Case Studies

Words of Wisdom

There are books so alive that you're always afraid that while you weren't reading, the book has gone and changed, has shifted like a river; while you went on living, it went on living too, and like a river moved on and moved away.

— Marina Ivanova Tsvetaeva

Long used in business and medicine, case studies can provide a rich source for writing or speaking assignments. Case study methods actively engage students and are well-suited to teaming or collaborative pedagogies. They also offer a good way to expose students to different perspectives and can introduce them to situations not available in the classroom or at the university.

When case studies present students with a number of options for solutions or analysis, they will be challenged to make thinking about their discipline a part of their composing process.

There are two basic approaches to using case studies in the teaching of writing or speaking:

  1. Students write cases themselves

  2. Students analyze and write about or present on cases that instructor provides

Writing Case Studies

A three- to four- page case can demonstrate:

  • whether students are able to connect theory to practical applications; and

  • whether students are able to understand and prioritize issues and events.

Case Analyses

The analytical approach asks that students analyze a case in order to demonstrate their understanding of events or characters, as well as how the particular case connects to theory. Students may read and discuss a case and then write up an analytical report. The problem-solving approach asks students to identify problems within the case and suggest solutions, usually narrowing down to an optimal solution.

Writing or Speaking from Cases

Students can be asked to provide a written or oral response to events described in a case. Many business communications texts use cases to describe a situation which requires the student to write a letter or memo, or to present an oral report. The case study serves to provide a rhetorical situation—that is, an audience, a persona for the writer, and a situation which calls for writing—which influences the type and style of document produced. Some cases, for example, describe a personnel problem, casting students as managers and requiring them to write a memo for a personnel file.

Additional Resources

For a discussion of the case study method in science education, see The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science.

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