How to... demonstrate professional achievement through publication Part: 2

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How to... demonstrate professional achievement through publication

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Case study guide

Why publish?

We acknowledge that writing for publication may seem an unfamiliar task for many practitioners; that publication is not in the remit of your job description, and therefore may seem much less important than day-to-day responsibilities such as keeping up with your targets and the inevitable "firefighting". However, the very fact that you're reading this demonstrates not only a desire to go that extra mile in your job, but also the potential commitment to undertake the task of writing a paper for publication. Possible reasons motivating a practitioner to write a paper – some you might relate to – include:

  • Internal and external recognition: you may have done something interesting that has made a difference, or your company/organization has something worthwhile to say, such as a new initiative which could be communicated as part of a case study. If this is the case, publishing will get your company or organization noticed.
  • Esteem: publishing will bring recognition of the part you played in improving or changing practice within an organization.
  • Career progression and personal development: a published paper looks good on a CV, even if you are not expected to publish. This extra accreditation will give you an edge in a very competitive job market. Publishing will also help get you noticed among your peers and provide valuable networking opportunities:
    "The value for practitioners is having a link from a credible source like Emerald. By having a page where you feature your author that says 'this is Mary Adams, this is her business' and a link to my site, it begins to create a community and identity for the author" (Mary Adams).
  • Sharing knowledge and experience: publishing will provide a good means of sharing your opinions and experiences with colleagues and peers worldwide. The very act of writing a paper will also provide an opportunity to commit yourself to an idea and explore its development at a critical stage through your research.

From our own surveying of practitioner authors, we have been able to gauge an understanding of the importance of each motivation as a determinant towards writing a paper specifically for publication. For instance, in our survey of over 2,000 practitioner authors, we have found the following results to the question, "What best describes your motivation for writing and submitting papers?":

Figure 1. Graph depicting authors' motivation for writing and submitting papers.

  • 85 per cent identified esteem as a main driver.
  • 80 per cent identified career progression and personal development.
  • 70 per cent answered sharing knowledge and experience.
  • 50.2 per cent answered internal and external recognition.

What paper?

The question of what paper to write can be a difficult one, and often dependent on the scope and depth of the research being conducted. Academics will tend to write research papers, primarily because this format best fits their own objectives regarding depth of analysis. However, producing a lengthy research paper, including the research behind it and writing of it, is not a feasible option for a practitioner author who also has additional day-to-day requirements.

From a research survey of practitioner authors, where they were asked, "What type of papers are you/would you be most inclined to submit?", the following answers were given:

Figure 2. Pie chart depicting the type of papers authors are most inclined to submit.

In addition to the survey of practitioner authors, we also took the opportunity to survey a large number of editors of Emerald-published journals, who gave the following responses to the question, "What type/format of papers are best received from the corporate and public sectors?":

Figure 3. Pie chart depicting type/format of papers best received from the corporate and public sectors.

Of those editors who responded, 82 per cent registered an interest in engineering greater network links with practitioner authors, while nearly all agreed that content written by practitioners is perceived as valuable to both current and prospective readers. Case studies, in particular, especially when written by practitioners working within the area of enquiry, were singled out as being of high demand by most editors.

What is a case study?

A well written case study allows readers to investigate a contemporary phenomenon within a real life context. For instance the case study can be a valuable method of communicating the tangible benefits of a particular project or specific way of working. It is this focus on something real and particular that makes case studies an exciting alternative to the orthodox research paper written by academics. For this reason, case studies are often used in business education and fed into both academic and practitioner communities.

Case study objectives

A case study involves an in-depth examination of a single instance or event. It is therefore important that the scope of a case study has a specific focus, and tries not to deviate too far away from its original agenda. However, to produce an interesting scope it is also necessary that the case study is produced with a clear idea of what the reader will take from its particular focus: will they understand its findings or key message? Is it accessible to those readers who are not subject experts in the particular area of focus? By answering these questions you can begin to understand the importance of identifying the needs of the reader. Other relevant questions worth assessing include:

  • How will the reader benefit from my work?
  • Is there anything new or original about my work?
  • What can be generalized about my work/focus, and is it translatable for the next person?

This last point is very important for deciding on the focus of the case study because, as mentioned, case studies are now being predominantly integrated into business education: it must be practical research as an aid to gaining a sharpened understanding of a particular phenomenon. To help sharpen your readers' understanding a good structure is a key ingredient for any valuable case study.

Case study: structure

The following advice should be read as a generalized overview of a case study's key features. For a more technical guide on how to write a case study, you may find the author guidelines on the Emerald website to be of good use, see:

As mentioned, with a substantial piece of writing it is important to identify a particular area or subject of focus before you begin, and how best to present this focus to the reader so that they can take the most from it.

Essential elements to include in a case study are:

  1. Background – answering why this particular focus was chosen.
  2. Objectives – answering what the research is trying to achieve.
  3. Analysis – of salient events.
  4. Results – and how they were obtained.
  5. Implications – for readers, practitioners and researchers.

Once these five key elements are included, it is then necessary to think about a structural design for the case study, including how the research will read or look. For example:

  • Linear analytic: adopting the viewpoint of the observer, and always dealing with the issue/research subject from beginning to end.
  • Comparative: looking at the subject of focus from various perspectives or points of view and considering which gives the best explanation.
  • Chronological: the analysis or results of the case study are presented in chronological order.
  • Theory building: the case study is presented in the context of a particular theory.
  • Suspense: the opposite of the linear analytic structure, with the outcome being presented first and followed by a contextual explanation.

Once you have decided on the structure that will best present your particular investigative focus, the next important step is to consider how you will gather the data that not only form the core of your investigation, but also give it validity.

Case study: methodology

When attempting to gather data you will begin to notice many different sources of data, and what you choose to use will depend on your research design. No one source of data is complete, and it is important to give your research depth by having more than one source.

Two main examples of data types important to a case study include:

  1. Secondary data: An example of secondary data includes existing documents or archival records from a company's databases. Existing literature covering a particular subject is also a common source of secondary data. This type of existing data are good for backing up one's point of view or rationale.
  2. Primary data: An example of primary data would include one's findings from interviews with key informants, questionnaires, or direct observation. The achievement of such data requires an active or direct approach from the researcher/author. It would be difficult to write a good case study by ignoring the inclusion of primary data. When collecting any data it is essential that the researcher adheres to a system of ethics and research protocol, details of which can be found at the research "how to guides" section of the Emerald website.