How to write case study
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- 1 How to Write a Case Study What Is a Case Study? A case study is a puzzle that has to be solved. The first thing to remember about writing a case study is that the case should have a problem for the readers to solve. The case should have enough information in it that readers can understand what the problem is and, after thinking about it and analyzing the information, the readers should be able to come up with a proposed solution. Writing an interesting case study is a bit like writing a detective story. You want to keep your readers very interested in the situation. A good case is more than just a description. It is information arranged in such a way that the reader is put in the same position as the case writer was at the beginning when he or she was faced with a new situation and asked to figure out what was going on. A description, on the other hand, arranges all the information, comes to conclusions, tells the reader everything, and the reader really doesn't have to work very hard. When you write a case, here are some hints on how to do it so that your readers will be challenged, will "experience" the same things you did when you started your investigation, and will have enough information to come to some answers. There are three basic steps in case writing: research, analysis, and the actual writing. You start with research, but even when you reach the writing stage you may find you need to go back and research even more information. The Research Phase: 1. Library and Internet research. Find out what has been written before, and read the important articles about your case site. When you do this, you may find there is an existing problem that needs solving, or you may find that you have to come up an interesting idea that might or might not work at your case site. For example, your case study might be on a national park where there have been so many visitors that the park's eco-system is in danger. Then the case problem would be to figure out how to solve this so the park is protected, but tourists can still come. Or, you might find that your selected site doesn't have many tourists, and one reason is that there are no facilities. Then the case problem might be how to attract the right kind of businesses to come and build a restaurant or even a hotel -- all without ruining the park. Or your case study might be on historic sites that would interest tourists –IF the tourists knew where the sites were or how to get to them. Or
- 2 maybe your case study is about how to interest people in coming to your country so they can trace their family’s historic roots (origins). Once you have decided on the situation or issue you would like to cover in your case study (and you might have several issues, not just one), then you need to go to the site and talk to experts. 2. Interview people who know the place or the situation. Find knowledgeable people to interview -- they may be at the site itself or they work in a government office or company that deals with the historic preservation. In addition to people who work in the site, talk to visitors. When you are interviewing people, , ask them questions that will help you understand their opinions, questions like the following: "What is your impression of the site (maybe it’s an old fort, or a burial site, or an excavation of historic interest)?" "How do you feel about the situation?" "What can you tell me about how the site (or the situation) developed?" "What do you think should be different, if anything? You also need to ask questions that will give you facts that might not be available from an article, questions like: "Would you tell me what happens here in a typical day?" "What kind of statistics do you keep? May I have a copy? "How many businesses are involved here?" When you ask a question that doesn't let someone answer with a "yes" or a "no" you usually get more information. What you are trying to do is get the person to tell you whatever it is that he or she knows and thinks -- even though you don't always know just what that is going to be before you ask the question. Then you can add these facts to your case. Remember, your readers can't go to your site, so you have to "bring it to them." The Analysis Phase: 1. Put all the information in one place. Now you have collected a lot of information from people, from articles and books. You can't include it all. So, you need to think about how to sort through it, take out the excess, and arrange it so that the situation at the case site will be understandable to your readers. Before you can do this, you have to put all the information together where you can see it and analyze what is going on. 2. Assign sections of material to different people. Each person or group should try to figure out what is really important, what is happening, and
- 3 what a case reader would need to know in order to understand the situation. It may be useful, for example, to put all the information about visitors on one chart, or on a chart that shows visitors to two different sites throughout a year. 3. Try to formulate the case problem in a few sentences. When you do this, you may find that you need more information. Once you are satisfied with the way you have defined the problem you want your readers to think about, break the problem down into all its parts. Each one represents a piece of the puzzle that needs to be understood before the problem can be solved. Then spend some time discussing these with the others in your group. For example, suppose: a. Your heritage site doesn't have many visitors, but many people say they would like to visit if it had services b. There is unemployment in the village around the site, c. The town is big enough to be able to accommodate many more visitors, and d. The surrounding environment (animals, trees and plants) need to be protected from too many visitors e. The town is far away, but there are no places to eat or sleep around there f. The government owns the location, but the government does not want to own and operate either a restaurant or a hotel Ask yourselves: “How much information do people who will read your case study need to have in order to be able to discuss items a through f? One answer to "a." is that they need to know data about past numbers of visitors, and they need to know what evidence exists that more people want to visit but are discouraged from going there. Your evidence will come from the articles and statistics you have gathered, and from the interviews you have completed. Once you have broken down the problem into pieces, you can analyze the information you now have and see if you can think about possible answers to each of the pieces. If you have enough information, then you can think about how to write the case study itself. Writing the Case Study:
- 4 1. Describe the problem or case question you want the reader to solve. In a detective story, the crime happens right at the beginning and the detective has to put together the information to solve it for the rest of the story. In a case, you can start by raising a question. You can, for example, quote someone you interviewed. For example, suppose you interviewed a tourist official and she told you she thought more people should be interested in visiting, and she can’t understand why they don’t come. Then you could write something like this, The historic town of XX is located in the mountains of country X. The town tourism supervisor, Mrs. Joan Smith, said that she thought "many more people should visit here, but they just don’t come. I don’t know why – maybe we don't have the right kinds of places for them to eat or sleep and it's too far to travel in one day from the nearest big city." The case writers wondered what would have to happen in order to make the town more attractive to tourists.. Because you are the authors, you and your fellow students, can write questions like this and set the stage for the rest of your case story. What your introduction does is give clues to the reader about what they should be thinking about. Once you have told the reader what one person associated with the tourist area thinks the problem is -- how to make the place more attractive -- you can give them the information they need to come to their own conclusions 2. Organize the sections of the case. You will probably need to organize your information under topics like the following: a. Introduction to the problem b. Background on the place -- where is it, how big, what climate, etc. -- this part should be a brief, overall description. Think about having 2 pages of written material, photos, or even a video, so that your readers can really get a feel for what the place. looks like. Summarize the main features of the place. What makes it special? c. Visitors to the place -- you want to make the reader do some work, so you can say that the number of visitors are shown on a table or chart you have compiled. You might want to include a chart that shows the number of visitors that come to another similar kind of place that does have facilities. This will let your readers make some comparisons. If possible, include information you received when you talked to visitors - what did they like, dislike? What did visitors think should happen to make the place more attractive?
- 5 d. Government Policy -- include information about what government policy is with respect to this place. What is allowed, what is not allowed. Can policy be changed, and by whom? e. Business Opportunities in -- you have already said there are not enough facilities for tourists. Well, now you need to provide information on what it might cost to put a nice restaurant for tourists. Suppose in one of your interviews, you talked to a business person who said that it would cost $25,000 to put a snack bar by the historic site. You need to give your reader that information, but that's not all. You also have to provide some information about what a typical snack bar menu would have, how much the food would cost to make and sell, and what price the owner would have to put on each item so that the price would not be too high for people to pay. And your reader has to figure out how many people would have to eat there in order for the snack bar to make money. This is where the statistics come in. Are there enough people who visit now that the snack bar cold expect to make money? How about the number of visitors to the other similar palce -- what if that same number of people came. How would the snack bar do then? f. Potential employees. You can't add facilities without adding people to staff them. Are there enough people in the local community to fill the new jobs that would be added? Do they have the right kind of education and training to fill those jobs, or would the snack bar owner, or the new hotel owner, have to train people, or bring people in from other locations? Could the local school system provide the necessary training? You don't have to do all the calculations for the reader, but you need to do them yourself so that you know the reader will have enough information in the case to do them. For example, before you can decide whether a snack bar might be a good idea, you have to estimate whether you could get more visitors --and how many more. Can you match the number that go to the other similar place that has facilities? Or is your location so much farther to travel that you don't think that many more people would come. And just how many people have to use the snack bar in order for the owner to get back his $25,000 investment and also make some profit to pay himself a salary? This kind of analysis is really looking at the question of what kind of business opportunities are there. Would a souvenir shop be a good idea? Did you do this kind of analysis before writing? If not, then you will have to stop and think some more. Maybe you will need to find more information before you can continue writing. g. Environmental Implications for Animal and Plant Life of Changes in the Area. Since you already know that more visitors will cause a change, an
- 6 important factor to consider is what will be the impact on plants and animals. Some places protect the plants by only letting visitors walk on special paths and visitors cannot pick any flowers or plants. Others say visitors can't feed the animals, or rules say visitors must hire a guide if they are going into certain areas. Whatever the situation, you need to consider this question very carefully. Other sections of the case. Depending on the case you are researching and writing, the sections of the case will need to be organized so that each type of information is in its own section and understandable to the reader. You might not use all the sections described above, but certainly your case study will need to consider the business and economic implications of tourists for your area, and equally important, the implications for the plant and animal life. Tourism has economic implications and environmental implications. Good planning must take both into account. Conclusion. Your case will need a conclusion. Rather than putting in your answer in the case, leave the reader with some more questions. For example, you might have learned that there is a government policy that says "No private enterprise is allowed to change any part of the historic site." So you might conclude with a paragraph like this: The mayor and tourism minister discussed with the case writers whether or not it would be a good idea to prepare a plan for putting a snack bar inside the old fort without changing the way the building looks. The plan could be used to show the government that a policy change to allow private enterprise would be a good idea. "Is there enough value in adding jobs in the village?" asked one of the case writers. Another said, "I think there is enough evidence that expansion would be the right thing to do." Still another case writer disagreed. What is your conclusion? By ending your case on a question like this, you let your readers discuss the situation themselves. If you have written a good case, they will have enough information to understand the situation and have a lively class discussion. The whole purpose of writing cases and sharing them with others is to share experience without all of us actually having to be in the same place. There is a trade-off between developing a place to make it more accessible to tourist so local jobs can be created and on the other hand protecting the environment from too many visitors. And this is a question that faces more than one country. But how the trade-off is resolved can vary from country to country. One country's solution might be useful for another country to know.
- 7 Making Sure Your Case Can Be Used in Another Country Since different countries have different languages and cultures, you need to prepare a Note for the Instructor gives additional background material that the teacher might need to know in order to help guide the student discussions. It is often interesting to record any changes that actually occurred after or while the case was being researched and written. Once students have learned about a situation, they find it is very interesting to learn more. But this information should be separate from the case study so that it doesn't influence the class discussions. If your case uses special terms, words, or refers to cultural customs that people in another country might not recognize, information about them should be put in the case (at the end in an appendix) or in the Note for the Instructor.
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What Is a Case Study?
An in-depth study of one person, group, or event
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."
Cara Lustik is a fact-checker and copywriter.
Verywell / Colleen Tighe
Benefits and Limitations
Types of case studies, how to write a case study.
A case study is an in-depth study of one person, group, or event. In a case study, nearly every aspect of the subject's life and history is analyzed to seek patterns and causes of behavior. Case studies can be used in various fields, including psychology, medicine, education, anthropology, political science, and social work.
The purpose of a case study is to learn as much as possible about an individual or group so that the information can be generalized to many others. Unfortunately, case studies tend to be highly subjective, and it is sometimes difficult to generalize results to a larger population.
While case studies focus on a single individual or group, they follow a format similar to other types of psychology writing. If you are writing a case study, it is important to follow the rules of APA format .
A case study can have both strengths and weaknesses. Researchers must consider these pros and cons before deciding if this type of study is appropriate for their needs.
One of the greatest advantages of a case study is that it allows researchers to investigate things that are often difficult to impossible to replicate in a lab. Some other benefits of a case study:
- Allows researchers to collect a great deal of information
- Give researchers the chance to collect information on rare or unusual cases
- Permits researchers to develop hypotheses that can be explored in experimental research
On the negative side, a case study:
- Cannot necessarily be generalized to the larger population
- Cannot demonstrate cause and effect
- May not be scientifically rigorous
- Can lead to bias
Researchers may choose to perform a case study if they are interested in exploring a unique or recently discovered phenomenon. The insights gained from such research can help the researchers develop additional ideas and study questions that might be explored in future studies.
However, it is important to remember that the insights gained from case studies cannot be used to determine cause and effect relationships between variables. However, case studies may be used to develop hypotheses that can then be addressed in experimental research.
Case Study Examples
There have been a number of notable case studies in the history of psychology. Much of Freud's work and theories were developed through the use of individual case studies. Some great examples of case studies in psychology include:
- Anna O : Anna O. was a pseudonym of a woman named Bertha Pappenheim, a patient of a physician named Josef Breuer. While she was never a patient of Freud's, Freud and Breuer discussed her case extensively. The woman was experiencing symptoms of a condition that was then known as hysteria and found that talking about her problems helped relieve her symptoms. Her case played an important part in the development of talk therapy as an approach to mental health treatment.
- Phineas Gage : Phineas Gage was a railroad employee who experienced a terrible accident in which an explosion sent a metal rod through his skull, damaging important portions of his brain. Gage recovered from his accident but was left with serious changes in both personality and behavior.
- Genie : Genie was a young girl subjected to horrific abuse and isolation. The case study of Genie allowed researchers to study whether language could be taught even after critical periods for language development had been missed. Her case also served as an example of how scientific research may interfere with treatment and lead to further abuse of vulnerable individuals.
Such cases demonstrate how case research can be used to study things that researchers could not replicate in experimental settings. In Genie's case, her horrific abuse had denied her the opportunity to learn language at critical points in her development.
This is clearly not something that researchers could ethically replicate, but conducting a case study on Genie allowed researchers the chance to study phenomena that are otherwise impossible to reproduce.
There are a few different types of case studies that psychologists and other researchers might utilize:
- Collective case studies : These involve studying a group of individuals. Researchers might study a group of people in a certain setting or look at an entire community. For example, psychologists might explore how access to resources in a community has affected the collective mental well-being of those living there.
- Descriptive case studies : These involve starting with a descriptive theory. The subjects are then observed, and the information gathered is compared to the pre-existing theory.
- Explanatory case studies : These are often used to do causal investigations. In other words, researchers are interested in looking at factors that may have caused certain things to occur.
- Exploratory case studies : These are sometimes used as a prelude to further, more in-depth research. This allows researchers to gather more information before developing their research questions and hypotheses .
- Instrumental case studies : These occur when the individual or group allows researchers to understand more than what is initially obvious to observers.
- Intrinsic case studies : This type of case study is when the researcher has a personal interest in the case. Jean Piaget's observations of his own children are good examples of how an intrinsic cast study can contribute to the development of a psychological theory.
The three main case study types often used are intrinsic, instrumental, and collective. Intrinsic case studies are useful for learning about unique cases. Instrumental case studies help look at an individual to learn more about a broader issue. A collective case study can be useful for looking at several cases simultaneously.
The type of case study that psychology researchers utilize depends on the unique characteristics of the situation as well as the case itself.
There are also different methods that can be used to conduct a case study, including prospective and retrospective case study methods.
Prospective case study methods are those in which an individual or group of people is observed in order to determine outcomes. For example, a group of individuals might be watched over an extended period of time to observe the progression of a particular disease.
Retrospective case study methods involve looking at historical information. For example, researchers might start with an outcome, such as a disease, and then work their way backward to look at information about the individual's life to determine risk factors that may have contributed to the onset of the illness.
Where to Find Data
There are a number of different sources and methods that researchers can use to gather information about an individual or group. Six major sources that have been identified by researchers are:
- Archival records : Census records, survey records, and name lists are examples of archival records.
- Direct observation : This strategy involves observing the subject, often in a natural setting . While an individual observer is sometimes used, it is more common to utilize a group of observers.
- Documents : Letters, newspaper articles, administrative records, etc., are the types of documents often used as sources.
- Interviews : Interviews are one of the most important methods for gathering information in case studies. An interview can involve structured survey questions or more open-ended questions.
- Participant observation : When the researcher serves as a participant in events and observes the actions and outcomes, it is called participant observation.
- Physical artifacts : Tools, objects, instruments, and other artifacts are often observed during a direct observation of the subject.
Section 1: A Case History
This section will have the following structure and content:
Background information : The first section of your paper will present your client's background. Include factors such as age, gender, work, health status, family mental health history, family and social relationships, drug and alcohol history, life difficulties, goals, and coping skills and weaknesses.
Description of the presenting problem : In the next section of your case study, you will describe the problem or symptoms that the client presented with.
Describe any physical, emotional, or sensory symptoms reported by the client. Thoughts, feelings, and perceptions related to the symptoms should also be noted. Any screening or diagnostic assessments that are used should also be described in detail and all scores reported.
Your diagnosis : Provide your diagnosis and give the appropriate Diagnostic and Statistical Manual code. Explain how you reached your diagnosis, how the client's symptoms fit the diagnostic criteria for the disorder(s), or any possible difficulties in reaching a diagnosis.
Section 2: Treatment Plan
This portion of the paper will address the chosen treatment for the condition. This might also include the theoretical basis for the chosen treatment or any other evidence that might exist to support why this approach was chosen.
- Cognitive behavioral approach : Explain how a cognitive behavioral therapist would approach treatment. Offer background information on cognitive behavioral therapy and describe the treatment sessions, client response, and outcome of this type of treatment. Make note of any difficulties or successes encountered by your client during treatment.
- Humanistic approach : Describe a humanistic approach that could be used to treat your client, such as client-centered therapy . Provide information on the type of treatment you chose, the client's reaction to the treatment, and the end result of this approach. Explain why the treatment was successful or unsuccessful.
- Psychoanalytic approach : Describe how a psychoanalytic therapist would view the client's problem. Provide some background on the psychoanalytic approach and cite relevant references. Explain how psychoanalytic therapy would be used to treat the client, how the client would respond to therapy, and the effectiveness of this treatment approach.
- Pharmacological approach : If treatment primarily involves the use of medications, explain which medications were used and why. Provide background on the effectiveness of these medications and how monotherapy may compare with an approach that combines medications with therapy or other treatments.
This section of a case study should also include information about the treatment goals, process, and outcomes.
When you are writing a case study, you should also include a section where you discuss the case study itself, including the strengths and limitiations of the study. You should note how the findings of your case study might support previous research.
In your discussion section, you should also describe some of the implications of your case study. What ideas or findings might require further exploration? How might researchers go about exploring some of these questions in additional studies?
Here are a few additional pointers to keep in mind when formatting your case study:
- Never refer to the subject of your case study as "the client." Instead, their name or a pseudonym.
- Read examples of case studies to gain an idea about the style and format.
- Remember to use APA format when citing references .
A Word From Verywell
Case studies can be a useful research tool, but they need to be used wisely. In many cases, they are best utilized in situations where conducting an experiment would be difficult or impossible. They are helpful for looking at unique situations and allow researchers to gather a great deal of information about a specific individual or group of people.
If you have been directed to write a case study for a psychology course, be sure to check with your instructor for any specific guidelines that you are required to follow. If you are writing your case study for professional publication, be sure to check with the publisher for their specific guidelines for submitting a case study.
Simply Psychology. Case Study Method .
Crowe S, Cresswell K, Robertson A, Huby G, Avery A, Sheikh A. The case study approach . BMC Med Res Methodol . 2011 Jun 27;11:100. doi:10.1186/1471-2288-11-100
Gagnon, Yves-Chantal. The Case Study as Research Method: A Practical Handbook . Canada, Chicago Review Press Incorporated DBA Independent Pub Group, 2010.
Yin, Robert K. Case Study Research and Applications: Design and Methods . United States, SAGE Publications, 2017.
By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."
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Rethinking the case study.
Before you read this article: This was written in 2013. A newer version exists, called Rethinking the Case Study, Again . Reading both is a great idea, but if you’re pressed for time, read the newer one. — CB
We don’t have any great case studies on our site.
I mean that. But we have done great work. So what’s the problem here?
One obvious problem is time. Doing great work takes lots of time, which tends to not leave much left over to fill with writing about it. But everyone has that problem. The bottom line here: if it’s important, you make time. Writing case studies is important, so why haven’t we made the time? Well, it’s tough to make time to do something without having vision for it.
And that’s the other problem: vision. When I say “case study,” I’m sure you have an immediate idea of what I’m talking about. Prestigious client name emblazoned at the top of the page. Big, shiny images of that pretty stuff you made for them. Lovefest text about how cool you think your client is. Testimonial from them about how awesome you are. Followed, of course, by a halfhearted writeup of what you actually did. You were either in such a rush to publish it for publicity’s sake that you didn’t even bother to measure results, or so bored with it that you didn’t bother to frame it for SEO or promote it. Either way, the case study doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.
No vision? No point.
Ok, so your vision problem may not be that bad. I know ours isn’t. You do great work. You even stick around to evaluate it, and are honest and humble enough to admit when it didn’t work. You dig in and fix it. But you don’t tell that story, do you?
Perhaps it’s simply a matter of not quite knowing how to make a case study as interesting and compelling as your usual thought leadership content. With that stuff, you can go all out on opinion; in a case study, opinion only matters if it gets results. So you don’t see a lot of that in typical case studies. And because of that, you don’t see many great case studies. You do see plenty of project writeups (like what we’ve got in our “ Featured Projects ” section), which are _ fine _ (read: mediocre) but not great .
I saw something recently — something great — that has inspired me to change that. But more on that in a bit.
First, let’s build a new vision.
What Case Studies Are For
That idea we have of what a case study is — and perhaps I was being a bit harsh earlier — isn’t any good. But that’s not really because we don’t understand the elements of a case study. It’s because we don’t think clearly about why we are writing them in the first place.
Most of the time, we write a case study because we want the world to know that we landed an important account. It’s about the name of the client and what it means that they were willing to work with us. If we made some pretty things, we of course want to show them off too. But in both cases, we’re doing it to create an impression, either by name recognition or aesthetic seduction. And that’s what we think sells.
You might get someone into your store by putting pretty things in the window, but if that impression doesn’t hold up once they’re inside, they’re not going to stick around long enough to buy. Once they’re inside, they need all kinds of reassurance to defeat the voice in their head telling them to hold on to their money: A trust-building connection with you. The chance to hold that thing you’re selling and imagine what it might be like to own it. A good story about that thing that explains where it came from, why it’s one of a kind, and how it’s just as good as it looks. A promise that you’ll make it right if that thing doesn’t hold up.
Seduction is no more stable than a trap door held shut by twine. It’s going to fall out from under your prospect. What can you offer them in the way of a soft landing?
Better yet, why not skip the seduction altogether?
That’s what a good case study is for. It explains how you apply your expertise in the real world to potential customers that can relate to the problems you describe and understand the value of your solutions. It does this in detail — without seduction — covering:
- the kinds of problems you are good at solving
- how you probe and diagnose those problems
- your ideas for solutions
- how you test those solutions
- how you evaluate their performance
- how you execute the ones that hold up
- how you handle setbacks
- how you preserve forward momentum
- how you manage your relationships
A good case study does all of that because its purpose is to court prospects, not praise past work. It must differentiate you from the other options an informed evaluator is considering. And by the way, sometimes an option is a competitor, sometimes it’s the prospect themselves, sometimes it’s no one. You must make the case that paying you is a better investment than paying a competitor, doing the work in-house, or not doing it at all.
What a Great Case Study Looks Like
A great case study is substantial, and it’s going to look that way. Sure, it’s going to have a strong aesthetic component. But the curb appeal your case studies need comes from more than just pretty pictures. It comes from being well organized so that its depth is appealing, not daunting. Long-form content lives and dies by formatting. It either eases a reader in, or is an instant TL;DR .
I’ve long advocated for a predictable problem → solution → outcome format to case studies. I still think that holds up, but with the detail a great case study requires, that format is probably a bit too simple to be applied literally in every case. Instead, this is what I’ve come up with as a structure that covers those three concepts, adequately supports the more subtle goals we’ve been examining, and gradually guides the reader from big picture to granular detail:
- Summary : This is a brief introduction of the engagement, with an emphasis on problem and outcome. It should sell the reader on the value of digging further into the details of your solution. Think of it as an elevator pitch (if not something Tweetable). If a prospect only read your summary, would they at least understand what you did and the value you believe it offered?
- Backstory : Think of this as the beginning, the once-upon-a-time part. You’re setting up the case study by providing an introduction to its key players — you and your client — and your respective points of view. Remember, how you describe this relationship will make it easier or harder for a prospect to imagine themselves in a similar relationship with you.
- Problem : This is the simple part. What, exactly, were you hired to do? This hits on your expertise and your diagnostic and problem-solving skills.
- Solution : What did you do? This covers your process, your strategic prowess, your technical capabilities, your team dynamic, your style.
- Outcome : What were the results? Did you build a new audience? Strengthen and grow an existing one? Increase sales? Great. Data, please.
- Reflection : If a reader has stuck around to this point, you can trust them with a bit more vulnerability. Here’s where you share the insights and voices of individual team members — planners, designers, developers, even your client — through brief, focused reflections on the job. What worked? What didn’t? What doubts did you have? What surprised you? What would you have done differently had you more time or more knowledge at the beginning? What did you learn and how will you use that knowledge in the future? This, really, is the most important and substantial piece of the puzzle for a prospect. If they’re seriously evaluating, they’ve probably heard plenty in the problem → solution → outcome department, but your honest and sincere reflection upon it will be what helps them get to know you and want to work with you .
Remember, a case study is a sales tool.
Oh, and by the way, I’d recommend using a little editorial savvy here when it comes to titles. Unless your client’s name is so well known that the nature of their problem and your solution could be discerned by the sort of person you want as a client simply by hearing it, go for client-agnostic titles. Something like that describes what you did and the kind of client you did it for. Something like, “Launching a Worldwide Campaign to End Hunger,” rather than “We Worked With UNICEF.” The idea is to make the case study a mirror for your prospect. (If your client is that name-droppable, you probably don’t need to worry about writing case studies to attract prospects who don’t yet know you exist.)
A Practical Plan for Writing Great Case Studies
Writing a great case study sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? Even if we’ve got the vision problem worked out, time remains a significant obstruction. So what gives? As I confessed at the beginning of this article, we haven’t mastered this yet either. So, here’s what we’re planning to do:
First, we’re going to produce two types of case study. One will be the sort I’ve described here — I’ll call it the long-form case study — and the other will be a briefer format, similar to the case studies we’ve already published. The goal here is both to represent the depth of what we do, as well as to keep up with our actual productivity. Neither format can handle that alone; we need a combined strategy to best achieve our content goals. Here’s a breakdown of how each type will be produced:
Long-Form Case Study
- Frequency: Quarterly
- Length: 1,500 – 3,000 words (i.e. newsletter length)
- Target persona: Researcher, Evaluator
- Strategic focus: Aspirational; about the kinds of work we want to do more
Short-Form Case Study
- Frequency: Bi-Monthly
- Length: ~500 words
- Target persona: Evaluator, Buyer (remember some important personas will never read a very long case study, so the short ones remain important)
- Strategic focus: Representative; about the kinds of work we currently do routinely
That’s our current commitment: Up to ten case studies a year, four of which are of comparable heft to an article like this one, and the remaining six a much lighter effort. Altogether, potentially adding 15,000 words of expertise-focused, buying-cycle-friendly content. It’s ambitious, but we’re going to do our best to make it happen. We’ve got the vision, the plan, and the will to make the time we’ll need to do the work.
About that confession…
I don’t normally write articles like this. It’s risky. I’ve laid out a standard here that we have yet to meet ourselves, which I realize must sound a lot like the Dad who snarls “Don’t smoke!” just as he’s lighting up.
Actually, I wanted to avoid it ending like that. I wanted to end with something like, “Hey, remember that confession? Well, I lied. We do have one good case study on our site now, which I just wrote. Check it out…” That would have been great, but I’d have had to rush finishing the case study I am writing right now. It’s almost there, but not quite ready to accompany this piece. But I promise you, it’s coming soon. I’ve put my time where my mouth is and am hard at work trying to write a case study that comes close to being as good as it should be.
Update (03/10/2014): Since I wrote this, we’ve written three long, detailed case studies:
- We created a powerful marketing and benchmarking platform for middle market research with Rattleback and GE’s research group at Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business, The National Center for the Middle Market.
- We built an award-winning digital marketing platform for a leading outdoor sports marketing firm , Origin Design.
- We designed a beautiful new digital marketing platform for a major record label , Merge Records.
I mentioned earlier that I’d seen something recently that inspired this new approach. A few weeks ago I stumbled upon the website for Teehan+Lax , a digital agency in Toronto that has truly made an art of the long-form case study. In fact, their site is mostly just a collection of long, detailed, interesting, inspiring — great — case studies. Like this one, and this one, and this one. You should read them. But be warned: in addition to making use of all of the elements I’ve discussed so far, they are beautiful. Really, really beautiful. So beautiful that you might be tempted to think that it’s their design, not their content, that makes them great. You might even be thinking, Chris, after all of that hard talk about seduction, you send me here ?! Well, I won’t deny that the visual presentation of these case studies makes a powerful impression, and certainly helps readers focus their attention enough to stay the course over a long read. But it’s the substance of these case studies that I want you to study. I wouldn’t want you to conclude that this sort of content is impossible for you to do just as well, simply because you can’t match Teehan+Lax’s design. (So you know: I’m intending to publish our case studies using the same template we’re using today, though I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t love to create something just as custom as they have.)
If you’re motivated to make case studies a core platform of your content marketing, I recommend you become a student of their website just as I have.
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How to Write a Case Study: Are You Doing It Right?
Case studies are one of the most valuable types of content your content marketing team can create. When executed well, they demonstrate your company’s ability to solve real-world problems. That’s a story that no prospect can resist. However, there are parameters and best practices to follow. We’ll review them all and show you how to write a case study for maximum results.
Why Write Case Studies?
Creating a case study is a unique form of content marketing. They are excellent for bottom-of-the-funnel (BoFU) content . At this point, your prospect is aware of their problem and the solutions available. They simply need an illustration of how implementing a product or service will work. Case studies deliver on this.
The biggest challenge in writing a case study is getting your customer to participate. Some companies have restrictions against this for legal reasons. Others may be hesitant to pull back the curtain.
You can assuage their concerns in two ways. First, assure them that you won’t include anything proprietary. Second, offer to create a version for their own use that demonstrates their capabilities.
If you’re looking for more reasons to write case studies, they include:
- Being niche-specific: You may work with many industries, but having content relevant to a specific field improves your credibility.
- Reiterating your expertise and ability to solve the most complex problems: Your case study illustrates the steps of the process that explain things for buyers.
- Showing social proof: As you know, new customers want to hear what current ones have to say. A case study is much deeper than a review or testimonial. It provides an overview of a partnership with your brand.
- Offering lead gen content : Gating a case study is a good idea. It’s valuable enough that people will provide their contact information for the download.
- A case study is a story, and storytelling in content marketing is authentic and resonates well with audiences.
Now that you know why you should write one, let’s talk about how to do it right.
The Case Study Structure
There are lots of templates for case studies. How you create yours will depend on the context, industry, and goals. Most use a format of:
- Introduction/Background : This is all about your customer and their history and story.
- Challenge : This section describes the challenge your customer was facing and how it was impacting their capabilities.
- Solution : Next, you’ll define the specific solutions provided to the customer to solve their problems.
- Results : Finally, you’ll end with what occurred after implementation.
In addition to these sections, it’s always good to highlight any metrics and specific quotes from the company. Keep in mind that you can do anonymous case studies if that’s your only option, but being able to use the company name is more credible.
How to Write a Case Study in 10 Steps
To complete all the areas defined above, you’ll need a content workflow for the project. Here’s a solid process to follow:
- Get a customer to say yes: This step is the hardest. It often depends on sales or account management teams developing strong relationships.
- Make the introduction: The person with the relationship needs to introduce the client to your writer.
- Research the company: The writer from your team assigned to the project should research the company. He or she should also get some backstory from sales or account managers. Looking up the individual on LinkedIn is also a good idea.
- Send the customer a set of questions: This may vary depending on the project but could include asking about the company’s history, its challenges, the search for a solution, why they chose your company, and the results. Your writer should send these to the customer with direction, leading to the next step of the interview.
- Interview the customer: With the questions pre-provided, your customer will be able to prep and not have any surprises about where the meeting will go. The interview may start from the seed questions but, based on responses, can go in different directions. So, you shouldn’t feel constrained by those questions. They are just a starting point.
- Start drafting: You now have information from your team, the customer, and other context. It’s time to get writing your template for the background, challenge, solution, and results. Stylistically, a case study is very narrative. You shouldn’t treat it like a blog or long-form content.
- Ask for the customer’s approval: Once you have a draft, send it to the customer for feedback first. Make sure they are comfortable and that you’ve embodied their experience accurately. Take any feedback into consideration.
- Finalize the content: Once the customer signs off, get any other approvals you need so that it’s ready for design.
- Design the case study: While you can post a case study as a blog, consider making this a download, gated or non-gated. Using a branded, eye-catching template with imagery and callouts will make it more appealing.
- Publish and promote: Now you are ready to get the case study live and promote it. When posting it on social media, be sure to tag your customer. You can also use graphics with quotes from the case study to post on social media to generate more interest. Also, consider distributing it through email and paid channels. Then you’ll want to check your content analytics to understand its performance and if it directly contributed to new leads or won business.
Ready to Create Case Studies that Deliver?
Learning how to create case studies is critical for your content team. They require your writers to be great researchers and intuitive interviewers. While they often take longer than a typical informational article or blog post, their value is immense. Keeping all the steps in place can be challenging too, but not with content marketing software like DivvyHQ. You can build out your case study workflow, work your plan, and all tasks remain visible and streamlined with our platform. See how it works today !
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The first thing to remember about writing a case study is that the case should have a problem for the readers to solve. Writing an interesting case study is a bit like writing a detective story
Most of the time, we write a case study because we want the world to know that we landed an important account. A good case study does all of that because its purpose is to court prospects, not praise past work
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woman writing a case study. We've provided step-by-step instructions & detailed example case studies you can learn from before you do your own
Case studies are one of the most valuable types of content your content marketing team can create. The biggest challenge in writing a case study is getting your customer to participate
A well-written business case study can also generate leads, increase customer loyalty, and boost sales. But writing an effective and compelling case study can be easier said than done. Great case studies aren't something that you can write by yourself