Academic journal article Journal of Case Studies

What Makes a Great Case

Academic journal article Journal of Case Studies

What Makes a Great Case

Article excerpt

The Case

As writers who have made numerous attempts to create cases (some more successful than others) we are often asked, "how do you find a topic?" or "what topics make good cases?" These questions are not easily answered, and there is no "one size fits all" answer.

Many times our teaching responsibilities may lead us to a topic for a case. If we are teaching in an area with few cases available for classroom use, we have a prime opportunity to fill the void. If our teaching schedule allows the time, this can be the impetus to not only develop the case and teaching note, but also to class test it immediately and refine it accordingly before taking it further.

Other times thinking about the material we are covering in class gives us a new perspective on everyday situations--those situations then become fodder for a case. Think about the course content of your teaching. Maybe you have searched for a case in a particular area or subject without finding anything appropriate. A case offers the opportunity to include many factors and subtleties that can affect a business and the decision-making environment--factors and subtleties that cannot be easily covered in a lecture format, and the same factors and subtleties that will confront students once they graduate and begin working.

Events in our everyday workplace offer subjects for cases. In this issue Payne, Krueger and Bartles examine the importance of strategic planning and food service expansion in "Salsa Dog, "Where the Dog Bite Back." Phipps, O'Connor and Stellern focus on the ethical considerations a person in authority may address as he makes policy decisions in "Faith in the Budget." Mull, Takano, and Owings present the case of "Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory International" as the corporate leader must decide whether to pursue international expansion. Sasse, Tocco, and Dockins describe the changing healthcare industry in the United States as it affects physicians in a clinical practice. Each case is different, yet all involve key people that must make decisions that will have consequence.

An important consideration regarding case material is that the more timely the topic, the better for training our students to face situations they may encounter after graduation. With that said, there are some topics that will not lose value due to the passage of time. For instance, human resources cases dealing with employees' behavior remain relevant. Do not dismiss a topic simply because the incident took place several years ago. Having access to subsequent events can add much to the attractiveness of the case in the form of a surprising or more complete epilogue in the teaching note. As an example, a case may be about accounting fraud and refer to a situation that occurred in 2001. However, there is accumulating evidence that financial fraud occurs, or at the very least is exposed, in cycles tied to the economic cycle (Gong, et al, 2011, Parramore, 2013). We are likely to encounter financial fraud attempts repeatedly in our careers.

One way to avoid the case appearing out-of-date is to remove the dates. Rather than referring to an event taking place in 2012, for example, talk about the event as taking place two years earlier. Be sure to maintain the timeline to avoid confusing the reader.

Choosing subject matter that will engage students may appear to be a tricky proposition, but it need not be. The company or topic does not have to be one about which students have direct knowledge, but perhaps one they hope to experience some day, or a topic that is different enough from their past experiences that they will be intrigued by it.

To elaborate, consider the reader and a potential case that involves the recreational vehicle (RV) industry in a class of international students. The students, primarily from other countries than the United States, may have never even seen an RV or understand its popularity in the United States. …

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