case study several times. At first, you should read just for the basic details. On each subsequent reading, look for details about a specific topic: competitors, business strategy, management structure, financial loss. Highlight phrases and sections relating to these topics and take notes. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • In the preliminary stages of analyzing a case study, no detail is insignificant. The biggest numbers can often be misleading, and the point of an analysis is often to dig deeper and find otherwise unnoticed variables that drive a situation. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • If you are analyzing a case study for a consulting company interview, be sure to direct your comments towards the matters handled by the company. For example, if the company deals with marketing strategy, focus on the business's successes and failures in marketing; if you are interviewing for a financial consulting job, analyze how well the business keeps their books and their investment strategy. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

how to approach a case study

  • Do not use impassioned or emphatic language in your analysis. Business case studies are a tool for gauging your business acumen, not your personal beliefs. When assigning blame or identifying flaws in strategy, use a detached, disinterested tone. Thanks Helpful 15 Not Helpful 4

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Thanks for reading our article! If you’d like to learn more about business writing, check out our in-depth interview with Sarah Evans .

  • ↑ https://www.gvsu.edu/cms4/asset/CC3BFEEB-C364-E1A1-A5390F221AC0FD2D/business_case_analysis_gg_final.pdf
  • ↑ https://bizfluent.com/12741914/how-to-analyze-a-business-case-study
  • ↑ http://www.business-fundas.com/2009/how-to-analyze-business-case-studies/
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.uagc.edu/writing-case-study-analysis
  • http://college.cengage.com/business/resources/casestudies/students/analyzing.htm

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How to Approach a Case Study - A Structured 4-Step Approach

  • Last Updated February, 2023

The Internet is filled with frameworks on how to approach a case study. But which one will help you ace your case and land an offer at a top consulting firm?

At My Consulting Offer, former Bain, BCG, and McKinsey consultants have developed a proven 4-step approach that will help you tackle any type of case study. We’v helped over 600 recruits land the consulting jobs of their dream.

Want to know the secret? Keep reading!

In this article, we’ll walk you through our 4-step approach and talk about what the interviewer expects at each step, including:

  • How to approach a case study.
  • Clarifying the client’s objectives.
  • Framing a logical structure.
  • Making sense of the provided information.
  • Giving a strong recommendation.

Let’s get started!

Approaching a Case Study

Analyzing the right case information, case interview opening: getting to know the key objective, concluding your case with a strong recommendation, framing a customized problem-solving structure.

A case interview always starts with a prompt. A prompt is the initial information about the case provided by the interviewer. It gives you a brief background of the client’s problem and the key objective.

Here’s an example:

“Your client today is an NYC-based violinist. She’s been saving up for her wedding, but she broke her leg and can’t leave her apartment. She’s got to find a new plan for coming up with her wedding savings now and needs help.”

In the above example, we get to know the background and the objective.

Background: Our client Maria is an NYC-based violinist and has been saving for her wedding.

Objective: Find ways for the client to increase her savings for her wedding without leaving her apartment. 

After the prompt is given, you’re expected to drive the case forward. Our 4-step approach will help you do just that.

  • Opening – Understand and reconfirm the objective and ask clarifying questions.
  • Structure – Develop a problem-solving structure to answer the key questions.
  • Analysis – Dive deeper into analyzing relevant issues and use data provided by your interviewer to make conclusions.
  • Recommendation – Give a strong actionable recommendation by tying together the insights.

Let’s dive into each step of the 4-step guide so you can solve cases like a pro!

The first step to solving any problem is to know the key objective a.k.a. the “north star” which will help you guide the case in the right direction.

This seemingly simple, but it’s where many interviewees fail. They think the prompt has given them all the relevant information, so they rush to start solving the problem.

But, as you saw in the prompt, the objective is touched upon but isn’t clear or measurable . You got to know that the client is looking for ways to increase her wedding savings while staying in her apartment with a broken leg.

We still don’t know what the target is and how much of it is already saved. Additionally, as there were no clarifying questions asked, no other details were shared by the interviewer.

Nail the case & fit interview with strategies from former MBB Interviewers that have helped 89.6% of our clients pass the case interview.

What should the Case Opening Look Like?

It’s important to ask questions like:

  • What does success look like for the client? Does she have a target in mind for her wedding?
  • How was she making money before she broke her leg?
  • What are her income streams?
  • Is she willing to cut her expenses to increase savings or is she looking only for ways to increase her income?

These questions help us understand the following:

Tangible or Measurable Objective – What is the target in the client’s mind?

Additional Information – prior income sources, income source while stuck in her apartment, her focus on increasing income rather than reducing costs.

What does the interviewer expect from you in the case opening?

  • Restate the prompt in your own words
  • Confirm the key objective 
  • Ask a few key clarifying questions (3-5) to know more about the overarching context of the case – making sure you understand the client’s product, business model, or geographic focus 

Now let’s learn how to create a comprehensive and customized problem-solving structure.

The internet is filled with problem-solving approaches and frameworks, like:

  • The BCG 2 x 2 Matrix
  • The Profitability Formula
  • McKinsey’s 7S Framework
  • Porter’s 5 Forces

These frameworks help break business problems into smaller parts that can be analyzed to figure out a solution. But as these frameworks are generic, it might feel like they are being force-fitted to the problem in your case. No standard framework will ever fit all situations. 

Creating a case-specific problem-solving structure isn’t difficult and with the right approach, you can create it with ease.

How to Create a Customized Structure

Start with the key objective, increasing Maria’s savings for her wedding. How can we break this problem down into sub-parts? If you were using a generic framework, you might use the 3C + P framework and break the problem into:

  • Competitors

You could then think of questions in each bucket that would help Maria understand potential opportunities to expand her income. 

But, with this approach, you wouldn’t be likely to stand out! Lots of candidates will approach this case with the same 4 buckets. This is why a customized approach is important.

While creating your structure, there are a few things that you should do to ensure that your structure touches on all relevant points and helps you to drive the case forward. Your structure should be:

  • Logical – Each bucket in the structure should logically align with the key objective.
  • Personalized – As you are creating the buckets, personalize them to the case at hand.
  • MECE – MECE stands for “ Mutually exclusive, Collectively exhaustive .” This helps you ensure that there are no overlapping buckets and you cover all the key aspects of the problem.
  • Depth – As you dig deeper into each bucket, ask yourself if you have covered all possible questions in the bucket. Create sub-buckets of the main buckets wherever necessary.

You can read more about structuring your analysis of business problems in our article on issue trees .

What does a Good vs. Great Structure Look Like?

Comparing the two structures above, we can see that Candidate B has created a better structure than Candidate A. Although Candidate A covered all important aspects, Candidate B has personalized their structure to Maria’s problem.

Communicating the structure in an easy-to-understand manner is as important as creating a robust structure. When communicating the structure:

  • Ensure that the interviewer can follow your structure.
  • Communicate one level at a time.
  • Use a numbered list to walk through the structure.

After walking the interviewer through the structure, you should choose the bucket that should be explored first to answer the key question. You could say something like –

“Now that we have walked through the opportunities for increasing her revenue, I’d like to dive into the skills Maria has that she could leverage.”

The interviewer could either agree or disagree with the first bucket that you want to dig deeper into. Some companies, like McKinsey, use interviewer-led case interviews and will lead you through the case following a specified path. Others, like Bain and BCG, will let you lead the case and just nudge you if you seem to be veering off-path. In either case, you’ll need to start by brainstorming and providing ideas on the first bucket or you’ll need to analyze data and derive conclusions.

There are 3 main types of analysis you may need to do to answer the key question:

Brainstorming

Market sizing, exhibit reading.

Let’s see how each of these would help us drive the case forward and derive conclusions.

In a brainstorming exercise, a strong candidate will generate 8-10 ideas bucketed into categories. In the current case example, you could be asked for ideas on how Maria could make more money.

One set of categories you could use to generate ideas follows what we call the “X-not X” approach. Essentially, you start with a bucket like “playing music” and generate ideas in that bucket. Then switch to “not playing” and generate ideas for this bucket. This will help you in generating at least 2x ideas you otherwise would and will look more impressive to your interviewer because it is MECE and structured.

Let’s see how brainstorming plays out in our case example.

“Maria likes your approach and wants to start right away. Because she is currently not making any money, she would like some ideas. What are some ideas you have on how she could make money? She only wants to focus on leveraging her violin talents.”

The above example shows how you could use the “X-not X” approach to generate a lot of ideas – and how you could even further structure the ideas into “online” and “offline” categories to make it an exceptional brainstorming example.

You may also be expected to calculate the size of a market for your client’s product or service – after all, one of the most important things to know before pursuing an opportunity is the size of that opportunity. In the current example, you could be asked to calculate the income that Maria could earn by offering online violin classes.

There are 2 approaches to market sizing:

  • Top-down: This is used when there are no constraints. In this approach, you start with the overall population that may be interested in the product or service and slice it down based on the segments of the market most likely to purchase. The top-down approach is best for national and global markets.
  • Bottom-up: This approach is used when there are some constraints, like supply constraints, a limited number of hours, etc. In this approach, you start with the limiting factor and try to estimate the maximum that can be achieved based on the constraints.

Let’s see how we can use market sizing to help our client.

“Maria likes the ideas you came up with. She thought about being a violin teacher at one point since she had a great one when she started as a kid and is curious, how much could she make if she were to teach one-on-one Zoom classes for the next month? She wants to start small before she goes to group classes and, in the beginning, it will be just her teaching.”

Here’s an example of how you could work through this question:

The above shows how you could estimate the income which our client can expect to make in the first month. 

Follow up your analysis by giving your answer the “sniff test.” Does it seem right at a high level? Here we see that $4,000 is the estimated first month’s income, but as this would be the first time Maria will be taking online classes, she won’t be working at full capacity from the start. Her earnings will probably be lower than $4,000.

But, in the long run, it’s a good idea to start offering lessons because at full capacity, Maria will be able to earn $8,000 per month.

In case interviews, you’ll be expected to derive conclusions based on tables or charts provided by your interviewer. In the current example, you could be asked to help the client prioritize which type of client should she target for her violin classes.

Let’s see what data is available and how we can conclude which segment to go after.

“Maria is happy to know that you think providing 1:1 violin lessons over Zoom is a viable idea. 

She knows that a lot of people are interested in violin lessons, but to make sure she can tailor her marketing and lessons, she is interested in only going after one or two segments.

Which one should she go after?”

The first step to deriving insights from an exhibit is to read it thoroughly and ideally interpret it aloud as you go for your interviewer. This chart has data about willingness to pay and competitiveness across various segments. It gives an idea about the level of competition from other violin instructors. The market size of each segment is portrayed using the size of the circle. At first glance, it might seem that the client should go ahead with the segment which has the lowest competition and highest willingness to pay, which is the “Adult-Advanced” segment. But, that segment has a really small market size and Maria would need extensive teaching experience to cater to advanced students.

This is the first time Maria is getting into this market, but she also wants to have a high earning potential. The optimum segment would be one with a good market size and a reasonable trade-off between willingness to pay and competitiveness. 

Based on this, Maria should go with the “college-intermediate” and “adult-intermediate” segments. She would be able to cater to both these segments with ease. Additionally, the combined market size is considerable and the relative trade-off of competitiveness and willingness to pay is suitable as well.

What does the interviewer expect when you are doing analysis and deriving insights?

  • Pause to think about the structure for marking sizing or ideas for brainstorming. If you’re asked to read an exhibit, take a moment to understand it and lay out what it says to your interviewer before interpreting the data it provides.
  • Offer insights into your client’s problem as the data presents them and draw conclusions.
  • Drive the case forward based on the insights. What does this data mean for solving your client’s problem?

Maria came to you with a problem in hand and won’t be thrilled to just get the insights in bits or pieces. Pull your problem-solving together for her with a persuasive recommendation.

Think of the case interview as baking an amazing cake. While the structure and derived insights form the main ingredients for baking the cake, the recommendation is like the cherry on top. It helps in creating a lasting positive impression.

Similar to the opening of the case, the recommendation can seem relatively straightforward, but it is definitely nuanced. MCO’s 5R framework could help you deliver great recommendations for every case.

How should you present your recommendations?

MCO’s 5R Framework:

  • Recap: As consultants, you deal with CXO (e.g., CEO, CFO) level clients who are busy with many projects, so recapping the problem you’re solving is essential to set the tone of the meeting.
  • Recommendation: State your recommendations clearly without any additional detail to showcase clarity.
  • Reasons: Follow this with logical reasons for your recommendations to provide context and show the credibility of the recommendations.
  • Risks: Every decision has risks associated with it. Just lay them out so the client knows what to watch out for during implementation.
  • Retain: End the recommendations with key next steps to pursue the opportunity, ensuring continuous engagement with the client.

Let’s see how to give a strong recommendation for our case example.

“Your client calls you and wants to know what you recommend.”

What does the interviewer expect when closing the case?

  • Keep the recommendation clear and succinct keeping the audience in mind.
  • Explain everything with a reason and point out risks associated with the recommendation.
  • Be presentable and communicate the recommendations with confidence.
  • Ensure that the next steps are clearly laid out.

A final note: Not all cases have a “Right” and “Wrong” answer. In some, the math is very cut and dry but in others, there is a mix of evidence and it is a judgment call on what to recommend. Remember that a well-defended recommendation is more important than the “exact right answer.”

– – – – –

In this article, we’ve provided frameworks and tips to ace the different sections of a case interview. You are now equipped with the knowledge to:

  • Approach a case study.
  • Clarify client objectives.
  • Frame a structure for effective problem-solving.
  • Analyze the right information.
  • Give a recommendation.

Apply these tips by practicing sample cases with case partners as much as possible so you’ll be ready to ace your next consulting case interview.

Happy casing!

Still have questions?

If you have more questions about how to approach a case interview, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s case coaches will answer them.

Other people preparing for consulting case interviews the following pages helpful:

  • Our Ultimate Guide to Case Interview Prep
  • Case Interview Frameworks
  • Issue Trees
  • MECE Case Structures
  • Case Interview Examples
  • Case Interview Formulas

Help with Case Study Interview Prep

Thanks for turning to My Consulting Offer for advice on case study interview prep. My Consulting Offer has helped almost 89.6% of the people we’ve worked with get a job in management consulting. We want you to be successful in your consulting interviews too. For example, here is how Sharmeen was able to get her offer at BCG.

We want you to be successful in your consulting interviews too.

If you want to learn more about how to ace your case interviews, schedule a free call with a member of our team. We’ll show you how you get an offer without spending hundreds of hours preparing.

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3 Top Strategies to Master the Case Interview in Under a Week

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how to approach a case study

how to approach a case study

All You Wanted to Know About How to Write a Case Study

how to approach a case study

What do you study in your college? If you are a psychology, sociology, or anthropology student, we bet you might be familiar with what a case study is. This research method is used to study a certain person, group, or situation. In this guide from our dissertation writing service , you will learn how to write a case study professionally, from researching to citing sources properly. Also, we will explore different types of case studies and show you examples — so that you won’t have any other questions left.

What Is a Case Study?

A case study is a subcategory of research design which investigates problems and offers solutions. Case studies can range from academic research studies to corporate promotional tools trying to sell an idea—their scope is quite vast.

What Is the Difference Between a Research Paper and a Case Study?

While research papers turn the reader’s attention to a certain problem, case studies go even further. Case study guidelines require students to pay attention to details, examining issues closely and in-depth using different research methods. For example, case studies may be used to examine court cases if you study Law, or a patient's health history if you study Medicine. Case studies are also used in Marketing, which are thorough, empirically supported analysis of a good or service's performance. Well-designed case studies can be valuable for prospective customers as they can identify and solve the potential customers pain point.

Case studies involve a lot of storytelling – they usually examine particular cases for a person or a group of people. This method of research is very helpful, as it is very practical and can give a lot of hands-on information. Most commonly, the length of the case study is about 500-900 words, which is much less than the length of an average research paper.

The structure of a case study is very similar to storytelling. It has a protagonist or main character, which in your case is actually a problem you are trying to solve. You can use the system of 3 Acts to make it a compelling story. It should have an introduction, rising action, a climax where transformation occurs, falling action, and a solution.

Here is a rough formula for you to use in your case study:

Problem (Act I): > Solution (Act II) > Result (Act III) > Conclusion.

Types of Case Studies

The purpose of a case study is to provide detailed reports on an event, an institution, a place, future customers, or pretty much anything. There are a few common types of case study, but the type depends on the topic. The following are the most common domains where case studies are needed:

Types of Case Studies

  • Historical case studies are great to learn from. Historical events have a multitude of source info offering different perspectives. There are always modern parallels where these perspectives can be applied, compared, and thoroughly analyzed.
  • Problem-oriented case studies are usually used for solving problems. These are often assigned as theoretical situations where you need to immerse yourself in the situation to examine it. Imagine you’re working for a startup and you’ve just noticed a significant flaw in your product’s design. Before taking it to the senior manager, you want to do a comprehensive study on the issue and provide solutions. On a greater scale, problem-oriented case studies are a vital part of relevant socio-economic discussions.
  • Cumulative case studies collect information and offer comparisons. In business, case studies are often used to tell people about the value of a product.
  • Critical case studies explore the causes and effects of a certain case.
  • Illustrative case studies describe certain events, investigating outcomes and lessons learned.

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Case Study Format

The case study format is typically made up of eight parts:

  • Executive Summary. Explain what you will examine in the case study. Write an overview of the field you’re researching. Make a thesis statement and sum up the results of your observation in a maximum of 2 sentences.
  • Background. Provide background information and the most relevant facts. Isolate the issues.
  • Case Evaluation. Isolate the sections of the study you want to focus on. In it, explain why something is working or is not working.
  • Proposed Solutions. Offer realistic ways to solve what isn’t working or how to improve its current condition. Explain why these solutions work by offering testable evidence.
  • Conclusion. Summarize the main points from the case evaluations and proposed solutions. 6. Recommendations. Talk about the strategy that you should choose. Explain why this choice is the most appropriate.
  • Implementation. Explain how to put the specific strategies into action.
  • References. Provide all the citations.

How to Write a Case Study

Let's discover how to write a case study.

How to Write a Case Study

Setting Up the Research

When writing a case study, remember that research should always come first. Reading many different sources and analyzing other points of view will help you come up with more creative solutions. You can also conduct an actual interview to thoroughly investigate the customer story that you'll need for your case study. Including all of the necessary research, writing a case study may take some time. The research process involves doing the following:

  • Define your objective. Explain the reason why you’re presenting your subject. Figure out where you will feature your case study; whether it is written, on video, shown as an infographic, streamed as a podcast, etc.
  • Determine who will be the right candidate for your case study. Get permission, quotes, and other features that will make your case study effective. Get in touch with your candidate to see if they approve of being part of your work. Study that candidate’s situation and note down what caused it.
  • Identify which various consequences could result from the situation. Follow these guidelines on how to start a case study: surf the net to find some general information you might find useful.
  • Make a list of credible sources and examine them. Seek out important facts and highlight problems. Always write down your ideas and make sure to brainstorm.
  • Focus on several key issues – why they exist, and how they impact your research subject. Think of several unique solutions. Draw from class discussions, readings, and personal experience. When writing a case study, focus on the best solution and explore it in depth. After having all your research in place, writing a case study will be easy. You may first want to check the rubric and criteria of your assignment for the correct case study structure.

Read Also: ' WHAT IS A CREDIBLE SOURCES ?'

Although your instructor might be looking at slightly different criteria, every case study rubric essentially has the same standards. Your professor will want you to exhibit 8 different outcomes:

  • Correctly identify the concepts, theories, and practices in the discipline.
  • Identify the relevant theories and principles associated with the particular study.
  • Evaluate legal and ethical principles and apply them to your decision-making.
  • Recognize the global importance and contribution of your case.
  • Construct a coherent summary and explanation of the study.
  • Demonstrate analytical and critical-thinking skills.
  • Explain the interrelationships between the environment and nature.
  • Integrate theory and practice of the discipline within the analysis.

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Case Study Outline

Let's look at the structure of an outline based on the issue of the alcoholic addiction of 30 people.

Introduction

  • Statement of the issue: Alcoholism is a disease rather than a weakness of character.
  • Presentation of the problem: Alcoholism is affecting more than 14 million people in the USA, which makes it the third most common mental illness there.
  • Explanation of the terms: In the past, alcoholism was commonly referred to as alcohol dependence or alcohol addiction. Alcoholism is now the more severe stage of this addiction in the disorder spectrum.
  • Hypotheses: Drinking in excess can lead to the use of other drugs.
  • Importance of your story: How the information you present can help people with their addictions.
  • Background of the story: Include an explanation of why you chose this topic.
  • Presentation of analysis and data: Describe the criteria for choosing 30 candidates, the structure of the interview, and the outcomes.
  • Strong argument 1: ex. X% of candidates dealing with anxiety and depression...
  • Strong argument 2: ex. X amount of people started drinking by their mid-teens.
  • Strong argument 3: ex. X% of respondents’ parents had issues with alcohol.
  • Concluding statement: I have researched if alcoholism is a disease and found out that…
  • Recommendations: Ways and actions for preventing alcohol use.

Writing a Case Study Draft

After you’ve done your case study research and written the outline, it’s time to focus on the draft. In a draft, you have to develop and write your case study by using: the data which you collected throughout the research, interviews, and the analysis processes that were undertaken. Follow these rules for the draft:

How to Write a Case Study

  • Your draft should contain at least 4 sections: an introduction; a body where you should include background information, an explanation of why you decided to do this case study, and a presentation of your main findings; a conclusion where you present data; and references.
  • In the introduction, you should set the pace very clearly. You can even raise a question or quote someone you interviewed in the research phase. It must provide adequate background information on the topic. The background may include analyses of previous studies on your topic. Include the aim of your case here as well. Think of it as a thesis statement. The aim must describe the purpose of your work—presenting the issues that you want to tackle. Include background information, such as photos or videos you used when doing the research.
  • Describe your unique research process, whether it was through interviews, observations, academic journals, etc. The next point includes providing the results of your research. Tell the audience what you found out. Why is this important, and what could be learned from it? Discuss the real implications of the problem and its significance in the world.
  • Include quotes and data (such as findings, percentages, and awards). This will add a personal touch and better credibility to the case you present. Explain what results you find during your interviews in regards to the problem and how it developed. Also, write about solutions which have already been proposed by other people who have already written about this case.
  • At the end of your case study, you should offer possible solutions, but don’t worry about solving them yourself.

Use Data to Illustrate Key Points in Your Case Study

Even though your case study is a story, it should be based on evidence. Use as much data as possible to illustrate your point. Without the right data, your case study may appear weak and the readers may not be able to relate to your issue as much as they should. Let's see the examples from essay writing service :

‍ With data: Alcoholism is affecting more than 14 million people in the USA, which makes it the third most common mental illness there. Without data: A lot of people suffer from alcoholism in the United States.

Try to include as many credible sources as possible. You may have terms or sources that could be hard for other cultures to understand. If this is the case, you should include them in the appendix or Notes for the Instructor or Professor.

Finalizing the Draft: Checklist

After you finish drafting your case study, polish it up by answering these ‘ask yourself’ questions and think about how to end your case study:

  • Check that you follow the correct case study format, also in regards to text formatting.
  • Check that your work is consistent with its referencing and citation style.
  • Micro-editing — check for grammar and spelling issues.
  • Macro-editing — does ‘the big picture’ come across to the reader? Is there enough raw data, such as real-life examples or personal experiences? Have you made your data collection process completely transparent? Does your analysis provide a clear conclusion, allowing for further research and practice?

Problems to avoid:

  • Overgeneralization – Do not go into further research that deviates from the main problem.
  • Failure to Document Limitations – Just as you have to clearly state the limitations of a general research study, you must describe the specific limitations inherent in the subject of analysis.
  • Failure to Extrapolate All Possible Implications – Just as you don't want to over-generalize from your case study findings, you also have to be thorough in the consideration of all possible outcomes or recommendations derived from your findings.

How to Create a Title Page and Cite a Case Study

Let's see how to create an awesome title page.

Your title page depends on the prescribed citation format. The title page should include:

  • A title that attracts some attention and describes your study
  • The title should have the words “case study” in it
  • The title should range between 5-9 words in length
  • Your name and contact information
  • Your finished paper should be only 500 to 1,500 words in length.With this type of assignment, write effectively and avoid fluff

Here is a template for the APA and MLA format title page:

There are some cases when you need to cite someone else's study in your own one – therefore, you need to master how to cite a case study. A case study is like a research paper when it comes to citations. You can cite it like you cite a book, depending on what style you need.

Citation Example in MLA ‍ Hill, Linda, Tarun Khanna, and Emily A. Stecker. HCL Technologies. Boston: Harvard Business Publishing, 2008. Print.
Citation Example in APA ‍ Hill, L., Khanna, T., & Stecker, E. A. (2008). HCL Technologies. Boston: Harvard Business Publishing.
Citation Example in Chicago Hill, Linda, Tarun Khanna, and Emily A. Stecker. HCL Technologies.

Case Study Examples

To give you an idea of a professional case study example, we gathered and linked some below.

Eastman Kodak Case Study

Case Study Example: Audi Trains Mexican Autoworkers in Germany

To conclude, a case study is one of the best methods of getting an overview of what happened to a person, a group, or a situation in practice. It allows you to have an in-depth glance at the real-life problems that businesses, healthcare industry, criminal justice, etc. may face. This insight helps us look at such situations in a different light. This is because we see scenarios that we otherwise would not, without necessarily being there. If you need custom essays , try our research paper writing services .

Get Help Form Qualified Writers

Crafting a case study is not easy. You might want to write one of high quality, but you don’t have the time or expertise. If you’re having trouble with your case study, help with essay request - we'll help. EssayPro writers have read and written countless case studies and are experts in endless disciplines. Request essay writing, editing, or proofreading assistance from our custom case study writing service , and all of your worries will be gone.

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What Is A Case Study?

How to cite a case study in apa, how to write a case study, related articles.

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Do Your Students Know How to Analyze a Case—Really?

Explore more.

  • Case Teaching
  • Student Engagement

J ust as actors, athletes, and musicians spend thousands of hours practicing their craft, business students benefit from practicing their critical-thinking and decision-making skills. Students, however, often have limited exposure to real-world problem-solving scenarios; they need more opportunities to practice tackling tough business problems and deciding on—and executing—the best solutions.

To ensure students have ample opportunity to develop these critical-thinking and decision-making skills, we believe business faculty should shift from teaching mostly principles and ideas to mostly applications and practices. And in doing so, they should emphasize the case method, which simulates real-world management challenges and opportunities for students.

To help educators facilitate this shift and help students get the most out of case-based learning, we have developed a framework for analyzing cases. We call it PACADI (Problem, Alternatives, Criteria, Analysis, Decision, Implementation); it can improve learning outcomes by helping students better solve and analyze business problems, make decisions, and develop and implement strategy. Here, we’ll explain why we developed this framework, how it works, and what makes it an effective learning tool.

The Case for Cases: Helping Students Think Critically

Business students must develop critical-thinking and analytical skills, which are essential to their ability to make good decisions in functional areas such as marketing, finance, operations, and information technology, as well as to understand the relationships among these functions. For example, the decisions a marketing manager must make include strategic planning (segments, products, and channels); execution (digital messaging, media, branding, budgets, and pricing); and operations (integrated communications and technologies), as well as how to implement decisions across functional areas.

Faculty can use many types of cases to help students develop these skills. These include the prototypical “paper cases”; live cases , which feature guest lecturers such as entrepreneurs or corporate leaders and on-site visits; and multimedia cases , which immerse students into real situations. Most cases feature an explicit or implicit decision that a protagonist—whether it is an individual, a group, or an organization—must make.

For students new to learning by the case method—and even for those with case experience—some common issues can emerge; these issues can sometimes be a barrier for educators looking to ensure the best possible outcomes in their case classrooms. Unsure of how to dig into case analysis on their own, students may turn to the internet or rely on former students for “answers” to assigned cases. Or, when assigned to provide answers to assignment questions in teams, students might take a divide-and-conquer approach but not take the time to regroup and provide answers that are consistent with one other.

To help address these issues, which we commonly experienced in our classes, we wanted to provide our students with a more structured approach for how they analyze cases—and to really think about making decisions from the protagonists’ point of view. We developed the PACADI framework to address this need.

PACADI: A Six-Step Decision-Making Approach

The PACADI framework is a six-step decision-making approach that can be used in lieu of traditional end-of-case questions. It offers a structured, integrated, and iterative process that requires students to analyze case information, apply business concepts to derive valuable insights, and develop recommendations based on these insights.

Prior to beginning a PACADI assessment, which we’ll outline here, students should first prepare a two-paragraph summary—a situation analysis—that highlights the key case facts. Then, we task students with providing a five-page PACADI case analysis (excluding appendices) based on the following six steps.

Step 1: Problem definition. What is the major challenge, problem, opportunity, or decision that has to be made? If there is more than one problem, choose the most important one. Often when solving the key problem, other issues will surface and be addressed. The problem statement may be framed as a question; for example, How can brand X improve market share among millennials in Canada? Usually the problem statement has to be re-written several times during the analysis of a case as students peel back the layers of symptoms or causation.

Step 2: Alternatives. Identify in detail the strategic alternatives to address the problem; three to five options generally work best. Alternatives should be mutually exclusive, realistic, creative, and feasible given the constraints of the situation. Doing nothing or delaying the decision to a later date are not considered acceptable alternatives.

Step 3: Criteria. What are the key decision criteria that will guide decision-making? In a marketing course, for example, these may include relevant marketing criteria such as segmentation, positioning, advertising and sales, distribution, and pricing. Financial criteria useful in evaluating the alternatives should be included—for example, income statement variables, customer lifetime value, payback, etc. Students must discuss their rationale for selecting the decision criteria and the weights and importance for each factor.

Step 4: Analysis. Provide an in-depth analysis of each alternative based on the criteria chosen in step three. Decision tables using criteria as columns and alternatives as rows can be helpful. The pros and cons of the various choices as well as the short- and long-term implications of each may be evaluated. Best, worst, and most likely scenarios can also be insightful.

Step 5: Decision. Students propose their solution to the problem. This decision is justified based on an in-depth analysis. Explain why the recommendation made is the best fit for the criteria.

Step 6: Implementation plan. Sound business decisions may fail due to poor execution. To enhance the likeliness of a successful project outcome, students describe the key steps (activities) to implement the recommendation, timetable, projected costs, expected competitive reaction, success metrics, and risks in the plan.

“Students note that using the PACADI framework yields ‘aha moments’—they learned something surprising in the case that led them to think differently about the problem and their proposed solution.”

PACADI’s Benefits: Meaningfully and Thoughtfully Applying Business Concepts

The PACADI framework covers all of the major elements of business decision-making, including implementation, which is often overlooked. By stepping through the whole framework, students apply relevant business concepts and solve management problems via a systematic, comprehensive approach; they’re far less likely to surface piecemeal responses.

As students explore each part of the framework, they may realize that they need to make changes to a previous step. For instance, when working on implementation, students may realize that the alternative they selected cannot be executed or will not be profitable, and thus need to rethink their decision. Or, they may discover that the criteria need to be revised since the list of decision factors they identified is incomplete (for example, the factors may explain key marketing concerns but fail to address relevant financial considerations) or is unrealistic (for example, they suggest a 25 percent increase in revenues without proposing an increased promotional budget).

In addition, the PACADI framework can be used alongside quantitative assignments, in-class exercises, and business and management simulations. The structured, multi-step decision framework encourages careful and sequential analysis to solve business problems. Incorporating PACADI as an overarching decision-making method across different projects will ultimately help students achieve desired learning outcomes. As a practical “beyond-the-classroom” tool, the PACADI framework is not a contrived course assignment; it reflects the decision-making approach that managers, executives, and entrepreneurs exercise daily. Case analysis introduces students to the real-world process of making business decisions quickly and correctly, often with limited information. This framework supplies an organized and disciplined process that students can readily defend in writing and in class discussions.

PACADI in Action: An Example

Here’s an example of how students used the PACADI framework for a recent case analysis on CVS, a large North American drugstore chain.

The CVS Prescription for Customer Value*

PACADI Stage

Summary Response

How should CVS Health evolve from the “drugstore of your neighborhood” to the “drugstore of your future”?

Alternatives

A1. Kaizen (continuous improvement)

A2. Product development

A3. Market development

A4. Personalization (micro-targeting)

Criteria (include weights)

C1. Customer value: service, quality, image, and price (40%)

C2. Customer obsession (20%)

C3. Growth through related businesses (20%)

C4. Customer retention and customer lifetime value (20%)

Each alternative was analyzed by each criterion using a Customer Value Assessment Tool

Alternative 4 (A4): Personalization was selected. This is operationalized via: segmentation—move toward segment-of-1 marketing; geodemographics and lifestyle emphasis; predictive data analysis; relationship marketing; people, principles, and supply chain management; and exceptional customer service.

Implementation

Partner with leading medical school

Curbside pick-up

Pet pharmacy

E-newsletter for customers and employees

Employee incentive program

CVS beauty days

Expand to Latin America and Caribbean

Healthier/happier corner

Holiday toy drives/community outreach

*Source: A. Weinstein, Y. Rodriguez, K. Sims, R. Vergara, “The CVS Prescription for Superior Customer Value—A Case Study,” Back to the Future: Revisiting the Foundations of Marketing from Society for Marketing Advances, West Palm Beach, FL (November 2, 2018).

Results of Using the PACADI Framework

When faculty members at our respective institutions at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) and the University of North Carolina Wilmington have used the PACADI framework, our classes have been more structured and engaging. Students vigorously debate each element of their decision and note that this framework yields an “aha moment”—they learned something surprising in the case that led them to think differently about the problem and their proposed solution.

These lively discussions enhance individual and collective learning. As one external metric of this improvement, we have observed a 2.5 percent increase in student case grade performance at NSU since this framework was introduced.

Tips to Get Started

The PACADI approach works well in in-person, online, and hybrid courses. This is particularly important as more universities have moved to remote learning options. Because students have varied educational and cultural backgrounds, work experience, and familiarity with case analysis, we recommend that faculty members have students work on their first case using this new framework in small teams (two or three students). Additional analyses should then be solo efforts.

To use PACADI effectively in your classroom, we suggest the following:

Advise your students that your course will stress critical thinking and decision-making skills, not just course concepts and theory.

Use a varied mix of case studies. As marketing professors, we often address consumer and business markets; goods, services, and digital commerce; domestic and global business; and small and large companies in a single MBA course.

As a starting point, provide a short explanation (about 20 to 30 minutes) of the PACADI framework with a focus on the conceptual elements. You can deliver this face to face or through videoconferencing.

Give students an opportunity to practice the case analysis methodology via an ungraded sample case study. Designate groups of five to seven students to discuss the case and the six steps in breakout sessions (in class or via Zoom).

Ensure case analyses are weighted heavily as a grading component. We suggest 30–50 percent of the overall course grade.

Once cases are graded, debrief with the class on what they did right and areas needing improvement (30- to 40-minute in-person or Zoom session).

Encourage faculty teams that teach common courses to build appropriate instructional materials, grading rubrics, videos, sample cases, and teaching notes.

When selecting case studies, we have found that the best ones for PACADI analyses are about 15 pages long and revolve around a focal management decision. This length provides adequate depth yet is not protracted. Some of our tested and favorite marketing cases include Brand W , Hubspot , Kraft Foods Canada , TRSB(A) , and Whiskey & Cheddar .

Art Weinstein

Art Weinstein , Ph.D., is a professor of marketing at Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He has published more than 80 scholarly articles and papers and eight books on customer-focused marketing strategy. His latest book is Superior Customer Value—Finding and Keeping Customers in the Now Economy . Dr. Weinstein has consulted for many leading technology and service companies.

Herbert V. Brotspies

Herbert V. Brotspies , D.B.A., is an adjunct professor of marketing at Nova Southeastern University. He has over 30 years’ experience as a vice president in marketing, strategic planning, and acquisitions for Fortune 50 consumer products companies working in the United States and internationally. His research interests include return on marketing investment, consumer behavior, business-to-business strategy, and strategic planning.

John T. Gironda

John T. Gironda , Ph.D., is an assistant professor of marketing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. His research has been published in Industrial Marketing Management, Psychology & Marketing , and Journal of Marketing Management . He has also presented at major marketing conferences including the American Marketing Association, Academy of Marketing Science, and Society for Marketing Advances.

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Three considerations for effective case studies

how to approach a case study

Guest blog by Joanna Knight, Director of merl

Case studies are often used by organisations to explore in-depth a program, event, activity, process or other phenomenon in relation to its surroundings, within a defined space and time frame. Organisations use case studies to evaluate the outcomes and impacts of their intervention(s) and generate learning on ‘what works’ and ‘what does not work’.   

In July 2023, the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) commissioned merl to develop two impact case studies of HIF-funded innovations: the Safe Water Optimisation Tool (SWOT) and SH+ 360 . As one of the three researchers involved, I share some of my reflections on adopting an evaluative case study approach in this blog. This approach captured in-depth, multi-faceted explorations of interventions within the complex humanitarian problems they aim to address. I discuss key considerations for optimising the effectiveness of case studies, not just as a process of data collection or a written output, but as strategic evaluative tools.  

It is important to approach case studies with intentionality to enhance their effectiveness as evaluative tools.

Clearly defining the primary strategic purpose of developing the case studies and how they fit within an organisation’s wider monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning (MEAL) framework helps establish parameters. This clarity aids in defining the scope, the case unit, the timeframe under investigation, the key evaluative questions to pursue and the methodology to use. 

how to approach a case study

Figure 1: Process map highlighting how identifying your purpose of the case study approach leads to other key decisions.

Key considerations for effective case studies

1) purpose matters.

Case studies are produced for different purposes – for example, donor accountability, showcasing ‘success’ to external audiences, or investigating specific challenges or learning areas.  Although many case studies have more than one purpose (e.g. for learning and communication), to maximise their effectiveness it is important to be clear about what we want to achieve with the case study. When a case study  is produced without a clear strategic purpose, its ability to support wider learning or evaluative processes for an organisation can be lost.  

Having a clear strategic intention for the case studies can inform many choices: the case unit (the event, project or intervention), the defined space and/or the time frame, the research questions, the best data collection methods, and even the format of the case study. Therefore, having a clear strategic purpose enables a better chain of informed decisions on the case study development.  

An important question to consider is whether the intention is to compare different case studies to identify common themes and draw more generalised conclusions (which is not possible from a single case unit). If cross-analysis is desired, what is the overarching analytical framework to allow for generalisations? This will also determine variables that you may wish to keep consistent – in terms, for example, of innovation stage, theme, or context.

2) Supporting learning

Leading on from point one, if the case studies primarily serve as evaluative tool – then it is important to understand how they fit into the MEAL framework and support gathering learning and evidence for the organisation or project. Integrating a strategic evaluative case study approach within a wider system can add value to reflective learning practices.  

Even if the case studies primarily are for donor compliance and communications, it might be useful to consider how they can also play a role within the MEAL system to maximise their value.  

3) Recognising trade-offs and alternatives  

It is important to recognise the trade-off between breadth (providing information on different aspects of the innovation) and depth (being able to do a deep dive and thoroughly investigate certain aspects of an innovation).  

How much flexibility we have with the budget also determines choices. The budget dictates how much time will be available for the case study. We may have to choose between breadth and depth of information: answer many questions briefly or explore a few questions in depth, with the opportunity to pursue interesting lines of inquiry as they are identified. A case study, as a singular unit, with a limited budget, focused on a particular time-frame and space can complement a wider evaluation process. However, it can not replace a formative, summative, process or impact evaluation of an innovation as a whole. Therefore, is a case study approach the most appropriate?  

The same goes for the timeframe to undertake the case study. There may be external pressures which impact deadlines, which also influence the amount of time the researcher(s) have to conduct the primary data collection and analysis. Working within the practical constraints (budget and timeframe) will inform the potential methods available for data collection and analysis. For example, it is not possible to use highly participatory methods with small budgets and short timeframes, as time is needed to work together with participants, build trust, identify, recognise and address power dynamics, support inputs and co-produce together. A prioritisation exercise might be useful to ensure the scope remains manageable within the practical constraints of time and budget.  

I don’t believe that there is a golden bullet for evaluative case study approaches, however being strategic about the purpose will only add value and trigger a chain of decision-making processes to ensure the outputs are as useful as possible.  

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  • Case Interview: A comprehensive guide
  • Pyramid Principle
  • Hypothesis driven structure
  • Fit Interview
  • Consulting math
  • The key to landing your consulting job
  • What is a case interview?
  • Types of case interview
  • How to solve cases with the Problem-Driven Structure?
  • What to remember in case interviews
  • Case examples or building blocks?
  • How do I prepare for case interviews
  • Interview day tips
  • How we can help

1. The key to landing your consulting job.

Case interviews - where you are asked to solve a business case study under scrutiny - are the core of the selection process right across McKinsey, Bain and BCG (the “MBB” firms). This interview format is also used pretty much universally across other high-end consultancies; including LEK, Kearney, Oliver Wyman and the consulting wings of the “Big Four”.

If you want to land a job at any of these firms, you will have to ace multiple case interviews.

It is increasingly likely that you will also have to solve online cases given by chatbots. You might need to pass these either before making it to interview or be asked to sit them alongside first round interviews.

Importantly, case studies aren’t something you can just wing . Firms explicitly expect you to have thoroughly prepared and many of your competitors on interview day will have been prepping for months.

Don’t worry though - MCC is here to help!

This article will take you through a full overview of everything you’ll need to know to do well, linking to more detailed articles and resources at each stage to let you really drill down into the details.

As well as traditional case interviews, we’ll also attend to the new formats in which cases are being delivered and otherwise make sure you’re up to speed with recent trends in this overall part of consulting recruitment.

Before we can figure out how to prepare for a case interview, though, we will first have to properly understand in detail what exactly you are up against. What format does a standard consulting case interview take? What is expected of you? How will you be assessed?

Let's dive right in and find out!

Professional help

Before going further, if this sounds like a lot to get your head around on your own, don't worry - help is available!

Our Case Academy course gives you everything you need to know to crack cases like a pro:

Case Academy Course

To put what you learn into practice (and secure some savings in the process) you can add mock interview coaching sessions with expereinced MBB consultants:

Coaching options

And, if you just want an experienced consultant to take charge of the whole selection process for you, you can check out our comprehensive mentoring programmes:

Explore mentoring

Now, back to the article!

2. What is a case interview?

Before we can hope to tackle a case interview, we have to understand what one is.

In short, a case interview simulates real consulting work by having you solve a business case study in conversation with your interviewer.

This case study will be a business problem where you have to advise a client - that is, an imaginary business or similar organisation in need of guidance.

You must help this client solve a problem and/or make a decision. This requires you to analyse the information you are given about that client organisation and figure out a final recommendation for what they should do next.

Business problems in general obviously vary in difficulty. Some are quite straightforward and can be addressed with fairly standard solutions. However, consulting firms exist precisely to solve the tough issues that businesses have failed to deal with internally - and so consultants will typically work on complex, idiosyncratic problems requiring novel solutions.

Some examples of case study questions might be:

  • How much would you pay for a banking licence in Ghana?
  • Estimate the potential value of the electric vehicle market in Germany
  • How much gas storage capacity should a UK domestic energy supplier build?

Consulting firms need the brightest minds they can find to put to work on these important, difficult projects. You can expect the case studies you have to solve in interview, then, to echo the unique, complicated problems consultancies deal with every day. As we’ll explain here, this means that you need to be ready to think outside the box to figure out genuinely novel solutions.

2.1. Where are case interviews in the consulting selection process?

Not everyone who applies to a consulting firm will have a case interview - far from it!

In fact, case interviews are pretty expensive and inconvenient for firms to host, requiring them to take consultants off active projects and even fly them back to the office from location for in-person interviews (although this happens less frequently now). Ideally, firms want to cut costs and save time by narrowing down the candidate pool as much as possible before any live interviews.

As such, there are some hoops to jump through before you make it to interview rounds.

Firms will typically eliminate as much as 80% of the applicant pool before interviews start . For most firms, 50%+ of applicants might be cut based on resumes, before a similar cut is made on those remaining based on aptitude tests. McKinsey currently gives their Solve assessment to most applicants, but will use their resulting test scores alongside resumes to cut 70%+ of the candidate pool before interviews.

You'll need to be on top of your game to get as far as an interview with a top firm. Getting through the resume screen and any aptitude tests is an achievement in itself! Also we need to note that the general timeline of an application can differ depending on a series of factors, including which position you apply, your background, and the office you are applying to. For example, an undergraduate applying for a Business Analyst position (the entry level job at McKinsey) will most likely be part of a recruitment cycle and as such have pretty fixed dates when they need to sit the pre-screening test, and have the first and second round interviews (see more on those below). Conversely, an experienced hire will most likely have a much greater choice of test and interview dates as well as more time at their disposal to prepare.

For readers not yet embroiled in the selection process themselves, let’s put case interviews in context and take a quick look at each stage in turn. Importantly, note that you might also be asked to solve case studies outside interviews as well…

2.1.1. Application screen

It’s sometimes easy to forget that such a large cut is made at the application stage. At larger firms, this will mean your resume and cover letter is looked at by some combination of AI tools, recruitment staff and junior consulting staff (often someone from your own university).

Only the best applications will be passed to later stages, so make sure to check out our free resume and cover letter guides, and potentially get help with editing , to give yourself the best chance possible.

2.1.2. Aptitude tests and online cases

This part of the selection process has been changing quickly in recent years and is increasingly beginning to blur into the traditionally separate case interview rounds.

In the past, GMAT or PST style tests were the norm. Firms then used increasingly sophisticated and often gamified aptitude tests, like the Pymetrics test currently used by several firms, including BCG and Bain, and the original version of McKinsey’s Solve assessment (then branded as the Problem Solving Game).

Now, though, there is a move towards delivering relatively sophisticated case studies online. For example, McKinsey has replaced half the old Solve assessment with an online case. BCG’s Casey chatbot case now directly replaces a live first round case interview, and in the new era of AI chatbots, we expect these online cases to quickly become more realistic and increasingly start to relieve firms of some of the costs of live interviews.

Our consultants collectively reckon that, over time, 50% of case interviews are likely to be replaced with these kinds of cases . We give some specific advice for online cases in section six. However, the important thing to note is that these are still just simulations of traditional case interviews - you still need to learn how to solve cases in precisely the same way, and your prep will largely remain the same.

2.1.3. Rounds of Interviews

Now, let’s not go overboard with talk of AI. Even in the long term, the client facing nature of consulting means that firms will have live case interviews for as long as they are hiring anyone. And in the immediate term, case interviews are still absolutely the core of consulting selection.

Before landing an offer at McKinsey, Bain, BCG or any similar firm, you won’t just have one case interview, but will have to complete four to six case interviews, usually divided into two rounds, with each interview lasting approximately 50-60 minutes .

Being invited to first round usually means two or three case interviews. As noted above, you might also be asked to complete an online case or similar alongside your first round interviews.

If you ace first round, you will be invited to second round to face the same again, but more gruelling. Only then - after up to six case interviews in total, can you hope to receive an offer.

2.2. Differences between first and second round interviews

Despite interviews in the first and second round following the same format, second/final round interviews will be significantly more intense . The seniority of the interviewer, time pressure (with up to three interviews back-to-back), and the sheer value of the job at stake will likely make a second round consulting case interview one of the most challenging moments of your professional life.

There are three key differences between the two rounds:

  • Time Pressure : Final round case interviews test your ability to perform under pressure, with as many as three interviews in a row and often only very small breaks between them.
  • Focus : Since second round interviewers tend to be more senior (usually partners with 12+ years experience) and will be more interested in your personality and ability to handle challenges independently. Some partners will drill down into your experiences and achievements to the extreme. They want to understand how you react to challenges and your ability to identify and learn from past mistakes.
  • Psychological Pressure: While case interviews in the first round are usually more focused on you simply cracking the case, second round interviewers often employ a "bad cop" strategy to test the way you react to challenges and uncertainty.

2.3. What skills do case interviews assess?

Reliably impressing your interviewers means knowing what they are looking for. This means understanding the skills you are being assessed against in some detail.

Overall, it’s important always to remember that, with case studies, there are no strict right or wrong answers. What really matters is how you think problems through, how confident you are with your conclusions and how quick you are with the back of the envelope arithmetic.

The objective of this kind of interview isn’t to get to one particular solution, but to assess your skillset. This is even true of modern online cases, where sophisticated AI algorithms score how you work as well as the solutions you generate.

If you visit McKinsey , Bain and BCG web pages on case interviews, you will find that the three firms look for very similar traits, and the same will be true of other top consultancies.

Broadly speaking, your interviewer will be evaluating you across five key areas:

2.1.1.One: Probing mind

Showing intellectual curiosity by asking relevant and insightful questions that demonstrate critical thinking and a proactive nature. For instance, if we are told that revenues for a leading supermarket chain have been declining over the last ten years, a successful candidate would ask:

“ We know revenues have declined. This could be due to price or volume. Do we know how they changed over the same period? ”

This is as opposed to a laundry list of questions like:

  • Did customers change their preferences?
  • Which segment has shown the decline in volume?
  • Is there a price war in the industry?

2.1.2. Structure

Structure in this context means structuring a problem. This, in turn, means creating a framework - that is, a series of clear, sequential steps in order to get to a solution.

As with the case interview in general, the focus with case study structures isn’t on reaching a solution, but on how you get there.

This is the trickiest part of the case interview and the single most common reason candidates fail.

We discuss how to properly structure a case in more detail in section three. In terms of what your interviewer is looking for at high level, though, key pieces of your structure should be:

  • Proper understanding of the objective of the case - Ask yourself: "What is the single crucial piece of advice that the client absolutely needs?"
  • Identification of the drivers - Ask yourself: "What are the key forces that play a role in defining the outcome?"

Our Problem Driven Structure method, discussed in section three, bakes this approach in at a fundamental level. This is as opposed to the framework-based approach you will find in older case-solving

Focus on going through memorised sequences of steps too-often means failing to develop a full understanding of the case and the real key drivers.

At this link, we run through a case to illustrate the difference between a standard framework-based approach and our Problem Driven Structure method.

2.1.3. Problem Solving

You’ll be tested on your ability to identify problems and drivers, isolate causes and effects, demonstrate creativity and prioritise issues. In particular, the interviewer will look for the following skills:

  • Prioritisation - Can you distinguish relevant and irrelevant facts?
  • Connecting the dots - Can you connect new facts and evidence to the big picture?
  • Establishing conclusions - Can you establish correct conclusions without rushing to inferences not supported by evidence?

2.1.4. Numerical Agility

In case interviews, you are expected to be quick and confident with both precise and approximated numbers. This translates to:

  • Performing simple calculations quickly - Essential to solve cases quickly and impress clients with quick estimates and preliminary conclusions.
  • Analysing data - Extract data from graphs and charts, elaborate and draw insightful conclusions.
  • Solving business problems - Translate a real world case to a mathematical problem and solve it.

Our article on consulting math is a great resource here, though the extensive math content in our MCC Academy is the best and most comprehensive material available.

2.1.5. Communication

Real consulting work isn’t just about the raw analysis to come up with a recommendation - this then needs to be sold to the client as the right course of action.

Similarly, in a case interview, you must be able to turn your answer into a compelling recommendation. This is just as essential to impressing your interviewer as your structure and analysis.

Consultants already comment on how difficult it is to find candidates with the right communication skills. Add to this the current direction of travel, where AI will be able to automate more and more of the routine analytic side of consulting, and communication becomes a bigger and bigger part of what consultants are being paid for.

So, how do you make sure that your recommendations are relevant, smart, and engaging? The answer is to master what is known as CEO-level communication .

This art of speaking like a CEO can be quite challenging, as it often involves presenting information in effectively the opposite way to how you might normally.

To get it right, there are three key areas to focus on in your communications:

  • Top down : A CEO wants to hear the key message first. They will only ask for more details if they think that will actually be useful. Always consider what is absolutely critical for the CEO to know, and start with that. You can read more in our article on the Pyramid Principle .
  • Concise : This is not the time for "boiling the ocean" or listing an endless number possible solutions. CEOs, and thus consultants, want a structured, quick and concise recommendation for their business problem, that they can implement immediately.
  • Fact-based : Consultants share CEOs' hatred of opinions based on gut feel rather than facts. They want recommendations based on facts to make sure they are actually in control. Always go on to back up your conclusions with the relevant facts.

Being concise and to the point is key in many areas, networking being one for them. For more detail on all this, check out our full article on delivering recommendations .

Prep the right way

3. types of case interview.

While most case interviews share a similar structure, firms will have some differences in the particular ways they like to do things in terms of both the case study and the fit component.

As we’ll see, these differences aren’t hugely impactful in terms of how you prepare. That said, it's always good to know as much as possible about what you will be going up against.

3.1. Different case objectives

A guiding thread throughout this article and our approach in general will be to treat each case as a self-contained problem and not try to pigeonhole it into a certain category. Having said that, there are of course similarities between cases and we can identify certain parameters and objectives.

Broadly speaking, cases can be divided into issue-based cases and strategic decision cases. In the former you will be asked to solve a certain issue, such as declining profits, or low productivity whereas in the latter you will be ask whether your client should or should not do something, such as enter a specific market or acquire another company. The chart below is a good breakdown of these different objectives:

Case Focus

3.2. How do interviewers craft cases

While interviewers will very likely be given a case bank to choose from by their company, a good number of them will also choose to adapt the cases they would currently be working on to an interview setting. The difference is that the latter cases will be harder to pigeonhole and apply standard frameworks to, so a tailored approach will be paramount.

If you’ve applied for a specific practice or type of consulting - such as operational consulting, for example - it’s very likely that you will receive a case geared towards that particular area alongside a ‘generalist’ consulting case (however, if that’s the case, you will generally be notified). The other main distinction when it comes to case interviews is between interviewer-led and candidate-led.

3.3. Candidate-led cases

Most consulting case interview questions test your ability to crack a broad problem, with a case prompt often going something like:

" How much would you pay to secure the rights to run a restaurant in the British Museum? "

You, as a candidate, are then expected to identify your path to solve the case (that is, provide a structure), leveraging your interviewer to collect the data and test your assumptions.

This is known as a “candidate-led” case interview and is used by Bain, BCG and other firms. From a structuring perspective, it’s easier to lose direction in a candidate-led case as there are no sign-posts along the way. As such, you need to come up with an approach that is both broad enough to cover all of the potential drivers in a case but also tailored enough to the problem you are asked to solve. It’s also up to you to figure out when you need to delve deeper into a certain branch of the case, brainstorm or ask for data. The following case from Bain is an excellent example on how to navigate a candidate-led case.

3.4. Interviewer-led cases

This type of case - employed most famously by McKinsey - is slightly different, with the interviewer controlling the pace and direction of the conversation much more than with other case interviews.

At McKinsey, your interviewer will ask you a set of pre-determined questions, regardless of your initial structure. For each question, you will have to understand the problem, come up with a mini structure, ask for additional data (if necessary) and come to the conclusion that answers the question. This more structured format of case also shows up in online cases by other firms - notably including BCG’s Casey chatbot (with the amusing result that practising McKinsey-style cases can be a great addition when prepping for BCG).

Essentially, these interviewer-led case studies are large cases made up of lots of mini-cases. You still use basically the same method as you would for standard (or candidate-led) cases - the main difference is simply that, instead of using that method to solve one big case, you are solving several mini-cases sequentially. These cases are easier to follow as the interviewer will guide you in the right direction. However, this doesn’t mean you should pay less attention to structure and deliver a generic framework! Also, usually (but not always!) the first question will ask you to map your approach and is the equivalent of the structuring question in candidate-led cases. Sometimes, if you’re missing key elements, the interviewer might prompt you in the right direction - so make sure to take those prompts seriously as they are there to help you get back on track (ask for 30 seconds to think on the prompt and structure your approach). Other times - and this is a less fortunate scenario - the interviewer might say nothing and simply move on to the next question. This is why you should put just as much thought (if not more) into the framework you build for interviewer-led cases , as you may be penalized if you produce something too generic or that doesn’t encompass all the issues of the case.

3.5. Case and fit

The standard case interview can be thought of as splitting into two standalone sub-interviews. Thus “case interviews” can be divided into the case study itself and a “fit interview” section, where culture fit questions are asked.

This can lead to a bit of confusion, as the actual case interview component might take up as little as half of your scheduled “case interview”. You need to make sure you are ready for both aspects.

To illustrate, here is the typical case interview timeline:

Case interview breakdown

  • First 15-30 minutes: Fit Interview - with questions assessing your motivation to be a consultant in that specific firm and your traits around leadership and teamwork. Learn more about the fit interview in our in-depth article here .
  • Next 30-40 minutes: Case Interview - solving a case study
  • Last 5 minutes: Fit Interview again - this time focussing on your questions for your interviewer.

Both the Case and Fit interviews play crucial roles in the finial hiring decision. There is no “average” taken between case and fit interviews: if your performance is not up to scratch in either of the two, you will not be able to move on to the next interview round or get an offer.

NB: No case without fit

Note that, even if you have only been told you are having a case interview or otherwise are just doing a case study, always be prepared to answer fit questions. At most firms, it is standard practice to include some fit questions in all case interviews, even if there are also separate explicit fit interviews, and interviewers will almost invariably include some of these questions around your case. This is perfectly natural - imagine how odd and artificial it would be to show up to an interview, simply do a case and leave again, without talking about anything else with the interviewer before or after.

3.5.1 Differences between firms

For the most part, a case interview is a case interview. However, firms will have some differences in the particular ways they like to do things in terms of both the case study and the fit component.

3.5.2. The McKinsey PEI

McKinsey brands its fit aspect of interviews as the Personal Experience Interview or PEI. Despite the different name, this is really much the same interview you will be going up against in Bain, BCG and any similar firms.

McKinsey does have a reputation for pushing candidates a little harder with fit or PEI questions , focusing on one story per interview and drilling down further into the specific details each time. We discuss this tendency more in our fit interview article . However, no top end firm is going to go easy on you and you should absolutely be ready for the same level of grilling at Bain, BCG and others. Thus any difference isn’t hugely salient in terms of prep.

3.6. What is different in 2023?

For the foreseeable future, you are going to have to go through multiple live case interviews to secure any decent consulting job. These might increasingly happen via Zoom rather than in person, but they should remain largely the same otherwise.

However, things are changing and the rise of AI in recent months seems pretty much guaranteed to accelerate existing trends.

Even before the explosive development of AI chatbots like ChatGPT we have seen in recent months, automation was already starting to change the recruitment process.

As we mentioned, case interviews are expensive and inconvenient for firms to run . Ideally, then, firms will try to reduce the number of interviews required for recruitment as far as possible. For many years, tests of various kinds served to cut down the applicant pool and thus the number of interviews. However, these tests had a limited capacity to assess candidates against the full consulting skillset in the way that case interviews do so well.

More recently, though, the development of online testing has allowed for more and more advanced assessments. Top consulting firms have been leveraging screening tests that better and better capture the same skillset as case interviews. Eventually this is converging on automated case studies. We see this very clearly with the addition of the Redrock case to McKinsey’s Solve assessment.

As these digital cases become closer to the real thing, the line between test and interview blurs. Online cases don’t just reduce the number of candidates to interview, but start directly replacing interviews.

Case in point here is BCG’s Casey chatbot . Previously, BCG had deployed less advanced online cases and similar tests to weed out some candidates before live case interviews began. Now, though, Casey actually replaces one first round case interview.

Casey, at time of writing, is still a relatively “basic” chatbot, basically running through a pre-set script. The Whatsapp-like interface does a lot of work to make it feel like one is chatting to a “real person” - the chatbot itself, though, cannot provide feedback or nudges to candidates as would a human interviewer.

We fully expect that, as soon as BCG and other firms can train a truer AI, these online cases will become more widespread and start replacing more live interviews.

We discuss the likely impacts of advanced AI on consulting recruitment and the industry more broadly in our blog.

Here, though, the real message is that you should expect to run into digital cases as well as traditional case interviews.

Luckily, despite any changes in specific format, you will still need to master the same fundamental skills and prepare in much the same way.

We’ll cover a few ways to help prepare for chatbot cases in section four. Ultimately, though, firms are looking for the same problem solving ability and mindset as a real interviewer. Especially as chatbots get better at mimicking a real interviewer, candidates who are well prepared for case cracking in general should have no problem with AI administered cases.

3.6.1. Automated fit interviews

Analogous to online cases, in recent years there has been a trend towards automated, “one way” fit interviews, with these typically being administered for consultancies by specialist contractors like HireVue or SparkHire.

These are kind of like Zoom interviews, but if the interviewer didn’t show up. Instead you will be given fit questions to answer and must record your answer in your computer webcam. Your response will then go on to be assessed by an algorithm, scoring both what you say and how you say it.

Again, with advances in AI, it is easy to imagine these automated interviews going from fully scripted interactions, where all candidates are asked the same list of questions, to a more interactive experience. Thus, we might soon arrive at a point where you are being grilled on the details of your stories - McKinsey PEI style - but by a bot rather than a human.

We include some tips on this kind of “one way” fit interview in section six here.

4. How to solve cases with the Problem-Driven Structure?

If you look around online for material on how to solve case studies, a lot of what you find will set out framework-based approaches. However, as we have mentioned, these frameworks tend to break down with more complex, unique cases - with these being exactly the kind of tough case studies you can expect to be given in your interviews.

To address this problem, the MyConsultingCoach team has synthesized a new approach to case cracking that replicates how top management consultants approach actual engagements.

MyConsultingCoach’s Problem Driven Structure approach is a universal problem solving method that can be applied to any business problem , irrespective of its nature.

As opposed to just selecting a generic framework for each case, the Problem Driven Structure approach works by generating a bespoke structure for each individual question and is a simplified version of the roadmap McKinsey consultants use when working on engagements.

The canonical seven steps from McKinsey on real projects are simplified to four for case interview questions, as the analysis required for a six-month engagement is somewhat less than that needed for a 45-minute case study. However, the underlying flow is the same (see the method in action in the video below)

Let's zoom in to see how our method actually works in more detail:

4.1. Identify the problem

Identifying the problem means properly understanding the prompt/question you are given, so you get to the actual point of the case.

This might sound simple, but cases are often very tricky, and many candidates irretrievably mess things up within the first few minutes of starting. Often, they won’t notice this has happened until they are getting to the end of their analysis. Then, they suddenly realise that they have misunderstood the case prompt - and have effectively been answering the wrong question all along!

With no time to go back and start again, there is nothing to do. Even if there were time, making such a silly mistake early on will make a terrible impression on their interviewer, who might well have written them off already. The interview is scuppered and all the candidate’s preparation has been for nothing.

This error is so galling as it is so readily avoidable.

Our method prevents this problem by placing huge emphasis on a full understanding of the case prompt. This lays the foundations for success as, once we have identified the fundamental, underlying problem our client is facing, we focus our whole analysis around finding solutions to this specific issue.

Now, some case interview prompts are easy to digest. For example, “Our client, a supermarket, has seen a decline in profits. How can we bring them up?”. However, many of the prompts given in interviews for top firms are much more difficult and might refer to unfamiliar business areas or industries. For example, “How much would you pay for a banking license in Ghana?” or “What would be your key areas of concern be when setting up an NGO?”

Don’t worry if you have no idea how you might go about tackling some of these prompts!

In our article on identifying the problem and in our full lesson on the subject in our MCC Academy course, we teach a systematic, four step approach to identifying the problem , as well as running through common errors to ensure you start off on the right foot every time!

This is summarised here:

Four Steps to Identify the Problem

Following this method lets you excel where your competitors mess up and get off to a great start in impressing your interviewer!

4.2. Build your problem driven structure

After you have properly understood the problem, the next step is to successfully crack a case is to draw up a bespoke structure that captures all the unique features of the case.

This is what will guide your analysis through the rest of the case study and is precisely the same method used by real consultants working on real engagements.

Of course, it might be easier here to simply roll out one an old-fashioned framework, and a lot of candidates will do so. This is likely to be faster at this stage and requires a lot less thought than our problem-driven structure approach.

However, whilst our problem driven structure approach requires more work from you, our method has the advantage of actually working in the kind of complex case studies where generic frameworks fail - that is exactly the kind of cases you can expect at an MBB interview .

Since we effectively start from first principles every time, we can tackle any case with the same overarching method. Simple or complex, every case is the same to you and you don’t have to gamble a job on whether a framework will actually work

4.2.1 Issue trees

Issue trees break down the overall problem into a set of smaller problems that you can then solve individually. Representing this on a diagram also makes it easy for both you and your interviewer to keep track of your analysis.

To see how this is done, let’s look at the issue tree below breaking down the revenues of an airline:

Frame the Airline Case Study

These revenues can be segmented as the number of customers multiplied by the average ticket price. The number of customers can be further broken down into a number of flights multiplied by the number of seats, times average occupancy rate. The node corresponding to the average ticket price can then be segmented further.

4.2.2 Hypothesis trees

Hypothesis trees are similar, the only difference being that rather than just trying to break up the issue into smaller issues you are assuming that the problem can be solved and you are formulating solutions.

In the example above, you would assume revenues can be increased by either increasing the average ticket price or the number of customers . You can then hypothesize that you can increase the average occupancy rate in three ways: align the schedule of short and long haul flights, run a promotion to boost occupancy in off-peak times, or offer early bird discounts.

Frame the Airline Case Study Hypothesis

4.2.3 Other structures:structured lists

Structured lists are simply subcategories of a problem into which you can fit similar elements. This McKinsey case answer starts off by identifying several buckets such as retailer response, competitor response, current capabilities and brand image and then proceeds to consider what could fit into these categories.

Buckets can be a good way to start the structure of a complex case but when using them it can be very difficult to be MECE and consistent, so you should always aim to then re-organize them into either an issue or a hypothesis tree.

It is worth noting that the same problem can be structured in multiple valid ways by choosing different means to segment the key issues. Ultimately all these lists are methods to set out a logical hierachy among elements.

4.2.4 Structures in practice

That said, not all valid structures are equally useful in solving the underlying problem. A good structure fulfils several requirements - including MECE-ness , level consistency, materiality, simplicity, and actionability. It’s important to put in the time to master segmentation, so you can choose a scheme isn’t only valid, but actually useful in addressing the problem.

After taking the effort to identify the problem properly, an advantage of our method is that it will help ensure you stay focused on that same fundamental problem throughout. This might not sound like much, but many candidates end up getting lost in their own analysis, veering off on huge tangents and returning with an answer to a question they weren’t asked.

Another frequent issue - particularly with certain frameworks - is that candidates finish their analysis and, even if they have successfully stuck to the initial question, they have not actually reached a definite solution. Instead, they might simply have generated a laundry list of pros and cons, with no clear single recommendation for action.

Clients employ consultants for actionable answers, and this is what is expected in the case interview. The problem driven structure excels in ensuring that everything you do is clearly related back to the key question in a way that will generate a definitive answer. Thus, the problem driven structure builds in the hypothesis driven approach so characteristic of real consulting practice.

You can learn how to set out your own problem driven structures in our article here and in our full lesson in the MCC Academy course.

4.2. Lead the analysis

A problem driven structure might ensure we reach a proper solution eventually, but how do we actually get there?

We call this step " leading the analysis ", and it is the process whereby you systematically navigate through your structure, identifying the key factors driving the issue you are addressing.

Generally, this will mean continuing to grow your tree diagram, further segmenting what you identify as the most salient end nodes and thus drilling down into the most crucial factors causing the client’s central problem.

Once you have gotten right down into the detail of what is actually causing the company’s issues, solutions can then be generated quite straightforwardly.

To see this process in action, we can return to our airline revenue example:

Lead the analysis for the Airline Case Study

Let’s say we discover the average ticket price to be a key issue in the airline’s problems. Looking closer at the drivers of average ticket price, we find that the problem lies with economy class ticket prices. We can then further segment that price into the base fare and additional items such as food.

Having broken down the issue to such a fine-grained level and considering the 80/20 rule(see below), solutions occur quite naturally. In this case, we can suggest incentivising the crew to increase onboard sales, improving assortment in the plane, or offering discounts for online purchases.

Our article on leading the analysis is a great primer on the subject, with our video lesson in the MCC Academy providing the most comprehensive guide available.

4.4. Provide recommendations

So you have a solution - but you aren’t finished yet!

Now, you need to deliver your solution as a final recommendation.

This should be done as if you are briefing a busy CEO and thus should be a one minute, top-down, concise, structured, clear, and fact-based account of your findings.

The brevity of the final recommendation belies its importance. In real life consulting, the recommendation is what the client has potentially paid millions for - from their point of view, it is the only thing that matters.

In an interview, your performance in this final summing up of your case is going to significantly colour your interviewer’s parting impression of you - and thus your chances of getting hired!

So, how do we do it right?

Barbara Minto's Pyramid Principle elegantly sums up almost everything required for a perfect recommendation. The answer comes first , as this is what is most important. This is then supported by a few key arguments , which are in turn buttressed by supporting facts .

Across the whole recommendation, the goal isn’t to just summarise what you have done. Instead, you are aiming to synthesize your findings to extract the key "so what?" insight that is useful to the client going forward.

All this might seem like common sense, but it is actually the opposite of how we relay results in academia and other fields. There, we typically move from data, through arguments and eventually to conclusions. As such, making good recommendations is a skill that takes practice to master.

We can see the Pyramid Principle illustrated in the diagram below:

The Pyramid principle often used in consulting

To supplement the basic Pyramid Principle scheme, we suggest candidates add a few brief remarks on potential risks and suggested next steps . This helps demonstrate the ability for critical self-reflection and lets your interviewer see you going the extra mile.

The combination of logical rigour and communication skills that is so definitive of consulting is particularly on display in the final recommendation.

Despite it only lasting 60 seconds, you will need to leverage a full set of key consulting skills to deliver a really excellent recommendation and leave your interviewer with a good final impression of your case solving abilities.

Our specific article on final recommendations and the specific video lesson on the same topic within our MCC Academy are great, comprehensive resources. Beyond those, our lesson on consulting thinking and our articles on MECE and the Pyramid Principle are also very useful.

4.5. What if I get stuck?

Naturally with case interviews being difficult problems there may be times where you’re unsure what to do or which direction to take. The most common scenario is that you will get stuck midway through the case and there are essentially two things that you should do:

  • 1. Go back to your structure
  • 2. Ask the interviewer for clarification

Your structure should always be your best friend - after all, this is why you put so much thought and effort into it: if it’s MECE it will point you in the right direction. This may seem abstract but let’s take the very simple example of a profitability issue: if you’ve started your analysis by segmenting profit into revenue minus costs and you’ve seen that the cost side of the analysis is leading you nowhere, you can be certain that the declining profit is due to a decline in revenue.

Similarly, when you’re stuck on the quantitative section, make sure that your framework for calculations is set up correctly (you can confirm this with the interviewer) and see what it is you’re trying to solve for: for example if you’re trying to find what price the client should sell their new t-shirt in order to break even on their investment, you should realize that what you’re trying to find is the break even point, so you can start by calculating either the costs or the revenues. You have all the data for the costs side and you know they’re trying to sell 10.000 pairs so you can simply set up the equation with x being the price.

As we’ve emphasised on several occasions, your consulting interview will be a dialogue. As such, if you don’t know what to do next or don’t understand something, make sure to ask the interviewer (and as a general rule always follow their prompts as they are trying to help, not trick you). This is especially true for the quantitative questions, where you should really understand what data you’re looking at before you jump into any calculations. Ideally you should ask your questions before you take time to formulate your approach but don’t be afraid to ask for further clarification if you really can’t make sense of what’s going on. It’s always good to walk your interviewer through your approach before you start doing the calculations and it’s no mistake to make sure that you both have the same understanding of the data. For example when confronted with the chart below, you might ask what GW (in this case gigawatt) means from the get-go and ask to confirm the different metrics (i.e. whether 1 GW = 1000 megawatts). You will never be penalised for asking a question like that.

Getting stuck

5. What to remember in case interviews

If you’re new to case cracking you might feel a bit hopeless when you see a difficult case question, not having any idea where to start.

In fact though, cracking cases is much like playing chess. The rules you need to know to get started are actually pretty simple. What will make you really proficient is time and practice.

In this section, we’ll run through a high level overview of everything you need to know, linking to more detailed resources at every step.

5.1. An overall clear structure

You will probably hear this more than you care for but it is the most important thing to keep in mind as you start solving cases, as not only it is a key evaluation criterion but the greatest tool you will have at your disposal. The ability to build a clear structure in all aspects of the case will be the difference between breezing through a complicated case and struggling at its every step. Let’s look a bit closer at the key areas where you should be structured!

5.1.1 Structured notes

Every case interview starts with a prompt, usually verbal, and as such you will have to take some notes. And here is where your foray into structure begins, as the notes you take should be clear, concise and structured in a way that will allow you to repeat the case back to the interviewer without writing down any unnecessary information.

This may sound very basic but you should absolutely not be dismissive about it: taking clear and organized notes will allow you to navigate a case just like you would a powerpoint! While you should obviously adopt a system that you are comfortable with, what we found helps is to have separate sections for:

  • The case brief
  • Follow-up questions and answers
  • Numerical data
  • Case structure (the most crucial part when solving the case)
  • Any scrap work during the case (usually calculations)

When solving the case - or, as we call it here, in the Lead the analysis step, it is highly recommended to keep on feeding and integrating your structure, so that you never get lost. Maintaining a clear high level view is one of the most critical skills in consulting: by constantly keeping track of where you are following your structure, you’ll never lose your focus on the end goal.

In the case of an interviewer-led case, you can also have separate sheets for each question (e.g. Question 1. What factors can we look at that drive profitability?). If you develop a system like this you’ll know exactly where to look for each point of data rather than rummage around in untidy notes. There are a couple more sections that you may have, depending on preference - we’ll get to these in the next sections.

5.1.2 Structured communication

There will be three main types of communication in cases:

  • 1. Asking and answering questions
  • 2. Walking the interviewer through your structure (either the case or calculation framework - we’ll get to that in a bit!)
  • 3. Delivering your recommendation

Asking and answering questions will be the most common of these and the key thing to do before you speak is ask for some time to collect your thoughts and get organised. What you want to avoid is a ‘laundry list’ of questions or anything that sounds too much like a stream of consciousness.

Different systems work for different candidates but a sure-fire way of being organised is numbering your questions and answers. So rather than saying something like ‘I would like to ask about the business model, operational capacity and customer personas’ it’s much better to break it down and say something along the lines of ‘I’ve got three key questions. Firstly I would like to inquire into the business model of our client. Secondly I would like to ask about their operational capacity. Thirdly I would like to know more about the different customer personas they are serving’.

A similar principle should be applied when walking the interview through your structure, and this is especially true of online interviews (more and more frequent now) when the interviewer can’t see your notes. Even if you have your branches or buckets clearly defined, you should still use a numbering system to make it obvious to the interviewer. So, for example, when asked to identify whether a company should make an acquisition, you might say ‘I would like to examine the following key areas. Firstly the financial aspects of this issue, secondly the synergies and thirdly the client’s expertise’

The recommendation should be delivered top-down (see section 4.4 for specifics) and should employ the same numbering principle. To do so in a speedy manner, you should circle or mark the key facts that you encounter throughout the case so you can easily pull them out at the end.

5.1.3 Structured framework

It’s very important that you have a systematic approach - or framework - for every case. Let’s get one thing straight: there is a difference between having a problem-solving framework for your case and trying to force a case into a predetermined framework. Doing the former is an absolute must , whilst doing the latter will most likely have you unceremoniously dismissed.

We have seen there are several ways of building a framework, from identifying several categories of issues (or ‘buckets’) to building an issue or hypothesis tree (which is the most efficient type of framework). For the purpose of organization, we recommend having a separate sheet for the framework of the case, or, if it’s too much to manage, you can have it on the same sheet as the initial case prompt. That way you’ll have all the details as well as your proposed solution in one place.

5.1.4 Structured calculations

Whether it’s interviewer or candidate-led, at some point in the case you will get a bunch of numerical data and you will have to perform some calculations (for the specifics of the math you’ll need on consulting interviews, have a look at our Consulting Math Guide ). Here’s where we urge you to take your time and not dive straight into calculating! And here’s why: while your numerical agility is sure to impress interviewers, what they’re actually looking for is your logic and the calculations you need to perform in order to solve the problem . So it’s ok if you make a small mistake, as long as you’re solving for the right thing.

As such, make it easy for them - and yourself. Before you start, write down in steps the calculations you need to perform. Here’s an example: let’s say you need to find out by how much profits will change if variable costs are reduced by 10%. Your approach should look something like:

  • 1. Calculate current profits: Profits = Revenues - (Variable costs + Fixed costs)
  • 2. Calculate the reduction in variable costs: Variable costs x 0.9
  • 3. Calculate new profits: New profits = Revenues - (New variable costs + Fixed costs)

Of course, there may be more efficient ways to do that calculation, but what’s important - much like in the framework section - is to show your interviewer that you have a plan, in the form of a structured approach. You can write your plan on the sheet containing the data, then perform the calculations on a scrap sheet and fill in the results afterward.

5.2. Common business knowledge and formulas

Although some consulting firms claim they don’t evaluate candidates based on their business knowledge, familiarity with basic business concepts and formulae is very useful in terms of understanding the case studies you are given in the first instance and drawing inspiration for structuring and brainstorming.

If you are coming from a business undergrad, an MBA or are an experienced hire, you might well have this covered already. For those coming from a different background, it may be useful to cover some.

Luckily, you don’t need a degree-level understanding of business to crack interview cases , and a lot of the information you will pick up by osmosis as you read through articles like this and go through cases.

However, some things you will just need to sit down and learn. We cover everything you need to know in some detail in our Case Academy Course course. However, some examples here of things you need to learn are:

  • Basic accounting (particularly how to understand all the elements of a balance sheet)
  • Basic economics
  • Basic marketing
  • Basic strategy

Below we include a few elementary concepts and formulae so you can hit the ground running in solving cases. We should note that you should not memorise these and indeed a good portion of them can be worked out logically, but you should have at least some idea of what to expect as this will make you faster and will free up much of your mental computing power. In what follows we’ll tackle concepts that you will encounter in the private business sector as well as some situations that come up in cases that feature clients from the NGO or governmental sector.

5.2.1 Business sector concepts

These concepts are the bread and butter of almost any business case so you need to make sure you have them down. Naturally, there will be specificities and differences between cases but for the most part here is a breakdown of each of them.

5.2.1.1. Revenue

The revenue is the money that the company brings in and is usually equal to the number of products they sell multiplied to the price per item and can be expressed with the following equation:

Revenue = Volume x Price

Companies may have various sources of revenue or indeed multiple types of products, all priced differently which is something you will need to account for. Let’s consider some situations. A clothing company such as Nike will derive most of their revenue from the number of products they sell times the average price per item. Conversely, for a retail bank revenue is measured as the volume of loans multiplied by the interest rate at which the loans are given out. As we’ll see below, we might consider primary revenues and ancillary revenues: in the case of a football club, we might calculate primary revenues by multiplying the number of tickets sold by the average ticket price, and ancillary revenues those coming from sales of merchandise (similarly, let’s say average t-shirt price times the number of t-shirts sold), tv rights and sponsorships.

These are but a few examples and another reminder that you should always aim to ask questions and understand the precise revenue structure of the companies you encounter in cases.

5.2.1.2. Costs

The costs are the expenses that a company incurs during its operations. Generally, they can be broken down into fixed and variable costs :

Costs = Fixed Costs + Variable Costs

As their name implies, fixed costs do not change based on the number of units produced or sold. For example, if you produce shoes and are renting the space for your factory, you will have to pay the rent regardless of whether you produce one pair or 100. On the other hand, variable costs depend on the level of activity, so in our shoe factory example they would be equivalent to the materials used to produce each pair of shoes and would increase the more we produce.

These concepts are of course guidelines used in order to simplify the analysis in cases, and you should be aware that in reality often the situation can be more complicated. Costs can also be quasi-fixed, in that they increase marginally with volume. Take the example of a restaurant which has a regular staff, incurring a fixed cost but during very busy hours or periods they also employ some part-time workers. This cost is not exactly variable (as it doesn’t increase with the quantity of food produced) but also not entirely fixed, as the number of extra hands will depend on how busy the restaurant is. Fixed costs can also be non-linear in nature. Let’s consider the rent in the same restaurant: we would normally pay a fixed amount every month, but if the restaurant becomes very popular we might need to rent out some extra space so the cost will increase.

5.2.1.3. Profit and profit margin

The profit is the amount of money a company is left with after it has paid all of its expenses and can be expressed as follows:

Profit = Revenue - Costs

It’s very likely that you will encounter a profitability issue in one of your cases, namely you will be asked to increase a company’s profit. There are two main ways of doing this: increasing revenues and reducing costs , so these will be the two main areas you will have to investigate. This may seem simple but what you will really need to understand in a case are the key drivers of a business (and this should be done through clarifying questions to the interviewer - just as a real consultant would question their client).

For example, if your client is an airline you can assume that the main source of revenue is sales of tickets, but you should inquire how many types of ticket the specific airline sells. You may naturally consider economy and business class tickets, but you may find out that there is a more premium option - such as first class - and several in-between options. Similarly to our football club example, there may be ancillary revenues from selling of food and beverage as well as advertising certain products or services on flights.

You may also come across the profit margin in cases. This is simply the percentage of profit compared to the revenue and can be expressed as follows:

Profit margin = Profit/Revenue x 100

5.2.1.4. Break-even point

An ancillary concept to profit, the break-even point is the moment where revenues equal costs making the profit zero and can be expressed as the following equation:

Revenues = Costs (Fixed costs + Variable costs)

This formula will be useful when you are asked questions such as ‘What is the minimum price I should sell product X?’ or ‘What quantity do I need to sell in order to recoup my investment?’. Let’s say an owner of a sandwich store asks us to figure out how many salami and cheese salami sandwiches she needs to sell in order to break even. She’s spending $4 on salami and $2 for cheese and lettuce per sandwich, and believes she can sell the sandwiches at around $7. The cost of utilities and personnel is around $5000 per month. We could lay this all out in the break-even equation:

7 x Q ( quantity ) = (4+2) x Q + 5000 ( variable + fixed costs )

In a different scenario, we may be asked to calculate the break-even price . Let’s consider our sandwich example and say our owner knows she has enough ingredients for about 5000 sandwiches per month but is not sure how much to sell them for. In that case, if we know our break-even equation, we can simply make the following changes:

P ( price ) x 5000 = (4+2) x 5000 + 5000

By solving the equation we get to the price of $7 per sandwich.

5.2.1.5. Market share and market size

We can also consider the market closely with profit, as in fact the company’s performance in the market is what drives profits. The market size is the total number of potential customers for a certain business or product, whereas the market share is the percentage of that market that your business controls (or could control, depending on the case).

There is a good chance you will have to estimate the market size in one of your case interviews and we get into more details on how to do that below. You may be asked to estimate this in either number of potential customers or total value . The latter simply refers to the number of customers multiplied by the average value of the product or service.

To calculate the market share you will have to divide the company’s share by the total market size and multiply by 100:

Note, though, that learning the very basics of business is the beginning rather than the end of your journey. Once you are able to “speak business” at a rudimentary level, you should try to “become fluent” and immerse yourself in reading/viewing/listening to as wide a variety of business material as possible, getting a feel for all kinds of companies and industries - and especially the kinds of problems that can come up in each context and how they are solved. The material put out by the consulting firms themselves is a great place to start, but you should also follow the business news and find out about different companies and sectors as much as possible between now and interviews. Remember, if you’re going to be a consultant, this should be fun rather than a chore!

5.3 Public sector and NGO concepts

As we mentioned, there will be some cases (see section 6.6 for a more detailed example) where the key performance indicators (or KPIs in short) will not be connected to profit. The most common ones will involve the government of a country or an NGO, but they can be way more diverse and require more thought and application of first principles. We have laid out a couple of the key concepts or KPIs that come up below

5.3.1 Quantifiability

In many such scenarios you will be asked to make an important strategic decision of some kind or to optimise a process. Of course these are not restricted to non-private sector cases but this is where they really come into their own as there can be great variation in the type of decision and the types of field.

While there may be no familiar business concepts to anchor yourself onto, a concept that is essential is quantifiability . This means, however qualitative the decision might seem, consultants rely on data so you should always aim to have aspects of a decision that can be quantified, even if the data doesn’t present itself in a straightforward manner.

Let’s take a practical example. Your younger sibling asks you to help them decide which university they should choose if they want to study engineering. One way to structure your approach would be to segment the problem into factors affecting your sibling’s experience at university and experience post-university. Within the ‘at uni’ category you might think about the following:

  • Financials : How much are tuition costs and accommodation costs?
  • Quality of teaching and research : How are possible universities ranked in the QS guide based on teaching and research?
  • Quality of resources : How well stocked is their library, are the labs well equipped etc.?
  • Subject ranking : How is engineering at different unis ranked?
  • Life on campus and the city : What are the living costs in the city where the university is based? What are the extracurricular opportunities and would your sibling like to live in that specific city based on them?

Within the ‘out of uni’ category you might think about:

  • Exit options : What are the fields in which your sibling could be employed and how long does it take the average student of that university to find a job?
  • Alumni network : What percentage of alumni are employed by major companies?
  • Signal : What percentage of applicants from the university get an interview in major engineering companies and related technical fields?

You will perhaps notice that all the buckets discussed pose quantifiable questions meant to provide us with data necessary to make a decision. It’s no point to ask ‘Which university has the nicest teaching staff?’ as that can be a very subjective metric.

5.3.1 Impact

Another key concept to consider when dealing with sectors other than the private one is how impactful a decision or a line of inquiry is on the overarching issue , or whether all our branches in our issue tree have a similar impact. This can often come in the form of impact on lives, such as in McKinsey’s conservation case discussed below, namely how many species can we save with our choice of habitat.

5.4 Common consulting concepts

Consultants use basic business concepts on an every day basis, as they help them articulate their frameworks to problems. However, they also use some consulting specific tools to quality check their analysis and perform in the most efficient way possible. These principles can be applied to all aspects of a consultant’s work, but for brevity we can say they mostly impact a consultant’s systematic approach and communication - two very important things that are also tested in case interviews. Therefore, it’s imperative that you not only get to know them, but learn how and when to use them as they are at the very core of good casing. They are MECE-ness, the Pareto Principle and the Pyramid principle and are explained briefly below - you should, however, go on to study them in-depth in their respective articles.

Perhaps the central pillar of all consulting work and an invaluable tool to solve cases, MECE stands for Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive . It can refer to any and every aspect in a case but is most often used when talking about structure. We have a detailed article explaining the concept here , but the short version is that MECE-ness ensures that there is no overlap between elements of a structure (i.e. the Mutually Exclusive component) and that it covers all the drivers or areas of a problem (Collectively Exhaustive). It is a concept that can be applied to any segmentation when dividing a set into subsets that include it wholly but do not overlap.

Let’s take a simple example and then a case framework example. In simple terms, when we are asked to break down the set ‘cars’ into subsets, dividing cars into ‘red cars’ and ‘sports cars’ is neither mutually exclusive (as there are indeed red sports cars) nor exhaustive of the whole set (i.e. there are also yellow non-sports cars that are not covered by this segmentation). A MECE way to segment would be ‘cars produced before 2000’ and ‘cars produced after 2000’ as this segmentation allows for no overlap and covers all the cars in existence.

Dividing cars can be simple, but how can we ensure MECEness in a case-interview a.k.a. a business situation. While the same principles apply, a good tip to ensure that your structure is MECE is to think about all the stakeholders - i.e. those whom a specific venture involves.

Let’s consider that our client is a soda manufacturer who wants to move from a business-to-business strategy, i.e. selling to large chains of stores and supermarkets, to a business-to-consumer strategy where it sells directly to consumers. In doing so they would like to retrain part of their account managers as direct salespeople and need to know what factors to consider.

A stakeholder-driven approach would be to consider the workforce and customers and move further down the issue tree, thinking about individual issues that might affect them. In the case of the workforce, we might consider how the shift would affect their workload and whether it takes their skillset into account. As for the customers, we might wonder whether existing customers would be satisfied with this move: will the remaining B2B account managers be able to provide for the needs of all their clients and will the fact that the company is selling directly to consumers now not cannibalise their businesses? We see how by taking a stakeholder-centred approach we can ensure that every single perspective and potential issue arising from it is fully covered.

5.4.2 The Pareto Principle

Also known as the 80/20 rule, this principle is important when gauging the impact of a decision or a factor in your analysis. It simply states that in business (but not only) 80% of outcomes come from 20% of causes. What this means is you can make a few significant changes that will impact most of your business organisation, sales model, cost structure etc.

Let’s have a look at 3 quick examples to illustrate this:

  • 80% of all accidents are caused by 20% of drivers
  • 20% of a company’s products account for 80% of the sales
  • 80% of all results in a company are driven by 20% of its employees

The 80/20 rule will be a very good guide line in real engagements as well as case interviews, as it will essentially point to the easiest and most straightforward way of doing things. Let’s say one of the questions in a case is asking you to come up with an approach to understand the appeal of a new beard trimmer. Obviously you can’t interview the whole male population so you might think about setting up a webpage and asking people to comment their thoughts. But what you would get would be a laundry list of difficult to sift through data.

Using an 80/20 approach you would segment the population based on critical factors (age groups, grooming habits etc.) and then approach a significant sample size of each (e.g. 20), analysing the data and reaching a conclusion.

5.4.3 The Pyramid Principle

This principle refers to organising your communication in a top-down , efficient manner. While this is generally applicable, the pyramid principle will most often be employed when delivering the final recommendation to your client. This means - as is implicit in the name - that you would organise your recommendation (and communication in general) as a pyramid, stating the conclusion or most important element at the top then go down the pyramid listing 3 supporting arguments and then further (ideally also 3) supporting arguments for those supporting arguments.

Let’s look at this in practice: your client is a German air-conditioning unit manufacturer who was looking to expand into the French market. However, after your analysis you’ve determined that the market share they were looking to capture would not be feasible. A final recommendation using the Pyramid Principle would sound something like this: ‘I recommend that we do not enter the German market for the following three reasons. Firstly, the market is too small for our ambitions of $50 million. Secondly the market is heavily concentrated, being controlled by three major players and our 5 year goal would amount to controlling 25% of the market, a share larger than that of any of the players. Thirdly, the alternative of going into the corporate market would not be feasible, as it has high barriers to entry.Then, if needed, we could delve deeper into each of our categories

6. Case examples or building blocks?

As we mentioned before, in your preparation you will undoubtedly find preparation resources that claim that there are several standard types of cases and that there is a general framework that can be applied to each type of case. While there are indeed cases that are straightforward at least in appearance and seemingly invite the application of such frameworks, the reality is never that simple and cases often involve multiple or more complicated components that cannot be fitted into a simple framework.

At MCC we don’t want you to get into the habit of trying to identify which case type you’re dealing with and pull out a framework, but we do recognize that there are recurring elements in frameworks that are useful - such as the profitability of a venture (with its revenues and costs), the valuation of a business, estimating and segmenting a market and pricing a product.

We call these building blocks because they can be used to build case frameworks but are not a framework in and of themselves, and they can be shuffled around and rearranged in any way necessary to be tailored to our case. Hence, our approach is not to make you think in terms of case types but work from first principles and use these building blocks to build your own framework. Let’s take two case prompts to illustrate our point.

The first is from the Bain website, where the candidate is asked whether they think it’s a good idea for their friend to open a coffee shop in Cambridge UK (see the case here ). The answer framework provided here is a very straightforward profitability analysis framework, examining the potential revenues and potential costs of the venture:

Profitability framework

While this is a good point to start (especially taken together with the clarifying questions), we will notice that this approach will need more tailoring to the case - for example the quantity of coffee will be determined by the market for coffee drinkers in Cambridge, which we have to determine based on preference. We are in England so a lot of people will be drinking tea but we are in a university town so perhaps more people than average are drinking coffee as it provides a better boost when studying. All these are some much needed case-tailored hypotheses that we can make based on the initial approach.

Just by looking at this case we might be tempted to say that we can just take a profitability case and apply it without any issues. However, this generic framework is just a starting point and in reality we would need to tailor it much further in the way we had started to do in order to get to a satisfactory answer. For example, the framework itself doesn’t cover aspects such as the customer’s expertise: does the friend have any knowledge of the coffee business, such as where to source coffee and how to prepare it? Also, we could argue there may be some legal factors to consider here, such as any approvals that they might need from the city council to run a coffee shop on site, or some specific trade licences that are not really covered in the basic profitability framework.

Let’s take a different case , however, from the McKinsey website. In this scenario, the candidate is being asked to identify some factors in order to choose where to focus the client’s conservation efforts. Immediately we can realise that this case doesn’t lend itself to any pre-packaged framework and we will need to come up with something from scratch - and take a look at McKinsey’s answer of the areas to focus on:

Conservation case

We notice immediately that this framework is 100% tailored to the case - of course there are elements which we encounter in other cases, such as costs and risks but again these are applied in an organic way. It’s pretty clear that while no standard framework would work in this case, the aforementioned concepts - costs and risks - and the way to approach them (a.k.a building blocks ) are fundamentally similar throughout cases (with the obvious specificities of each case).

In what follows, we’ll give a brief description of each building block starting from the Bain example discussed previously, in order to give you a general idea of what they are and their adaptability, but you should make sure to follow the link to the in-depth articles to learn all their ins and outs.

6.1 Estimates and segmentation

This building block will come into play mostly when you’re thinking about the market for a certain product (but make sure to read the full article for more details). Let’s take our Bain Cambridge coffee example. As we mentioned under the quantity bucket we need to understand what the market size for coffee in Cambridge would be - so we can make an estimation based on segmentation .

The key to a good estimation is the ability to logically break down the problem into more manageable pieces. This will generally mean segmenting a wider population to find a particular target group. We can start off with the population of Cambridge - which we estimate at 100.000. In reality the population is closer to 150.000 but that doesn’t matter - the estimation has to be reasonable and not accurate , so unless the interviewer gives you a reason to reconsider you can follow your instinct. We can divide that into people who do and don’t drink coffee. Given our arguments before, we can conclude that 80% of those, so 80.000 drink coffee. Then we can further segment into those who drink regularly - let’s say every day - and those who drink occasionally - let’s say once a week. Based on the assumptions before about the student population needing coffee to function, and with Cambridge having a high student population, we can assume that 80% of those drinking coffee are regular drinkers, so that would be 64.000 regular drinkers and 16.000 occasional drinkers. We can then decide whom we want to target what our strategy needs to be:

Coffee segmentation

This type of estimation and segmentation can be applied to any case specifics - hence why it is a building block.

6.2 Profitability

We had several looks at this building block so far (see an in-depth look here ) as it will show up in most scenarios, since profit is a key element in any company’s strategy. As we have seen, the starting point to this analysis is to consider both the costs and revenues of a company, and try to determine whether revenues need to be improved or whether costs need to be lowered. In the coffee example, the revenues are dictated by the average price per coffe x the number of coffees sold , whereas costs can be split into fixed and variable .

Some examples of fixed costs would be the rent for the stores and the cost of the personnel and utilities, while the most obvious variable costs would be the coffee beans used and the takeaway containers (when needed). We may further split revenues in this case into Main revenues - i.e. the sales of coffee - and Ancillary revenues , which can be divided into Sales of food products (sales of pastries, sandwiches etc., each with the same price x quantity schema) and Revenues from events - i.e renting out the coffee shop to events and catering for the events themselves. Bear in mind that revenues will be heavily influenced by the penetration rate , i.e. the share of the market which we can capture.

6.3 Pricing

Helping a company determine how much they should charge for their goods or services is another theme that comes up frequently in cases. While it may seem less complicated than the other building blocks, we assure you it’s not - you will have to understand and consider several factors, such as the costs a company is incurring, their general strategic positioning, availability, market trends as well as the customers’ willingness to pay (or WTP in short) - so make sure to check out our in-depth guide here .

Pricing Basics

In our example, we may determine that the cost per cup (coffee beans, staff, rent) is £1. We want to be student friendly so we should consider how much students would want to pay for a coffee as well as how much are competitors are charging. Based on those factors, it would be reasonable to charge on average £2 per cup of coffee. It’s true that our competitors are charging £3 but they are targeting mostly the adult market, whose willingness to pay is higher, so their pricing model takes that into account as well as the lower volume of customers in that demographic.

6.4. Valuation

A variant of the pricing building block, a valuation problem generally asks the candidate to determine how much a client should pay for a specific company (the target of an acquisition) as well as what other factors to consider. The two most important factors (but not the only ones - for a comprehensive review see our Valuation article ) to consider are the net present value (in consulting interviews usually in perpetuity) and the synergies .

In short, the net present value of a company is how much profit it currently brings in, divided by how much that cash flow will depreciate in the future and can be represented with the equation below:

Net Present Value

The synergies refer to what could be achieved should the companies operate as one, and can be divided into cost and revenue synergies .

Let’s expand our coffee example a bit to understand these. Imagine that our friend manages to open a chain of coffee shops in Cambridge and in the future considers acquiring a chain of take-out restaurants. The most straightforward example of revenue synergies would be cross-selling, in this case selling coffee in the restaurants as well as in the dedicated stores, and thus getting an immediate boost in market share by using the existing customers of the restaurant chain. A cost synergy would be merging the delivery services of the two businesses to deliver both food and coffee, thus avoiding redundancies and reducing costs associated with twice the number of drivers and vehicles.

6.5. Competitive interaction

This component of cases deals with situations where the market in which a company is operating changes and the company must decide what to do. These changes often have to do with a new player entering the market (again for more details make sure to dive into the Competitive Interaction article ).

Let’s assume that our Cambridge coffee shop has now become a chain and has flagged up to other competitors that Cambridge is a blooming market for coffee. As such, Starbucks has decided to open a few stores in Cambridge themselves, to test this market. The question which might be posed to a candidate is what should our coffee chain do. One way (and a MECE one) to approach the problem is to decide between doing something and doing nothing . We might consider merging with another coffee chain and pooling our resources or playing to our strengths and repositioning ourselves as ‘your student-friendly, shop around the corner’. Just as easily we may just wait the situation out and see whether indeed Starbucks is cutting into our market share - after all, the advantages of our product and services might speak for themselves and Starbucks might end up tanking. Both of these are viable options if argued right and depending on the further specifics of the case.

Competitive Interaction Structure

6.6. Special cases

Most cases deal with private sectors, where the overarching objective entails profit in some form. However, as hinted before, there are cases which deal with other sectors where there are other KPIs in place . The former will usually contain one or several of these building blocks whereas the latter will very likely have neither. This latter category is arguably the one that will stretch your analytical and organisational skills to the limit, since there will be very little familiarity that you can fall back on (McKinsey famously employs such cases in their interview process).

So how do we tackle the structure for such cases? The short answer would be starting from first principles and using the problem driven structure outlined above, but let’s look at a quick example in the form of a McKinsey case :

McKinsey Diconsa Case

The first question addressed to the candidate is the following:

McKinsey Diconsa Case

This is in fact asking us to build a structure for the case. So what should we have in mind here? Most importantly, we should start with a structure that is MECE and we should remember to do that by considering all the stakeholders . They are on the one hand the government and affiliated institutions and on the other the population. We might then consider which issues might arise for each shareholder and what the benefits for them would be, as well as the risks. This approach is illustrated in the answer McKinsey provides as well:

McKinsey Framework

More than anything, this type of case shows us how important it is to practise and build different types of structures, and think about MECE ways of segmenting the problem.

7. How Do I prepare for case interviews

In consulting fashion, the overall preparation can be structured into theoretical preparation and practical preparation , with each category then being subdivided into individual prep and prep with a partner .

As a general rule, the level and intensity of the preparation will differ based on your background - naturally if you have a business background (and have been part of a consulting club or something similar) your preparation will be less intensive than if you’re starting from scratch. The way we suggest you go about it is to start with theoretical preparation , which means learning about case interviews, business and basic consulting concepts (you can do this using free resources - such as the ones we provide - or if you want a more through preparation you can consider joining our Case Academy as well).

You can then move on to the practical preparation which should start with doing solo cases and focusing on areas of improvement, and then move on to preparation with a partner , which should be another candidate or - ideally - an ex-consultant.

Let’s go into more details with respect to each type of preparation.

7.1. Solo practice

The two most important areas of focus in sole preparation are:

  • Mental math

As we mentioned briefly, the best use of your time is to focus on solving cases. You can start with cases listed on MBB sites since they are clearly stated and have worked solutions as well (e.g. Bain is a good place to start) and then move to more complex cases (our Case Library also offers a range of cases of different complexities). To build your confidence, start out on easier case questions, work through with the solutions, and don't worry about time. As you get better, you can move on to more difficult cases and try to get through them more quickly. You should practice around eight case studies on your own to build your confidence.

Another important area of practice is your mental mathematics as this skill will considerably increase your confidence and is neglected by many applicants - much to their immediate regret in the case interview. Find our mental math tool here or in our course, and practice at least ten minutes per day, from day one until the day before the interview.

7.2. Preparation with a partner

There are aspects of an interview - such as asking clarifying questions - which you cannot do alone and this is why, after you feel comfortable, you should move on to practice with another person. There are two options here:

  • Practicing with a peer
  • Practicing with an ex-consultant

In theory they can be complementary - especially if you’re peer is also preparing for consulting interviews - and each have advantages and disadvantages. A peer is likely to practice with you for free for longer, however you may end up reinforcing some bad habits or unable to get actionable feedback. A consultant will be able to provide you the latter but having their help for the same number of hours as a peer will come at a higher cost. Let’s look at each option in more detail.

7.2.1. Peer preparation

Once you have worked through eight cases solo, you should be ready to simulate the interview more closely and start working with another person.

Here, many candidates turn to peer practice - that is, doing mock case interviews with friends, classmates or others also applying to consulting. If you’re in university, and especially in business school, there will very likely be a consulting club for you to join and do lots of case practice with. If you don’t have anyone to practice, though, or if you just want to get a bit more volume in with others, our free meeting board lets you find fellow applicants from around the world with whom to practice. We recommend practicing around 10 to 15 ‘live’ cases to really get to a point where you feel comfortable.

7.2.2. Preparation with a consultant

You can do a lot practising by yourself and with peers. However, nothing will bring up your skills so quickly and profoundly as working with a real consultant.

Perhaps think about it like boxing. You can practice drills and work on punch bags all you want, but at some point you need to get into the ring and do some actual sparring if you ever want to be ready to fight.

Practicing with an ex consultant is essentialy a simulation of an interview. Of course, it isn’t possible to secure the time of experienced top-tier consultants for free. However, when considering whether you should invest to boost your chances of success, it is worth considering the difference in your salary over even just a few years between getting into a top-tier firm versus a second-tier one. In the light of thousands in increased annual earnings (easily accumulating into millions over multiple years), it becomes clear that getting expert interview help really is one of the best investments you can make in your own future.

Should you decide to make this step, MyConsultingCoach can help, offering bespoke mentoring programmes , where you are paired with a 5+ year experienced, ex-MBB mentor of your choosing, who will then oversee your whole case interview preparation from start to finish - giving you your best possible chance of landing a job!

7.3. Practice for online interviews

Standard preparation for interview case studies will carry directly over to online cases.

However, if you want to do some more specific prep, you can work through cases solo to a timer and using a calculator and/or Excel (online cases generally allow calculators and second computers to help you, whilst these are banned in live case interviews).

Older PST-style questions also make great prep, but a particularly good simulation is the self-assessment tests included in our Case Academy course . These multiple choice business questions conducted with a strict time limit are great preparation for the current crop of online cases.

7.4. Fit interviews

As we’ve noted, even something billed as a case interview is very likely to contain a fit interview as a subset.

We have an article on fit interviews and also include a full set of lessons on how to answer fit questions properly as a subset of our comprehensive Case Academy course .

Here though, the important thing to convey is that you take preparing for fit questions every bit as seriously as you do case prep.

Since they sound the same as you might encounter when interviewing for other industries, the temptation is to regard these as “just normal interview questions”.

However, consulting firms take your answers to these questions a good deal more seriously than elsewhere.

This isn’t just for fluffy “corporate culture” reasons. The long hours and close teamwork, as well as the client-facing nature of management consulting, mean that your personality and ability to get on with others is going to be a big part of making you a tolerable and effective co-worker.

If you know you’ll have to spend 14+ hour working days with someone you hire and that your annual bonus depends on them not alienating clients, you better believe you’ll pay attention to their character in interview.

There are also hard-nosed financial reasons for the likes of McKinsey, Bain and BCG to drill down so hard on your answers.

In particular, top consultancies have huge issues with staff retention. The average management consultant only stays with these firms for around two years before they have moved on to a new industry.

In some cases, consultants bail out because they can’t keep up with the arduous consulting lifestyle of long hours and endless travel. In many instances, though, departing consultants are lured away by exit opportunities - such as the well trodden paths towards internal strategy roles, private equity or becoming a start-up founder.

Indeed, many individuals will intentionally use a two year stint in consulting as something like an MBA they are getting paid for - giving them accelerated exposure to the business world and letting them pivot into something new.

Consulting firms want to get a decent return on investment for training new recruits. Thus, they want hires who not only intend to stick with consulting longer-term, but also have a temperament that makes this feasible and an overall career trajectory where it just makes sense for them to stay put.

This should hammer home the point that, if you want to get an offer, you need to be fully prepared to answer fit questions - and to do so excellently - any time you have a case interview.

8. Interview day - what to expect, with tips

Of course, all this theory is well and good, but a lot of readers might be concerned about what exactly to expect in real life . It’s perfectly reasonable to want to get as clear a picture as possible here - we all want to know what we are going up against when we face a new challenge!

Indeed, it is important to think about your interview in more holistic terms, rather than just focusing on small aspects of analysis. Getting everything exactly correct is less important than the overall approach you take to reasoning and how you communicate - and candidates often lose sight of this fact.

In this section, then, we’ll run through the case interview experience from start to finish, directing you to resources with more details where appropriate. As a supplement to this, the following video from Bain is excellent. It portrays an abridged version of a case interview, but is very useful as a guide to what to expect - not just from Bain, but from McKinsey, BCG and any other high-level consulting firm.

8.1. Getting started

Though you might be shown through to the office by a staff member, usually your interviewer will come and collect you from a waiting area. Either way, when you first encounter them, you should greet your interviewer with a warm smile and a handshake (unless they do not offer their hand). Be confident without verging into arrogance. You will be asked to take a seat in the interviewer’s office, where the interview can then begin.

8.1.1. First impressions

In reality, your assessment begins before you even sit down at your interviewer’s desk. Whether at a conscious level or not, the impression you make within the first few seconds of meeting your interviewer is likely to significantly inform the final hiring decision (again, whether consciously or not).

Your presentation and how you hold yourself and behave are all important . If this seems strange, consider that, if hired, you will be personally responsible for many clients’ impressions of the firm. These things are part of the job! Much of material on the fit interview is useful here, whilst we also cover first impressions and presentation generally in our article on what to wear to interview .

As we have noted above, your interview might start with a fit segment - that is, with the interviewer asking questions about your experiences, your soft skills, and motivation to want to join consulting generally and that firm in particular. In short, the kinds of things a case study can’t tell them about you. We have a fit interview article and course to get you up to speed here.

8.1.2. Down to business

Following an initial conversation, your interviewer will introduce your case study , providing a prompt for the question you have to answer. You will have a pen and paper in front of you and should (neatly) note down the salient pieces of information (keep this up throughout the interview).

It is crucial here that you don’t delve into analysis or calculations straight away . Case prompts can be tricky and easy to misunderstand, especially when you are under pressure. Rather, ask any questions you need to fully understand the case question and then validate that understanding with the interviewer before you kick off any analysis. Better to eliminate mistakes now than experience that sinking feeling of realising you have gotten the whole thing wrong halfway through your case!

This process is covered in our article on identifying the problem and in greater detail in our Case Academy lesson on that subject.

8.1.3. Analysis

Once you understand the problem, you should take a few seconds to set your thoughts in order and draw up an initial structure for how you want to proceed. You might benefit from utilising one or more of our building blocks here to make a strong start. Present this to your interviewer and get their approval before you get into the nuts and bolts of analysis.

We cover the mechanics of how to structure your problem and lead the analysis in our articles here and here and more thoroughly in the MCC Case Academy . What it is important to convey here, though, is that your case interview is supposed to be a conversation rather than a written exam . Your interviewer takes a role closer to a co-worker than an invigilator and you should be conversing with them throughout.

Indeed, how you communicate with your interviewer and explain your rationale is a crucial element of how you will be assessed. Case questions in general, are not posed to see if you can produce the correct answer, but rather to see how you think . Your interviewer wants to see you approach the case in a structured, rational fashion. The only way they are going to know your thought processes, though, is if you tell them!

To demonstrate this point, here is another excellent video from Bain, where candidates are compared.

Note that multiple different answers to each question are considered acceptable and that Bain is primarily concerned with the thought processes of the candidate’s exhibit .

Another reason why communication is absolutely essential to case interview success is the simple reason that you will not have all the facts you need to complete your analysis at the outset. Rather, you will usually have to ask the interviewer for additional data throughout the case to allow you to proceed .

NB: Don't be let down by your math!

Your ability to quickly and accurately interpret these charts and other figures under pressure is one of the skills that is being assessed. You will also need to make any calculations with the same speed and accuracy (without a calculator!). As such, be sure that you are up to speed on your consulting math .

8.1.4. Recommendation

Finally, you will be asked to present a recommendation. This should be delivered in a brief, top-down "elevator pitch" format , as if you are speaking to a time-pressured CEO. Again here, how you communicate will be just as important as the details of what you say, and you should aim to speak clearly and with confidence.

For more detail on how to give the perfect recommendation, take a look at our articles on the Pyramid Principle and providing recommendations , as well the relevant lesson within MCC Academy .

8.1.5. Wrapping up

After your case is complete, there might be a few more fit questions - including a chance for you to ask some questions of the interviewer . This is your opportunity to make a good parting impression.

We deal with the details in our fit interview resources. However, it is always worth bearing in mind just how many candidates your interviewers are going to see giving similar answers to the same questions in the same office. A pretty obvious pre-requisite to being considered for a job is that your interviewer remembers you in the first place. Whilst you shouldn't do something stupid just to be noticed, asking interesting parting questions is a good way to be remembered.

Now, with the interview wrapped up, it’s time to shake hands, thank the interviewer for their time and leave the room .

You might have other interviews or tests that day or you might be heading home. Either way, if know that you did all you could to prepare, you can leave content in the knowledge that you have the best possible chance of receiving an email with a job offer. This is our mission at MCC - to provide all the resources you need to realise your full potential and land your dream consulting job!

8.2. Remote and one-way interview tips

Zoom case interviews and “one-way” automated fit interviews are becoming more common as selection processes are increasingly remote, with these new formats being accompanied by their own unique challenges.

Obviously you won’t have to worry about lobbies and shaking hands for a video interview. However, a lot remains the same. You still need to do the same prep in terms of getting good at case cracking and expressing your fit answers. The specific considerations around remote interviews are, in effect, around making sure you come across as effectively as you would in person.

8.2.1. Connection

It sounds trivial, but a successful video interview of any kind presupposes a functioning computer with a stable and sufficient internet connection.

Absolutely don’t forget to have your laptop plugged in, as your battery will definitely let you down mid-interview. Similarly, make sure any housemates or family know not to use the microwave, vacuum cleaner or anything else that makes wifi cut out (or makes a lot of noise, obviously)

If you have to connect on a platform you don’t use much (for example, if it’s on Teams and you’re used to Zoom), make sure you have the up to date version of the app in advance, rather than having to wait for an obligatory download and end up late to join. Whilst you’re at it, make sure you’re familiar with the controls etc. At the risk of being made fun of, don’t be afraid to have a practice call with a friend.

8.2.2. Dress

You might get guidance on a slightly more relaxed dress code for a Zoom interview. However, if in doubt, dress as you would for the real thing (see our article here ).

Either way, always remember that presentation is part of what you are being assessed on - the firm needs to know you can be presentable for clients. Taking this stuff seriously also shows respect for your interviewer and their time in interviewing you.

8.2.3. Lighting

An aspect of presentation that you have to devote some thought to for a Zoom interview is your lighting.

Hopefully, you long ago nailed a lighting set-up during the Covid lockdowns. However, make sure to check your lighting in advance with your webcam - bearing in mind what time if day your interview actually is. If your interview is late afternoon, don’t just check in the morning. Make sure you aren’t going to be blinded from light coming in a window behind your screen, or that you end up with the weird shadow stripes from blinds all over your face.

Natural light is always best, but if there won’t be much of that during your interview, you’ll likely want to experiment with moving some lamps around.

8.2.4. Clarity

The actual stories you tell in an automated “one-way” fit interview will be the same as for a live equivalent. If anything, things should be easier, as you can rattle off a practised monologue without an interviewer interrupting you to ask for clarifications.

You can probably also assume that the algorithm assessing your performance is sufficiently capable that it will be observing you at much the same level as a human interviewer. However, it is probably still worth speaking as clearly as possible with these kinds of interviews and paying extra attention to your lighting to ensure that your face is clearly visible.

No doubt the AIs scoring these interviews are improving all the time, but you still want to make their job as easy as possible. Just think about the same things as you would with a live Zoom interview, but more so.

9. How we can help

There are lots of great free resources on this site to get you started with preparation, from all our articles on case solving and consulting skills to our free case library and peer practice meeting board .

To step your preparation up a notch, though, our Case Academy course will give you everything you need to know to solve the most complex of cases - whether those are in live interviews, with chatbots, written tests or any other format.

Whatever kind of case you end up facing, nothing will bring up your skillset faster than the kind of acute, actionable feedback you can get from a mock case interview a real, MBB consultant. Whilst it's possible to get by without this kind of coaching, it does tend to be the biggest single difference maker for successful candidates.

You can find out more on our coaching page:

Explore Coaching

Of course, for those looking for a truly comprehensive programme, with a 5+ year experienced MBB consultant overseeing their entire prep personally, from networking and applications right through to your offer, we have our mentoring programmes.

You can read more here:

Comprehensive Mentoring

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Case Studies: Bringing Learning to Life and Making Knowledge Stick

Group of college students working with case studies

Learning by doing is a highly effective and proven strategy for knowledge retention. But sometimes, learning about others who have “done”—using case studies, for example—can be an excellent addition to or replacement for hands-on learning. Case studies―a vital tool in the problem-based learning toolkit—can turbocharge lessons in any subject, but they are particularly useful teaching aids in subjects like Medicine, Law or Forensic Science , where hands-on experiences may not initially be possible.

Here’s a look at how this type of problem-based learning functions to make learning stick and how any faculty member can use them to facilitate deeper, richer learning experiences:

Case studies complement theoretical information 

Reading about scientific principles in a textbook challenges students to think deductively and use their imagination to apply what they’re learning to real-world scenarios. It’s an important skill set. Not all information can or should be packaged up and handed to students, pre-formed; we want students to become critical thinkers and smart decision-makers who are capable of forming their own insights and opinions. 

However, the strategic use of case studies, as a companion to required reading, can help students see theoretical information in a new light, and often for the first time. In short, a case study can bring to life what is often dry and difficult material, transforming it into something powerful, and inspiring students to keep learning. Furthermore, the ability to select or create case studies can give students greater agency in their learning experiences, helping them steer their educational experiences towards topics they find interesting and meaningful. 

What does the research show about using case studies in educational settings? For one, when used in group settings, the use of case studies is proven to promote collaboration while promoting the application of theory. Furthermore, case studies are proven to promote the consideration of diverse cultures, perspectives, and ideas. Beyond that? They help students to broaden their professional acumen —a vitally necessary part of the higher education experience. 

Case studies can be what you want them to be, but they should follow a formula  

Faculty may choose to use case studies in any number of ways, including asking students to read existing case studies, or even challenging them to build their own case studies based on real or hypothetical situations. This can be done individually or in a group. It may be done in the classroom, at home, or in a professional setting. Case studies can take on a wide variety of formats. They may be just a few paragraphs or 30 pages long. They may be prescriptive and challenge readers to create a takeaway or propose a different way of doing things. Or, they may simply ask readers to understand how things were done in a specific case. Beyond written case studies, videos or slide decks can be equally compelling formats. One faculty member even asks students to get theatrical and act out a solution in their sociology class.  

Regardless of format, a case study works best when it roughly follows an arc of problem, solution and results. All case studies must present a problem that doesn’t have an immediately clear solution or result. For example, a medical student may read a case study detailing the hospital admission of a 42-year-old woman who presents to the emergency room with persistent and severe calf pain, but has normal blood tests and ultrasound imaging. What should the physician consider next? A law student might read a case study about an elderly man involved in a car accident who denies any memory of the event. What legal angles should be considered?

Case studies – get started

Are you eager to use case studies with your students? Cengage higher education titles typically contain case studies and real-world examples that bring learning to life and help knowledge stick. Below are some learning materials, spanning a range of subjects, that can help your students reap the proven benefits of case study learning:

Accounting, 29e

Award-winning authors Carl Warren, Jefferson P. Jones and William B. Tayler offer students the opportunity to analyze real-world business decisions and show how accounting is used by real companies.

Guide to Computer Forensics and Investigations, 7e

“Guide to Computer Forensics and Investigations” by Bill Nelson, Amelia Phillips, Christopher Steuart and Robert S. Wilson includes case projects aimed at providing practical implementation experience, as well as practice in applying critical thinking skills.

Business Ethics: Case Studies and Selected Readings, 10e

Marianne M. Jennings’ best-selling “Business Ethics: Case Studies and Selected Readings, 10e” explores a proven process for analyzing ethical dilemmas and creating stronger values.

Anatomy & Physiology, 1e

Author Dr. Liz Co includes a chapter composed entirely of case studies to give students additional practice in critical thinking. The cases can be assigned at the end of the semester or at intervals as the instructor chooses.

Psychopathology and Life: A Dimensional Approach, 11e

Christopher Kearney offers a concise, contemporary and science-based view of psychopathology that emphasizes the individual first. Geared toward cases to which most college students can relate, helping them understand that symptoms of psychological problems occur in many people in different ways.

Understanding Psychological Disorders Enhanced, 12e

In “Understanding Psychological Disorders Enhanced” by David Sue, Derald Sue, Diane M. Sue and Stanley Sue, students can explore current events, real-world case studies and the latest developments from the field.

Policing in the US: Past, Present, and Future, 1e

This comprehensive and timely text by Lorenzo M. Boyd, Melissa S. Morabito and Larry J. Siegel examines the current state of American policing, offering a fresh and balanced look at contemporary issues in law enforcement. Each chapter opens with a real-life case or incident.

Public Speaking: The Evolving Art, 5e

With a student-centered approach, “Public Speaking: The Evolving Art” by Stephanie J. Coopman and James Lull includes innovative solutions to current issues, including critically assessing the credibility of information sources. A diverse collection of sample student and professional presentations encourage students to consider chapter concepts in the context of real speeches.

Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapies, 11e

Dr. Gerald Corey’s best-selling text helps readers compare and contrast the therapeutic models expressed in counseling theories.

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New technique for case study development published

May 9, 2024

Kevin Parker, ISU professor emeritus, recently published two papers in Communications of the Association for Information Systems (CAIS). Each paper was published by CAIS in their IS Education section, which has a 7% acceptance rate.

Modular Design of Teaching Cases: Reducing Workload While Maximizing Reusability presents a modular case study development concept for better managing the development of case studies. The approach achieves project extensibility through reusable case study modules, while at the same time helping to reduce instructor workload and solution reuse by students. The approach is based on the concept of creating different variations of a case study each semester by adding or replacing existing descriptive modules with new modules.

Wind Riders of the Lost River Range: A Modular Project-Based Case for Software Development focuses on the information technology needs of a simulated specialty sports shop in central Idaho that concentrates on wind sports equipment, like hang gliders, paragliders, and snowkites. The case study consists of a core case that describes both the IT system currently in use and the new system that provides updated business support. Students are tasked with analyzing the system and designing a new system that delivers enhanced functionality. This evolutionary case study is based on the Modular Design of Teaching Cases and consists of the core case and 17 modules that can be swapped in or out of both the current or future system to produce a wide variety of combinations and variations of the case study.

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Case Study: Enhancing portfolio performance with long-term options

Case Study: Enhancing portfolio performance with long-term options

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Koen Hoorelbeke

Options Strategist

Summary:  This case study explores how using long-term options instead of direct stock purchases can enhance investment efficiency. It features a fictitious investor, Sarah, who utilizes a two-year call option on Apple Inc. to control more shares with less capital. This approach offers reduced capital outlay, enhanced potential returns, and flexibility in managing investments, demonstrating a strategic advantage for traditional investors.

Introduction :

Investing in stocks through traditional buy-and-hold strategies is a proven path to wealth accumulation. However, savvy investors are continually exploring more efficient methods to maximize their returns and manage risks. Long-term options offer a strategic advantage by providing the potential for high returns with less capital compared to direct stock purchases. In this case study, we will explore how long-term options can be utilized to optimize investment returns through the experience of a fictitious investor, Sarah, who is looking to refine her investment strategy.

Important note: the strategies and examples provided in this article are purely for educational purposes. They are intended to assist in shaping your thought process and should not be replicated or implemented without careful consideration. Every investor or trader must conduct their own due diligence and take into account their unique financial situation, risk tolerance, and investment objectives before making any decisions. Remember, investing in the stock market carries risk, and it's crucial to make informed decisions.

Background:

Meet Sarah , a seasoned buy-and-hold investor with a diversified portfolio. Her strategy traditionally involves purchasing blue-chip stocks and holding them for long periods, relying on their stable dividends and steady appreciation. However, Sarah is eager to optimize her investment strategy to enhance her returns and manage her capital more efficiently.

Sarah wants to maintain exposure to her favorite stock, Apple Inc., which she believes has strong long-term growth potential. However, she is also keen on preserving capital for other investment opportunities that might arise. Buying additional Apple shares outright would require a significant capital outlay.

Solution: Using long-term options:

Instead of purchasing additional shares of Apple directly, Sarah decides to invest in long-term options. She chooses a call option with a strike price close to the current market price but expiring in two years. This option gives her control over a much larger amount of stock than she could afford to buy outright.

Financial comparison:

  • Cost: Apple is trading at $150 per share.
  • Sarah considers buying 100 shares, requiring a capital outlay of $15,000.
  • Cost: A two-year call option with a $150 strike price costs $3 per share (option premium).
  • Sarah buys 10 contracts (each contract representing 100 shares), controlling 1,000 shares.
  • Total cost: $3,000 (10 contracts x 100 shares x $3 premium).
  • Sarah spends only $3,000 to control 1,000 shares, compared to $15,000 to own 100 shares outright, freeing up $12,000 for other investments.
  • If Apple stock rises to $200 over the next two years, the value of her options would significantly increase. Her options could potentially be worth $50 per share (the difference between the market price and the strike price), equating to a total of $50,000 (1,000 shares x $50), minus the initial $3,000 premium paid.
  • If Apple's stock price falls, Sarah's maximum risk is the $3,000 premium paid, compared to a potentially larger loss had she purchased the stock outright.
  • Sarah retains the flexibility to exercise her options to acquire the shares if beneficial or to sell the options as they appreciate in value. She can also let them expire if the stock underperforms, minimizing her losses.

Conclusion:

By integrating long-term options into her buy-and-hold strategy, Sarah efficiently leverages her capital, enhances her potential returns, and retains flexibility in her investment approach. This case study exemplifies how long-term options can be a powerful tool for traditional investors looking to maximize their financial strategies without compromising their long-term investment goals.

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Performance of an EBR CFRP-strengthened RC slab using 24-h and cyclic load tests: a real case study

  • Research Article
  • Published: 13 May 2024
  • Volume 9 , article number  85 , ( 2024 )

Cite this article

how to approach a case study

  • Radhika Sridhar 1 ,
  • Pakjira Aosai 1 ,
  • Thanongsak Imjai 1 ,
  • Reyes Garcia 2 ,
  • Anoop Shirkol 3 &
  • Nur Liza Rahim 4  

This study investigates the performance of a case study reinforced concrete (RC) slab strengthened in flexure with Fibre Reinforced Polymer (FRP) sheets. The RC slab is at the top floor of a 17-storey building upon which three water tanks (of 1,000 l each) had to be built due to a change of use of the building's top floor. To assess the performance of the existing slab, site investigations and non-destructive testing (NDT) were carried out as per ACI 318 standards. To increase the load capacity of the slab, Externally Bonded Reinforcement (EBR) Carbon FRP sheets were bonded to the bottom of the RC slab. Following the strengthening intervention, the CFRP-strengthened slab was subjected to a 24-h load test (according to ACI 318) and to a Cyclic Load Test (following ACI 437) using an ad-hoc water pool built on top of the slab. The results from these tests (maximum and residual deflections of 0.92 mm and 0.34 mm, respectively) indicated that the CFRP-strengthened slab met satisfactorily the deflection criteria and performance indices of such tests. The CFRP-strengthened slab was then modelled and analysed in ANSYS® to calibrate and validate the experimental results. It is shown that the deflection and strains predicted by the finite element (FE) model match well the experimental measurements (errors < 15%), which confirms the suitability of the modelling approach adopted in ANSYS®. This article contributes towards the dissemination of real case studies of FRP-strengthened structures, which are scarce in the literature and thus can be useful to engineers and practitioners working in the field of structural strengthening.

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how to approach a case study

Adopted from Wattanapanich et al. [ 32 ]

how to approach a case study

Data availability

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by Walailak University, Research Assistant Grant No. 38/2024. The authors acknowledge the partially support provided by the Capacity Enhancement and Driving Strategies for Bilateral and Multilateral Cooperation for 2021 (Thailand and UK). The authors also acknowledge the support from Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia, Fundamental Research Grant Scheme (FRGS), No: 9003-00965.

The authors would like to acknowledge the support from Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia, Fundamental Research Grant Scheme (FRGS), No: 9003-00965. The project was supported by the Capacity Enhancement and Driving Strategies for Bilateral and Multilateral Cooperation for 2021 (between Thailand and United Kingdom).

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Radhika Sridhar, Pakjira Aosai & Thanongsak Imjai

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Malaviya National Institute of Technology Jaipur, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

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R.S. and T.I.: Conceptualization, Methodology, Software, Investigation; T.I., R.S., R. G.: Methodology, Software, Validation, Writing—Original Draft, Writing—Review & Editing; T.I. N.L.R.: Conceptualization, Methodology, Formal analysis, Validation, Writing—Original Draft, Writing—Review & Editing, Visualization; T.I. N.L.R., P. A.: Writing—Original Draft, Visualization; All authors reviewed the manuscript.

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Appendix 1. Visual inspection and rehabilitation work

figure 13

Typical images of case study building at the time of site investigation

figure 14

Typical view of NDT performed on case study building

figure 15

View of instrumentation ( a ) LVDTs, ( b ) strain sensors, in-situ 24-h load test as per the ACI 318, and ( c ) water pool for load tests

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Sridhar, R., Aosai, P., Imjai, T. et al. Performance of an EBR CFRP-strengthened RC slab using 24-h and cyclic load tests: a real case study. J Build Rehabil 9 , 85 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41024-024-00428-0

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