How to organize a case study
A colleague in health system marketing counsels his case study writers to “Get the patient to the hospital.” Wrong! When it comes to case studies, it’s about the client’s problem and results, silly, not your solutions.
Here’s how to use the feature-style story structure to organize a case study.
I. Introduce the problem and client in the intro.
A. Cover the desk-pounding moment in the lead. What caused your client to search for your solution? Here’s an example, from a case study my team wrote for Sprint TekNet:
It was the last straw.
Newport School District had a primitive inter-building phone system, but the old intercom system no longer worked at all. Teachers had to leave their classrooms several times a day to travel the corridors of the 50-room schools to pick up or deliver messages. Now even telling time had become a chore, as the 20-year-old clock-and-bell system had begun failing, too.
B. Describe the client in the background section. Don’t weigh the lead down with the client’s details. Save this for the background section, aka the blah-blah-blah background. Include any details, such as economic issues, that make the problem you introduced in the lead more significant:
Located halfway between Harrisburg and Happy Valley in rural south-central Pennsylvania, Newport is a small, rural, public school district that covers 73 square miles and serves some 1,200 students.
With an average per-capita income of $18,684, Newport is the lowest-income school district in the capital city region.
C. Summarize the need in the nut graph. You may be able to handle this with a client quote:
“We have to maximize our resources,” says Bo Templeton, a fourth-grade teacher and Newport’s technology coordinator. “We needed a new clock and bell system. We would have loved a VCR system, but that had to be secondary. Whatever we got, we had to make sure we were using it and using it well.”
Note that you might flip the nut graph and background section, depending on whether you need the client description to set up the need in the nut graph.
II. Outline the problem, solution and results in the body.
A. Detail the problem in the first section. Be specific: Name names and number numbers. Use a calculator, if necessary, to quantify the business needs.
Newport needed an affordable solution that would:
Let teachers teach. Templeton and other teachers used to make at least three trips a day to the principal’s office to pick up or deliver messages. Walking from the basement or the far end of the building could take three or more minutes each way, or 18 minutes per teacher per day.
Multiply that by 100 Newport teachers, and figure that communicating by foot was costing Newport a total of more than 1,800 minutes, or 30 hours, of teacher time a day.
- Save administrative time. Before TekNet, administrators had to manually ring the dismissal bell at 12:30 p.m. on early dismissal days. And they had to get up from their desks to punch in a bell schedule by hand every Tuesday, when an activity period condenses class periods from 43 minutes to 35.
- Enhance communication. Etc.
B. Outline the solution in the second section. Your clients care more about their problems and results than about your organization and its stuff. A few broad brushstrokes will get this job done
To solve these problems, Sprint suggested TekNet, a system that combines more than a dozen school communication functions into one package.
Not only would TekNet run the bells, clocks and PA system. It also features a video distribution system that allows teachers to play video programs in the classroom via a telephone handset.
“We said, ‘We could have a system that just handles the clocks and bells, or we could get one that does that and much, much more,’” Templeton remembers. “We decided it was more effective to invest in a solution that would enhance our technology efforts here in the district. We chose to go with Sprint’s solution.”
C. Describe the results in the third section. Be specific: Name names and number numbers. Bonus points for mirroring the problems you outlined in the first section of the body.
1. Focus teacher time on teaching. TekNet places a phone at every teacher’s elbow, allowing Newport teachers, administrators, parents and staff members to communicate without leaving their desks.
As a result, TekNet has slashed the number of teacher trips by two-thirds, Templeton figures, saving Newport 20 hours of teacher time a day in message gathering alone. …
2. Save administrative time. TekNet runs off a disk, acting as a high-tech administrative assistant. With TekNet, the bell schedule automatically changes every day to mirror the school schedule.
“Comparing our manual system to TekNet is like comparing a typewriter to a computer,” Templeton says.
3. Enhance communication. TekNet’s video broadcast system allows administrators to broadcast messages to any class or to the whole school, from virtually any location. That means students in every classroom can participate in events held anywhere in the schools.
- If rain forces the high school’s outdoor graduation into the auditorium, for example, overflow guests can watch the ceremony live from screens in the cafeteria.
- When Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett visits Newport High, fourth-graders at the elementary school can watch on a TV in their own classroom.
- And students in sixth grade can watch the high school students’ broadcast announcement to see what the coach has to say about Friday night’s football game.
“This has really united our district,” Templeton says.
III. Wind up in the conclusion.
A. Transition to the future in the wrapup. In this case, the conclusion is a before-and-after comparison:
“Before TekNet, everything we had here was outdated,” Templeton says. “We were spending lots of time on administrative tasks we shouldn’t have been doing at all. As a result, we had too much downtime from focusing on our students.”
B. Show how far we’ve come — or where we’re going — in the kicker. Leave a lasting impression with a concrete, creative, provocative final paragraph.
Now district officials are using TekNet to refocus that time on the work Newport does best: teaching their students.
Case in point
Case studies are a staple of marketing writing. Use this structure to make the most of your next case in point.