By Gretchen Dukowitz published May 22, 2015

Case-Study Writing Made Faster, Better, and Less Painful

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Case studies – love ’em or hate ’em – remain a critical part of the content marketing mix for almost every B2B organization. To some, they may seem stodgy (or dare I say boring?), but CMI research shows more companies are using them – 77% in 2015 – and 58% say they’re effective.

But, let’s be honest. Case-study creators’ opinions probably fall more on the hate-’em end of the spectrum. The tried-and-true formula – challenge, solution, benefit – doesn’t exactly inspire creativity or good storytelling, and the fallback – to pack them full of bad business jargon – can make writing a case study a huge chore.

Life is short; you shouldn’t waste it laboring over case studies. Fortunately, a few simple steps will allow you to not only create your case studies faster, easier, and less painfully, but can help make them sound better, too.

1. Interview a real, live person

A good customer interview is the lifeblood of a good case study. Before you write a case study, do yourself a huge favor and actually talk to a real, live customer. In the past, I’ve been asked to write case studies based on quotes taken from videos, testimonial quotes, emails from sales teams – anything and everything but a customer interview.

“But wait,” I can hear you saying, “it’s hard to find customers and get time on their calendars. And get sign-off on the final product? Forget it.” Yes, it can be difficult and time-consuming, but trust me when I say that trying to use secondhand sources makes case study writing 100 times harder than it needs to be.

Case studies are stories. They have narratives and need to be rooted firmly in the experience of the customer. You can get all of these things by talking to one. The end result is a strong case study with a clear beginning, middle, and end, as opposed to a Frankenstein-assembled story that you put together from random parts.

2. Edit the heck out of your quotes

You are a case-study writer, not a reporter. You are not being held to some journalistic standard that says you must reproduce all customer utterances word for word (not even journalists adhere to this standard, by the way). You can – make that should – edit and embellish quotes to make their point more effectively. In all my years of writing case studies, I have never had an interviewee take me to task for altering a quote. In fact, most people appreciate being made to sound better.

You can’t go crazy and just make up stuff for the fun of it. You have to retain the spirit of what a customer says and make it sound plausible. If you take a quote like, “Yes, on the whole, I would say the WidgetTron 2000 is a pretty good product,” and turn it into “The WidgetTron 2000 is the best product in the whole wide world and its awesomeness brings me to tears every time I think about it,” you’re going to run into problems.

A better way to shape the original quote would be something like this: “The WidgetTron 2000 is a really good product. It is easy to use and allowed us to streamline our operations.” I deleted the “on the whole” and changed “pretty good” to “really good,” which removes the lukewarm tone. I also extended the quote to make it sound well-rounded. A few small, completely OK tweaks make a big difference, and with customer approval, you are secure in knowing your updated quote works for everyone.

3. Blow things out of proportion

When you get right down to it, most businesses aren’t too terribly concerned about the challenges other businesses face. This may be short-sighted, but more often than not, businesses are too knee-deep in their own issues to worry about the other guy (aside from giving lip service to outpacing the competition, of course).

This thinking is a big problem for case-study writers because exploring the case study’s problems – the challenge section – usually makes up at least a third of the story. To effectively hook readers, take a step back and think about why a broader audience might be interested in the one business’ challenge.

Let me show you. In this case study, the challenge is written as: “Luigi Mozzarello, CEO of Pronto Pies, needed to sell more pizzas, but his point-of-sale technology was slow and buggy.” Clearly, Mozzarello has a problem, but as written, the challenge isn’t compelling.

Here is a more broadly detailed challenge that has greater appeal: “Operating a restaurant is fraught with challenges, from demanding customers to razor-thin margins. Luigi Mozzarello, CEO of Pronto Pies, thought he could rely on his point-of-sale technology to give him a competitive edge, but it was slow and buggy.”

The revised challenge situates Mozzarello’s specific problem – bad technology – in the context of the larger restaurant industry and a universal business theme of competitive differentiation. The first sentence of your case study should always speak to a broad business issue and provide context for the reader. This provides a better chance that readers will identify with the broader challenge even if they are not in the study’s specific vertical or business.

I think crafting a first sentence like this also makes case studies easier to write. After all, if you have bigger, meatier issues to explore, you are less likely to simply go through the motions to craft the case study.

Conclusion

When you implement these three tips into your case-study process, you will be able to create an authentic, easy-to-understand voice that sets the stage for a meatier and more effective case study that is appealing to a wider audience.

Looking to score big points with your target audience? CMI’s 2016 Content Marketing Playbook has tips, insights, and ideas that can help increase your success with 24 of the top content marketing tactics.

Cover image by Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo, via pixabay.com

Author: Gretchen Dukowitz

Gretchen Dukowitz has spent more than a decade writing case studies, white papers, and other marketing content for some of the world’s largest technology companies, including Symantec and Cisco. She currently works as a writer and content strategist for a tech startup in the Bay Area. You can find more writing tips like these at her blog, DIY Content Marketing, or connect with her on LinkedIn.

Other posts by Gretchen Dukowitz

  • http://www.erikaheald.com/ Erika Heald

    Having a great customer interview is so important! I also found that when you can’t do the interview face-to-face, video conferencing is a much better alternative than a conference call for connecting with the customer, and building the rapport needed to get them to share those stories that will resonate.

    • Gretchen Dukowitz

      Very true, Erika! I’m a big believer in recording all case study interviews, so people should be mindful about that when picking a tool. What do you use?

      • http://www.erikaheald.com/ Erika Heald

        I tend to use whichever tool is built-in to the video or audio conferencing tool at hand. I’ve also used Call Recorder with Skype on the Mac for podcast recording.

  • bobscheier

    Great points Gretchen. Would like to use this as a guest post at http://www.scheierassociates.com (I’m a free-lance marketing writer also.) Do LMK your thoughts at bob@scheierassociates.com and cheers…

    Bob

  • Carolyn Frith

    I was intrigued by the title of this post because I find case studies to be one of the easiest and fun forms of content to write. I realized after reading it that the reason it’s easy for me is that I’m doing what you suggest…talking with customers. If you create a good guide of open ended questions, call the customer and dig into their problem and solution you’re sure to get some colorful, engaging information that others can relate to.

    And, by the way, I agree — the formula of problem/solution/results ends up transforming interesting stories into dull business writing.

  • http://verbalize.ru Nat

    The point No1 is indeed crucial… However, there is a slight contradiction between 1 and 2. After the customers invested their time in telling me their story, they get really disappointed to see their quotes edited (and demand that I put the boring staff back – at least this is what happend to me a couple of times! )

  • http://billcushard.com/ Bill Cushard

    Speaking of writing case studies, I am looking to hire a writer who can write 2-4 customer case studies. The broad topic is enterprise software. Anyone here know a good writer for that or ideas for how to find one?