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3 DEC 2018

On the case: Writing your case study

APC counsellor and chartered building surveyor at Copper Seed, Victoria Richardson MRICS, provides advice on how to select your case study, getting the most out of your 3000-word limit and the common pitfalls to avoid during your APC final assessment interview.

Selecting your case study

Not only do you need to write about a project for your case study, you must give a presentation and answer questions about it. That’s a lot of extra attention you’ll be giving to one specific piece of work, so selecting the right project can be a bit of a challenge. The following scenarios should help with the process:

Early identification

You can often sit down with your supervisor and counsellor to look at upcoming work and determine which project will make a good case study. If the project is going to satisfy the criteria in the Candidate Guide, there’s your case study project. Start keeping notes on everything you do on the project and you can turn those notes into a case study later.

I changed my mind

We’ve all had those meals in a restaurant we probably wouldn’t have chosen if we knew what it would taste like; your case study project can be reminiscent of that. You may have selected a project that turned out to be as bland as water or may have even been cancelled.

Chances are you have been working on numerous projects, so think about whether one of those is a better option. You are not chained to your case study — if it isn’t working and you have an alternative, dump it. If you don’t have an alternative, work with your supervisor to see how you can get the best out of the project for your case study. After all, even bland water can be interesting on a hot summer day.

Playing the field

If you work on several projects that would make a good case study, there is no harm in seeing how they all progress before committing to turning one into your case study. Just make sure you are keeping good notes on all the potentials, so you have plenty of information to feed your write-up.

The snowball

What can start out as a normal project can sometimes snowball into something far greater and your role may change as a result. If your case study project morphs into something different, remember to look back over the guide with your supervisor. If your case study can still hit the criteria, there’s no reason to change it. These changes can often create key issues to discuss. Showing how you adapt to a different role is a good way to illustrate your abilities.

Writing your case study

You’ve selected your case study, done all the work (or might still be working on it) and you are ready to put pen to paper. Sadly, there is no magic recipe, but the following should help you get the best out of your 3000-word limit, have your panel eagerly turning pages and looking forward to your presentation.

Key issues

Your case study is built around the key issues, so make sure you pick issues that can showcase your abilities.

  1. Issues vs. normal decisions and processes. Be sure you identify actual issues rather than a choice you had to make. For example, if you are working on a construction project, choosing which type of contract to use isn’t really a key issue, it’s more of a standard process. Your client letting themselves into the site at night and looking around when nobody is there… that’s a key issue.
  2. Take time to reflect. To pick your key issue(s), take time to go back over your notes and reflect on the full project. Were there any oddities – a random event or action that you hadn’t encountered before? What was your worst day on the project and why was it so bad? Remembering the moments where you wanted to pull your hair out can be a great way to highlight those key issues.
  3. Get a different perspective: Sometimes you can be too attached to your project and might not be able to see the wood for the trees. Reach out to a mentor or a fellow professional who has not been involved in the project and discuss it with them. Their questions and outsider perspective can often help you see things differently and let the key issues come to light.

Conclusion

This can be a tough part of the case study. This is where you need to have an honest reflection on your performance and examine any areas where you excelled or would change things if you could have a do-over. Talking through your performance with your supervisor is an excellent way to receive constructive criticism that can feed into the section of your case study. Remember though, this is about what you think of your performance — "my supervisor thought I did well" will not cut it.

Editing my case study

While you only have 3000 words for your case study, you will also be required to give a presentation where you can explain your project further. The best time to begin crafting your presentation is while you are editing your case study.

Once you have your first draft, go through the full draft with a highlighter and mark-up any sections that could be removed and used in the presentation. If you are over the word limit, you know which parts to pull out.

I would then recommend asking your supervisor and counsellor to read through the draft and make their own comments. Ask them what questions the case study prompted, as you may want to answer some of those questions as part of your presentation or prepare being asked similar questions. Lastly, think about what questions you want to be asked – could you re-write sections to prompt these questions without detracting from the readability of the case study?

Common pitfalls:

  • Timing: You may remember a project from back in the 2000s with fondness and would love to relive it through your case study, nevertheless you will need to pick a much younger piece of work — your case study needs to be within the two years of your assessment date.
  • Word limit: The word limit is not a guide. It is a limit and you will be expected to stick to it.
  • Too many key issues: The word limit is undoubtedly small, so if you want to give your key issues the correct amount of attention, don’t have too many.
  • Ignoring the guide: The Candidate Guide is like an answer book. Make sure you keep referring to it, otherwise you may miss something critical.
  • Capturing multiple competencies and levels: Your case study is a tool for demonstrating how you have achieved the higher levels of multiple competencies. Make sure you select a project where your role allows you to demonstrate this. Too simple a project or role and you may not be able to showcase those level 3s.
  • Spelling and grammar: Treat your case study like any other formal report. Check spelling and grammar and have someone review it to make sure it reads well.
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About the author

Victoria is an RICS professional and works as chartered building surveyor and owner of Copper Seed Ltd in Auckland, New Zealand. She holds a Certificate in Industrial Rope Access (Phase 1) and has broad experience in all building surveying disciplines, as well as working knowledge of various construction methods and techniques.

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