Guidelines for Case Studies | Samples of Case Studies Published in the Transactions | Reviewers’ Expectations

About Case Studies:

At the top of the list of preferred formats by readers, case studies report on a specific real-world communication project from start to finish, including results of the project.  Examples of projects include the use of content strategy techniques to redesign a major website, a complex engineering document that can be tailored to different audiences, a novel approach to customer documentation, and  user- or Subject-Matter-Expert-generated documentation.

The case can emerge from empirical research or experience; we only ask that authors clearly indicate the nature of the data. The project must be a real-world project.

Guidelines for Case Studies

Note: We recognize that, in our effort to focus on readers and be clear with authors, our guidelines are extensive and directive. We hope, however, this detailed guidance provides authors with the strongest possible guidance and ensures the most positive outcome possible from the peer-review process.

Formatting References Follow the IEEE style for formatting references, which differs from the APA and MLA styles that are more widely used among professional communicators.For instructions on formatting references, see Guidelines for Formatting References.
Formatting Text Note specific guidelines regarding:

  • File formats
  • Formatting of text (margins, spacing, type face)
  • Formatting of tables, charts, figures, and illustrations

See the Guidelines for Formatting Manuscripts for details.

Please use these titles as major section headings

Address these issues in the section

Introduction This section is intended to situate the case study and explain its significance.
Open by explaining:

  • What this case is about (100 words max)
  • Why it’s relevant to readers of the Transactions on Professional Communication (100 words max)
Close this section by:

  • Stating the research questions underlying the case study
  • Providing a preview of the main sections in the article, using terminology that closely matches the headings.
Situating the Case This section is like a literature review but primarily focuses on showing how this particular case is representative of a larger class of cases, as well as briefly identifying the key research and theories that guided it. The literature cited in this section should include both peer-reviewed and popular sources.  Note that readers are more likely to be familiar with the popular sources; such sources and conference proceedings are likely to contain cases similar to this one.Make sure that the list of sources includes citations to literature in professional and technical communication, to situate the case within the larger conversation in the primary field of study for this journal. Note:  Keep this section to approximately 750 words.  The goal is to situate the case in the literature, not provide a comprehensive literature review.
Immediately following the Situating the Case heading, add a short paragraph that provides a preview of the section.  The paragraph should follow this format: SENTENCE 1: In 30 to 40 words, state the overall purpose of the section. SENTENCE 2: This section starts with list the sub-sections in the section, using words that match word-for-word the titles of the subsections.
Next, explain how you selected literature to include in the review. Explicitly state which topics were chosen (and, if they were not mentioned in the discussion of the theoretical framework, explain why you chose them):

  • Explain how you conducted the search for literature (such as keywords selected)
  • State the criteria used to select individual articles from the results returned by the general search.
Next, describe similar cases presented in the literature.  Include at least 3 cases.
Then, theme by theme, name and define relevant theories and research that apply to this case—and explain why they’re relevant
How this Case Was Studied Because case studies are intended to be based on real data, this is an important section.  Even if this article did not result from a formal research study, please disclose that information so that readers are aware of what data informed the case and how it was collected.  When doing so, however, indicate that data collection was laissez-faireNote:  Keep this section to approximately 500 words.  The goal is to explain how the case study was compiled and demonstrate that there was some rigor and critical thinking involved; it is not necessary to present the level of detail that another researcher would need to duplicate the case.
Immediately following the How this Case Was Studied heading, add a short paragraph that provides a preview of the section.  The paragraph should follow this format: SENTENCE 1: In 30 to 40 words, state the overall purpose of the section. SENTENCE 2: This section starts with list the sub-sections in the section, using words that match word-for-word the titles of the subsections.
Repeat the research questions.
Next explain how the study was conducted.Note that many authors often mix methods and results in this section. So please only explain how the data was collected, do not report what data was collected.  That will be reported in the Results section.
When describing how the data was collected, include information about each of the following though the order will vary depending on the nature of the study:

  • Participants:
    • Describe the characteristics sought in participants.
    • Explain how participants were recruited.
    • Explicitly state that the study received approval from a Research Ethics committee or that it was exempt.

Do not provide detailed, descriptive information about the actual participants.  Save that information for the Results section.

  • How data was collected:  State, step-by-step, how data from which you wrote this case was collected from participants.

Note: Only explain how the data was collected—do not report any of the data that was collected.  Hold that for the results section.

  • Data analysis:  Explain how data was analyzed.
    • If data is analyzed quantitatively, explain (a) which statistical tests were chosen, (b) in plain language—and with a minimum of technical terminology and without acronyms—how this test analyzes the data, and (c) why they are appropriate in this situation.
    • If the data is analyzed qualitatively, explain the types of qualitative analysis.

Note: The use of software is not a data analysis procedure.  It is merely a tool to assist with the process.  However, the tool should be named in the data analysis section as the tool used.

  • Close the Data Analysis section by explaining how you ensured the validity and generalizability (quantitative studies) or trustworthiness and credibility (qualitative and critical studies) of the data.
About the Case Present the case in this section. Note:  This is the “meat” of the article.  It should be the longest section.
Start the section with a short paragraph that provides a preview of the About the Case section.  The paragraph should follow this format: SENTENCE 1: In 30 to 40 words, state the overall purpose of the section. SENTENCE 2: This section starts with list the sub-sections in the section, using words that match word-for-word the titles of the subsections.
1.   The Problem [Use this heading]
a.   Basic problem as originally presented
b.   Major constraints affecting the design and development of the project including (but not restricted to): limited budget, tight schedule, regulations stating how material should be presented, standard templates used within the organization that could not be altered, and similar types of constraints.
2. The Solution [Use this heading.  Do not place the number 2 in front of it.]
a.   Brief Description of the Project [Use this heading.  Do not place the letter a in front of it.]This content provides a point of reference for all later discussion in this section. Specifically, in this part, identify the following about the project:
i. Purpose
ii. Audience
(about 75-125 words)
b.   Brief Walk-Through of the Solution. [Do not use a heading—just present it.] From beginning to end, describe the final deliverable.  Be brief, but provide enough detail so that readers can follow the discussion that follows.  Include illustrations, if appropriate.
(about 200-300 words)
c.     Facts about the solution:


  • Present as a chart.
  • Include a reference to the chart (figure) in the text.
  • Include a caption for the chart.
  • Do not use full sentences except when absolutely necessary.
  • Budget (a general cost range is sufficient: $-Less than $US 5,000; $$–$US 5001-$US 25,000, $$$–$US 25,001 – $US 100,000, $$$$–$US 100,001 – $US 250,000; $$$$$–Over $US 250,000).
  • Length of time needed to complete the project beginning to end.
  • Skills used in the project (such as writing, graphic design, project management.)
  • Software used.
  • Other resources used.
d.   Process for Developing the Solution [Use this heading.  Do not place the letter d in front of it.] Note: Although the solution technically was devised as a result of this process, as a practical measure, many process descriptions make reference to one or more aspects of the resulting solution, and that discussion is impossible to follow unless the solution is described first in the Solution section above. For each key milestone in the process, provide the following information (probably in this order):

  • Describe the deliverable produced during the phase
  • Describe the activities involved in creating the deliverable
  • Describe issues and decisions that arose when developing the deliverable
  • Describe reaction to the deliverable by stakeholders—as well as your response to the reaction (especially if that response required re-work).

Note: Ideally, would include multiple perspectives on the decisions that arose, as well as the documented response.

e.    Results: Describe the performance of the solution in addressing the initial problem after the material was published or otherwise became generally available. In some cases, it worked out well, in other instances, it did not work out well.When possible, include:

  • Feedback from users
  • User performance data (such as from usability tests or performance monitoring in the workplace)
  • Web metrics
  • Return on investment (ROI) and other financial evaluations (if performed).
Conclusions, Limitations and Suggestions for Future Research This section closes the article by describing the broader implications of the study. This section has 3 separate sub-sections:

  1. Conclusions
  2. Limitations
  3. Suggestions for future research

The sub-sections should be presented in this order.

Conclusions.  Present the implications of the findings within the larger context of professional communication.

  • Describe the implications for practicing professionals.
  • Link the conclusions back to the literature cited earlier.  (In some research traditions, this is called the Discussion.)
Limitations should openly acknowledge all of the limitations of the article. Some typical issues that need to be addressed:

  • This is a project on which you worked, rather than reported as a third party.
  • Missing information because it was not available or could not be reported.
Close the article with suggestions for future research that would build on this one.
Note: Do not place an additional set of Conclusions at the end of the article.
Abstract Please write the Abstract as a structured abstract.  Research has shown that these types of abstracts help readers better remember the article.The format for a structured abstract for a case study is.

Background Summarizes the nature and purpose of the case (1 to 2 sentences)
Research question(s) Repeat your research questions
Situating the Case
  • State the purpose of your review.
  • Name similar cases in the literature.
  • Identify key themes from the literature that guided development of the case.

(Approximately 2- 4 sentences total)

How this Case Was Studied
  • Indicate whether the case was formally studied as an empirical research project or an experience report
  • Identify your study as qualitative, quantitative, critical, or mixed
  • Describe how you chose participants and how many you used
  • Describe how you chose your location and its type
  • Identify your method of data collection
    • Name the  analysis techniques
About the Case
  • Describe the problem faced (1 sentence).
  • Describe the solution (1-2 sentences).
  • Name the key resources used in the solution (from the Facts about this Case format) (1 sentence)
  • Describe the process for producing the solution and key challenges faced along the way (1-3 sentences)
  • Report the results of the solution (1 sentence)
Conclusions Summarize the implications of the completed project (1 sentence)

For more information about structured abstracts, click here. 

Samples of Case Studies Published in the Transactions

K. Siebenhandl, G. Schreder, M. Smuc, E. Mayr, & M. Nagl, “A user-centered design approach to self-service ticket vending machines,” IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, vol. 56, no. 2, 138-159, 2013.

R. Raju, “Intercultural communication training in IT outsourcing companies in India: A case study,”IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, vol. 55, no. 3, 262-274, 2012.

[Note that a subscription is required to view the article.  If you do not already have a subscription, your library might.]

Reviewers’ Expectations

To learn about the criteria that reviewers consider when providing feedback on a case study, click here.