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Defining An Appropriate Case Study Format

A case study is a unique piece of research writing, because it is so intently focused on an individual, anecdotal piece of data rather than a larger body viewed in aggregate form. As a result, the way a researcher is expected to write about a case study is very different from the preferred method of writing about survey, archival, or experimental studies.

If you are writing a case study, it is prudent that you pay attention to the appropriate format and style guidelines. Some of the sections that you would normally see in a research report, such as a Methods or Results section, will be conspicuously absent in a case study report. Here’s a rough outline you should adhere to when writing up a case study.

Section 1: Title Page and Abstract

Before you embark on describing the particular case, you should format your paper with a centered, all-caps title page following the guidelines in your discipline’s writing handbook. Then, you should include a page with a one paragraph abstract, which should summarize your research project in a straightforward fashion that is not overly detailed.

Section 2: Introduction

In this chapter, you should describe the phenomenon you are interested in, and perhaps provide a few brief citations that are directly relevant. If you are studying schizoaffective disorder in young adults, provide a few references to the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (the DSM) for example, and suggest a few other places where the reader can turn if he or she has further questions. Your introduction should be fairly brief, only a few pages at the absolute maximum. Some theoretical issues or questions may be discussed here.

Section 3: Case Presentation

In this chapter, you should provide several sentences or several paragraphs about the history of the case at hand. You may want to provide some background information on the person you are talking about, though none of the data should identify who they are in a recognizable way. Introduce the reader to the situation and the individual within it.

Section 4: Management and Outcome

Here, outline the course of the case. Begin by describing the complaint or problem that vexed the client. Give some additional background if necessary. Follow a chronological, narrative format up until the point when the client sought out help. Then describe the exact nature of the management or treatment the client received, and note your involvement. Demonstrate with your language how the case developed, improved, or otherwise changed over the course of your relationship with the client.