Ten commandments for compelling case studies

Case Study: Once upon a time

Case studies are great for sales and marketing. Customer success stories are better than simply blowing your own trumpet.

That said, they first need to grab the reader’s attention, and second they must be credible and relatable enough for them to keep reading.

At Articulate, we have written hundreds of case studies. Based on our process and experience, here are ten steps to writing must-read case studies:

  1. Do your groundwork.  Understand the product or service being sold, and research the companies on both sides of the deal. This can be as simple as reading the ‘About Us’ section on a company website, or their company news page. You need some context for the deal you’re going to be writing about.
  2. Get some background. Speak first to someone at the company you are writing the case study for. Try to get hold of the person who was on the ground and made the deal, and get them to tell you what happened. If you actually work for that company, try interviewing a colleague.
  3. Interview the right person. The real story will come from the people actually involved in procurement, implementation and customer relations. Avoid interviewing marketing or PR people, as they will only tell you a repackaged story, which will sound hollow when you write it up. You want the real customer.
  4. Find the story. This is the crux of the case study. There has to be a story: a struggle before, a journey to improve, and a benefit in the present. This doesn’t always mean profits:it might be improved employee retention, saved time or a new business model. The focus is on what matters most to the person you interview.
  5. Create a template. Once you have your basic story you can build a structure. Most case studies fall into company biography, challenge, process and benefits. But structures are there to be played with. Tweak it to the story, and give yourself four or five subheadings.
  6. Categorise your transcript. Take your interview notes and go through them, assigning each part to one of your subheadings. You should end up with three to five key points for each section.
  7. Find your key quotes. Never use frankenquotes in a case study, people can spot them a mile off. It is best to use short, snappy quotes, dotted throughout the case study that underline or explain one of your bullet points. It will be clear from your transcript which words are better left as they are.
  8. Flesh it out. You have a structure, bullet points and key quotes, which means the writing part should now flow easily. If it doesn’t, you haven’t got to the real heart of the story: go back and reassess the structure to make sure you are emphasising the right points.
  9. Clean it up. Don’t use too many marketing phrases or clichéd product explanations – keep it human, but make sure you are referring to products correctly, and types of implementation or acquisition in the right way. Keep the story accurate.
  10. Cut your copy. A case study doesn’t want to be more than 500-750 words. People rarely read longer case studies and you only want a long one if there is a really great story to tell. Cut out repetition, shorten quotes, and make sure everything you write is vital to the story.
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