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Five things… to make a great case study

Updated: Apr 22

By Patrick Southwell:

Case studies are a cornerstone of B2B comms. They illustrate just how well a company serves its clients. And they do so in a tangible and relatable way. But some are better than others. Here are our five things that’ll make yours shine.

1. Don’t forget the basic structure

I often hear clients say they don’t want the age-old structure of a traditional case study. By this they mean starting with the challenge a client faced, followed by the solution put in place, ending with the results they saw.

But this is the structure of every story ever told. It’s said there are seven types of narrative – and each one includes a character (the client) facing a challenge (a journey, adversary or need for power), before having some sort of resolution (the solution) and finally, a result (winning a battle, coming home or learning something).

What clients mean is, “Don’t write the case study in three staid parts under the headings challenge, solution, results.” But you still need three acts in the story. Without it, it’ll make no sense.

2. Have an angle

Building on the first point, wrap up the three part act in a specific angle. This should be reflected in the headline and must be something only that client did. I write lots of case studies about businesses using the same software. But each one does so in a slightly different way.

They may have been a traditional business embracing something new. Or a government department doing it with inclusion in mind. Make sure you bring this out and that it’s relevant to their peers who may read it.

3. Give it some colour

Try not to speak in jargon or talk about a topic in an academic way. Say what actually happened. And I don’t mean explain how a piece of software was technically uploaded and integrated. Explain in human terms what people were thinking and how the service or product changed the way they worked. Use them to paint a picture of real life.

4. Let the client speak

This is the most important one. It’s their story and they’re the hero. Quote people throughout the case study, not in a testimonial at the end. Their voice and style will be readable and compelling – as long as you ask them the right questions and don’t allow them to speak in jargon.

Also, when quoting people, look for ways to make their language work hard. Rather than constantly writing “…said Steve” or “…Steve continued,” use something more descriptive. Did the spokesperson confide, laugh, smile, warn, add with pride, caution, or chip in without dropping a beat? Give tone and context to their words. Also, if they joke and play around in the interview, let that shine through.

A man and a woman working together

5. Finish with advice and then wrap it up

The last question I always ask in a case study interview is, “What advice would you give to someone about to do what you’ve done?” This provides a perfect call to action for the reader as they consider how they might follow suit. It also gives something of real value – some free consultancy. Then wrap it up, referencing the opening line or headline to tie up loose ends and show the story is finished.

As always, writing great content is easier said than done. It takes time and confidence. But you’ll know it’s right when you read back through the piece, it makes perfect sense, and the voices jump off the page.

If you can do this, you’ll have a great case study.


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