A brief guide to case writing

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In this introductory guide to writing cases we'll discuss choosing a format, explore how to inspire classroom discussion and discover how to publish your case. 

Woman at a laptop writing on a pad of paper

Getting started

There are two key case writing catalysts:

  • teaching needs: requiring a case that covers a particular topic, theory or industry, either for a new class or programme, or to replace a case that has been taught for some time
  • content leads: discovering a particular business, protagonist, situation or industry that would make an interesting, engaging case.

Case experts, Martin Kupp and Urs Mueller, advise keeping a list of case needs and leads, and when they converge consider writing a case. However, if you have a particular teaching need and no matching content lead, you may wish to undertake some research to find one that fits.

Once you've identified the case that you'd like to write, getting started can seem a daunting prospect. Working through the sections below will help you begin. If you'd like to explore the case writing process further don't miss the links to more resources at the bottom of this page.

"Write a case that you would like to teach yourself on a topic that you feel strongly about."
Christoph Loch, Cambridge Judge Business School

Field-based or desk-based?

Field-based cases involve working closely with a company and key employees. This type of case is great for bringing a slice of reality into the classroom. Field-based cases are also an excellent way to blend teaching and research and will help to build valuable relationships with real-life companies in the world of business.

Desk-based cases rely on thorough research and judicious selection of materials. They can be a good choice where access to a particular company is impossible. Both field-based and desk-based cases can be highly successful and very effective in the classroom.

Brian Rogers
“The case must quickly pull the reader in and force them to think about what they would do and why.”
Brian Rogers, Swiss Re Institute

A protagonist: telling stories

A compelling protagonist will quickly engage students. They will identify with the lead character as the story in the case unfolds. The key question, ‘What would I do next?’ will be the start of a great classroom discussion and steep learning curve.

“The most common mistake that new case writers make is that they think a case should be a story from start to finish. In fact, it should be half a story. Students should be left asking, what am I going to do now?”
John Mullins, London Business School

Choosing a format

The traditional written case remains hugely popular. However, case authors now have a wide range of options to supplement or even replace the written word.

Multimedia can be used in a variety of ways to enhance students’ classroom experience and ensure today’s tech-savvy learners stay engaged. Discover more about multimedia cases 

Other examples include video cases, graphic format cases (also referred to as comic book cases or cartoon cases), and even virtual world cases. It’s an exciting time to be a case writer!

“Before I write a case, I think about how I would teach the class, and then I think about what type of case I would like to write.”
Robert Steven Kaplan, Harvard Business School

Case release

If your case is field-based, you must get permission from the organisation to release it. The Case Centre cannot publish field-based cases without this permission. By maintaining good relationships and communications with your contacts, case release should be a matter of routine.

More about securing case release 

"Secure the collaboration of the company and make sure that they are willing to give you access and permission to publish the case."
Pierre Chandon, INSEAD

Testing in the classroom

This is the only way to find out if your case ‘works’ or not and a great opportunity to gain invaluable feedback from students, colleagues, and – if you’re lucky - the case protagonist who may wish to see the case being taught.

Before submitting your case to us for distribution we require that it has been taught at least twice. 

“The process takes some patience and some ‘learning while doing’ to develop a case that really sings.”
Mary Crossan, Ivey Business School

Teaching notes

The figures speak for themselves: under half of the cases in The Case Centre’s collection have teaching notes, but 98% of the 50 most popular cases have one.

A teaching note is vital if you want your case to have wide appeal, and can also help when writing the case; some case authors even draft the teaching note first to help clarify their thoughts. It’s hugely important, so make sure you include one.

More about writing a teaching note

“I think teaching notes are as important as the case itself. I always spend as much time on them as the cases.”
Sandra Vandermerwe, Gordon Institute of Business Science

Case distribution

Once your case is complete why not make it available worldwide by submitting it to The Case Centre for distribution? We are unique in offering a offering a distribution service to both institutions and independent authors across the globe. We also allow you or your institution to retain copyright.

More about the benefits of case distribution 

What next?

We provide a range of services and support for case writers. The sections below will point you in the right direction, but please do get in touch if you need any further help.

Get in touch

Customer Services Team

Our Customer Services Team are here to help, please do get in touch if you have a query.

UK office:

t +44 (0)1234 750903, e info@thecasecentre.org 

US office:

t +1 781 239 5884, e info.usa@thecasecentre.org 

What is a case?