How to...
Write a teaching case study

What is a teaching case study?

A discussion-based case study is an education tool to facilitate learning about, and analysis of, a real-world situation.

A case study provides a well-researched and compelling narrative about an individual, or a group of people, that needs to make a decision in an organisational setting.

The case study narrative includes relevant information about the situation, and gives multiple perspectives on the problem or decision that needs to be taken, but does not provide analysis, conclusions, or a solution.

How does a case study work in education?

Teaching cases expose students to real-world business dilemmas in different cultural contexts.

Students are expected to read the case study and prepare an argument about the most appropriate course of action or recommendation, which can be debated in a facilitated case study class session, or documented in a case study assignment or examination.

A case teaching note, containing recent and relevant theoretical and managerial frameworks, will be published alongside the teaching case, and can be used to demonstrate the links between course content and the case situation to support teaching of the case method.


Top tips for writing a case study

Teaching case studies have a distinctive literary style: they are written in the third person, in the past tense, and establish an objectivity of core dilemmas in the case.

We have gathered some top tips for you to think about as your write your case study.

Classroom learning

Collect information

Cases can be based on primary or secondary data; however, carrying out interviews with the protagonist and others in the organisation, where possible, often results in a better and more balanced case study.

Make sure that you have all the materials you will need before you start the writing process. This will speed up the actual process. Most case studies have a mixture of primary and secondary sources to help capture the spirit of the protagonist.

Structure the narrative

Tell the story in chronological order and in the past tense. Identify and establish the central protagonist and their dilemma in the first paragraph and summarise the dilemma again at the end of the case.

Develop the protagonist

Ensure the protagonist is a well-developed character and that students can identify with their motivations throughout the case.

Get permission

When you submit your case study and teaching note, you must include signed permission from the relevant protagonist or company featured in the case and for any material for which you don’t own the copyright. 

Get ready to write

Be clear on your teaching objective

The case method offers a variety of class participation methods, such as discussion, role-play, presentation, or examination. Decide which method best suits the case you want to write. 

Identify case lead author

You might want to consider writing your case study in partnership with colleagues. However, if you are writing a case with other people you need to make sure that the case reads as one voice.

You do not have to share the work evenly. Instead, play to your individual strengths: one author might be better at data analysis, one a better writer. Agree and clarify the order of appearance of authors. This is very important since this cannot be changed after publication.

Write a thorough teaching note

A well-written case study needs an equally well-written teaching note to allow instructors to adopt the case without the need for additional research. The standard teaching note provides key materials such as learning objectives, sample questions and answers, and more. See 'What to include in your teaching note' to produce effective teaching note for your case.

What is the difference between teaching cases and research focused cases?

Writing a teaching case requires a distinctive literary style; it should be written in the third person, in the past tense, and establish objectivity of the core dilemmas in the case.

To begin with, a case has to have a hook: an overriding issue that pulls various parts together, a managerial issue or decision that requires urgent attention. 

The trick is to present the story so that the hook is not immediately apparent but ‘discovered’ by students putting the relevant pieces together. More importantly, the hook must be linked to a particular concept, theory, or methodology. 

A teaching case reflects the ambiguity of the situation and need not have a single outcome, as the intent is to create a dialogue with students, encourage critical thinking and research, and evaluate recommendations.

Research cases are a methodology used to support research findings and add to the body of theoretical knowledge, and as such are more academically-focused and evidence-based.

Writing a case study

How to write & structure a case

  • Write in the past tense
  • Identify and establish an issue/problem which can be used to teach a concept or theory

The opening paragraph should make clear:

  • Who the main protagonist is 
  • Who the key decision maker is 
  • What the nature of the problem or issue is 
  • When the case took place, including specific dates 
  • Why the issue or problem arose

The body of the case should:

  • Tell the whole story – usually in a chronological order 
  • Typically contain general background on business environment, company background, and the details of the specific issue(s) faced by the company 
  • Tell more than one side of the story so that students can think of competing alternatives

The concluding paragraph should:

  • Provide a short synthesis of the case to reiterate the main issues, or even to raise new questions

How to write a teaching note

Before you start, choose where to publish your case study and familiarise yourself with the style and formatting requirements.

Read about getting ready to publish and visit the Emerald Cases Hub for courses and guides on writing case studies and teaching notes.

Get ready to publish

What to include in your teaching note


Case synopsis

Provide a brief summary (approximately 150-200 words) describing the case setting and key issues. Include:

  • Name of the organisation
  • Industry
  • Country
  • Time span of the case study
  • Details of the protagonist
  • The dilemma facing the protagonist
  • Sub-field of academia the case is designed to teach (e.g., market segmentation in the telecommunications sector).

Target audience

Clearly identify the appropriate audience for the case (e.g., undergraduate, graduate, or both).  Consider:

  • Possible courses where the case can be used
  • Level of difficulty
  • Specific pre-requisites
  • Discipline(s) for which the case is most relevant

If there are multiple target audiences, discuss different teaching strategies.

Top tip: remember that the deciding factor for most instructors looking to find a case for their classroom is relevancy. Working with a specific audience in mind and sharing guidance on case usage helps develop the applicability of your case.

Learning objectives

Set a minimum of one objective for a compact case study and three to four for a longer case. Your objectives should be specific and reflective of the courses you suggest your case be taught in. Make it clear what students can expect to learn from reading the case.

Top tip: Good learning objectives should cover not only basic understanding of the context and issues presented in the case, but also include a few more advanced goals such as analysis and evaluation of the case dilemma.

Research methods

Outline the types of data used to develop the case, how this data was gathered, and whether any names/details/etc. within the case have been disguised. Please note that you will need to obtain consent from the case protagonist/organisation if primary data has been used. Cases based on secondary data (i.e., any information that is publicly available) are not required to obtain consent.

Teaching plan and objectives

Provide a breakdown of the classroom discussion time into sections. Include a brief description of the opening and closing 10-15 minutes, as well as challenging case discussion questions with comprehensive sample answers.

Provide instructors a detailed breakdown of how you would teach the case in 90 minutes. Include:

  • Brief description of the opening 10-15 minutes.
  • Suggested class time, broken down by topics, assignment questions, and activities.
  • Brief description of the closing 10-15 minutes. Reinforce the learning objectives and reveal what actually happened, if applicable

Assignment questions and answers

Include a set of challenging assignment questions that align with the teaching objectives and relate to the dilemma being faced in the case.

Successful cases will provide:

  • Three to five questions aligned to the learning objectives.
  • A combination of closed, open-ended, and even controversial questions to create discussion.
  • Questions that prompt students to consider a dilemma from all angles.

Successful sample answers should:

  • Provide an example of an outstanding (A+) response to each question. To illustrate the full range of potential answers, good teaching notes often go on to provide examples of marginal and even incorrect responses as well.
  • Draw from recent literature, theory, or research findings to analyse the case study.
  • Reflect the reality that a case may not necessarily have a single correct answer by highlighting a diversity of opinions and approaches.

Supporting material

Supporting materials can include any additional information or resources that supplement the experience of using your case. Examples of these materials include  such as worksheets, videos, reading lists, reference materials, etc. If you are including classroom activities as part of your teaching note, please provide detailed instructions on how to direct these activities.


Test & learn

When you have finished writing your case study and teaching note, test them!

Try them out in class to see if students have enough information to thoughtfully address the case dilemma, if the teaching note supports an engaged class discussion, and if the teaching note assignments/lesson plan timing are appropriate. Revise as needed based on the class experience before submitting.


Guide to writing a teaching note

Our short PDF guide will give you advice on writing your teaching note, what you should include and our top tips to creating an effective teaching note.

Download our guide

Final thoughts on writing

What makes a great teaching case?

  • Written in the case teaching narrative style, not in the style of a research article
  • Classroom tested, making it much more robust
  • Objective, considering all sides of a dilemma
  • Aligned with the objectives of the publication in which it is included
  • Structured to allow for relevant learning outcomes, enabling students to meet them effectively

Common review feedback comments

  • The case requires additional information in order to be taught
  • A lack of detail
  • Suggested answers are not supported by the case
  • Learning objectives which apply a model without a purpose
  • No sample answers
  • Not written in the third person or past tense
  • No analysis or lessons learned

What makes a good teaching note?

  • Clear learning objectives
  • Suggested class time, broken down by topics
  • Suggested student assignment
  • Brief description of the opening and closing 10-15 minutes and case synopsis
  • Challenging case discussion questions with sample answers
  • Supporting materials – worksheets, videos, readings, reference material, etc
  • Target audience identified
  • If applicable, an update on ‘what actually happened’

The Emerald Cases Hub

Register on the Emerald Cases Hub to access free resources designed by case-writing experts to help you write and publish a quality case study. Develop your skills and knowledge with a course on writing a case study and teaching note, view sample cases, or explore modules on teaching/leaning through the case method.

Visit the Emerald Cases Hub

Which publication would suit my case study?

A key factor in boosting the chances of your case study being published is making sure it is submitted to the most suitable outlet. Emerald is delighted to offer two key options: 

Students in classroom

Emerging Markets Case Studies (EMCS)

EMCS welcomes well-researched, instructive, and multimedia online cases about the most interesting companies in complex emerging market contexts, to be used by faculty to develop effective managers globally. 

Cases must be factual and be developed from multiple sources, including primary data sourced and signed-off by the company involved.

Find out more about EMCS


The CASE Journal

The CASE Journal (TCJ)

TCJ is the official journal of The CASE Association, the leading online, double-blind, peer-reviewed journal featuring factual teaching cases and case exercises spanning the full spectrum of business and management disciplines.

TCJ invites submissions of cases designed for classroom use.

Find out more about TCJ

Next steps