30 things your copywriter will need to know to write your case study
July 10, 2015 • Glenn Murray
Case study writing is tough
I’ve written a lot of case studies. And when I say “a lot”, I mean…
But it’s never easy. And you know what the most difficult part is? Getting the information I need from the client.
This is partly because there are a lot of people involved with most projects. Managers, developers, engineers, accountants, executives, marketing types… And they work for both my client and the end customer (the organisation that commissioned the project I’m writing about).
They all have a different story to tell, and they’re not all very able or willing to tell it. At least not to a pleb like me.
Plus, most projects are pretty complex. There’s a lot of information to convey – often very technical information.
And to make matters worse, the right people aren’t always involved from the outset. My client’s CEO may have emailed his marketing coordinator an instruction to get a case study written: “Tell the copywriter to speak to Mary in IT.” But when I talk to Mary, she tells me what she did, and really, she’s mostly interested in getting off the phone as quickly as possible. And until I actually start writing, I don’t usually know if she’s given me enough information, or if she’s led me off on a tangent.
I can’t rely on my immediate contact either – the marketing coordinator. He wasn’t directly involved with the project, so he probably knows little more than I do. And unless he’s written case studies before, he wouldn’t know what information I need anyway. (In fact, even if he has written case studies before, he probably won’t take the time to extract and collate the required info, because it’s hard work, and that’s what they’re paying me to do.)
My case study questionnaire
To work around these challenges, I start with a questionnaire with 30 very specific questions. Questions that require specific knowledge or perspective, so my client is forced to think about who’d be the best person to answer them.
I rarely get all the information I need from the questionnaire, but I do generally get enough to start writing, and I know who to contact for more. Just as importantly, I can be pretty confident I’m being told the full story.
Here are my 30 questions.
1. Please describe the client’s existing situation / system.
2. What difficulties was the client having with this situation / system?
3. How was it impacting their business, goals and customers?
4. When did they contact you to resolve their difficulties?
5. Who made the request?
6. What was the original scope of the engagement?
7. Did they contact any other possible solution providers? Was it a competitive tender process?
8. Why did they choose you?
9. After assessing the client’s existing situation / system, did the scope change? I.e. Was their original request still valid, or did they need something other than what they asked for?
10. What challenges did you face in designing and implementing your solution? And how did you overcome / work around them?
11. What existing systems did you have to work with/around and integrate with?
12. What solution did you deliver?
13. What components did it have?
14. What technologies and systems was it built on?
15. How long did it take?
16. What approach did you take? What particularly clever things did you do during the engagement that your competitors might not have, or which delivered extra value to the client?
17. How many people were involved (on your side and the client side)?
18. When did you complete the engagement?
19. Was it on time and within budget?
20. How long has the client been using the solution?
21. How have they been using it?
22. Have they been using it in any surprising or unexpected ways?
23. What benefits has the client derived from the solution? E.g. Financial gain, cost savings, time savings or staff morale improvements.
24. Do you have any testimonials from the client stating these benefits?
25. Do you have any stats illustrating these benefits?
26. Do you have any testimonials from the client about what a good job you did, how they liked working with you, whether they’d work with you again, or whether they’d recommend you?
27. Are there any planned next steps for this project / client? E.g. Was it just stage 1 of a multi-stage project?
28. Will the solution be rolled out to other departments, offices or subsidiaries? Will it be rolled out to similar organisations?
29. Do you (or the end client) have any written information about this project?
30. Who will I need to interview (name, contact number & email)?
Feel free to use these questions for your next case study
If you’re planning to have a copywriter write a case study for you, you might want to prepare your answers to these questions before you do. Or if you’re a copywriter working on a case study, maybe send your client these questions before you start.