Writing Case Studies Using the Reader-Centered Approach

Case studies are a highly-effective selling tool for your products or services. You take a success story where your company’s products or services provided a successful solution for one of your clients – and write a 1-to-5 page summary of how you were able to solve your client’s problem. In doing so, you demonstrate the value and effectiveness of your products or service solutions.

Potential clients are hungry for this kind of information. A success story with a previous client provides evidence of the value of your products or services. The potential client wants to know how your products or services can solve their problems as well. A case study may make the difference in convincing a potential client to do business with you.

That’s why it’s best to use a Reader-Centered Approach to write your case studies. With this approach, you write your success story from the point of view of the reader – that is, the potential client – who will read the case study.

What Is Your Market?

First, define your market(s) for the case study. Which customers, in which markets, are you trying to impress with your success story? Will your case study be a general case study about your work for a large, high-profile company or organization? Or will your case study target customers in a specific market, or sub-set of a market?

It’s important to have both kinds of case studies. General case studies show the versatility of your company in providing solutions to different, high-profile industries, hospitals, universities, government organizations, etc. Market-specific case studies let you target potential customers within those same markets.

Once you have defined the markets for your case study, select a success story for a client company that appeals to those markets. For example, if you are targeting high-tech customers with your case study, select a success story where you provided a solution to a high-tech client.

Who Is Your Reader?

What position will your reader hold at the company where they work? Are they the CEO? The CFO? The Chief Technology Officer? The Director of Business Operations? The VP of Sales and Marketing?

Ask yourself, who have you dealt with in the past? Look at the client company that is the subject of your case study. Who did you work with there? Which executive or manager made the first call to engage your company? Who made the decision to buy? These same kinds of executives and managers at other companies will be the people who will read your case studies.

One trick I’ve learned is to go to your client company’s web site, and read the short biographies of the executives and managers that you will mention in the case study. It’s probable that readers of your case study will have similar backgrounds, duties, and responsibilities.

What Does Your Reader Know?

How familiar is your reader with the basic concepts of your products or services? What do they know about the solutions you provide? What do they NOT know? How much will you need to explain to them?

If your readers are familiar with your products or technology, you probably won’t need to explain the basic concepts. You can focus instead on the technical features of your products or services, and how those features provided benefits to the client company.

If your readers are CEOs or other executives, they will be focused more on the “bottom line” – the problems you solved for the client, the cost savings, ROI, TCO, etc. You don’t need to go into too much technical detail. But be wary of assuming that a CEO or other executive automatically understands your products or services. You may need to explain some basic concepts to them.

Once, a high-tech executive returned a case study draft to me with a section crossed out. He added a margin comment: “We don’t need to explain this. Everyone already knows this part of the technology.”

I wrote back to him: “Everyone in your industry knows this part of the technology. But we are targeting your high-tech solutions to business CEOs, real estate executives, and hospital boards. They have no prior knowledge of this technology. Therefore, we need to explain the concepts to them.”

Anticipate Your Reader’s Questions

A case study should answer specific questions that your reader may have about your product or service. As an example, say you are writing a case study for a network software product. The reader may have the following questions:

  • How is this software product installed on a company network?
  • How will the features of this software help our employees to do their jobs better?
  • What kinds of benefits can we expect from using this software product?

You can easily adapt these questions into an “interview questionnaire,” to use when you interview the people at the client company that is the subject of the case study. For example:

  • How was the software deployed on your company’s network?
  • In what ways did your employees use the specific features of the software? What tasks or goals did they accomplish through the software?
  • What benefits did your company experience from using the software? (Increased productivity? Faster time-to-market? Etc.)

Tell Them A Story

The information in a case study should not be a bland listing of facts and bullet points. The reader is looking to see how your products or services work in a “real world” scenario. Therefore, as you write the case study, you want to tell the reader a story.

The trick here is to keep the story focused on the client company. You want to focus not on the various features of your products or services, but on how those features were used to the client’s benefit. How were the features employed to help the client company achieve their goals? What tangible benefits did the client company receive as a result?

Describe how individual people or departments at the client company made use of your solutions. Use real names if you can; or, if not, use titles like “the Director of Product Management.” The more personal you make the case study, the more readers will begin to trust that your solutions can help their company as well.

Organize for Maximum Effect

Organize the information in your case study into sections according to a basic template. This allows you to present the information in a logical format, so that the reader can follow the story and understand how your solution worked.

Use headings and sub-headings to guide the reader through the various sections. The template I use for a case study is:

  • Company Overview – A short description of the client company.
  • The Challenge – The problems that the client company faced before they employed your company’s products or services.
  • The Solution – The product or service solutions that your company provided to the client company.
  • Key Benefits – The key benefits that the client company received by implementing your solutions.

The final section, “Key Benefits,” should be divided up into four or five sub-sections, with one or two paragraphs each that examine each benefit. Examples of the sub-sections for “Key Benefits” might include:

  • Increased Productivity
  • Lower Production Costs
  • Easy Tracking of Production Data
  • Faster Time-To-Market

Use Illustrations, Photos, Graphs, and Quotes

Whenever possible, illustrate concepts in your case studies using illustrations and photos. Use graphs to provide statistics and analytics on the effectiveness of your solutions (i.e. increases in sales, etc.). Readers appreciate visual input to help them understand concepts and benefits, and to break up the large blocks of text they have to read.

Also, be sure to highlight quotes from executives at the client company who describe and praise the effectiveness of your solutions. (Example: “Acme Company’s solution allowed us to reduce our time-to-market by 66%.”Ron Jones, VP of Operations.) A good place to put these quotes is in text boxes in the left-side margin of the case study, so the quotes are highly visible to the reader.

Give Them the Numbers

Readers are looking for statistics. They want some idea of how effective your solutions have been for other client companies. Some common statistics to use in your case studies include:

  • Increases in productivity
  • Time and cost savings
  • Decreases in waste and unnecessary expense
  • Return on Investment (ROI)
  • Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
  • Increased sales or revenue

Provide an Abstract

Provide a one-paragraph abstract at the beginning of each case study. This makes it easy for the reader to find out if the case study relates to a client company similar to theirs. Also, a short abstract may attract the reader to read the case study, especially if it concerns solutions your company provided for a well-known, high-profile client.

Also, be sure to print the case studies on a company letterhead that includes the company’s address, web site URL, and phone number.

Think Outside the Company

The most important thing in writing a case study is to put yourself in the place of someone outside your company. You want to write the case study from the point of view of a reader who is not familiar with your company, and who wants to know how your products or services can solve their problems and help them achieve their goals.

It’s not always easy for people inside your company to see things from the perspective of the potential customer. That’s why it’s sometimes better to have a professional writer to write your case studies for you. A professional case study writer has a better view of things from outside your company. They can see your company from the point of view of the would-be customer, ask questions that a would-be customer might ask, and write a case study to answer those questions.

Who Owns the Reserve Study Report?

There are differences of opinion within the reserve study industry as to who “owns” the reserve study report, what degree of responsibility the reserve professional has, and how certain difficult situations in which boards can almost be held hostage by reserve studies should be reported.

One thing is clear – national reserve study standards do not provide adequate guidance in this area.

Many reserve preparers take the position that they have been engaged to perform an independent study resulting in a report of their findings, and that the reserve professional “owns” the entire report. These individuals also often take the position that their report is the basis for the Association’s long-term maintenance plan.

Unfortunately, national standards do not address this issue. For instance, there is no requirement that the reserve professional make any sort of statement regarding the work performed other than the vague reference to a site visit, nor any statement of opinion regarding the accuracy of the data presented or the degree of responsibility for the report. National standards only require comments on:

Completeness: Material issues which, if not disclosed, would cause a distortion of the association’s situation

Reliance on client data: Information provided by the official representative of the Association regarding financial, physical, quantity, or historical issues will be deemed reliable by the consultant

These are required disclosures that fall far short of expressing a clear, positive opinion regarding the accuracy of the report or the actual work performed.

Others believe that the report is “owned” by the Association, and that the role of the reserve professional is to assist in compiling the data and preparing the report. These individuals generally take the position that the report should be a financial reflection of the Association’s long-term maintenance plan; it does not establish the long-term maintenance plan.

Again, national standards do not provide guidance on how the reserve professional should report on his involvement with the process, nor on his opinion of the conclusions reached.

If a reserve professional chose to add “his” report to the “Association’s Reserve Study Report, what might that report by the reserve professional look like? Within the confines of current national standards, it might look something like this:

We have prepared the accompanying Reserve Funding Forecast of AssocName as of and for the thirty-year period beginning StartDate as a Level I Reserve Study. This forecast is the responsibility of Association Management.

We conducted our engagement in accordance with National Reserve Study Standards of the Community Associations Institute and the Association of Professional Reserve Analysts. Those standards require that we perform a site visit to visually observe and assess the condition of the significant common area components of the Association. A Level I Reserve Study also includes assessing the significant estimates used by management, as well as evaluating the overall forecast report presentation.

This report presents, in the form of a financial forecast, information that is the representation of management of the Association. We do not express an opinion or any other form of assurance on the accompanying report or assumptions. Furthermore, there will usually be differences between the forecast and actual results because events and circumstances frequently do not occur as expected, and those differences may be material. We have no responsibility to update this report for events and circumstances occurring after the date of this report.

While satisfactory, the above sample report wording still falls short of actually describing the work performed or of clearly stating the conclusions reached and the degree of responsibility assumed by the reserve professional. But to get to that point, national standards probably need to be modified.

The subject of Chuck Miller’s article, “Board Held Hostage by Reserve Study”, is a dilemma presented to an Association board when a reserve professional takes a position related to appropriate maintenance activities of roads that is at odds with other professionals’ recommendations.

As quoted from Chuck’s article, in this instance,the facts are that “an engineering firm specializing in geotechnical studies and pavement studies has rendered a comprehensive report on a very thorough study conducted over some period of time, including analysis of core samples, which directly refutes the conclusion of the reserve professional. In addition, a company with decades of road construction and maintenance experience that has, for many years, maintained the subject roads, has offered an opinion that directly refutes the conclusion of the reserve professional. Lastly, the predecessor reserve professional had apparently reached a conclusion concurring with the engineering firm performing the pavement study, and did not consider that complete removal and replacement of all road surfaces was a necessary maintenance activity.”

It appears that the current reserve professional, giving all due respect to his professional engineer credential, is taking an unreasonable position in this instance. It is very difficult for a reserve professional spending only one or two days on what is a relatively superficial evaluation on a reserve study site visit to ever gain the same level of knowledge as the individuals that actually maintain the various components on a daily basis. Often, those individuals are experts in their own right. The evidence appears overwhelming that the reserve professional has taken an unreasonable position based upon insufficient facts.

The reserve professional has demonstrated a level of intransigence that bears a strong resemblance to the current budget negotiations of Congress – “my way or the highway” (pun intended). Refusal to modify a weak position in the face of strong evidence to the contrary should also cause a lack of confidence in other parts of the reserve study. If this is the case, then the Association would be wise to seek another reserve professional to provide this service.

I have long expressed the sentiment that a reserve study is based on a series of assumptions about future events, and except for known maintenance activities occurring in the very near future, it is unlikely that any of the assumptions will prove to be 100% accurate. One purpose of the study is to guide the Association to have approximately the right amount of money at approximately the right time. This can be achieved even though the underlying assumptions are not completely accurate; they just have to be relatively accurate.

The reliance on assumptions makes it easy to challenge the reserve study. However, those reserve professionals holding the RS (Reserve Specialist) or PRA (Professional Reserve Analyst) designations have demonstrated training and experience, and their opinions should be valued. The normal process of preparing a reserve study, and its review by Association management, will typically include a challenge of assumptions used in the study, especially of those assumptions potentially affecting estimated cost, estimated or remaining life, and level of maintenance work to be performed. In most circumstances, it is relatively easy to confirm the assumptions and reach agreement. It is usually only when someone adopts an unreasonable, unsupportable, position that disagreements occur.

Our firm did have such an incident occur several years ago when our Association client (more specifically, the chair of the finance committee responsible for budgeting and overseeing the reserve study) demanded that proposed future roofing expenditures be removed from the study. He stated he had spoken with a roofing consultant and was advised that it was never necessary to spend money on tile roofs, as they lasted a lifetime. We believed that replacement of underlayment was a necessary cost to maintain ability to repel water. He was charged with sole responsibility to deal with us in the preparation of the reserve study, and would absolutely not accept inclusion of the proposed roofing costs, nor would he approve forwarding the report to the full committee or board of directors unless we removed the proposed roofing costs. Our response to resolve this impasse was to remove the proposed roofing costs, include it as the first line item of components excluded from the reserve study, and modify our report to indicate that we believed the funding study proposed by the finance committee to be significantly understated because of the omission. Once this report was exposed to the full finance committee and board of directors, they agreed with our position, and the roofing costs were added back into the study.

If the reserve study report is perceived as the summation of an independent study by the reserve professional, then it is appropriate for him to take reasonably supported positions. The question presented in Chuck Miller’s article is whether or not in this instance, the professional’s opinion is considered to be a reasonable position. Also, support for positions that vary significantly from an existing, well-documented maintenance plan should be explained in the report.

If the reserve study report is perceived as being a report ON the financial forecast and underlying long-term maintenance plan, then the reserve professional’s “report” would be a document (part of the overall reserve study) that describes his analysis OF the financial forecast and underlying long-term maintenance plan. It would be, in this document, clearly identified as being the reserve professional’s “report,” that the reserve professional would express an opinion about the adequacy of the road maintenance plan and the resulting financial forecast.

If the above-described reporting incongruity was resolved, it would be much clearer as to what position the reserve professional was taking, and would give some guidance to the Association in how to resolve the situation in which they find themselves. For instance, it would be clear that either:

* The reserve professional believes the reserve study report to be “his” independent report of the Association’s funding plan for long-term maintenance projects, or

* The reserve professional believes that the reserve study report belongs to the Association, and could issue a one-page report, similar to the language above, but with an added paragraph to highlight his disagreement with certain aspects of the reserve study report.

Either position would be an improvement over the current position, where there is no indication of either the work performed by the reserve professional or the conclusions reached.

Easy Things That You Can Do Today To Develop Effective Study Skills And Pass Your Exams

Studying can be a daunting task for many students. However, if you want to succeed in your exams, studying is a must. To get the most out of studying, you need to have effective study skills. There many things that you can do to make studying more effective and rewarding. Below are a list of study skills designed to help you.

Effective Study Skills

Make a Study Schedule.

Make a schedule for studying and stick to it. If possible, try to study at the same time every day. Your brain will associate the time of day with studying and it will be easier for you to get into the study mood.

Find a Quiet Place To Study.

There are a few people who can study in a noisy environment. However it is best to find a place where you can study with little or no distractions. The less distraction you have, the more you are able to concentrate.

Have Small Snacks on Hand

Studying can make you quite hungry, especially when you are at it for a long while. Ensure you have snacks on hand to munch on while you study. It will maintain your concentration levels and you won’t be constantly thinking about what you’re going to eat as soon as you are through. It also saves you the time of getting up to find something to eat.

Forget About the Gadgets.

Your cellular phone, laptop or tablet can be a major distraction during your study time. It can be hard to resist accepting a call from your best friend as well as checking to see if you got a tweet or a message on Facebook. Therefore, switch off your gadgets before you begin studying and ensure they stay off the entire time.

Take Frequent Breaks

Never study for hours on end. You brain will become tired and you will become frustrated. Instead, take 5-10 minute breaks every half an hour. Doing this will maintain your concentration level.

Form a Study Group

Studying in a group can be quite effective. Sharing and discussing ideas enhances your learning experience. Other members of the group may understand something that you did not. Joining a study group can also keep you motivated and it is also more exciting than studying alone.

Use Acronyms

Using acronyms to recall information can make studying more fun. An acronym is an invented combination of letters. For example ROY G.BIV is a common acronym to remember the colors of the rainbow. Create your own acronyms with words that are funny and easy to remember.

Create a Mock Test

Create a mock test of all the questions that you think are likely to be on your exam paper and try to answer them without the help of your notes and textbooks. This can help you get more prepared and also help you to work on your weak areas.

Studying does not have to be daunting or boring task. In fact, it can be quite fun and interesting. If you want to be successful in your exams you need to develop effective study skills. Implementing these skills will increase your self confidence and put you one step ahead.

If You Want To Power Up Your Study Habits Then Here Are Some Great Study Tips For You

There are many useful study tips and techniques on how to study and most of them have a use. Study involves reading books, watching videos, listening to audio recordings, researching facts in libraries or on the Web and attending lessons/lectures. The result of these activities can be enhanced if you know how to study.

The Best Way to Study

What you study will be determined by the subject but how you study is up to you. You attend your classroom lessons and lectures but if you want to do well in the exam you will study on your own in addition. Knowing how to study consists of taking notes, timing and timetable planning. You should also select the best area to study where you are surrounded by all you will need for you studies such as books, computers, pens, pencils and paper and most important it is quiet with no disturbances such as cell phones – you are not available during study time.

The Best Timing Strategy for Study Sessions

Because of the way memory works it is better to time your studying in short sharp bursts. I recommend that a study session be broken down into one hour chunks. Each chunk is carried out as follows:

• First 5 minutes revising the material studied in the last session (First hour study the last session of the last study period). This satisfies the need for Frequency.

• Main 40 Minutes intensely studying the new material. This satisfies the need for Intensity.

• Next 5 minutes revise what you have just studied. This satisfies the need for Frequency.

• Finally relax for 10 minutes. Do something different, leave the study area, make a cup of hot drink or go for a walk. This period is when the mind sorts out the material from short term memory to long term memory (Empties the glass into the tank). It is vital not to skimp on this or you will lose a lot of your studies.

Designing a Study Timetable

Designing a study timetable is as important as knowing how to study. So as to get the most out of the time available it is best to make a plan in the form of a Study Timetable. A wise man said that if you fail to plan then you plan to fail so you should plan your time according to what is available. Start by laying out a grid (You can use a spreadsheet such as Excel to do this if it helps) allowing for a week with three periods a day: Morning, Afternoon and Evening. Start by blocking of the times fully committed and therefore not available such as School/College/Lecture time. Block off time for Meals and enough social time for example if you like to go out with your friends on a Saturday night then block this off – do not fool yourself, if you want to go out then plan it and that way you will not fail in that section of your study. What is left is your available study time. Planning is one of the best study tips.

Remember to divide the time into one hour chunks and allocate you subjects so as to take up the time available. It is best to study the subject in the evening of the day you covered it in college so as to simulate the study hour above (study what you did last time, do this sessions study then revise this sessions study). If you should miss a session don’t worry, just continue as planned at the next session, you should only go back if you have some spare time.

On a regular basis (weekly or monthly as suits your lifestyle) do a revision day and again go over what you have studied since the last revision day. Make this as relaxing an event as possible and if you can involve friends and fellow students and a tutor/teacher all the better.

How do I get the most out of Revision?

Exam revision starts with taking notes whilst studying. These notes will come into much use during the revision process as a representation of distillation of the knowledge needed to pass the exam. To just re-read all the books studied is counterproductive because it does not take into consideration the effort taken to study in the first place.

Exam Revision Timetable

Revision timetable is very similar to the study timetable but more detailed and even more vital to success.

Setting Priorities

The best among revision study tips is to start setting priorities for your revision. Don’t lose sight of the fact that the goal is to get good exam results and that revision is just a means to an end not the end in itself. You might, for example, have a subject which you consider more important than the rest or in need of extra work to get a result. You might have some personal priorities such as a concert that you have been waiting for a year to go to and you want this to be of a very high priority.