5 Tips for Writing Case Studies that will Ignite a Spark in Readers' Minds
Updated: Oct 12, 2022
Let’s face it, case studies can be really boring. Even sleep-inducing. But they don’t have to be. When they’re at their best, case studies ignite a spark in readers’ minds. That’s because dynamically-crafted case studies do more than just tell people about the problem your product or service solved for a customer. It sparks their imagination about what you or your product/service could do for them.
But there’s a trick to making that happen. That’s why I’m going to focus this article on 5 tips for writing case studies that will ignite a spark in readers' minds.
1. Present the Problem in a Suspenseful, Human-Interest Way
Within every industry, companies know what their pain points and problems are. You really don’t have to tell them. What you do need to tell them instead is the story within the story—the problem within the problem.
As readers, storytelling is what draws us in and captures our attention. It ignites emotion. Case studies need to do the same thing. Sharing the problem without any sort of story around it will only serve to make readers think, "So what?" The missing element is suspense. Suspense makes you want to know more—to keep reading so you can find out how the story ends.
Let’s take this example: A company’s financial department has been bogged down with tedious, labor-intensive tasks like financial close and bank reconciliations. The bigger problem, however, has been that the staff has been feeling bogged down, burned out and overworked, often expressing their feeling that “There’s got to be an easier way.”
That shifts the focus of the story to being a human one. It’s the human-interest aspect of the story that builds suspense and makes people want to know what happened in the end. It takes the story from merely “They needed better software” to “Their overworked staff needed relief.”
Suspense also connects readers to the problem, because as they’re reading about the people in the story, they start to feel empathy. Yes, even when they're reading a marketing case study! Go back and re-read the third and fourth sentences of the third paragraph in this section: bogged down, burned out, overworked.
“Yup, that sounds like my team,” and “I need to do something about this, right now” must be the thoughts triggered in readers’ minds. This is how you get over the hurdle of your case study being about companies your readers know little (or even nothing) about to your case study being about the reader and his/her company and employees.
Think of the case study like it’s a novel. Half the battle in captivating readers is the imagery that draws them in.
2. Present the Solution
Talking about the solution to the problem is the easiest part of the case study because it’s been in your case study all along. But what you’re going to do now is talk about your product as the best solution because of the human problems it solves.
Getting back to my financial example, I recently wrote a case study for RealPage about a real estate investment firm that had been using a popular bookkeeping software (I’ll just call it “QB”), which, as good as it is, was not developed with real estate investors in mind. It simply lacks certain functionality that is vital to back-end processes in that industry. I then segued into talking about the features in RealPage’s Accounting and Financial Suite of software solutions as the “superhero” of financial processes—how quickly and accurately it facilitates key financial processes, which, in turn, enables employees to be more productive (and, ultimately, happier because they're no longer overburdened).
3. Tell Them About the Results
This is the most important section of the case study because it’s where you detail the results that were achieved. If you’re a marketing agency, you talk about your solution as having exceeded all KPIs. If you’re a software developer, you talk about the ways in which your client has been able to optimize tasks and workflow.
In my accounting software example, it was about the people—the staff that was relieved of feeling bogged down, burned out and overworked. But more than that, it’s about how that relief energized and motivated them, and how that led to increased productivity and reduced turnover. Again, it’s the story within the story that tells the real story.
4. Include Sidebars for "Eye Candy"
Please don’t bury compelling statistics related to results achieved in the body of the case study! Give your readers a little eye candy by presenting them in an eye-catching sidebar. In my accounting example, I included a sidebar containing highlights of the results achieved. Each bullet point was a short, simple sentence. The final bullet point—the very last thing the reader would read in the case study—was “Reached all 2022 goals by April 2022.”
What reader wouldn’t want that for their company?