Case Study Harvard Style Of Writing

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

What is a case study?

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

Case research and writing

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

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

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

Case support

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

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We are always looking to add new cases to our Case Library.  Cases can be based on real organizations ("field cases"); on published material in the public domain ("library cases"); or on the experience and knowledge of a professor or other instructor ("armchair cases").  There are no limits to the topics and situations that can be presented in a teaching case, but in general, they follow certain guidelines:

  • A case presents a real-world situation, usually with a protagonist faced with a challenge
  • Information may be incomplete or inadequate, as found in real situations; there usually is no simple solution
  • Students take the role of decision-maker
  • Classroom discussion deepens the students' understanding, and brings out different viewpoints
  • Cases are generally no more than 8 - 10 pages of text with additional exhibits
  • The topic is relevant and interesting, and helps bring to life the application of a pedagogical approach or skill

We offer below some resources on writing cases, and are also happy to discuss case ideas or drafts.  Please feel free to contact Susan Madden, Associate Director, Case-Based Teaching and Learning Initiative, and/or submit a Proposal for Teaching Case Development and Application for Funding.

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