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In any engineering career, technical writing skills are an important subset of communication, and highly valuable. If you follow this blog regularly you already how much I enjoy writing and communicating ideas to the marketplace. To me, while we may call ourselves engineers and professionals, we are also technical writers. Yet even our writing in engineering can benefit from storytelling.

Engineers regularly craft e-mails, white papers, reports, proposals, justifications, and more. Thinking about the essentiality of technical writing to our jobs made me want to share some thoughts on clarity of communication and the power of storytelling, particularly in crafting customer case stories.

Every good story has certain key elements: plot, character, conflict, and a payoff. Similarly, I am a big believer that every good case history should share these same elements:

  • The plot? That’s the project problem or pain-point for the plant.
  • Characters? Those are the process team, project team, engineering company, etc).
  • The conflict? Trying to solve the problem. In the case of process engineering, it’s the challenge of coming up with the best answer to the customers’ needs.
  • The payoff? That’s the results, whether that’s increased quality, increased yields, higher efficiency and lower costs (or, ideally, many of the above).

Good story also requires a beginning, a middle, and an end. When the storyteller leaves these things out, it’s harder for the reader to follow along. The same is true with case studies. Without a logical structure, the intended audience could find it difficult to understand where the project started, why it happened in the first place, or what the outcome was.

Writing in Engineering: Case History Structure

The case history has background, process, and outcome sections to provide that storytelling structure. In the beginning, it is necessary to state the problem and identify the teams (characters) involved in the project.

Next, the case covers the process. This is where engineers spend the most time and where the reader is most interested. The technical writer needs to get detailed in outlining the steps taken to move towards the solution. For example, there might be storytelling around the lab testing, data collection, walking around the plant, talking to equipment vendors as well as consideration of alternative solutions, brainstorming, etc.

Finally, comes the outcome section, which outlines the solution to the problem. This is the grand finale of the case study. This section should share not only the solution but also the quantifiable and non-quantifiable results. You’ll also want to write about what was learned from the project — both successes and failures.

Humans are naturally drawn to storytelling. As a technical writer the storytelling aspect draws me to case histories and brings me joy. Over my career, I have published more than 150 application and case history articles. They highlight team strengths, equipment possibilities and help clients to think differently.

Want Perlmutter & Idea Development to work with you on case study storytelling? Let’s discuss how I can help you shape a story providing information about your problems solved and other triumphs.