5 Ways to Improve your Case Study Writing

Want to Write a Better Case Study? (with thanks to Steve Slaunwhite and Ed Gandia, who have written about this format for AWAI):

Case studies are a common format of B2B Copywriting that chronicle the creation and functioning of a successful product or process in a detailed “success story.” Recently I completed a case study on a high-tech food development technology, which gave me cause to reflect on how to write better case studies! Here are 5 major tips on how to improve the case studies that you may be writing . . . . .

(1)   Keep a standard format (as follows). If you’re inclined to experiment, don’t do so with the formula, itself:

(i)                 Customer Background—introduce who the customer is, what they do and whom they sell to.

(ii)               the Challenge—tell the challenge or condition that the customer is facing, and what impact it was having on his/her business or team, etc. Experts say that it’s best to use the customer’s own words (by a quotation), if possible.

(iii)              the Journey—tell what steps the customer took to resolve the challenge. Were there earlier responses that failed? Why? Experts say that here the reader should be invited to identify and empathize with, the story.

(iv)             the Discovery—tell how the customer discovered a product or service. Was it through an ad, a trade show, or a media report?

(v)               the Solution– describe the product or service that enabled  the prospect to solve the challenge. As Steve says, “pitch the product or service without fear of sounding too promotional.”

(vi)             the Implementation—tell how the product or service was implemented. Did it take time to run properly? Provide problems that arose, but clearly emphasize how they were resolved.

(vii)           the Results—tell how well the product or service resolve the challenge or problem. Use hard stats, if possible. Then summarize and close. Don’t be afraid to quote your customer at/towards the end.

(2)   Use a “discovery call”—Ed suggests that if you have not previously worked with this customer or are working on a project whose information is unfamiliar to you, schedule a “discovery call” to acquire some basic information about the project and especially about the “success story” that your client wants written. 15-20 minutes is all that you should require. Don’t end the call before you understand specifically what it is that your customer is seeking in hiring you.  That conversation should prevent you from having to rewrite the document, which usually results when you and the client do not start “on the same page.”

(i)                 ask what the purpose of the document is;

(ii)               ask who the targent audience is (and here take care to explain that you cannot address “everyone” in this single case study);

(iii)             identify clearly whom you’re interviewing;

(iv)             find out if the customer has a pre-set template for the case study that they want you to use;

(v)               identify with the client what the “hook” for the story could be;

(vi)             if there’s a sales representative on staff, ask to speak to that person—they’ll have unique insight into the story, since they have worked hard to land their client. The sales rep may have ideas that others in the organization do not about the customer’s needs or why the customer has chosen a particular product or service.

(3)   Use good, specific questions when you interview relevant stakeholders—both open-ended and close-ended. Don’t be afraid to ask your interviewee to clarify their responses to these questions, if they speak unclearly or digressively.

(4)   Read mentors’ methods—I’ve drawn on writings from Steve Slaunwhite and Ed Gandia here. See also Casey Hibbard’s book, Stories that Sell.

(5)   As in all good Copywriting, don’t be afraid to “kill your darlings.” Seasoned Copywriters with AWAI have spoken previously about this concept. B2B Copywriters can sometimes get bogged down in the details of their argument, and/or in their own stylistically “favourite” passages. After you finish drafting, you should be sure to leave enough time to let the document “rest” in your mind (i.e. don’t expect to draft and revise the case study in the same day). Minimum resting time is 24 hours—longer is better, but not so long that you forget the points you were trying to make. Your refreshed perspective should enable you to see what is essential to your argument and what would be better cut from it. Also, allow more than one set of revisions, particularly if the document is long and complex in nature (as most case studies are). General rule: when planning for due dates, allow twice as much time for revisions as you think you’ll need.

Apply these tips to your background preparations, interviews, drafting and revisions and you should be set to write a winning case study! Good luck!

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