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How to Write the Situation and Challenge Sections of a Case Study

Posted by Vendere Team on Tue, Apr 9, 2013 @ 06:04 AM

The two most common mistakes companies make during the development of caseHands writing on keyboard studies are confusing the situation and the challenge sections and confusing the solution and results sections. This week, Vendere Partners reviews the differences between the situation and challenge sections of a case study.

The Situation Section

The situation section of a case study should lay out the factors responsible for complicating or impeding the solution to the challenge—without disclosing the challenge or the solution. 

An appropriate sentence in a situation section might be: “ABC Company was locked into a three-year contract with a third party.”

An inappropriate sentence in a situation section would be: “ABC could not negotiate with other third parties because it was locked into a three-year contract with its current third-party partner.” Another inappropriate sentence in a situation section might be: “ABC Company needed XYZ Company’s services to help renegotiate its current third-party contract.”

The situation section shouldn’t be about the wants and needs of an organization, or about an organizations challenges; it should be about the circumstances that give rise or contribute to an organization’s challenges.

The situation section of a case study is commonly confused with the challenge section of a case study, and vice versa. Due to this confusion, many companies are now opting, often to their detriments, to eliminate the situation section entirely.

The situation section helps prove to the reader that the case study is objective rather than a result of a successful sales pitch designed by the company responsible for producing it. The situation section can also be used to generate suspense and propel readers forward. For these reasons, the situation section is an incredibly valuable section when executed properly.

The Challenge Section

The challenge section of a case study should explain how the situation created a specific challenge or specific challenges for a company. What problem or challenge did the company’s situation cause? What made it clear that the company needed to take action? What did the company recognize needed to be done in order to come up with the appropriate solution?

An appropriate sentence in a challenge section might be: “Using multiple third-party vendors had resulted in lackluster event marketing and low attendance at a number of key tech events.”

An inappropriate sentence in a situation section would be: “ABC Company had too many third-party vendors that were unable to generate high event attendance.” Why might this sentence be inappropriate for the challenge section? It doesn’t speak directly to the challenge. It’s blaming. If you think about it, it’s even a little insulting to ABC Company. It might be factual, but it’s also judgmental. If you’ve already made it clear that the company had multiple third-party vendors in the situation section, there is no need to tell the reader that company had “too many” vendors. A better, more effective choice would be to tell the reader what unfortunate circumstance or problem arose as a result of using multiple third parties.

A good case study stays true to the story, and does it by staying on point, remaining objective, and without insulting, outright or inadvertently, the company that experienced the challenge. Don’t blame the company’s situation for the challenge. Instead, present the company’s challenges factually, as effects of the situation.

Whenever you muddle the purposes of any section of a case study, you run the risk of muddling the entire case study. A good story, however complex, has a clear beginning, middle, and end. Presenting the company’s challenges as effects of the situation doesn’t just make good content marketing sense; it makes common sense.

Return to info.venderepartners.com next week to learn how to properly distinguish the solution section from the results section of a case study.

Topics: content marketing, lead generation, case studies

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