Case Study Format Guide

Case studies are the short story of the business world. You could  say a case study is a portrait of a profitable relationship between your company and a customer.

They create credibility. They showcase a real world example of a product or service in action. If they are so great, why do marketing directors complain about how difficult it is to get great case studies? Here are some ways to help you get the opportunity share amazing stories from your customers.

Build trust with your customer.

The first issue in writing a great case study is to abandon the notion of a “case study” altogether.  You don’t need “a case,” right? Heck, that sounds like something you’d litigate. You want a STORY–something compelling, authentic, and real. So start by asking your clients to “help tell their story.” Don’t use the “case study” word at all. You aren’t going to court with this.

Modern stories are the new case studies

Most of your customers really do want to help you provide real information; they just balk at the formality of the theoretical “case study” structure because we inherently know conditions change so fast, they may not be the same in a year.  They don’t want to be “on the record” when inherently we all know that relevant record is a dynamic relationship. So start talking about your story instead . .  .

Call script for a killer case study

Imagine calling your client and saying something like this:

You: “Our agency just let us know that the most respected journal in our industry wants to do a feature article on how well we’re doing with this solution. I think we should do it–it will position your firm as the leader you are, and it definitely looks good for us to be part of your success, too. Can we make it happen?”

Your client: “Our approach is maybe thought leading– are you sure? You’re doing okay right now too, but I’m not sure we want to give away the whole recipe to our competitors or tell them about a company we work with.”

You: “That makes a lot of sense–you know, we could talk about the results, and talk a bit about the approach, but leave the details vague. That way, you remain a thought leader but your competition is in the dark. I thought taking a leading position in this space would help you . . . ”

Your client: “Sure, but we can’t endorse you either–we work with several firms like yours.”

You: “I get it–we’re just happy to be one part of your story. Let’s help each other out and find a great way to shine a light on your leadership that looks good all around. Can I set up an interview with our Write2Market writer? If you don’t like the piece, we don’t have to submit it, but I think we can tell the story, make you look like the leader you are, and not give away the secret sauce. Worth a shot?”

Your client: “Well…it is a really big trade journal. I’m working on my career, and we’re working on our thought leadership position–this might be a good idea.  As long as we can keep it open around who we work with and the details of how we do it, I don’t mind sharing some of the story–let’s take next steps.”

3 things you need for a modern case study

Now you’re cooking with case study grease! To write a great case study fast, you’re going to need a few things.  Let’s start with the three things you need:

  • Context. What’s the larger business trend in play? Is there third party research that validates the trend?
  • Organization. The reader is your next customer, so organize your story around their pain points and their journey.  The NEEDS of your reader provide the outline of your case study. Use the information that is important to the reader because it addresses their “pain.”
  • Objective facts.  Put a dollar on the value of the solution you provide and define the ROI in detail. Often the customer loves your service or product for reasons we don’t even realize. Encourage the customer to brag about themselves and their sharpness in finding, and buying, your offering. Probe for the real reasons why working with your company is so satisfying. This will create buying triggers.

Once you have these three biggies, you’ll only need to format in the next six critical case study elements:

6 essential case study format elements

1. A lead quote or testimonial. Use a quip from an interviewed source–your client or customer–that is repeated within the body of the text.

2. A results summary. This includes three or four benefit or advantage statements—high-level bullets that explain the meat of the case. These should showcase how your company helped the firm in the case study. These points should appeal to the prospects actual pain points.

3. A challenge or problem summary that explains the problem to the reader (a prospect), using a point of view that empathizes with the reader’s perception of the problem.

4. A compelling, interesting title – the answer to a need you KNOW the reader has. Even better–make sure this has a keyword in it and you can tweet it with a relevant hashtag.

5. “About Us” section. This is one paragraph about your company, including a few notable facts and contact information.

6. A call to action. Each case study should encourage the reader to respond to something specific. Many times, these are in the left or right margin of the case study or at the bottom.

Want to see some case study examples?

Case Study Samples

Guidelines for Writing a Case Study Analysis

A case study analysis requires you to investigate a business problem, examine the alternative solutions, and propose the most effective solution using supporting evidence. To see an annotated sample of a Case Study Analysis, click here.

Preparing the Case

Before you begin writing, follow these guidelines to help you prepare and understand the case study:

  1. Read and examine the case thoroughly
    • Take notes, highlight relevant facts, underline key problems.
  2. Focus your analysis
    • Identify two to five key problems
    • Why do they exist?
    • How do they impact the organization?
    • Who is responsible for them?
  3. Uncover possible solutions
    • Review course readings, discussions, outside research, your experience.
  4. Select the best solution
    • Consider strong supporting evidence, pros, and cons: is this solution realistic?

Drafting the Case

Once you have gathered the necessary information, a draft of your analysis should include these sections:

  1. Introduction
    • Identify the key problems and issues in the case study.
    • Formulate and include a thesis statement, summarizing the outcome of your analysis in 1–2 sentences.
  2. Background
    • Set the scene: background information, relevant facts, and the most important issues.
    • Demonstrate that you have researched the problems in this case study.
  3. Alternatives
    • Outline possible alternatives (not necessarily all of them)
    • Explain why alternatives were rejected
    • Constraints/reasons
    • Why are alternatives not possible at this time?
  4. Proposed Solution
    • Provide one specific and realistic solution
    • Explain why this solution was chosen
    • Support this solution with solid evidence
    • Concepts from class (text readings, discussions, lectures)
    • Outside research
    • Personal experience (anecdotes)
  5. Recommendations
    • Determine and discuss specific strategies for accomplishing the proposed solution.
    • If applicable, recommend further action to resolve some of the issues
    • What should be done and who should do it?

Finalizing the Case

After you have composed the first draft of your case study analysis, read through it to check for any gaps or inconsistencies in content or structure: Is your thesis statement clear and direct? Have you provided solid evidence? Is any component from the analysis missing?

When you make the necessary revisions, proofread and edit your analysis before submitting the final draft. (Refer to Proofreading and Editing Strategies to guide you at this stage).

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