Story makes it real
When you write, you are often looking to change someone’s perception, or their behaviour. You might want to pass on new information, or you might want to encourage them to look at the world, or themselves, differently.
And one of the techniques that is key to good quality writing is the use of both stories and case studies.
And they are really the same thing — using personal examples to illustrate and inspire.
If you’ve ever tried to learn a new skill, or understand a new method of doing something, you’ll know that reading, even the most thorough, ‘how to’ is very different to actually applying those new skills in the real world.
We learn by doing, and when we read examples of how other people have applied the skill we want to learn, or the transformation we want to achieve, it helps us visualise what that might look like for us.
And this motivates us — helps us want to learn; and then aids the learning itself.
Case studies come from andragogy (andr…what?!)
The formal teaching of how to use case studies in learning (or, in our case, writing) is often attributed to Malcolm Knowles’ theory of Andragogy.
Andragogy is simply to art and science of teaching and leading adults. And he provided a framework of four key observations adult learning:
- Adults learn best if they know why they are learning;
- Adults learn best through experience;
- Adults tend to view learning as an opportunity to solve a problem; and
- Adults learn best when the topic is relevant to them and immediately applicable.
And writing non-fiction we are often tapping into those same needs: your reader will make the best use of your material if you explain why, and if you show, through experience, how to solve a problem that is relevant to their current situation.
Using case studies, and stories from either your own life, or clients you have worked with or interviewed, is a perfect way to tap into the experiential part, and of course the choice of topic and your narrative cover the other three.
So how can you write a book that is a compelling read, and provides engaging teaching material to your reader, as well as making sure your lessons stick?
Because the more your reader consumes your material, the more likely he or she is to want to work with you in other ways.
How to write a case study for your book
Well-written case studies can be the bridge between your ideas, and the practical application of them.
If you have theories or concepts within your book that are quite complex, a strong case study will lift your book from ‘stimulating’ to ‘valuable’.
And a good case study is not about showcasing your skills and experience; it’s about making sure your reader is able to connect with the material at his or her own level, and then apply it to their own situation, business, or life.
We’ve identified three key steps that you must have in place to shift your case study from ‘mediocre’ to ‘masterful’.
Step 1. Choose your model
Which kind of case study will work for you?
Case studies can be used in different ways, but lets showcase two of the most common models that you might want to integrate into your book.
1. Illustrative case studies
Our book is often part passion project, part marketing, and one function we want it to play out is to give the reader confidence in our own expertise and experience, so that they will want to recommend us or perhaps work with us directly.
If this is your objective, then consider using an illustrative case study that will showcase your results with a key client — subliminally designed to entice your reader to want to find our, and ultimately perhaps, buy more.
And it’s easy to do this by talking about your clients, or your own story, in a way that is very human. Use real stories about the results that real people get, and the marketing will take care of itself.
2. Exploratory case studies
On the other hand we are also teachers, and we want to use case studies to make sure that our reader has understood, and is able to apply our material.
The purpose of this model is to allow our reader to think critically about the material, and apply some of the more theoretical ideas from your book to (hopefully) arrive at the conclusion, or teaching point, you are steering them towards, on their own.
You might creating a fictional story, and building piece by piece throughout your book. Or, again, using real stories but focusing less on results and more on the analysis of the situation and the ah-ha moments the client (or you) went through on their journey.
We’ll look at technique in a moment, but this is the point to be clear about the model for your case study, or studies. And there is a place for both in different parts of your book.
Step 2. Choose your structure
Your reader expects a flow.
You want to use the same structure for your case studies as you go through your book.
Your reader will get to understand, and expect, the pattern and it makes the material easier to absorb if they can focus on learning and not on working out a new flow each time.
You can definitely create your own, but we’ve given this as a starting point. This outline structure, by Klarita.com: small business tips for smart people, is intended for a fieldwork case study, but the structure works well with both the models above.
There are four steps to the basic structure:
1. Situation: introduce your subject and describe the background of the person or the company you are talking about. Describe (briefly) their particular situation was what it is that sets them apart from other people or companies (basically, why it’s interesting!).
2. Problem: explain what problem or challenge they are facing, and also why they decided now was the moment to seek help. What was it that other, more conventional methods, couldn’t fix? If you do this well, you’ll find that at this point your reader is trying to apply their own problem-solving skills and will start to imagine what they, themselves would have done. And if you’ve already presented teaching material, they will be able to apply your concepts to the situation. You don’t need to ‘tell’ them to do this. Part of the skill of writing a good book is being able to anticipate and to frame an action without an explicit instruction.
3. Solution: explain the process that you went through to help your client, or yourself. This should include mistakes you made. We often attempt to be overly-positive about the process and what you’ll find is that mistakes illustrate exactly why your way was the best or only solution to the challenge. And why everything else attempted didn’t work, or didn’t work as well as your solution or theory.
4. Evaluation: walk through the solution, and demonstrate exactly where your concepts were applied, and how and why they worked. Definitely include things that you could have done different (especially if that includes new ‘updates’ to your concepts): the notion that your methods or concepts are fluid and that you are also learning, is more compelling for your reader.
Sticking to a strong structure is essential when writing your case study. It makes the processes that you went through easy to follow, and in turn, apply, for your reader. It’s also easier to write!
Step 3. Chose your style
Like fiction, write a compelling story.
As much as case studies are tools for helping your readers apply your concepts and principles in a real-life situation, they are also stylized, persuasive pieces of writing, that double as content marketing.
A persuasive case study is just like an intriguing story – you have to have compelling content, emotional language, and a strong readability.
1. Make it easy to read
In this article on MarketingProfs, Debbie Weil advocates for the use of the ‘snack, bite, meal’ approach to writing a case study.
Write the case study on different levels: first of all your sign-posted subheadings will draw the reader’s eye (especially the skim-reader!). Then you need a summary blurb that outlines what they’re about to read. And, finally, the meal — the meat of your story.
Providing different ‘amounts’ of content makes it more easily digestible. (I know — terrible pun!)
2. Connect with emotion
In any writing, and especially in my model of compelling non-fiction, you want to make your reader feel as if you are talking to him or her directly.
And to do this, you have to have something that people can connect with — which could be the focus of the case study you’ve chosen — a situation that is very real to your reader. It could be progress or challenges of the person you are describing — almost like fiction, we want to know what happens to them. Or it could be the emotive language you use to align your reader with the person you are talking about in your case study.
And, even in a corporate example, humanise the subject by talking about the people rather than the organisation. And don’t forget to expose your failures as much as your successes.
3. Write honestly
The power of a case study lies in how you write it, so make sure you put in the time and effort when it comes to writing the case study that will appear in your book.
You want to be true to your own style: don’t pack it full of PR buzzwords, use genuine language, and explain yourself clearly. Be real.
Go for it…
Practice will make your writing better, and there is no better time to start than now.
Pick the model of case study that best suits your concept, product, or business; structure it so that it is easy to follow, and the key points jump out at the reader, and make sure your style is persuasive, emotive, and logical.
Thanks for reading and if you’re using case studies in your book, we’d love to hear more about it on social media!