The blinking cursor of death…
You’ve read the client brief, recorded the interview, and found the perfect case study template. Now you’re sitting in front of your computer with a strong cup of coffee (your most important writing tool), and you’re ready to crank out a killer case study.
But where do you begin?
Oftentimes, the hardest part of writing a case study (other than putting together the headline, which we’ll cover in another post) is just getting started. How do you find that perfect hook to pull in the reader?
In this article, you’ll learn about the only three things you need to create a perfect case study intro every time.
1. Make it personal
The first thing you need to remember is that your case study isn’t actually about the client you interviewed, nor is it about your company; it’s about your readers.
The goal of your case is to create a stirring testimonial that (A) your readers identify with, and (B) overcomes their pain points and objections. That means every sentence you write and every quote you include should be specially selected to win the hearts and minds of your audience.
So it should go without saying that understanding your readership is essential.
When you know your audience, you’ll be able to set the scene more provocatively. Describe your interviewee in such a way that it’s easy for your target reader to see themselves in, and then do the same with the challenges they faced.
DO NOT just rattle off the boilerplate company description for your client – you can let a sidebar description do that for you. Instead, dive right in by bringing the person inside of the organization – their goals, needs, frustrations and responsibilities – into the spotlight.
If your readers can visualize themselves with your solution, your case study is a success.
To make your intro more personal…
- Keep your exposition on the client’s company short and to the point; let the customer’s quotes and the sidebar do the heavy lifting.
- Describe your interviewee in a way that makes them relatable to your target audience.
- Elaborate on your client’s pain points and make them feel RAW; your readers are probably struggling with the same problems. Don’t settle for inspecific problems!
2. Make a promise your readers will care about
The intro to one of my favorite fairy tales reads, “Once upon a time there was a poor tailor who could barely feed his twelve children. When the thirteenth was born, the distraught man ran out to the road nearby determined to find someone to stand as godfather to the child.”
This intro succinctly establishes three things:
- An identifiable character (i.e. the poor tailor)
- Pain points (i.e. the tailor is poor)
- A narrative arc (i.e. what will happen to the child)
In writing your case study intro, you need to accomplish these three things as economically as the Brothers Grimm: identify your client, describe their challenges, and then promise to show off your results by study’s end.
Usually, you want to show off your most dramatic result in your headline, and then promise to reveal how you achieved that result in your intro. Your promise should be something your readers are interested in to spur them onward.
To weave a narrative into your intro…
- Write as if you’re telling a particularly captivating bedtime story—keep your language simple, and always keep the ‘plot’ moving forward.
- Tease your results, but don’t give them all away! It’s okay to use the headline to hammer home a huge stat that people will care about (the “so what?” of your study) – but keep in mind that the details will be just as juicy for those with the same problem.
3. Let your client do the talking (or: remember, this isn’t about YOU)
Nobody clicks on a case study to read ‘Company X’ drone on and on about how great they are. They came for the testimonials of your clients, so the sooner you get to good stuff, the better.
Importantly, that means this isn’t a monologue.
Best practice is to keep your intro short. You have 1-2 short paragraphs to set the scene and establish a problem, and then it’s time to hand the reins over to your interviewee. Try to interject as little as possible for the duration of your case study.
That said, your intro will have more exposition than any other part of your case study. Make sure you set up who the client is, why your readers should care about them, and what challenges they faced. Then it’s time to shut up and let your interviewee speak for themselves.
To cram more info into the fewest words possible…
- Only use exposition to set the scene and to glue quotes together into a cohesive narrative.
- Let your interviewee describe the challenges they faced in their own words.
- Make sure every interjection adds new info or moves the story forward; never just regurgitate your client’s words.
With just a bit of thinking and planning, you can get that intro locked and loaded, and get into the meat of the study where heroes are born and monsters are felled.
Just don’t trip on your way there.