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Want to Write Case Studies? How Technical Do You Need to Be?

Author: ; Published: Dec 17, 2013; Category: Uncategorized; Tags: None; No Comments

By Casey Hibbard

Before I started writing about technology as a business reporter, I had zero technical background. The closest I’d come to technology was a high school computer science class that I’d barely passed.

But this was different. I was writing about technology in layman’s terms, not about the bits and bytes behind it. Still, I eased my way in slowly, like getting into a cold swimming pool.

Turns out, I should have jumped in, but it took time to build confidence that I could, in fact, write about technology. Pretty soon, I was the newspaper’s tech columnist.

Now as a freelance marketing writer, 90 percent of my clients for customer case studies are technology companies.

So if you’re going to write customer case studies, do you need to be technical? And if so, how technical?

Where’s the Work?

First, there is a market for case studies with companies/clients that are not technical. I recently wrote about what the freelance pie looks like in my December 2013 Tip of the Month.

A big piece of the pie is with tech companies, but a sizable part is not. There’s a load of organizations that need to tell their stories through the examples of their happy customers: business-to-business (B2B) companies, business-to-consumer (B2C) organizations, nonprofits and more.

But if you open up your market to tech companies as well, you’re nearly doubling the potential pool of clients. Don’t be too quick to decide this market isn’t for you. I’ve written for many tech companies over the years and the level of technical depth required varies widely. It comes down to the audience and subject matter.

Here are a few examples to help you sort through the types of technology projects out there…

1. Technology case studies where the audience is NOT technical – I’ve written quite a few case studies for customer relationship management (CRM) software where the end users are typically sales, marketing and customer service folks. As software, it is a technology product, but the audience doesn’t really want to know about the technology. Readers want to know how another customer solves the same problems they are facing.

For these and similar clients, I found I didn’t really need much technical knowledge at all. I needed to understand some product and industry lingo, but that was pretty simple.

2. Technology case studies where the audience is technical but it’s still not that complex – Probably most of my work falls into this category. It’s a technology product and the audience is technical, or it’s made up of business decision-makers AND technical people.

As an example, I’ve written many, many customer success stories on help desk/IT support software. The software is used by IT people within organizations to support employees or customers with resolving technical issues. It’s just an application that IT people use to log an issue and keep track of it. In this case, I need to understand, again, problems and how the software solves them. But I don’t need to know how the software works, the code behind it. I definitely need to know some industry lingo.

3. Technology for a super technical audience – This is the toughest and where I sometimes have to say, “no.” I have a few clients where the subject matter is fairly technical and the audience is VERY technical. For example, one client provides business intelligence software that other software companies embed in their products. Because of that, the audience needs to know quite a bit about the technology aspects of deployment, integration, compatibility, etc.

I take on these types of projects with careful consideration to ensure I will be able to interview and write effectively.

These are just three examples of types of tech projects. To evaluate a prospective client’s technology depth, here are a few steps:
•    Review product/service information on the company’s website and pay particular attention to previous case studies.
•    Ask your contact who the audience is and what types of information prospects need to know.
•    Ask your contact how technical the case studies should be. Perhaps the client only wants to focus on business results and leave more technical information for datasheets and white papers.

Every client is different. Take your time and scope it out. Don’t assume you’re not the right writer for a gig without conducting a little research.

But if you do decide to pass, don’t beat yourself up about it. I have certainly referred potential clients to other writers when the subject matter wasn’t a fit. Move on and focus on finding clients that are a better fit.

What’s your experience of writing/not writing for tech clients?