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Genres in academic writing: Case studies

A case-study is the most difficult to give you clear advice about as it may contain many other genres. The main advantage of a case study is that it gives you a chance to study one aspect of a real-world problem in detail from many different viewpoints.  That is its main advantage. It doesn’t just restrict itself to a single research procedure such as a library search or interview data – but it could use either.

At the beginning, therefore, you need a problem to solve. You will then lead the reader through the stages of the investigation, which you will describe and evaluate, to the solution.

A case-study can, for example, make use of:

First you need to identify a problem. This could be, for example, the introduction of a new working practice in a factory or office. You would then describe the new practice, what it is, how it works, why it was introduced; then observe how it works, talk to people who are affected by it, talk to managers and then evaluate the results and come to a conclusion.

The way you would write up a case-study depends on the purpose of the case-study. Yin (1994, pp. 4-6) identified three different types of case studies, which you could choose from according your purpose. They are exploratory, explanatory and descriptive case studies

He then distinguishes six different types of case study report that can be used for the different types of case-study (p. 138).

1. Linear Analysis
This is the typical business or scientific research report structure, organised in the IMRAD style. See above: Writing a report.
2. Comparative
A comparative study looks at the same issues several times from different points of view.
3. Chronological
A third type of report is to present the evidence in chronological order, gradually building up the descriptive and analytical structure.
4. Theory-building
In this structure, each new section of the report will show a new part of the theory being presented.
5. Suspense
In this case, the outcome or conclusion is presented initially. The remainder of the report will then develop the explanation.
6. Unsequenced
This is useful when the case study consist of many small sections or studies. It is important, though, at the end of this stage to pull everything together.

Yin (p. 138) then offers the following table to suggest ways in which you could write up the various kinds of case study.

Type of Structure

Purpose of Case Study




1. Linear Analysis

2. Comparative

3. Chronological

4. Theory-building


5. Suspense




6. Un-sequenced



The following sequence would probably be appropriate, with the sections changed round as necessary, depending on the type of study.

Case Study Report



Introduce the situation

Describe the problem – why the study was undertaken

Background reading

Describe previous research

Give examples

Evaluate previous research


Report what methods you used

Explain why you used each method


Report what you found from each method


Summarise all results

Compare and contrast the different results


Evaluate findings in light of background reading.


Summarise the main findings

Generalise from the findings


Make recommendations for the future

End matter

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