Case studies are used extensively in professional and applied ethics; they are stock in trade for examining the, close to real, details of any ethically-charged event.

I use the term ethically-charged to emphasise that not everything that happens has moral importance. Sometimes it does not matter which socks I put on in the morning: sometimes it does.

The difficulty with case studies though is that it is very difficult to write in detail about all aspects of the (ethically-charged) events that happen.  Writing out all the details seems practically unrealistic; it would take far too long.

So the careful, thoughtful, writer of case studies puts in what they think are the pertinent details, omitting the minor or unimportant.  The problem with this is most of the time most of the detail is important, is necessary. As a result most case studies are under-specified.  They leave out details that upon examination are important, are required to give a full-blooded analysis of the event.

And another thing

Most case studies present a moral problem (the word bandied about a lot is dilemma but mostly they are not), a difficulty to either be critiqued or completed.

Critiqued to pass judgement on what people did, completed to show moral sensitivity on the part of those asked to fill out the story.


As mentioned above most case studies are under-described. This frequently makes the analysis full of if’s, and’s, or but’s.  Unless each one of these contingencies is spelt out in detail in the case, the reader is left wondering what the worth of the critique is.

Spelling out

Those case studies which ask the reader to complete (with either ‘What would you do now?’ or ‘What else do you need to know to know what to do?’) the scenario.

The ‘What would you do now?’ stories.

The problem with these is that the reader is completely free to make up whatever they like.  This of course leads to the reader, now writer, to biasing the story so as to get whatever ending they wish. This renders the case study at least suspect, probably useless.

The ‘What else do you need to know to know what to do?’ stories.

Here the case study is unfinished with the reader invited to ask questions about the unknown to be able to have a more or less complete story.  These have all the hallmarks of a “Choose your own adventure”. Here the reader. now writer, spends all their time completing the story before they can get to their analysis.

With this in mind I present a number of case studies I have either made up or written/tidied up from others. Can you tell for each which of the above categories they fall into?

You can find the IT cases here and the sports ones here.