8 Tips for Writing Effective Construction Project Case Studies
A common trap when writing project case studies is to list bullet points of your scope of works. But talking only about the work you completed is selling yourself short.
An effective project case study instead centres around the challenges you overcame. This keeps the reader more engaged (by giving them a story to follow) and highlights your capabilities in greater detail.
We’ve collated our top tips for crafting compelling project case studies that keep the audience reading.
1. Prioritise the Audience First
Establish who your target audience is and focus on what will be valuable or interesting for them. What do they do? What are their goals? What is relevant to their job?
Let’s say your target audience is asset owners and you are writing an article about a revolutionary construction method. Time and cost are important factors for asset owners. So, the article should emphasise how these are both improved by using the revolutionary method. But if your target audience is engineers, the focus of the story should instead be around the technical aspects.
People are self-motivated, so give them something of value. Remember that the article is about the audience, not about you. This means you should focus on the story, problem, challenge or solution, rather than on your company.
It is the reader who decides whether they keep reading or not, so they hold all the power in the reader-writer relationship.
2. Identify 1 or 2 Key Points
What are the primary interesting points or key takeaways that the reader should remember? What makes the project different to any other project? Identify the main key features or unique aspects of the project and write them down. Limit this to 1 or 2 to avoid information overload.
It’s easy to be too close to the project to see the forest for the trees. Start by stepping back and thinking about the project’s key features from an outsider's perspective first.
We wrote a story on the redevelopment of Shell House Sydney, a heritage building in Sydney’s CBD. The completed building may appear just like any adaptive reuse project. But, during construction the project team had to suspend a 400 t clock above the worksite and brace the 60 m masonry facade. They used a temporary structural frame to provide support during demolition of the original structure. In this case, we chose 2 of the most unique aspects of the project and dismissed the rest.
3. Hone in on the Complication
A good narrative involves a complication to build suspense and a conclusion that resolved the tension. Including a complication in your story will hook the reader by creating an itch that they will need to scratch. Reading on to the resolution is the only thing that will scratch this itch.
What were the biggest barriers to project success? What was the most risky part of the project? What required the most attention and planning? Think about the biggest challenges that you faced during the project and write them down. Choose only 2 or 3.
We wrote a case study on Australia 108, the southern hemisphere’s tallest residential building. The project team was faced with constructing a cantilevered ‘starburst’ on the 70th floor over the top of roads and public space below. How were they going to come up with a construction solution to build the starburst over the road? We included this complication to build up suspense and highlight the difficulty the project team faced. A great big problem makes a solution look even more impressive.
4. Explain ‘How’ You Solved the Projects Biggest Challenges
How did you overcome the unique challenges of the project? Why did you choose this solution? Why were the solutions unique or creative?
Explaining the ‘how’ and ‘why’ is a critical part of any case study. This is because the solution is the hero of the story, not any person, company, project or client. The reader wants to know how you used creative thinking to solve the project’s challenges.
Place a larger emphasis on the how and why rather than the who, where, what and when. In other words, focus on how you went about solving the challenge and why that was the best approach.
For example, we wrote a story on The London apartments in Port Melbourne. The finished project was a standard apartment building like any other. But Camillo Builders used an impressive retention system to withstand hydrostatic forces during basement excavation. The system involved massive braces, thick diaphragm walls and a 800 mm hydrostatic slab. A unique and impressive solution which became the hero of the story.
5. Highlight the Customer Success Story
Advertising is often most effective when it shows us what life is like after we buy a product. When we buy a case of Great Northern Beer, we can expect to be hiking, fishing and enjoying the great outdoors.
The same principle applies to your services. The client wants to know that after hiring you they are going to be in a much better position than before. That may be because you can build a 20-storey hotel on a tight deadline, allowing them to start generating revenue as soon as possible.
Use your case study to show how you transformed the life of your client for the better without angst or effort during the process.
6. Spend a Disproportionate Amount of Time Crafting the Headline
If the headline doesn’t get people interested enough to click, then the rest of your article was written for nothing.
To craft a compelling headline, many fall into the trap of short headlines that don’t give away enough information. They fear they will give away the best part of the story. This makes no sense. You should be revealing the best part of the story, otherwise, how will anyone know what’s so good about the story?!
One way to do this is to use what I call the ‘golden nugget’ in the headline. This is about finding the one thing that makes the project special. What is the one thing about the project that is inimitable (impossible to copy).
For example, consider these headline examples about Brisbane Airport’s recent new runway project:
Revealing the golden nugget allows the reader to learn something from reading the headline alone. But it still sparks enough curiosity to entice a click.
In this case, we have identified the golden nugget is that many thought the project was impossible to complete. This made it one of the most ambitious and largest aviation projects ever completed in Australia. A point that can't be said about many other projects.
It is important that the headline delivers value to the reader even if they do not open the article. Why? Because you want the audience to associate your company with value.
The best thing to do is spend an alarmingly long time on crafting the headline. I write several headline options over the course of a few days and come back to it every day with fresh eyes. Then I start to chop, change, merge and transpose them all together.
7. Use the Inverted Pyramid of Journalism
Unlike a typical narrative, structure your case study using journalism's inverted pyramid concept. This means that your article starts with the most important point first. Then, it gradually progresses onto lesser and lesser important points.
The purpose of this is to deliver the most important parts of the story to the reader as quickly as possible. This allows the reader to derive value without a large time investment. They can then decide if they keep reading for the less important points after each sentence.
Before, we mentioned the importance of a complication and resolution in your story. But, unlike a typical story narrative, the article should reveal the solution first and the complication after.
If you start the article by saying: “It was a cold winter’s day in alpine Tasmania..” then your audience will leave due to the huge time investment for them.
8. Develop & Implement a Writing Guide and Rating Criteria
We use a writing guide and rating criteria that aligns with our brand to assess each story we publish on This Is Construction. Your own writing guide can define your journalistic approach and keep your stories aligned with your content mission statement (more on content mission statements coming soon).
You can see our writing guidelines for This Is Construction here. Here’s an overview of our rating criteria:
- Unique - does it involve something a bit different or special?
- Innovative - did you develop something new that hasn’t been done before?
- Educational - will it give the reader any learnings to take away?
- Interesting - does it pique curiosity making the reader want to learn more?
- Technical - does it involve some interesting technical concepts?
- Practical - does it make the reader better at their job?
- Relevant - is it fairly recent or topical?
We then score our articles for each of the above criteria out of 10 - anything that doesn’t score at least 75% gets the chop.
Develop your own rating criteria that embodies your company’s values and helps you communicate them through your writing. For example you may add ‘professional’, ‘knowledgeable’ or ‘green’.
Here are some more tips to keep your case studies mean and lean:
- Include key facts (e.g. 2,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions were saved by using engineered-timber instead of traditional materials).
- Avoid salesy language, your audience will tune out.
- Don’t make the audience think. Use simple language, don’t be too formal in your word choice and simplify complex concepts with a basic explanation.
- Don’t be afraid to get into the technical details. Your audience wants to learn about the technical nitty gritty.
- Trim the fat: Don’t try to tell the reader everything. Prioritise the most important points so the text is digestible and doesn’t lead to fatigue. Deciding what not to include can be the hardest part about writing but also the most important.
- Include quotes from key project staff such as the project manager or construction director.
- Use photos and drawings to illustrate concepts and descriptions
Remember that everyone wants to be taken on a journey somewhere. That’s why we binge watch Netflix for 12 hours but can’t spend 10 seconds sitting through an ad on YouTube. Use your case study to take the audience to improved knowledge, greater understanding, a grand resolution or a new perspective.
Two great ways to do this is to (1) include key learnings; or (2) highlight how the client was in a better position after project completion.
The best stories give us something to take away, making us all better at our jobs and, more importantly, interesting at dinner parties.