We were frustrated, my colleagues and I, as we wrestled with a new business idea. We thought it was a great idea but we couldn’t effectively describe, in business communication terms, what it would mean to users.
And, out of our discussions came the idea of writing a case study. If you’re not familiar with them, case studies are a staple of business communication. More specifically, they’re histories of specific business initiatives.
They’re like articles, but they put the reader into the shoes of a person making a difficult decision. Other professions also use case studies; you’ve probably heard of medical case studies, for example. Medical students get a set of facts about a patient, and perhaps some background or context, and then must diagnose the patient’s condition or disease.
Business case studies have proven popular at some university business schools (popular with the profs, at least). In some senses, the case study is the next best thing to being involved in a real case. And, an effective business communication tool, as I’ll explain here.
So, why would this be of interest to you? Well, if you have to persuade others to adopt your point of view, or buy your products, or vote for you, then you might find a case study useful.
In fact, you may be doing something like that already. Whenever you tell a story that’s designed to make a certain business communication point, you’re using a form of case study.
During my brief foray into life insurance sales, for example, I learned that emotion sells policies, and not logic. That’s why people in the business have a raft of stories about people who did or did not have protection when they died.
The point being made is that you should life insurance, and that you should have the right kind and the right amount. Now, if you sold life insurance, you would quickly find that no one listens when you explain the logic, but they will listen — and act — if you have your case studies (your anecdotes).
So, having gone through all that, is a case study just a fancy name for an anecdote or story? Yes, to a certain extent it is any tale used in business communication.
But, when you think of a case study, think of it as a more elaborate and more logically constructed story. Typically, a case study describes an organization or manager facing a choice or dilemma of some kind, and the reader gets a number of facts about the options. After that, you, the reader, are challenged to make the decision. Some real-life case studies include a follow-up report, so readers know which real-life decision was made, and how it worked out.
Getting back to the business idea with which we started, my colleagues and I did not proceed, and the case study exposition became a moot point. But, had we gone ahead, the case study likely would have been the cornerstone of our business communication efforts.
Finally, if you’d like to read some case studies, simply go to your favorite search engine and type in this phrase (with or without the quotation marks): “case study examples” or “case studies” .
In summary, case studies are a special type of business communication; they help us understand real-life decisions, and are a useful resource for persuasion and education. Add one or more to your business communication toolbox.