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The secret to a great case study


Do you want to know how to easily write the ideal case study?  So would I.  Unfortunately, in my experience there are too many variables for it to be ‘quick and easy’.

I’m not going to name names here but in the last fortnight, in the process of helping charity clients to write case studies I’ve come across many articles, e-books and blogs that all suggest a magic formula to what should be included in a good case study.

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To be fair, lots of what I found makes sense in that they should be succinct wherever possible, outcomes-focused and in today’s multi-media world should contain images and even video links to show your work or outcomes in action.  I found some particularly sound advice over at ngo media – if you appreciate an experienced view overlaid with common sense, this is a good place to start.

But here’s why I disagree with those who purport to having THE formula for a great case study – and it’s really obvious if you think about it…

Not all audiences want to see, hear or know the same things about us or our work.

We design direct marketing, campaigning and fundraising messages to target specific audiences because we know not everyone responds to the same triggers.  We spent significant sums of money on researching our various audience groups to find out what makes them tick or floats their boats.  For an increasingly sophisticated and time-poor audience, case studies are no different.

Consequently, here’s my simple view, not on what makes a great case study but on how to make the core of your good case studies great:

  • Work out who you are writing for.  Funders will want to see different kinds of evidence in a case study in support of a grant application than, say, the parents of service beneficiary children.
  • Decide what aspects of your stories to prioritise for these different audiences.  For example, perhaps emphasise the robust process, the commitment of the team and the tangible accountability to the former.  Introduce more fun, a sense of belonging, human interaction and empathy to the second group.
  • Use a tone of voice, vernacular and vocabulary that both suits your brand values (it has to be credible coming from you) and makes it relevant and understandable for your target audience.  Medical research cases studies are great examples here… I’ve seen several that may as well have been written in a foreign language for all that I understood – but they weren’t aimed at me.  They targeted a research panel and were written accordingly.
  • Whomever your audience, include the following wherever possible but written about in a way that appeals to them:
    1. Why you did what you did in the case study (the problem or issue you were solving or the  need you met)
    2. The end result of your support or intervention (pictures, testimonials, videos if appropriate or facts and figures, bios of chief execs etc if this will be better received by the audience)
    3. What role you played in making the situation better
    4. Why you could and should continue to be the chosen party to do so in the future
    5. An obvious call to action for the reader (say yes to supporting the bid, donate, volunteer, pick up the phone etc)
  • Give it to someone from the audience group (or at least someone who can play the role) and ask them if they would act positively having read the case study
  • Revise accordingly
  • Keep them refreshed, relevant and up to date
  • Remember that writing for the web and printed case studies may not be the same skill for your target audience so use the right technique.  You can find more on this from the guys at ngo media and know-how non-profit.

So, no magic bullet.  Just taking your great stories and tailoring them to fit your audience’s needs – just as you do the rest of your effective marketing and communications.

What would you add or change?  Do please share your thoughts.


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