Inver Hills Community College


Home & Contents                       Basics                       College Writing             




Click on any  part or section below:

Part I. Basics/Process

  A. Chapters 1-6: Start

  B. Ch. 7-13: Organize

  C. Ch. 14-20: Revise/Edit

Part II. College Writing

   D. Ch. 21-23: What Is It?

   E. Ch. 24-30: Write on Rdgs.

   F. Ch.31-35: Arguments

  G. Ch. 36-42: Research

  H. Ch. 43-48: Literature

   I.  Ch. 49-58: Majors & Work

Part III. Grammar

 Study Questions



Chapter 49: CASE STUDY

What is a "case study" and what are its uses?


Introduction: What Is a Case Study?

Two Formal Patterns for Case Studies

Informal Patterns: Observing and Profiling

Standards for Writing a Case Study


Samples (on separate web page)


Introduction: What Is a Case Study?

This chapter briefly presents the "case study."  The chapter offers three styles or methods.  The first two are formal methods, each with a good example in the "Samples" page. The third is a problem-solving method using a variety of informal or semi-formal observation or profiling.

A case study is a specialized type of paper used in some social sciences, medical, legal, and other fields.  It often is found especially in client/patient services settings such as in medical, social services, or legal work. 

A case study usually describes the problem or illness of a patient or client, and it details a system or therapy for helping that patient.  Even though its specific use is in such fields, it has a more general application of dealing logically and rationally in a step-by-step manner with any kind of general problem in most professional workplaces and in many personal difficulties.  In so doing, it follows a common critical-thinking pattern of examining

(a) the background of a problem

(b) the problem itself

(c) a plan for solving the problem

(d) the application of the solution

(e) the result


Return to top.


Two Formal Patterns for Case Studies

Here are two different patterns for a formal case study.  The first is a case study of an individual client or patient.  The second is a research survey.  Here is a chart of the basic organizational pattern for both:


Case Study of an Individual

Brief Intro Parag.



Problems & Diagnosis

- TREATMENT PLAN: Components, Application,
and Results/Prognosis


Brief Conc. Parag.

Research Survey

Brief Intro Parag.



Sample, Instrument,
and Analysis




Brief Conc. Parag.  


Case Study of an Individual: There are many different versions of case studies in different disciplines and different professions.  However, here is a general pattern that is somewhat typical for developing a case study: 

Introduction: A very brief introduction mentioning the client/patient, the clinic/organization handling him/her, the person(s) in charge of providing the examinations and therapies or other assistance, and the purpose of the case study (for medical records, a research study, etc.). 

Patient/Client: A thorough profile—a description—of the client or patient, the aspect he/she presents at the first meeting(s), and/or the general background.  In this section, use such devices as the five W’s of journalism (who is the patient; what is he/she; where does she live, work, play, etc.; when; and how or why?); the five senses (e.g., how a patient looks, sounds, smells, moves, eats/smokes, etc. is important in psychological profiles); social and family relations, work and personal history; etc.  Do not yet discuss the problem or illness in this section. 

Symptoms/Problem(s) & Diagnosis: A thorough discussion of the person’s problem, or a set of symptoms and a diagnosis. 

Treatment Plan: Divide this into three subsections sub-subtitled as follows:

COMPONENTS OF TREATMENT—a description of the system of help, or of the therapeutic method, that you or your organization chose for the person.  Do this in the abstract, relatively or
completely: do not yet discuss how you or others applied the help or therapy. 
APPLICATION OF TREATMENT--a description of how the treatment was given and/or what happened during (not after) the process of treatment.
RESULT/PROGNOSIS—a description of the results after the primary treatment cycle was completed, and/or what the prognosis--the long-range expectations--is.   

Conclusion: a very brief conclusion reiterating the name of the patient, his/her problem or illness, the assistance, and the result.

Use these sections to break information about the client or patient into the appropriate parts. 

Research Survey: There are different versions of the case study called a research survey, as well.  Be sure to talk with your instructor or supervisor about what categories he or she wants.  Here is one type of pattern:

Introduction: a very brief introduction summarizing the problem or need for the study, the background, the methodology of the present study, the findings, and what the findings mean. 

You should keep this very brief unless you are expected to have a more thorough "abstract" (an official long paragraph summarizing each of the sections of your paper) or "précis" (much the same as an abstract--but be sure to create a key topic sentence for each section and major subsection of your paper, and then repeat these topic sentences in your précis).  This abstract or précis then might be either a part of your first paragraph in the paper, or a separate, longer, one- or two-paragraph section right after a brief introductory paragraph.

Background: Provide the research background that prompted your research survey.  Why is it good for the field to have your survey or study?  If you are writing a full research paper, this is one of the points at which you should quote and/or paraphrase a number of up-to-date, relevant resources to help demonstrate the need for your study and the particular parameters you are using for your methodology.  Especially with a number of resources named, this section sometimes can be quite lengthy. 

Client/Patient/Client: a thorough profile—a description—of the client or patient, the aspect he/she presents at the first meeting(s), and/or the general background.  In this section, use such devices as the five W’s of journalism (who is the patient; what is he/she; where does she live, work, play, etc.; when; and how or why?); the five senses (e.g., how a patient looks, sounds, smells, moves, eats/smokes, etc. is important in psychological profiles); social and family relations, work and personal history; etc.  Do not yet discuss the problem or illness in this section. 

Present Study: Divide this into three subsections sub-subtitled as follows:

SAMPLE—Describe in detail the group of people you chose for your survey or study, how you chose them, and why.  Provide the parameters of your choosing so that your readers can see whether and how scientific you were in your choices. 
INSTRUMENT--Similarly, describe in detail the questions or other methodologies you chose to use on the sample, above, how you chose these questions or methodologies, and why.  Again, provide the details--show the questions or the methodology--so that readers can see whether and how scientific your choices were. 
ANALYSIS--Report the tabulated results, usually in some kind of statistical list, chart, or table. 

Findings: Summarize the tabulated results in written form, being sure to include all the results and their obviously factual meanings.

Conclusions: Discuss the likely results, meanings, and reasonable interpretations and possibilities presented by the findings.  In addition, you may discuss potential future directions for useful research and other investigations.  This section can in a research paper--as in the background section--become lengthy with the addition of quoted and paraphrases resources that help support your interpretations and/or suggestions for future investigations.

Conclusion: a very brief conclusion restating the initial problem or need for the research, the present study, and its major finding(s) and conclusion(s).  Again, keep it brief.


Return to top.


Informal Observation Report or Initial Profile

The third pattern for case study writing is an informal, rough-draft method and also a system for writing semi-formal observation reports or initial case-history profiles in some fields.  There are many versions of it.  The basics of it come from both critical-thinking studies and storytelling.  The basic structure is

person (client/patient)

problem (need/request)

solution (diagnosis/outcome)

Do not tell a story in a narrative format.  That means you should not just go from event to event in the order in which they happened. Instead, break down the information you gather using one or more specific categories or systems of description.  For example, when describing a patient, client, or employee's past, you might use a series of questions such as those of the 10 P's

Personal 10 P's:

Portrait (appearance, demeanor)



People (friends, family, others)

Places (work, home, travel)

Plans (current, future)

Phases (daily, weekly, yearly patterns)

Phrases (use of language, speaking)



Using a system of description with specific categories makes your description not only logical and, often, more thorough.  It also makes your descriptions consistent in their structured content from one observation to the next.  

Several systems of description are suggested below.  Two of them that are less known are the use of the five senses and of the 5 W's.  Use of the five senses simply means to describe the patient/client using as many of the senses as possible by what you, the observer, observers and/or by what the patient/client himself or herself is observing at the time--sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.  And use of the journalistic 5 W's means simply, as would a news writer, to describe by answering the questions "Who?," "What?," "Where?," "When," and "Why or How?"  Answering these five simple questions provides the basic details in one of the most common formats known to people in developed civilization: the news report.

Your own discipline or professions--or your individual instructor or supervisor--may have one or more specific or applicable structures for you to use, so be sure to ask.

Here is a chart showing how four different types of professional fields sometimes use the person-problem-solution format in rough draft writing or in semi-formal or initial observations or profiles:




of Person

of Problem

of Solution

Psychological,  Psychiatric, or  Nursing Services:

Physical/medical description, & 5 W's description of patient

Description of mental and emotional problems, & diagnosis

Treatment plan & projected results

Social Work:

Marital, work, financial, & support history of applicant

Description of financial, housing, food, medical, &/or counseling needs/problems

Plan for various assistance programs & projected results

Legal Client File:

Client--5 W's & relevant past history

Description of legal need, situation, or charge

Several possible legal actions & resulting  resolutions

Police Case File:

Complainant or Suspect--5 W's, 5 senses, & past criminal history

Description of crime--5 W's & 5 senses

5 W's of projected action plan, charges, and/or other resolution


Return to top.


Standards for Writing a Case Study

Use of Verb Tense, Tone or Voice, and Style: Case studies usually are written in the past tense—after the patient or client has already been seen and helped and there is a result to the assistance.  The tone should be quite logical; in some settings, it also should be cool and distance, whereas in others a tone of warmth is allowed or even encouraged.   In any case, a case study of any kind is a scientific document, so it should be written as such.

Being Logical, Inclusive, and Thorough: As mentioned above, all case studies are scientific forms of writing and thinking.  Therefore, even if they are informal observations, they should not include mere opinion (unless it is a thoroughly documented argument).  Rather, they are documents that must meet several important scientific standards.

First, they must be logical: that don't use supposition or guesswork but rather careful logic in making observations.  For this reason, they must only report what is observed, not the assumptions that might flow from it: for example, one should write, "The client was observed entering the hospital, stumbling, and holding a vodka bottle upside down with both hands cradling it to his chest"; one should not write, "Client was observed walking drunk."  Do not write conclusions (except formal ones in a formal paper, based on careful diagnosis); rather, write the facts.

A second important scientific standard is that a document must be inclusive.  This means that you should not observe just what is convenient or what you first see.  Rather, you must observe as a scientist does, looking for and including including any kind of detail that might apply.  For example, if you wrote the above observation example, "The client was observed entering the hospital, stumbling, and holding a vodka bottle upside down with both hands cradling it to his chest," you should add anything else at all that might be relevant, especially anything possibly contradictory, such as "Patient was wearing a well pressed, unwrinkled and clean suit and had a bloody gash on his head, with blood slowly dripping into one eye.  He was blinking his eyes rapidly and was accompanied by a woman following behind him, who said she was his wife."  Include as many relevant facts, even those that may not seem relevant at that point in time.

A third important scientific standard is to be thorough.  Do not simply write what you happen to see.  Learn to look harder.  Learn to use a variety of senses--sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell--and a variety of ways of finding out more information when it is appropriate--asking questions of the patient or client, asking questions of those with whom he or she has had interaction, checking his or her background, living, and work conditions, et al.  The more information you can find, the more likely your understanding of the problem or situation is likely to be accurate.  Act like a thorough professional, not a quick, judgmental amateur.


As mentioned previously, other patterns and types of papers in the field of social and medical sciences also exist.  Especially if you are writing a science or lab report of some kind, you may want to see the chapter in this section called "IMRaD."  Always be sure to ask your instructor, academic advisor for your major or senior project, or your supervisor exactly what he or she wants.  Also ask for sample papers or other books on how to write the kind of paper he or she wants to see.  There are not a large number of textbooks on writing in the social sciences, but good ones do exist if you look.


Return to top.


Samples (on separate web page)


Return to top.








 49. Case Study

 50. IMRaD Science Report

 51. Magazine/Nwsltr. Article

 52. News Article/Release

 53. Story Writing

 54. Applying for Jobs

 55. Process/Instructions

 56. Professional Report

 57. Professional Proposal

 58. Recommendation Report


Related Chapters/Pages:

Details & Images

Creating Websites

Leading Writing Groups



 Related Links in

  16. Research Writing

  17. Citation & Documentation

  18. References & Resources

  19. Visual/Multimodal Design

  20. Major/Work Writing              


Updated 2 Aug. 2013

   also is at and

Natural URL:
Previous editions: Writing for School & Work, 1984-1998;, 1998-2012
6th Edition: 8-1-12, rev. 8-1-13.  Text, design, and photos copyright 2002-12 by R. Jewell or as noted
Permission is hereby granted for nonprofit educational copying and use without a written request.
Images courtesy of Barry's Clip Art, Clip Art Warehouse, The Clip Art Universe, Clipart Collection, MS Clip Art Gallery and Design Gallery Live, School Discovery, and Web Clip Art
Click here to contact the author: Richard Jewell.  Questions and suggestions are welcome.



















The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the University of Minnesota.