Components of a Compact Case

The CASE Journal

Compact Cases are intended to be no more than 1,000 words in length (about two single-spaced pages).  Keep this in mind as you write by watching the word count as you write.  In Microsoft Word, the word count can be viewed in the bottom left corner of the Word window.


1. Hook:  Cases begin with a short description that is intended to “grab” or “hook” the reader and generate interest in reading further.  It should not be a synopsis but stimulate the reader’s curiosity.  The hook has two other important functions—providing enough information about the company that the reader understands what the case is about (this can be done in a single sentence or in a short phrase) and the timeframe of the case (this can be done by starting a sentence with “In 2015….”

2. Industry:  This is a short description of the industry that includes some indication of the size of the industry, identification of the primary factors for producing profit within the industry, description of important industry structural factors—barriers to entry, competition, etc., and any other information that is deemed necessary to understanding the context of the business.  Compact Cases are easier to write if the industry is less complex or well-known by the reader.

3. Company Story:  This is a short description of the organizational history of the company (not too deep) and the most critical aspects of the business at this time.  It provides background information unique to the firm that provides context for understanding the issues that are addressed in the case.  Please note that sometimes authors choose to put this section before the industry section.

4. Manager(s):  If the case focuses on a specific decision that must be made, this section provides a description of the decision-maker(s).  If possible, use quotes from the managers to give the reader a better feel for his/her personality.  Quotes must have appropriate citations of sources—you can use quotes from periodicals and newspaper interviews or from videos or audio speeches, etc. 

5. Problem/Case Focus:  Using a storytelling format, describe the problem/issue that is the focus of the case.  This should be done from the manager or firm’s perspective.  Try to describe the problem/issue without injecting your personal feelings or biases.  Here we are interested in a factual account of the elements of the problem/issue.  It is sometimes beneficial to show different perspectives of the problem/issue—for example, perhaps the manager sees things one way, but the customers have a completely different take on the issue.  Quotes from the manager and Facebook posts from customers can illustrate this difference in opinions. 

Take care not to write the case so that everything leads to a single clear solution.  Cases are intended to prompt discussion, and there will be little to discuss if the correct course of action is abundantly clear by the end of the case!

6. Closing Hook:  This ends the case and reminds the reader of what the case was supposed to be about.  It sometimes returns to the opening scenario and restates the problems/issues.  While it is common to end with a few questions, these should be written as internal questions that the manager or decision maker is considering rather than assignment questions for students.

7. Exhibits:  In case writing, we call anything (table, chart, diagrams, photo, etc.) that is included in the case an Exhibit (easier than deciding which to label as Tables, which to call Figures, etc.).  These are then labeled consecutively as Exhibit 1, Exhibit 2….

Information contained in the Exhibits does not “count” as part of the word limit for Compact Cases.  Think creatively to develop ways to include important information as an exhibit.    Exhibits should be included only if they contain essential information for the reader.   Appropriate exhibits for Compact Cases include:

a. Graphs— Especially useful to show important trends—rather than tell the reader that the company had experienced phenomenal growth, it is better to show it with a graph.  Make sure to label the graph axes and to give the graph a title.  Pie graphs showing market share, product mix, etc. would also be appropriate.
b. Financial statements— Most strategy cases provide a balance sheet and income statement (3-5 years for each).  In a Compact Case, we don't usually want to offer full statements but may provide selected highlights from these statements.   Sometimes it is useful to provide competitive comparisons like the McDonald's vs. Chipotle exhibit from the Chipotle case example.
c. Photos—Photos should only be used to illustrate something that is difficult for the reader to appreciate from text descriptions.  Examples might include photos of the product if it is not well known, photos of store displays if this is an issue in the case.   We do not need pictures of the managers unless the race/gender/nationality of the manager is an essential aspect of the case issue or problem.  Sources must be cited for all photos included.
d. Maps—Maps are often included if the case focus involves geographic considerations.  For example, a supply chain case might provide a map so that the reader can readily appreciate some of the challenges of getting products from the port to major distribution centers.  Sources must be cited for the maps used.
e. Diagrams/Charts—Sometimes it is useful to provide an organization chart to show the relationship of different managers to one another.  Likewise, charts can be used to show steps in the manufacturing process, etc.  It is assumed that if no citation is provided for a diagram/chart that it was created by the author(s) of the case.

Case Writing Conventions

1. PAST TENSE—Cases are always written in the past tense even though it may seem awkward.  This is because the events you are writing about have already happened (even if it was just yesterday).  The only exception is when direct quotations are used.  If the manager says “I am worried about what might happen,“ do not change “am” to “was.”  If you are writing a descriptive statement (not a quote ) write “Jeff Smith was worried about what might happen.”

2. Personal Pronouns When Referencing Firms—DO NOT use “they,” “their” or “them” when referencing companies.  Use “it,”  “the firm,”  “the company,” the name of the company or its stock ticker.  Often you will find that you can just delete the “they” without any problems.

3. NO CONTRACTIONS/SLANG—Unless it is in a direct quote, do not use contractions (didn’t instead of did not) or slang in the case narrative.

4. NO ANALYSIS—The case is supposed to tell the story about the problem/issue.  Do not provide analysis (like SWOT, Porter’s Five Forces or PESTEL) in the case.  Describe the issues that would allow the reader to do a SWOT etc.—do not provide an Exhibit that is a SWOT table.  This type of analysis belongs in the Instructor’s Manual.

5. Appropriate Headers—Use bolded headers to help readers quickly locate specific information (note—we generally do not use any header for the opening hook nor do we use the header "Closing Hook" for the last section of the case).  Each page of the case should have at least one or two headers to indicate the various parts of the narrative.