How to Write a Reflective Case Study
Dr. Pat Gillett
A Reflective Case Study is similar to any other Case Study in that it presents the details of a particular dilemma. Typically, the reader is required to analyse the information provided in order to answer a number of questions. In doing so the reader not only demonstrates their comprehension and analysis capabilities but they also demonstrate an understanding of the case topic or subject matter.
A Reflective Case Study is simply a case that is based on the writers own personal experience . In terms of writing the case, this is both an advantage and disadvantage. Its an advantage as you are the main source of information and there is no need seek the opinions and viewpoints of other parties involved. It’s a disadvantage in that you are so close to the action that other key perspectives or factors can be easily overlooked.
Writing an interesting case study is a bit like writing a detective story. You want to keep your readers very interested in the situation. A good case is therefore more than just a description. It is information arranged in such a way that the reader is put in the same position as the case writer. A description, on the other hand, arranges all the information, comes to conclusions, tells the reader everything, and the reader really doesn’t have to work very hard.
For this Reflective Case Study assignment, there are four distinct stages:
At the beginning of this stage, avoid the temptation to simply identify and focus on one single career experience. Maybe the first experience you come up with is appropriate but it is always good to have options.
Once you have identified 3-4 career experiences that you might like to write about, go to the topic content (i.e. from the unit) and assess your level of understanding. Do you know the content well enough to develop an effective case study story? Sometimes students will have a very specific experience that they want to focus on but they are unable to incorporate basic topic-related concepts (and theory). As a result, the case story ends up being a personal rant, full of speculative comments and subjective opinions. No valuable learning outcome is available for the reader.
Once you have identified the particular career experience that will be the focus of your case, and you feel that you have a good understanding of the Topic itself, identify and analyse the key case story features. Ask yourself the following questions:
• What is/was the problem?
• How did the problem come about?
• Who is/was involved and what role did they play in creating or solving the problem?
• What concept(s) and/or theories from the topic will be used to help present the case problem?
• What are the key Learning Outcomes that the reader will take from the case story?
Remember that some of the answers to these questions will be presented in your case story and some will be reserved for the Question and Answer section.
3. Writing the case story:
Like all good stories, your case study should have an introduction, body and conclusion.
Good introductions provide a small amount of context. For example, various characteristics of the organisation might be identified (industry, size, location, etc) as well as 1-2 key characters. This background information subsequently provides the opportunity to identify, either explicitly or discreetly, the case study problem.
Having identified the problem in the introduction, the body of your case is where the contributing information is provided. Be careful as this is where you can easily lose the reader by dishing out mundane and irrelevant details. Consider the value and purpose of each sentence. A key challenge of this phase is to also recognise what information needs to be left out. Provide too much information and the reader is not required to undertake any analysis; and therefore no great learning outcome is achieved.
Writing the conclusion in a case study can be tricky because you are not required to present a dramatic ending or make any recommendations. The following Q&A section will achieve those outcomes.
In the conclusion, focus on how the problem has impacted the organisation and/or the individual workers. Here you are setting up the question and answers that will follow. After reading the conclusion, the reader should have at least one of your questions in their mind. Make them think they have come up with it themselves; i.e. rather than explicitly identifying it.
4. Writing the questions and answers:
It goes without saying that the questions should be directly related to the dilemma presented in the case story.
Avoid being overly simplistic with your questions. For example, asking the reader “what factors were critical to the dilemma?” offers no real opportunity to analyse the case (your just asking them to describe it) or to show their understanding of the topic.
When writing your answers, it is important that no new information is introduced. You do want the reader to make some inferences by drawing on their understanding of the topic. However its not fair to expect that they anticipate some obscure feature you had in mind but did not disclose in the case.