It’s funny how, if you try hard enough, you can apply almost anything to genealogical research.
For example, I recently read an old post on the Final Draft Communications’ Put Your Best Word Forward blog, entitled, “Write a Case Study to Show How You Shine.” Final Draft Communications “is a copywriting and grant writing agency that has provided writing, editing, and messaging services to a wide range of clients in Northern Colorado and beyond since 2001.” In discussing case studies, FDC is speaking to using case studies for marketing. In this blog post, a case study is intended as an extended testimonial from a client.
Karen Marcus, the Head Copywriter for FDC and the author of this blog post, writes,
A case study, also known as a success story, is a great way to show that people are saying nice things about you in a more concrete and relatable way. A case study tells the detailed story of one customer’s experience with your products or services. With a story format, readers become more invested and can imagine themselves in the place of your featured customer. In other words, they can begin to imagine doing business with you.
In genealogy, we read case studies quite often. The premier genealogical journals, The National Genealogical Society Quarterly, The American Genealogist, and The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, all feature genealogical case studies in every issue. Indeed, case studies constitute the core of these journals’ publishing efforts. Many other journals from state and county genealogical societies also feature case studies, as occasionally do the mass market genealogy magazines.
Genealogical case studies explore a research problem and how it has been solved. This may seem quite different from a sales case study. But can we apply Ms. Marcus’s tips on sales case studies to our own genealogical case studies?
The tips Ms. Marcus outlines are, of course, applied directly to sales copywriting. Let’s take a look at these, however, and see if they apply to a genealogical case study:
1. Present the Problem. “Open your case study with an introduction to the customer: who they are, what they do, and why they needed your products or services. Remember, you are trying to create a picture that readers can make themselves a part of, so be specific in terms of industry, size, customers, and competition. Then, present the problem that they were trying to solve when they found you.” Well, of course, we would not open a genealogical case study with an introduction to a former customer, but we would definitely “present the problem that [we] were trying to solve.”
2. Outline the Choices. “Chances are, when your case study customer was looking for your products or services, they found others who could provide them as well. Mention who those ‘others’ were, what they had (and didn’t have) to offer and why your customer chose you.” Again, we are not concerned with a customer, but in Ms. Marcus’s description, she describes previous research. To apply this to a genealogical case study, we should describe our own previous research (the starting point) as well as our beginning research plan.
3. Show the Solution. “Describe how your products or services solved your customer’s problem. Here’s your chance to really show how you shine: mention product names, service packages, or special implementations….” As genealogists, our “products or services” would be the research we conducted and the records we located. Ms. Marcus even advises us to add full source citations (“product names”)!
4. Quote the Customer. “A good case study will have plenty of direct quotes from the customer. … Let them tell the story of how you helped them in their own words, then use those words to help you relate that story to your prospects. (By the way, it’s always a good idea to let your customer review a case study before you publish it.)” A good genealogical case study will have plenty of direct quotes from the records. And of course the best genealogical journals will have a good editorial board that will review your case study before they publish it.
5. Reveal the Results. “Here’s a great place to use facts and figures to help you tell the story. Did your product help the customer increase profits by 50%? Mention it! Did your service allow the customer to generate 100 additional leads per month? State it! You might want to use charts or graphs here to illustrate your points.” Did you solve your genealogical research problem? State it! You might want to reiterate your proof argument by detailing each piece of supporting evidence.