International Food and Agribusiness Management Association


Case Study Essentials 


  John Siebert, Professor of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M University  
Mary Shelman, Former Director Agribusiness Program, Harvard Business School

When submitting a case to the IFAMR for peer review and possible publication you are also required to submit teaching notes. A good teaching case provides a list of intended teaching outcomes and how each one is illustrated through the case.  It also includes questions posed to readers at the end of your case.  Such questions are valuable because they prompt readers (especially students) to focus upon your learning objectives.  If detailed problem solving is called for, then methodological solutions should be illustrated in the teaching note. Comments on how to utilize the case are helpful to instructors.  Detailed instructions on how to write teaching notes can be found in Guidelines to Writing Teaching Notes.  

Here are the essentials to writing a useful case study:

    1. A case study is an exercise in management decision making. A case study oriented towards making a decision, gives readers something specific to do. Decision cases have special value for teaching because they can be used to simulate realistic management situations.  Case should be written from the perspective of a specified protagonist (manager or decision maker).

    2. Provide financial information.  Financial statements, proformas, or cost studies allow readers to make decisions based upon facts.  Unfortunately, lack of access to needed financial information can prevent one from successfully researching and writing a case study. For this reason not every topic is well-suited for a case study.

    3. Provide an industry context.  In other words, give the reader information about your case company‚Äôs competitors, suppliers, customers, history, regulations and so on.  This aspect of the case does not need to be long.  Let your teaching objectives guide how you allocate case content among the pages allotted to your manuscript.

    4.  Use actual quotes and characters. In a compact amount of space, the case writer can convey a lot of information by using actual quotes from the main character(s) in the case. Valuable quotes convey the key facts, human emotions, and special terminology which exist in any particular agribusiness subsector. Quotes help students as they evaluate, choose, and defend their best case solution.

    5. Cases about success are valuable to readers.  Present a real, non-trivial, controversial topic or problem and a decision (or set of decisions) that is (are) relevant and important to agribusiness managers. Why?  There are an infinite number of ways to do something wrong, but only a few ways to do something right!  For this reason, cases about successful companies have far more value than cases about failed or failing companies.

    6. Is a case the best format?  Writing a case is difficult for several reasons.  First, the task is intensive because one must write the case and also a supporting teaching note.  Second, one must tell a compelling story.  Ask yourself if a case is the best publishing format for you to adopt.

    7. The case should not include a literature review or an answer. Remember, most great teaching cases do not have one right answer.

References

Lyford, C., J. Beierlein, and K. Harling. 2002. Scholarship and Decision Cases: Pedagogy and Standards for Publication. International Food and Agribusiness Management Review (3):369-379.

Harling, K, and E. Misser.  1998. Case Writing: An Art and A Science. International Food and Agribusiness Management Review 1(1): 119-138.

More about Harvard Style teaching cases can be found at: http://www.hbs.edu/teaching/   

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