Anatomy of a Great Case Study

We write a lot of case studies at Wordsmithie. They’re prime marketing tools for many of our clients, who use them in print, digital and web formats. A good case study is well worth the time, effort and expense you pour into it. Here are the essential elements:

A strong story
A case study is simply a story about how a customer or client uses your product or service. So make it a good story. One with a beginning, middle and end. One that engages you, and that therefore will engage everyone who reads it. Keep a running list of good case-study candidates.

A talkative subject
You need someone from the customer or client company to tell you the good story. Not everyone can do it well. You need a person who is articulate and personable. Who can speak plain English and explain technical terms or jargon so that everyone can understand them. Ask yourself: Who would I enjoy taking to lunch? That’s the person you need.

Occasionally, we’re assigned to write a case study based only on a written questionnaire, without ever speaking to anyone directly. In this case, the person answering your questionnaire must be able to write at length and be willing to reply to any follow-up email. One-sentence responses to your questions aren’t much use to anyone.

A skilled interviewer
A good set of questions provides the framework for a case study, but an experienced interviewer is just as important. He or she makes an interview feel more like a discussion. Questions seem to flow naturally, relaxing the interviewee. A good interviewer also has the confidence to depart from the question list to ask something that no one has thought about previously.

An excellent writer
In most cases, the interviewer is also your writer. The two skills go together. Work closely with this person to produce the case study that you want and expect. But anticipate that your writer will review your editorial suggestions critically … and probably improve on them.

A topnotch designer
Never discount the power of good design. It enhances the story and helps you connect with your audience. Sit down with a graphic designer sometime and ask about what goes into laying out a simple case study. You’ll be amazed by everything that a capable designer does for you.

ABOUT Jim Leeke

Widely experienced in journalism, marketing communications and advertising, Jim has worked with top creative agencies to deliver print, Internet and interactive projects to Fortune 500 companies. His expertise ranges from technology and healthcare/pharmaceuticals to defense and veterans issues. Jim is also the author/editor of six books, writing extensively on the Civil War and baseball. In addition to his Wordsmithie role, Jim is Co-founder and Creative Director of Taillight Communications.