I used to absolutely detest writing case studies. Even as a full time freelance copywriter, I would scour the interwebz for How-to guides and tips on what I was supposed to do.

Then, after trying a few different approaches, I had a breakthrough. I realised that a case study is really just a story (that might seem obvious to many!). Once I realised this, writing them suddenly got a whole lot easier.

But first…

What is a Case Study?

A case study is a promotional tool which takes a soft sell approach to marketing a product or service. By presenting a less sales-oriented and more informational perspective, they give the information as a kind of quasi news report, generating credibility that’s missing in a traditional brochure.

A case study depends on an outside source such as an existing client who is interviewed for the case study and tells a story about the product or service being promoted, focusing on how it helped them and what problems it solved.

What I found…

I’m about to tell you the 2 main things I discovered about writing more effective case studies. Keep these in mind while you write and before long you’ll find your case studies are compelling and convincing:

Put the story first and the structure second

The biggest mistake you can make, and the main culprit for lacklustre case studies, is taking some kind of existing template of what someone else says a case study should consist of.

This problem is all the more pronounced because case studies require graphic design, so there are a lot of templates around with existing spaces for different sections of the copy, and even titles on what to put there (The problem, the solution, etc).

Avoid case study templates at all costs!

Ideally you will have access to a graphic designer who can design the format around your copy, not the other way around. (So often the copy is an afterthought in graphic and web design, when in fact the design should be shaped around the messages … but don’t get me started on that!)

Of course, we don’t all have money to spend on designers, so if you’re going to use a template, at least find one that is a bare bones type thing where you’re not too restricted in which copy goes where. This way you can make each section as long as it needs to be, not worrying about fitting 200 words here or 150 words there.

Forget structure, and what sections should go where, and just think about the actual story. In fact, don’t even add any headings or section titles until you’re finished telling the story. This will stop you from making up some kind of disjointed monstrosity that many people think a case study “should” be.

You already know how to tell a story, and here you can follow some structure. Just forget you’re writing a case study. Instead, focus on establishing the classic factors like who the client is and why the reader should care, then move on to their story with the product and from there a natural conclusion.

Don’t feel like you have to reach a word limit. Write as much or as little as you need to. Worry about trimming it up or adding more sections once you’ve got your story down.

Rule number two…

Use the client’s language

I used to go through the written or recorded interviews with the client and try to translate what they were saying into what I thought was appropriate language. I would take their colloquialisms like slang and conversational sentence structure and give them an artificial, polished interpretation. I was putting their language through a filter and making it more generic because I thought that’s what good writing was.

This was a huge mistake!

The thing is … you’re interviewing this person precisely because they can communicate ideas in the language of your prospects. Having their actual language available to use, warts and all, is a gift!

For writing to be persuasive, it needs to move away from the filter I was applying. It needs to speak in the language the reader knows. The same language they use every day. Once you start doing this, you start using terms and sentence structure that the reader is comfortable with and that forms patterns they recognise. And once you do that, you start achieving some emotional resonance with them, which builds trust and authority. And that’s how you actually get people to take action.

So forget everything you think you know about what case study should be. Follow these two golden rules, and watch your case studies soar.

Share your experiences with writing case studies in the comment section below.