In a sly play to forestall sibling rivalry, I bought my firstborn, age 2 years 10 months, the little round table and chair set she had admired at Toys R Us. When a relative asked her who gave it to her, she repeated what she'd been told. "It's from Sarah because she's excited that I'm her big sister!"

That sturdy plastic table was a fixture in our family for many years, gracefully transitioning through many roles. The girls took their Cheerios and mac-and-cheese there through first grade or so. In its next incarnation it held up a communal Macintosh IIsi in the family room, memorable to me for a Microsoft Encarta animation of a spider building a web. When that Mac went the way of old Macs, the table morphed into a birdcage stand, home to Mercha and Tevir, parakeets. Mercha departed, and then Tevir—separated by a move to a new home. The table spent its last years on the deck, just the right height for iced tea and sunscreen tubes. A life well lived.

Like that little blue table, case studies just keep reinventing themselves. After they make their debut on the web, I refer to them in articles about the behind-the-scenes technologies, helping to convince readers that the promise is real. Sales and marketing teams excerpt quotes for use in press releases and presentations. I also summarize case studies in a paragraph or two for white papers, usually formatting them as sidebars to catch the attention of skimmers. Customer interviews sometimes reveal new use cases to weave into other marketing materials.

I love developing case studies because I get to talk to very smart people about how their organization has changed in some way, for the better. Savvy marketers love them, too, because the investment just keeps on paying dividends.

How important a role the little blue table played I don’t know, but let it be known that my daughters are great friends.

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"Not a transaction. A transaction implies two-way." Back in the early '80s, a reviewer made this comment on a chapter of a manual I'd authored describing various functions of a point-of-sale terminal, back then a novel technology. The reviewer's objection and short explanation were helpful. Better yet would have been suggesting another term.

What came next wasn't quite so helpful. As my reviewer continued to review the 100-page manual, he noted the offending term each time it appeared, getting successively more worked up. The last comment screamed, "NOT A TRANSACTION!!!!"

30 More Minutes Now Can Save You 60 Minutes Later
The quality of your edits to the first draft play a big role in making the second draft final, or very close. Here are a few best practices I've learned from my favorite reviewers over the years:

  • If the writer submits an outline, review it as rigorously as you would a draft. I'll often develop a detailed outline as a stake in the ground when the team is unsure about messaging, scope, or level of detail. Here's our chance to validate the approach. Major surgery to an outline is relatively painless because we haven’t sunk time into powerful sentences, transitions, compelling headlines, and the like. I find that taking the time to get the outline just right generally lops off a draft or two.
  • Type your comments right into the file. Compared to composing an email that refers to page 2, paragraph 3, this saves time for both of us. By all means add Word comments if you'd like, but if you’re indifferent, I'd prefer you type right into the file. Writers typically turn on the Track Changes feature when they send you a draft, so we can easily see what you added or deleted.
  • If a statement is incorrect, suggest new wording instead of simply noting it's wrong. If you're not sure if something is factually correct, it's helpful if you can suggest someone who will know. "Aren't we renaming this feature? Check with Noah Itall." Similarly, it's helpful if instead of saying, "Add more detail" you jot down the points to add.
  • If other team members review the document before you do, work from their copy and add your comments. They may have already said it for you. Or, you might disagree with their comment, which is valuable input for the team.
  • Give yourself a break. You're busy. So take full advantage of me by just jotting down the additional points you want to include instead of trying to compose beautifully. Even if you're a terrific writer, and many of my clients are, I'll have to tweak your prose anyway to make our different styles match.

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