Read, Analyze, Discuss, Write Reports and Present Case Studies
Case studies provide students and teachers with examples that can illustrate
principles, provoke discussion, and facilitate learning. However, many students
are unaccustomed to the case study method of learning. This document is
designed to provide general guidelines that will help you make case studies a
useful part of your educational experience. While the focus of this handout is on team-produced
case briefs, it applies to cases you write individually as well.
Case Studies and the "Real World"
The cases we study in class are
designed to incorporate realism. Nevertheless, it is important to realize
that these cases differ from "real world" situations in several
First, the information is "pre-packaged" in written form. By
contrast, practicing managers accumulate their information through such means
as memoranda, meetings, chance conversations, research studies, observations,
news media reports, other externally published materials, and rumors.
Second, cases tend to be selective in their reporting because most of them
are designed with specific teaching objectives in mind. Each must fit a
relatively short class period and focus attention on a defined category of
marketing and communications problems within a given subject area. To provide
such a focus and to keep length and complexity of the case within
reasonable bounds it may be necessary to omit information on problems,
data, or personnel that are peripheral to the central issue(s) in the case.
In the real world, management problems are usually dynamic in nature. They
call for some immediate action, with further analysis and decisions delayed
until some later time. Managers are rarely able to wrap up their problems,
put them away, and go on to the "next case." In contrast, a case
analysis in class is more like a snapshot taken at a particular point in
time. And the time period may
not be consistent with when you are working on the case.
You arenÕt expected to update the case. If it was written in 2003, youÕre not
expected to bring the case up to date. However, if using secondary research
will help you come up with a better solution, by all means use it.
A final contrast between case discussions and the realities of management is
that participants in class discussions are not responsible for implementing
their decisions or living with the consequences of those decisions. This does
not mean, however, that you can be frivolous when making recommendations in
There is no one "right" solution to any case either in the
classroom or the real world. Similarly, there is no one way of writing or
presenting a case report. However, the following guidelines should
familiarize you with the task of case preparation.
Reading the Case
It is important to gain a feel for
the situation by first skimming quickly through the case. Ask yourself:
What sort of organization is the case about?
What is the nature of the industry?
What is going on in the external environment?
What problems appear to face management?
What are the communication strategies identified in the case?
Are there additional communication strategies that might be relevant?
What can you control and what canÕt you
An initial fast reading, without attempting to take notes or underline,
should provide you with some sense of what information is being presented for
analysis. Then you will be ready to make a very careful second reading of the
case. This time, underline key points and take some notes. In addition to the
above questions, consider the following:
- What decisions need to
be made and who will be responsible for making them?
- What are the objectives
of the organization itself and of each of the key players in the case?
- Are they mutually
compatible objectives? If not, can they be reconciled, and will it be necessary
to redefine the objectives?
- What resources and
constraints are present which will help or hinder attempts of the
organization to meet its objectives?
You should make a special effort to establish the significance of any
quantitative data presented in the case. See if combining and manipulating
data presented in different parts of the case may lead to new insights. But
don't blindly accept the data. With cases, as in real life, not all
information is equally reliable or relevant.
A separate handout is provided for most case. It
defines the problem and guides your approach to the case. Often it will
include references such as links to articles or other resources you can use.
Do NOT ignore these. They were
provided for a reason.
As you work in teams on cases, your
team will need to begin with an in-depth discussion of the case. You should
have read the case at least twice (as described above) before you begin your
discussion of the case. To come to a team meeting without having read the
case is unfair to your team members.
In the team discussion, you should focus on both talking and listening.
Throughout the discussion, try to synthesize all comments by all team
members. Don't allow "group think" to set in. If you have different
ideas from other people in your group, speak out! It can be useful for people
with different ideas to debate their points with each other. But don't be so
eager to participate that you ignore what others have to say. Learning to be
a good listener is also an important element in developing managerial skills.
Avoid "rehashing" facts. Focus on commentary. Before contributing,
ask if points you plan to make are relevant to what has been said and how
they might redirect discussion.
Writing the Report
When you write a report of a case
study, assume that your audience is a manager who has asked you to review the
facts and make a recommendation. Prepare an action-oriented advisory report
that presents concisely your analysis and recommendations.
The body of the report (exclusive of executive summary and appendices) should
be from six to 10 typewritten pages double-spaced, appropriately formatted in
report form. Spelling, grammatical, and typographical errors indicate a lack
of professionalism. The quality
of the report matters more than its length, however.
The professor may provide you with some specific guidelines for individual
cases that require sections in addition to or in place of those listed below.
However, unless otherwise directed, you should use the following format in
writing your reports.
The Report Format
I. Executive Summary (1 page,
II. Report Main Body (6-10 pages maximum, double-spaced)
A. Statement of the Problem
B. List of Critical Factors
C. Definition of Alternatives
E. Additional Comments
III. Appendices (tables and exhibits as appropriate)
Label each of the parts with the subheading indicated. More detail is
provided below on how to write each of these sections.
The executive summary is to be
written in memoranda form (single-spaced) from your team to the manager. It
provides an overview of the report to follow. The executive summary generally
consists of five paragraphs, each of which concisely summarizes sections A
through E of your report. Since you are briefly describing the conclusion
section, you should present you recommendation here. If you do not
have an additional comments section, thereÕs no need to mention it in the
executive summary. The executive summary should be no more than one page in
length. Be particularly careful of your writing in this section. You are
selling the manager on your ideas and even a single typo can make you look
unprofessional. This is your first opportunity to sell your solution so make
Statement of the Problem
Concisely state the question to be
resolved in your report. Include any sub-parts of the problem and all
requirements that have been established for a satisfactory solution.
Briefly indicate also any critical restrictions that have been placed on the
acceptable solution such as limitation on monetary expenditures, time,
distribution, or personnel. State the problems in terms of possible action to
be taken (e.g., "How to improve . . . so as to achieve . . . without an
undue expenditure of . . .?"
State the problem, not the symptoms. Unless your diagnosis of the problem is
correct, all subsequent decision making will be flawed. Also be sure that you
have indicated the significance or importance of the problem. What will be
the implications of a delay or do-nothing decision? The length of the problem
statement may vary from case to case. However, in general you should be able
to state the problem in one page or less.
List of Critical Factors
DonÕt try to summarize all the data
in the case. Instead, focus on the key factors that will impact how you plan
to resolve the key problem you identified. Use a table in this section.
Consider using sub-heads to group related items. Comment briefly on each factor. Just identify concisely
why they matter at this point. Again, length may vary, but usually your list
of key factors will be the longest section of your brief. A table is recommended where
the factor is stated in the left column and a sentence describing why it
matters to your decision goes in the right column. For example, if youÕve been asked to select a target
audience for an advertiser and one of their objectives is to cultivate a
different demographic group than their current customers, this matters
because basing the TM on the existing users does not address this objective.
One objective is to cultivate a broader audience
than current customers.
Focusing on the exact same audience as current
users does not address this.
Current users are described as white females, 65
and older, HS education, home owners, conservative, family-focused, loyalÉ
Current users are aging. If the company wants to survive long-term it must
attract an equally loyal younger audience.
There are categories of factors that are likely to
be relevant in every case, such as:
the economy; the product; the objectives; current users; industry
trends; target market; competition; past/current advertising; the company
producing the product. These
same factors (including the many smaller factors implicit in each larger
factor) will serve as the tools for evaluating alternatives and writing a
compelling conclusion section.
This section shows your client that you know
everything there is to know about his/her brand and the circumstances
surrounding an effective solution.
Definition of Alternatives
This is the heart of your case
analysis. There is very rarely a single solution to any problem. In this
section you need to identify two courses of action. As a rule of thumb, you
should identify two to three alternatives. Generally two are sufficient. Regardless of how many alternatives
you have, you should only present the most viable solutions. DonÕt present an alternative just to
fill up the brief.
You should carefully and concisely identify both the pros and cons for each
alternative that you identify. These are likely to be based mostly on the critical
factors you identified. You might firmly believe that one solution is best.
Still, you should provide a balanced discussion of all alternatives that you
Because this section is the "heart" of the of the case report, it
may be the longest section of your written report. Typically, it will be from
three to five pages long. Remember, to be clear and concise. You may be
tempted to write multiple pages for each alternative. However, try to keep
your full report to a maximum of 10 pages.
Spell out your recommended program
of action, that is, the alternative solution that you recommend. Your
recommendation should be an outgrowth of imaginative and thorough
identification of all the alternatives or possibilities that might reasonably
overcome other obstacles involved in the problem. Base your choice upon a
critical evaluation of the "crucial" differences between
alternatives. Make sure you indicate how you anticipate overcoming potential
negative factors associated with your plan of action. This section is short.
Don't rehash information from the definition of alternative section. Simply
state in one page or less which alternative you think is best and why. It is
often good to conclude with a strong call to action.
Conclude with any final comments
that you believe need to be communicated to the manager. Use this section to
show your full grasp of the case and to include any points you wish to make
that fall outside the structured format above. This section is optional.
The number of outside sources you use for a given
case varies. However, itÕs hard
to imagine a case that wouldnÕt warrant at least one outside source. References should be provided in
standard bibliographic form.
In writing your reports, it is not
necessary to include any of the data tables or other exhibits directly from
the case report unless leaving them out makes it difficult to explain your
analysis or recommended course of action. If your case analysis includes some
new detailed information (for example a timeline or a comparative analysis)
you should include this detailed information in appendices.
Presenting the Case
Case presentations in class will
usually be limited to 15 minutes (you will be notified in advance of any
changes to the time requirements). You should also be prepared for up to five
minutes of questions/comments from your classmates and/or the professor after
your presentation. It will NOT be possible for you to cover everything that
is in your written report in this time. Nor should your presentation
necessarily follow exactly the format of the written report.
Your presentation should have a strong opening and closing. You should also
touch on the key points from your written report. Make sure that you clearly
identify the problem. The primary focus of the presentation should be on what
you recommend and why. This may require you to synthesize materials from
several sections of your written report.
Equipment will be available for PowerPoint presentations of every case. It is
more important that you use PowerPoint to help you organize your presentation
than that you take advantage of all the bells and whistles of the
presentation software. PowerPoint reduces both the effort and cost of
preparing a presentation. You can create all your graphics digitally and
incorporate them into the presentation.
It is not necessary for every member of the group to participate in the
presentation. It might be difficult to shuffle everyone on and off
"stage" in your 15-minute time slot. Nor is it usually a good idea
for one person to be solely responsible for the presentation. Handing off
portions of the presentation among team members helps keep the audience's
attention while also highlighting transitions in your material. However, all
students are expected to have some experience with presentations throughout
the semester. If some students are not participating in presentations, the
professor will talk with them individually and provide coaching as needed in