How to Cite a Case Study


Students are often puzzled about the proper citation format for unusual documents or sources. While they can easily find information on how to cite books, online sources, or periodicals, they may be puzzled about how to cite lesser known sources, like case studies.

Case studies may not a very common type of source, but they can absolutely add value to your research paper or dissertation. In fact, some schools, particularly a very well-known Ivy League’s business school, have become well-known for publishing case studies that challenge some of the assumptions in different industries.

Definition of Case Study

There are actually multiple different definitions for the term case study, each referring to slightly different versions of similar real-life studies of people or phenomenon, in context. In general, the term case study refers to a type of research methodology commonly used in the social sciences, which is an empirical inquiry into a phenomenon in its real-life setting. Case studies tend to be intensively in-depth. In contrast to other types of research, they do not have control groups. Instead, the focus on a single person, group, or event. Therefore, case studies cannot establish cause and effect relationships. Instead, they seek to explore potential causes of the principals being studies, and rather than being conclusory, tend to be both descriptive and exploratory.

While the term case study refers to a single study, research presented in a case study format may actually look at multiple case studies. In those instances, the case study may offer quantitative evidence in addition to qualitative evidence.

Basic Rules for Citing Case Studies

In general, case studies are going to be cited like books. That is because case studies are generally going to be published by publishing houses, giving you many of the same identifying information that you need when citing a book.

However, and this is an important thing to note, sometimes case studies are going to be located within other sources. You may find case studies within books, within periodicals, and within dissertations or thesis. If the case study you are citing is published within another type of publication, then you will cite the case study as an appropriate part of that publication. For example, if the case study is a chapter in a book, then you would cite to the book chapter. If the case study is found in an academic article, then you would cite to the academic article.

Can You Cite an Unpublished Case Study?

There may be times that you want to cite a case study prior to publication or even a case study that is not slated for publication. In those instances, you may wonder if you can use the case study, and, if so, how to properly cite to it.

The citation format for an unpublished case study is relatively easy. In both APA or MLA format, citing to unpublished works is similar to citing to published works. You would simply need the author’s name, the date it was published, the title of the case study, where it was located, and when it was accessed.

Basic APA Citation Format for a Case Study

Last Name, Initials. (Date published). Title. City of Publication: Publisher.

Basic MLA Citation Format for a Case Study

Last Name, First Name. Title. City of Publication: Publisher, Year Published.

Method of Publication. URL.

In MLA 7, it was up to the user to determine whether or not to include a URL with sources found on the web. However, MLA 8 suggests that URLs be included in a citation whenever the source has been found online.


For this example, we are going to look at a screenshot that gives us the publication information for a case study from the Harvard Business Review.

Looking at the screenshot, you can see the following information:

Authors: Elizabeth Collins and Larry E. Greiner

Title: A Day in the Life of Alex Sander: Driving in the Fast Lane at Landon Care Products

Publication Date: April 11, 2008

Source: HBS Brief Cases

This screenshot does not tell us the publisher or the place of publication, but the source was found searching through the Harvard Business Review. That tells us the following information:

Publisher: Harvard University Press.

Place of Publication: Boston

APA Citation:

Collins, E. & Greiner, L.E. (2008, April 11). A Day in the Life of Alex Sander: Driving in the

Fast Lane at Landon Care Products. Boston: Harvard University Press.

MLA Citation:

Collins, Elizabeth and Larry E. Greiner. A Day in the Life of Alex Sander: Driving in the

Fast Lane at Landon Care Products. Boston: Harvard University Press, 2008. PDF.

Where to Find Case Studies Online

Case studies are an invaluable research tool, particularly in the social sciences and business. The Harvard Business Review is probably the best-known and most-reliable source for business cases studies. However, it is far from the only source for case studies online. You can often find case studies in: books, dissertations, theses, articles, and websites.

If you are having a problem finding case studies, you may find the following resources to be useful:

Harvard Business School

The Case Centre

The Richard Ivey School of Business

Your University Case Study Database

If you are at a university, then you may have student access to a great case study database, already. It is certainly worthwhile to check and see if your university has a database of case studies. If you are unsure how to locate this information, take a few moments to contact your school’s librarian to ask if your university has this resources, and, if so, how you can access it!


Case studies are highly-focused empirical investigations into specific people, groups, or phenomenon. Thought they cannot establish causal relationships; case studies are often a great research tool because they allow one to investigate the relationship between different factors. Case studies are often used as an initial exploratory research method, though they may be used in more highly-focused ways if the particular issue being researched does not lend itself to a more quantitative-type of analysis. For example, if what is being studied occurs so rarely that quantitative analysis is difficult, a case study may be the perfect way to investigate the topic.

If you are focusing on the social sciences or on business, then you will almost certainly need to make references to some case studies in some of your research and writing. Doing so is very easy. You either cite to the book, article, thesis, dissertation, or webpage where you found the case study, or, if the case study is published as a stand-alone document, cite to the case study like you would cite to a book. If the case study is one of many case studies included in a compilation-type book, then you should follow the instructions for citing to a chapter or section of a book.

Using the tips and example that we have provided, you should be able to easily cite to any case study you encounter. However, if you have any questions about how to incorporate case studies into your academic writing or any other aspects of your academic writing project, we would be happy to answer them.

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