Posts in 4. Case study writing

5 mistakes I’ve made as a professional case study writer (and what I learned from them!)

I’ve worked as a professional case study writer for a looong time and made A LOT of mistakes – but I’ve also improved because of them. In this article I highlight 5x ‘lessons learned’ so you don’t make the same mistakes as me.

1. Framing the title wrong

There’s a subtle but important difference between these 2 titles:

Alice Hollis Ltd helped Company ABC achieve XYZ


Company ABC achieves XYZ with Alice Hollis Ltd

In the first example, you make yourself the ‘hero’, a role that storytelling technique teaches us should always be your customer. Your role is to play the ‘guide’, helping the hero to battle the ‘villain’ – the pain or challenge they experienced.

Remember: your audience only cares about themselves, so when writing the title always put the customer centre stage.

2. A boring opening

Yes, a case study is about the story of your customer’s transformation, but the worst thing you can do is to open with their company bio.

Remember: you only have seconds to grab the reader’s attention.

Instead, open your case study in the same way you would approach a press release – getting the who, what, when, where, why, how into the first 1-2 sentences.

Your customer is the ‘relatable middle ground’ for your prospects because they’ve been in the same position and faced the same challenges. Therefore, you need to share the important information upfront to show the reader you empathise with their situation – and crucially, can help them overcome their challenges because you’ve done it before.

3. Leaving the customer to write the testimonial

Your customer isn’t a copywriter, which means if you ask them to write the testimonial you risk ending up with something bland, like “I’d recommend Alice Hollis Ltd.

Remember: you’re looking to get sound bites to pepper all your content with – ideally something that supports your core messaging.

A better approach is to offer some ‘suggested wording’ for your customer to review. 99% of the time they’re happy to just sign it off because they’re grateful you’ve done the thinking and made them sound good.

4. Walking away when you can’t use the company’s name

It is REALLY frustrating when you have an amazing case study, but the customer says you’re not allowed to use their name. But this shouldn’t stop you from writing it up.

Remember: regardless of the company name, you still have a valuable story to share, which your audience will benefit from reading.

In this situation you can either write it up as an anonymised case study, being very careful not to share any details that would make the company easy to identify. Alternatively, you could broaden the scope of the content to create an article that explores the problem/opportunity from a market-wide perspective, and how your product/service aligns to it.

5. No stats

Sometimes it’s too early in the implementation to have generated tangible results; perhaps your customer didn’t measure the business impact of the ‘before’ picture to be able to calculate the improvement; or maybe that information is sensitive (last thing you want to do is make your customer look incompetent by how bad the ‘before’ picture was!).

Remember: the first thing your reader looks for in a case study is stats – fail to provide any and they’ll immediately bounce.

If you don’t have any customer-specific stats, infer the outcome using industry research. For example:

When security teams take an average of 277-days to identify and contain a breach, the visibility Company ABC now has of its network means, it can automatically pinpoint suspicious activity.”

Learn more about being a professional case study writer

Download: The Little Book of…Case Studies