HO W T O W R I T E A
C A S E - B A SE D E S S AY
riting about a case is very different from talking about it.You collaborate with others in a discussion, bringing to bear everyone’s background and case preparation along with the instructor’s knowledge and facilitation skills. But you usually work on your own when writing about a case.You have to perform the entire analysis yourself as well as organize and express your thinking for a reader.
However, the difference between talking and writing about a case runs deeper still.Audiences have much more exacting expectations of a text than they do of spoken comments. Logical gaps and the back-and-fill tolerable in a discussion are a major problem in an essay, confusing readers and undermining the writer’s credibility. Audiences don’t want a transcript of the writer’s thinking as it evolved.They want to know the end product of the writer’s thinking, expressed logically and economically.
CHAR ACTERISTICS OF A
PERSUA SIVE C A SE ESSAY
Writing about a case builds on the process of analyzing a case.The case situations described in previous chapters can be used to organize essays. An essay arguing a decision is organized in a different way from one offering a problem diagnosis.The structure of problem, decision, and evaluation essays is described in chapters 10 through 12, respectively. The chapters also include cases and sample essays about them. The essays are based on the writing of MBA students.
To convince a reader that a conclusion about a case is valid, the writer must offer credible evidence linked directly to the conclusion. This fact helps explain the characteristics case-based essays have in common: 1. Answers two questions—What? Why?—and often a third—How? 2. Makes a position statement (What?)
3. Uses evidence to persuade the reader (Why?)
4. If needed, provides an action plan (How?)
Contrary to what many MBA students think, most professors don’t want essays filled with lengthy case summaries and lists of insights and observations. They don’t want you to prove to them that you have read the case carefully by telling them everything you know about it. They want you to answer whatever questions you have been asked about a case—and to answer them as efficiently as you can.
The parts of a case essay can be organized around three simple questions: What? Why? How? The position statement responds to What? and the argument answers Why? How? refers to action: How should the recommended decision be implemented? How can the problem be fixed? Exhibit 9-1 sums up the organizing questions for a case-based essay.
A sharply focused position statement organizes the entire essay. Without one, the essay has no purpose or direction as far as the reader is concerned. The most common failing of the case exams I have seen over the years is that the writers try to look at a situation from all angles, suggesting many meanings but committing to none. I use only one negative example in this book, but it’s instructive to look at an essay that complicates the reader’s task from the beginning. It was written as a response to the decision situation described in “General Electric: Major Appliance Business Group (Abridged),” a case used in chapter 11.1
E X H I B I T 9-1
Case-based essay Q&A
Position statement (expresses a conclusion)
I recommend that the Project C (PJC hereinafter) management team go to the board of directors and ask for an additional capital authorization structured as follows:
+10% = $2.8 million for the management information and...
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