Writing A Case Study: Tips and Questions
Writing a case study can be an intimidating task. They can be scary for technical minds because they need to be relatively understandable to the layperson, and they can be equally as intimidating for a more creative mind used to blogging or other forms of writing because additions or flowery descriptions aren't entirely appropriate or necessary. Case studies are straightforward, no-nonsense articles designed to be as informative as possible while being accessible to audiences with different levels of product understanding. For example, at SYDCON we need potential clients who aren't familiar with software or web development and the technology involved to be able to make the connection in their own mind that, "this is what I need. I should contact them," while at the same time giving intense technical description of the technology and our development process for those who "speak the language," if you will. The result is a hybrid piece that (hopefully) gives all types of readers the information they need, so we are the stopping point for their decision on who to trust with their website.
Here are some basic tips to follow for organizing and writing your content:
1. The case study is not just about how great you are.
Have some modesty. The customer comes first, they and their business are the whole reason you are writing this. What does your client do? Who are they? What makes them unique? What does the website allow them to do? This is often the most enjoyable part of writing the case study, as you are able to describe the company in your own words, incorporating some of their own personal description (in quotes!) if you so desire.
2. What did the company in the study need done?
In terms that are widely understandable, explain what exactly your client came to you to perform. If the reader hasn't connected with the business itself, this is your next chance to provide a connection. The prospective customer might be a circuit board company who needs a way to provide and sell custom-built circuits that wouldn't necessarily connect with a case study about a bakery, but upon seeing your ability to develop a custom shopping cart, they might be sold.
3. What makes your company somebody who can be trusted with this type of work?
The fact that you offer a service is nice, but how does anyone know that you do quality work? Testimonials and outlining your process (without getting too revealing here, you don't want competitors stealing your methodology or the potential client doing the work themselves because you provided a comprehensive project detail) can go a long way in establishing credibility in your field.
4. What exactly was done?
This is where you can unload the technical aspects of the project. What type of code was used? What database was chosen and what was it loaded with? What programs did you use to design that perfect website? More is better. A separate section of this in-depth technical lingo can offer credibility to those knowledgeable in the field without overwhelming the common reader by splicing this information into general paragraphs.
5. What was the end result?
It is best if you can have a client testimonial included in this section. It means so much more when the client you worked with has something great to say about you. If you are unable to acquire a testimonial, let the readers know the differences between your client's product before and after your work with them. Also included should be their level of satisfaction with you throughout the process and the end product itself. If you can tease this information in the title, all the better.
Q: What is the perfect balance of technical information?
A: Your case study should absolutely contain intense technical lingo, but it is best if kept to certain sections. Bullet points or a paragraph sectioned off from the material that lends itself to more of a layperson's audience is a good idea so a casual reader doesn't get bogged down in technical lingo and leave your study; they can skip over it if they so choose. At the same time, the information is easy for somebody with a similar technical background to find and decide if you provide the service(s) they need. Also, similar layouts throughout your case studies (if you have multiple) help people find like information when scrolling through your studies.
Q: What if my case studies are getting repetitive?
A: If the services you provide don't have an incredible amount of range, you may feel that your case studies are getting repetitive. This can be seen from a positive light, though. Instead of thinking of the case studies as repetitive, think of them as showing your experience and reliability. Since you perform similar tasks often, you can be trusted to perform these tasks and perform them well. Just make sure that you are changing how you word the content.
Q: How do I keep them interesting?
A: People aren't reading case studies for fun. If they can find the information that leads them to the realization that you are the person to go to for their task, or informs them further about the information they didn't know then your case study has performed its function. A case study's function is to be informative if it can be entertaining, that is an added bonus.
Some disagree with the approach of having general lingo and technical jargon involved in the same piece, but I personally believe that your case study should provide information for all types of prospective readers. Not including specific types of information can only hurt if you are able to successfully separate commonly-accessible material and technological wording that could potentially overwhelm certain readers, in my opinion. Having this multi-audience appeal will help with search engines as well. A case study is an advertisement of you and your ability to perform specific functions. Let it be that, but let it be that for all types of readers.
Does your company use case studies, or have you found case studies by vendors you are considering working with to be beneficial? If so, tell us about key elements that catch your attention or increase the likelihood that you would choose to work with a firm based on a case study.