Almost all faculty members at the Harvard Business School engage in case research and prepare some of the teaching material for their classes. But case research is a time-consuming task, and most professors find it quite impossible to do as much case research as they would like. In order to increase the number and scope of the cases which can be obtained, much of the case collecting is done by research assistants. These men typically are recent graduates of the School who are assigned to work under the guidance of a particular faculty member.
The job of a research assistant is to collect and prepare the teaching material to be used by the teachers. This process is usually referred to as "collecting cases," but the phrase is misleading unless it is interpreted broadly.
The research assistant plays a vital part in the case method because to a large extent it is he who must be relied upon not only to prepare the teaching material which is used but also, by his accurate reporting of facts as he finds them, to bring back from the field to the teachers and to the School in general a recognition and an appreciation of the constantly changing realities of business.
The following paper embodies pertinent instructions and suggestions to case research assistants, i.e., "case collectors," prepared by James W. Culliton at the time when he was Assistant Director of Research in charge of case gathering at the Harvard Business School.
JAMES W. CULLITON
The job of the research assistant collecting cases is a demanding one. It requires not only ability but also enthusiastic interest in the case method, plus an understanding employment of the techniques and procedures which have proved useful in the past. The purpose of the material which follows is, so far as possible, to familiarize the new research assistant with some of the proven procedures and routines and to pass along certain "helpful hints" which may be useful.
Collecting cases, as it is practiced at the Harvard Business School, usually involves interviews with people outside the School. At times cases are written exclusively from published sources; but experience indicates that, by and large, they are not so satisfactory as cases secured in whole or in part from personal interviews. Consequently the process of collecting cases centers around the interview, and many of these comments on the case collection process naturally have to do with preparing for, carrying on, and writing up interviews.