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A Guide to Construction Management

What is a Case Study?

A case study is an account of an activity, event, or problem that contains a real or hypothetical situation and includes complexities you would encounter in the workplace. Case studies are used to help you see how the complexities of real life influence decisions.

This may take the form of a historical case study which analyzes the causes and consequences of a situation and discusses the lessons learned. 

Other types of case studies imagine or role play to make plausible recommendations to senior management. Some case studies attempt to solve a problem by developing a new design. These types of case studies are problem-oriented.


Why use a Case Study?

Case studies expose you to real-life examples of situations that you may deal with, or not otherwise experience – if you come across something only once in your career, you’re learning on the fly. Case studies allow you to:

  • Explore the nature of a problem and circumstances that affect a solution
  • Learn about others' viewpoints and how they may be taken into account
  • Define your priorities and make your own decisions to solve a similar problem
  • Predict outcomes and consequences

If you’ve seen something similar in a case study, you’ve got something to look back on. Case studies also let you lay out all the information from hindsight, including the stuff that might not be obvious in the moment, but is there if you know to look for it and ask the right questions. You can put yourself in the shoes of the various decision makers and consider what blind spots you might have in a similar situation.

They can also promote creative thought. Some readers may have a similar situation but have never considered the solution that worked in the case study. Other readers may find that the ultimate solution in the case study won't work for them, but the trial and error solutions discarded in the case study may provide guidance about a path that will work. Finding out what other people did isn't just a "how to" to fix something. It's a "how to" in ways to address a problem.

Case studies demonstrate the complexity and messiness of real situations, and the reality that any decision to be made has to be made with incomplete information.

In other words: They are NOT clean sanitized homework problems or simple examples that have a single easy answer. They are real situations with real ethical dilemmas that may or may not have been dealt with properly in the past. They provide you (the students) to delve into the nasty, twisted, complicated reality of ethical dilemmas and hopefully come out with a healthy respect that decision makers in ethical situations don't always have a quick simple answer but are caught in a dilemma and they try to do the best they can in spite of the situation. You can not get this experience any other way short of placing you into an actual ethical dilemma, which ironically would be unethical for us to do to you.

How to Find a Case Study

1. Experiment with searching "case study"

Don't rely on searching just for "case studies," but sometimes it can be a good way to narrow down your results. While some writers and researchers will include the actual phrase "case study" in the title of their report, many don't! Some databases have a filter for Case Studies (just like some have filters for peer-reviewed journal articles, full text, or date range), so look around to see if there's a check box to limit your search that way.

2. Combine different articles

If you're looking for something really niche or specific, you may have to read several articles and then take what you learn from each and merge them together. For example, look for articles on construction of your particular situation, look for synonyms, and do some more searches to get enough information.

3. Try different databases

Different databases have different content from magazines, journals, etc. So if you're not finding what you need in one of them, don't just spin your wheels! Try another one. Check out the list of engineering and interdisciplinary databases below.

4. Try journals directly

If you skip a database and head straight to a relevant journal, you might be able to find information more quickly. That's because journals are typically about a very specific topic.

5. Try some more resources outside of Cline Library

Consider searching the internet for companies that have been involved in actual projects to find case studies. Actual projects that have been done for a given city or municipality might have their supporting documentation freely available on their websites. And don't be afraid of Wikipedia! It's easy to search and get a brief overview of a case study. However, don't use Wikipedia itself as your source - scroll down to the bottom of the article and use the sources under "References."