07 Mar Case studies putting your readers to sleep? Wake them up with these 9 writing tips
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. Your business has launched a hit product. Or you’ve helped a client reach new heights.
Aha! Your marketing team thinks. There’s a case study in this. Let’s broadcast this great result from the rooftops.
You share a case study on your website and social channels. Then what happens?
Well, maybe it gets a few thumbs up on LinkedIn – many of which are your team simply showing their support. Or a single share on social media. And… that’s about it.
Sound familiar? At RM we’ve written countless case studies. So let me suggest a different approach.
Start with your audience – those budding prospects on the other side of the screen. Before they even contact you, they want to know they’ll be in (very) capable hands.
So follow these steps to show why you’re the perfect fit for them.
1. Plan, plan, plan
Before you write a single word, ask yourself two questions:
- Why are you creating this? Is it to: Inform your industry? Create a record of your success? Or convince potential customers of your worth? Be clear on what you want to achieve – then build a case study that supports that goal with each idea you share.
- What sections will you include? Many case studies follow the tried-and-true formula of: The Challenge – The Idea – The Solution – The Results. And that’s a fair start. But try breaking the mould from time to time. (Tell a short story narrative, for example. Or open with the final outcomes to hook the reader – then explain how you got there.)
You’re not writing Inception Part II. So there’s no need to over-complicate your outline.
An easy place to start is to establish the stakes and describe any challenges. Then explore how you worked to overcome them. And to cap it all off? Show how much better your customer’s life is now – and, importantly, how your efforts made that happen.
Once you know where you want to go, it’s time to collect the details to help you get there.
2. Gather the pieces of the puzzle
When we help clients produce case studies at RM, one of the more challenging stages is to simply source all the information we need to start writing.
Sometimes the marketing lead might be unaware of what happened during the project or key details weren’t collected at the right time.
So here are some tips to help source the info you’ll need:
- Create Google Forms that prompt clients to address the sections where you need more information
- Encourage your team to take notes of milestones and results as they happen throughout the project
- Talk to more than one person and learn about the experiences of people on the ground doing the work
- If you’re not the person who managed the project, pick up the phone and speak to the person who did – which leads to the next tip…
3. Find the story in your success
You’re not writing a project report. You’re writing to engage people.
The secret is to think like a journalist: to uncover the story waiting to be unearthed beneath the surface details.
So consider, was your business simply lucky? Or were there significant obstacles you needed to overcome – and solutions you had to design?
Don’t (just) send off a standard Q&A form for your colleague to fill out.
Hop on the phone. Have a chat.
As they take you through what happened, pay attention to the areas they get excited about. Ask what aspects of the project surprised them – and what they learnt.
Often, these tidbits will be the elements your readers will find most memorable and resonate with. So ask questions and follow your nose – you never know what kind of stories it might lead you to.
4. Humanise what happened
You know what you want to achieve, and you’ve collected the key details. Now, it’s time to start writing.
So establish the main characters – whether that’s your business as a whole or the client’s General Manager who sought your help. But keep it to two or three. (No one wants to hear about the assistant to the regional manager who attended an initial kick-off meeting.)
What type of character will your target audience relate to? A self-assured, experienced executive? Or an everyday customer navigating their way through the narrative?
Where appropriate, source and sprinkle in a few quotes to help express the more emotional elements of the story. What moments of frustration or delight did the character experience?
And don’t shy away from including little remarks and oddities. These will help readers form a connection with the character.
The key is to give your next customer every opportunity to form a richer connection with the story you’re sharing.
5. Delight in the details
Your potential customer might be moved by evocative, emotive language.
But concrete facts and tangible results will speak to their logical brain and build a business case as to why they should engage your services.
So where possible, include numerical figures and outline your processes. (Enough to be clear, but not too many to overwhelm them with technical jargon.)
- Compare and contrast (quantitatively) what happened before and after your involvement
- Describe your initial information gathering process, step by step
- Include an impressive percentage point improvement in a breakout box
Engaging storytelling is important. But so too are the details.
6. Write with brevity (and signposts)
People are busy.
So if you manage to capture their attention with a compelling story and introduction, well done!
But don’t then squander it with long, rambling sentences (like this forty-word long one you’re reading now) that seem to go on and on and on, leaving your reader bored and regretting that they ever clicked on your dreary article.
Keep your sentences concise. Like this.
Likewise, big slabs of text is a recipe for reader distraction.
Instead, make your writing varied and scannable, by:
- Including bulleted or numbered lists (see what I did there?)
- Using one-sentence paragraphs to make important ideas pop off the page
- Keeping sections short, with engaging sub-headings
By breaking up your writing, you provide
impatient all readers with signposts to latch onto as they search for the top takeaways.
7. You’re special, so show it
Your case study needs to serve as ‘Exhibit A’ as to why your business is in the best position to support the customer.
Consider, what tools, ideas and experiences your people bring to the table. Then showcase them. But do so subtly.
This isn’t a commercial pitch or tender. Which means, don’t be so overtly obnoxious to include a section titled ‘Our strengths’.
Instead, weave your team’s capabilities organically throughout the article.
Did they draw on insights gained from decades of industry experience? Did they go above and beyond to design a one-of-a-kind solution?
Show the customer why they should come to YOU. Not some other generic business.
8. Support your story with visual aids
As a copywriter and a photographer, I know how integral imagery is to help communicate a larger narrative.
Engaging visuals support your reader to form a richer connection with the content: complementing and enhancing the ideas you discuss in the text.
- Take photos of the main characters or your team to personalise the story
- Insert large quote blocks to shine a spotlight on powerful ideas
- Include charts and graphs to showcase improvements – at a glance
- Design bold infographics to summarise key takeaways
- Highlight major results in breakout boxes
9. Check yourself before you wreck yourself
After you’ve finished drafting the case study, read it again. And then ask a colleague to do the same.
Nothing will break the narrative you’re building quite like a missing word or wayward apostrophe.
Also, be sure to share the case study with anyone who’s quoted.
Unless you’re writing for the New York Times, it’s okay to tweak a quote to help strengthen the idea being shared. But if you rewrite something completely, make sure the person is okay with it.
When the case study is almost complete, share it with the project manager or technical expert to review the finer details.
Bonus tip: Reuse and recycle
Once you’ve finished writing and reviewing your case study, its life has just begun.
Now it’s time to get the word out there – to convince potential customers of your worth. So don’t simply stop at hosting it on your blog and firing off a single LinkedIn post to promote it.
You’ve likely invested many, many hours in this article. So do everything you can to maximise its reach and impact. You might:
- Ask your design team to repurpose key points and strong quotes as social media tiles or infographics
- Film an interview or video summary, using the case study as the draft script
- Prepare a version for a senior leader to share the story with their network as a LinkedIn article
- Revisit the long-term impact of your solution in 12-24 months – then update or republish the case study with everything you’ve learned since
Need a hand crafting your next case study? Or want someone to interview your customer and tease out those golden details? Let’s chat.