Recently, I received a client referral for a small, yet mighty copyediting project. The client needed me to copyedit three case studies and a bid letter. Seemed like a quick-turn project that could be fun, so I said yes. What I didn’t realize was that it would blow my mind a little. The case studies weren’t the case studies I’m used to dealing with. They were 300 words long or less! (I know, right?! Take a second to recover.) This revelation was so mind-blowing because my colleague, Mike Russell, challenged me and a few others to write case studies for ourselves as freelance copywriters. We all kind of hemmed and hawed and never did it, but now, seeing the wonder of the 300-word case study, I’m totally going to do it!
The Wonder of the 300-Word Case Study
Because my client, Sev of The Data Scout, has posted the wonder-full case studies on their website, I will share them with you. I recommend you read them and get an idea of how you could write your own case study similarly.
When I complimented Sev on how cool the 300-word case study idea is, Sev said:
The purpose of these studies is to give prospective clients a clear, concise idea of work I’ve done and value I can add.
Totally. Boiled down to its essence, that is the role of the case study. Why, then, do we make them so long and complex if we can make them so short and simple? Good question. I suppose it depends on industry standards around case studies, how much information you/the client wants to include, and what you/the client think a case study should be.
As writers, we know it often takes longer to write short pieces than it does to write long pieces. In shorter pieces your words have to be immediately impactful, exact, nothing wasted. Longer pieces can start slower, have some fluff, and include the kitchen sink. It’s pretty subjective.
The point of this post is to inform you that there’s another way to do case studies. If you’re like me and thought they had to be long, dramatic, and filled with professional photography and diagrams, I hope you feel relief and empowerment now knowing that you can create 300-word case study wonders. For yourself AND your clients! Whoa…Did that just blow your mind too?
Thanks for the shout-out, Amber.
And thanks for sharing another format for case studies. It is eye-opening.
That said, I worry about Sev’s format. Remember the adage that ‘people remember stories better than facts.’ If one of Sev’s prospects were comparing him with several prospects who also had case studies, I wonder if Sev’s case studies would be sufficiently memorable.
Also, I think of the case study as being the written equivalent of connecting a prospect with a satisfied client. If the two were to have a conversation, there’d be an exchange of context. Did the customer try any other solutions first? If so, what were the outcomes? Why did the customer choose Sev above other providers? Now that the project is done, what lessons can the customer share with the prospect?
Admittedly, these questions are rarely addressed even in longer case studies, to the reader’s detriment.
With that all said, I love the idea of using Sev’s format for a download page. After writing a more detailed case study, the bullet points could be a wonderful way to give the gist and entice readers to dive into a longer piece.
The reader’s willingness to read more content may be proportionate to the size, cost and potential upside of the project.
Thanks for sharing, Amber. It’s great to see a creative manifestation of the case study, and it’s certainly better than doing nothing at all!
Using this method as a teaser to the larger case study is a great idea, Mike. A client of mine does something similar. On the case study webpage there’s an abbreviated version of the study. On the sidebar you have the option to download the full case study. (Here’s one of those pages: http://biamp.com/case_studies/nrel.aspx.)
As far as whether or not the 300-word case study is memorable compared to longer case studies, don’t people mostly skim things anyway? Or only read bits of content from any given piece? If it’s only 300 words (or less) wouldn’t a reader be more likely to read/skim the entire thing before losing interest and opening a new tab to watch Louis C.K. clips on YouTube?
As I mentioned, it’s likely that various industry standards for case studies basically require a certain length and included content. Do freelance copywriters have such a standard? Perhaps this conversation is the beginning of a new industry standard for our ilk. I like it! I’m definitely looking forward to seeing your first case study for Pivotal Writing, Mike.
I must admit that I was totally intrigued by the prospect of the 300-word case study. I too think of case studies as a long and complex, full of data and stories and pretty graphics. Then I reviewed all 3 of the pieces on The Data Scout and found myself wondering “Where’s the beef”?
I’d like to throw out the idea that this is a case of mistaken identity. What we’re calling a “case study” is really a data sheet, fact sheet, executive summary etc. These are all really useful tools and the examples shown are particularly great data points for Data Scout’s services. But I have to challenge the idea that they are true “case studies”.
That said the post did get me thinking about alternative ways to present data in our world of fast and furious content. Amber, that was your original intention and you succeeded. Thanks!
Oh, that’s interesting! So what’s missing in these case studies? That is, what’s the missing “beef” you’re referring to, Melissa? Your change of identity to executive summary fits nicely with Mike’s idea of making the 300-word “case study” into the short, overview version of a longer, meatier piece.
I have to agree with Mike that people connect with stories. I think a good case study tells a specific story about challenge, trial and error and ultimately perseverance. In the first case study on The Data Scout’s site, the benefactor Powerinbox, wasn’t mentioned until the last paragraph. I would’ve liked to learn about them upfront for ex, What’s their business model? What was their specific needs? How did the solution change their world? The reader always wants to know “Are they like me?” “Can I do the same?”
I absolutely agree that the 300-word case study is a perfect outline for expanding into a longer piece with more backstory and visuals.
Here’s a good article on creating a solid case study: https://blog.kissmetrics.com/creating-a-great-case-study/
Mmm, the classic hero’s journey laid out in a case study format! I can see how approaching the case study from that epic, story-creation point of view would lead to very readable and enjoyable case studies. Thanks for sharing that case study creation link. Always great to see/hear how other people are creating this valuable piece of content. Thanks, Melissa!
This is kind of a peanut gallery comment, because I’m not sure I even know what a case study is, but the length limit that come to my mind are audience trust and expectation. If I’m a famous action hero and you’re a fan, I can say “I rescued that refugee girl” and that’s that. If you think it’s as likely my rescue work was to send $10 in the mail or you’re liable to imagine I mean anything short of dynamic daring do, I’m going to need some bullet points. In science, you’ll likely want to as if your reader is skeptical, and to really lay out the particulars.
Good point, Oliver. The more technical the solution/work, the more details potential clients are going to want to know. I assume that’s why technical case studies are so long and contain so many proof points, including professional photography, testimonials, and technical specs.