This section provides some advice on the process of writing up your report.
Plan the report
Before you begin to write the report, it is essential to have a plan of its structure. You can begin to plan the report while you are investigating the case.
Fist, prepare an outline (in list or mind-map format) of the main headings and subheadings you will have in the report. Then add notes and ideas to the outline which remind you of what you want to achieve in each section and subsection. Use the outline to help you consider what information to include, where it should go and in what sequence. Be prepared to change your outline as your ideas develop. Finally, the outline headings and subheadings can be converted into the contents page of your report.
Schedule your writing time
Prepare a schedule for writing and editing the sections of the report. Allow some extra time just in case you find some sections difficult to write. Begin by writing the sections you feel most confident about. Preliminary sections (executive summary, introduction) and supplementary sections (conclusions, reference list and appendices) are usually prepared last. Some writers like to begin with their conclusions (where the writer's thoughts are at that moment) or the methodology (it's easier to write about your own work).
Analyse your audience
In writing a case study report in your course, the report is often intended for an imaginary person so you need to make sure that your language and style suites that person. For example, a report for senior management will be different in content and style and language to a technical report. A report to a community group would also be different again in content, style and language. Audience definition helps you decide what to include in the report based on what readers need to know to perform their jobs better or what the readers need to know to increase their knowledge about your subject. These notes on audience analysis are adapted from Huckin and Olsen (p1991)
*After: Huckin & Olsen ,1991.1.
- Who will read the report? Think about all the uses of the report and where and when it would be read. Reports written within an organisation may be read by different people and different departments; for example, technical and design specialists, supervisors, senior managers, lawyers, marketing and finance specialists.
- What are the readers' needs and goals? Each department or unit in an organisation has its own needs and goals. Understanding the different perspectives can help you decide how to communicate persuasively to these groups. For example while design engineers may prefer to develop new or alternative design to show progress in their field, the marketing specialist may prefer that the organisation imitate a known successful design to save time.
- How do I make communication clear for managers? Communication must be accessible and useful to busy managers as they will primarily seek important generalisations. This has implications for the report's structure, the amount of orientation or background information provided and the level of technical language used. An executive summary, introductions to new sections and concluding summaries for major sections should be included in the report.
- What might be the readers' preferences or objections to the report? You may need to address the significance and benefits/limitations of your recommendations from a number of readers' perspectives in the report. You may also need to consider compromises as a way to acknowledge potential conflicts or criticisms of your recommendations or solutions.
Prepare a draft report
Writers rarely produce a perfect piece of text in their first attempt so a number of drafts are usually produced. Careful planning and editing will ensure a consistent professional standard in the report. You will need to do the following:
- Revise the task often
Do this by keeping both the reader's needs and the report's objectives in mind as you gather information, take notes and write sections of the report.
Do this by taking clear notes, which include the information gathered and your thoughts about the usefulness and the implications of this information. Review your notes to decide what is essential information to include in the report.
- Create a logical structure
Use your contents page outline to decide where information will go. Within each section, plan the subheadings and then decide on the sequence of information within these.
Check that your writing flows and that your ideas are supported and plausible. If you are not sure what to look for, here are links to advice and activities on report organisation, cohesion and evidence.
Ensure that all your figures and tables communicate a clear message. Show a colleague your visuals to check how they will be interpreted or 'read'.
For first drafts, a word processor's spell checker and grammar checker can be useful however, do not rely solely on these tools in your final edit as they are not perfect. Errors will be overlooked or even created by these programs! The best ways to edit are to read a printed copy and where possible get a colleague to read and give feedback.
Here is a report checklist that you can print out: CHECKLIST
Case writing is a vital force behind research at HBS. Nearly 80 percent of cases used at business schools worldwide are developed by HBS faculty. HBS case studies have helped refine the skills and business judgment of tens of thousands of students, practitioners, and academics across the world. The School is continually expanding and refreshing course content as HBS faculty write new cases that span the globe, industries, disciplines, and organizational forms in the public, private for profit, and non-profit spaces. As its faculty continues to develop case studies, the School is shaping business learning and educating future leaders in a positive way for years to come.
What is a case study?
The HBS case study is a teaching vehicle that presents students with a critical management issue and serves as a springboard to lively classroom debate in which participants present and defend their analysis and prescriptions. The average case is 15 to 20 pages long (about 7 to 12 pages of prose and 5 to 7 pages of tables and figures). The two main types of cases at the School are field cases based on onsite research, and library cases written solely from public sources. HBS also writes "armchair" cases based entirely on faculty’s general knowledge and experience. Moreover, in 1995, the School’s Educational Technology Services began producing multimedia cases that provide a rich learning experience by bringing together video, audio, graphics, animation, and other mediums.
Case research and writing
Field case development is a dynamic and collaborative process in which faculty engage business or governmental leaders, sometimes working together with a colleague at HBS or at other academic institutions. The Case Studies for Harvard Business School brochure is a helpful resource to organizations interested in working with the School on a case. Case leads are identified based on a faculty’s teaching purpose and may arise as the result of a past relationship with an executive, a former student, or from a professor’s interest in exploring with a company’s management team a situation that would provide a meaningful learning experience. HBS works closely with host organizations to guarantee confidentiality.
Field cases typically take two months to complete - from obtaining a host organization’s approval to move forward on a case, to conducting onsite interviews, and drafting a case that paints a picture of the management issue and provides a mix of real-world uncertainty and information required for decision-making analysis.
Case supportA vast array of case-writing support is available to HBS faculty. Support is provided by case writers who work as individual research associates or are available on a project by project basis through our on-campus Case Research and Writing Group and eight regional research centers (Asia-Pacific, California, Europe, India, Japan, Latin America, Harvard Center Shanghai, and Istanbul). Baker Library’s extensive business collection and specialist librarians comprise another invaluable research and case-writing resource.
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