Downsizing Case Studies

If you understand how to do a complete “classic” case study, the other versions (which I will call “success stories” and “endorsements”) should be easy for you. In this post, I’ll talk about what is usually missing in the shorter forms. Sometimes these are fun to do since it is a pleasure to cut down a well-done piece (but a horror to pad something that was inadequately researched and written in the first place).

Success Stories vs. Case Studies

All of us who work in the real world deal every day with misconceptions. If you are lucky enough to work for a manager who was once a writer, he or she usually understands the issues. However, if you are working for a non-writer, you may face serious misconceptions, such as that case studies take too long. They can if not handled correctly, but they can also be done in three to five days under ideal conditions.

If you are facing misconceptions, you may be asked to write what I will arbitrarily call “success stories,” and generally the element missing in these stories are details about exactly how your company’s product is being used. This is especially true if the company you are working for sells something like network hardware that takes effort and education to understand and explain.

The result will be “fluff” pieces, which my engineering friends call “happy stories” that simply talk about the benefits without going into any of the “hard” details. If your salespeople are talking to upper management, these stories should impress them, especially if the customer is well known. Success stories can also make attention-grabbing handouts at trade shows. However, if your company sells mainly to the managers who actually run a network, they will not be impressed and will need to know more.

Endorsements vs. Case Studies

You can pull or create endorsements, which are customer quotations praising a product or short statements of specific benefits, from a full case study. These are ideal for press releases, and often salespeople will have a collection of them, which they use along with references (personal endorsements that are not for publication).

Website vs. Case Studies

I worked recently with a young web programmer who was always telling me that the essence of contemporary web design was “don’t make me read!” Turns out this was a Freudian slip since the book he was referring to is Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug. “Krug’s Third Law of Usability” (“Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left”) is based on Strunk and White’s seventeenth “elementary principle of composition” in The Elements of Style – “Omit needless words.” I would wholeheartedly agree with Krug (and Strunk & White).

One of the great challenges of technical marketing writing is to choose the ideas (couched in as few words as possible) that motivate a website reader (whoops! I mean “user”) to click through and open the PDF of your full case study.

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About Regina Domeraski

I am a writer and have been for as long as I can remember. I worked as a technical writer and now a marketing writer for high-tech companies, but my interests go far beyond technology and include writing as an art and a craft, creativity, film, classical music, and the mystery genre (after all, Hamlet is a murder mystery).
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