2016 in Review

It may be late, but you know what they say, better late than never. January is a time for reflection and it is hard not to get swept up in the ‘New Year New Me’ resolutions fever. We’ve hoped to take a more measured approach to this, allowing a little more time than we would normally before reflecting on the previous year. Partly for pragmatic reasons, we had an extremely busy month and struggled for time to blog and to set our strategic direction for the year ahead.

Following our own advice, we have started by looking back at what has really worked in our business over the past year. It is a great starting point to see what you’ve achieved, how you went about doing it, and to identify the types of project and client you ideally want to work with in the year to come. By being clear about what we’ve enjoyed and done well, we can see exactly who we need to target in order to grow our business. Deciding on the type of project we love to work on means we can aim to do more of it, and to sustain the huge levels of passion and enthusiasm for the work that our clients expect of us.

Here are a few of our highlights from 2016:

  • Drafting an Evaluation Report for a small charity to submit to Big Lottery. On the face of it, this does not sound like the most interesting thing to write, but you’d be wrong. Anna has spent almost three years working with this charity, speaking to service users at focus groups or whole day evaluations, attending volunteer courses or celebration events, mapping performance and identifying the real benefits and outcomes for the people who rely on the charity for support. We have been privileged to see the progress made on the project and to work with the charity to ensure that they are working as effectively as possible to support some really hard to reach and vulnerable families within their community.
  • Proofreading and Editing a manuscript of poetry and songs aimed at children. It almost feels like it isn’t work when you can indulge your love of nonsense poetry and get stuck into a rhyming dictionary on a daily basis. It is fantastic to be trusted with the creative endeavours of another person and to be able to add to it in a small way whilst ensuring it is polished and ready for publication is one of the things we love doing.
  • Undertaking an Organisational Review for a local charity. We were pleased to be invited to review the work of a previous client who had been lucky enough to secure five years’ of funding to continue the work they do in their community. In the process of analysing their current working practice, organisational structure and management practices we helped them identify a few areas to start working on to improve their outcomes. We advised on the strategic steps they should be taking to ensure future sustainability and build capacity (in line with the funding requirements Big Lottery put in place).
  • In terms of Fundraising, we assisted in drafting and editing three successful £250k+ bids for funding, ensuring three charities can continue the inspiring and necessary work they do in their communities. We’re proud to have helped them keep the doors open and the donations flowing.
  • Managed Social Media for a national educational campaign aimed at maintaining and boosting creativity in education. This has been great fun, we’ve assisted in creating campaign materials including posters and online content, and even live tweeted a Q&A session with educational specialists including Professors, STEAM campaigners, teaching union representatives and MPs. It was rewarding to be part of promoting a cause we believe in, creativity is so vital for development and should never be an additional extra at school, plus it was great fun for us to take part in a family activity day that involved getting our hands dirty creating protest art at the National Railway Museum in York.
  • Finally, we’ve taken over management of all Consultation and Engagement activities for a public sector organisation and two small businesses. Maintaining a higher level of impartiality that would not otherwise be available and offering all the efficiency benefits that outsourcing can offer.

This barely scratches the surface, we’ve helped write business plans to get new ideas off the ground, created website copy and blog articles to promote art classes and encourage people of all abilities to get involved, ghost written a performance management e-book and short fictional story, and drafted bids and tenders to cover topics from gardening and building maintenance to furniture supply.

We’re looking forward to more of the same this year and if you’ve got a new project you’d like some professional writing and management consultancy support to deliver we’d love to hear from you. We care deeply about what we do and aim to please. For us, the best kind of customer is a repeat one, and we are passionate about building a great working relationship with our clients, understanding and responding to their needs and implementing solutions that deliver the results they crave.

 

 

 

The Complete Guide to Our Services

Active Outcomes’ goal is to empower you to achieve more in the work you are already doing. We offer a fresh pair of eyes and a new perspective. We work with you to improve the effectiveness of your documents, policies, and processes.With a wide range of services, including fixed-price and bespoke options, we can design a great value support package based on your needs and budget.

Our services fall into four main categories: professional writing, editing and proofreading; project evaluation and monitoring; consultation and engagement; and management.

Professional Writing, Editing, and Proofreading

We believe that words are powerful things and our writing strives to have maximum impact. We work with you to ensure that your documents are working as hard as you are. We’ll develop an understanding of the purpose of the writing, the target audience, the tone you wish your organisation to adopt and the subject matter you want to include.

Our approach involves creating a written solution that is clearly understood and engages well with your target audience to meet a specific purpose. Our services include:

  • Copywriting
  • Copy editing
  • Proofreading

We have drafted a huge variety of documents for clients from Annual Reports to Ziggy Stardust-themed event promotional content. Whether the document is technical in scope, requires a professional tone, or  is more creative, we can help.

Project Evaluation and Monitoring

We can analyse the impact of your service or project, providing an independent evaluation report to submit to funding bodies or to use internally to inform strategic planning. Our person-centred approach helps you demonstrate the difference your project has made to real people. We measure outcomes rather than outputs, share stories rather than statistics, we speak to the people directly affected by your work to help you understand and improve their experience. We offer:

  • Project Evaluation Reports
  • Organisational Reviews
  • Building Capability Assessments
  • Monitoring Reports
  • Ongoing Project and Performance Monitoring

We have developed fixed-price services aimed at charity and community groups to meet the specifications of funding bodies, including Big Lottery. Our user-friendly reporting style allows you to share the evaluation with a broad audience and provides concrete examples of strengths and weaknesses to assist in producing annual reports, press releases, and applications for bids and tenders.

Consultation and Engagement

Our consultation and engagement services let you know what people really think. Our communications are carefully designed to provide you with all the information you need to make key decisions. As we are impartial, people can speak their mind freely. We offer assistance with:

  • Survey design
  • Survey management
  • Online surveys
  • Focus groups
  • Round table events
  • Drop-in information settings
  • Feedback forums

We can help you set realistic objectives, target your audience effectively, and design strategies that deliver real results.

Management

We provide a new perspective so that you can see the way forward. We can undertake ongoing performance monitoring for key indicators, and review current processes and procedures to identify efficiencies and plan sustainable for the future. Services include:

  • Performance management
  • Project management
  • Capacity building
  • Strategic planning
  • Service planning

Our Approach

Active Outcomes focus on people. We listen actively and create solutions that work for you and your organisation. We tell stories that engage the reader. Above all, we talk to people to discover genuine experiences that can be shared to tell the world about your mission and achievements. We use these conversations to create authentic content that really hits home with your target audience.

We would love to chat about what we do, so please do get in touch if you want to see whether we can help you maximise your impact and share your good news.

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo: How to start writing.

This November I’m writing a novel in my spare time. Rather, I should say, I am trying to.

The National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) offers a space for aspiring writers to announce their intention to write a novel, meet writing buddies, attend local write-ins and it provides an additional boost of motivation as you track your word count and see how it stacks up against others in your region or in the wider world.

According to their press release:

“Last year, NaNoWriMo welcomed 431,626 participants in 633 different regions on six
continents. Of these, more than 40,000 met the goal of writing 50,000 words in a month.”
In my region alone, Yorkshire, there are over 800 novelists signed up. Last year, I’m happy to say, I was one of the 40,000 who did meet their goal and wrote the 50,000+ words necessary to be presented with a Winner certificate.
This year, I’ve had a bit more trouble with getting started. With work and life being a bit hectic over the past few days, I’m already a week into the challenge and the page is blank. I’m happy with my characters and my story arc, everything is plotted on a draft outline but still, I’ve not committed the first sentence to paper (well, word processor) yet.
I wanted to address the issue of getting started. I don’t think that I am alone in worrying about making that first mark. Here’s a quote from an author I admire:
the-fact-is-that-blank-pages-inspire-me-with-terror-what-will-i-put-on-them-will-it-be-good-enough-quote-1

If Margaret Atwood can worry that her writing is not good enough then so can we all. Especially when writing something based purely on your own imagination. You are taking a chance and opening up parts of yourself to public scrutiny. But, as Hemingway said: “The first draft of anything is shit.”  Perhaps, writers do need to take the pressure off themselves by repeating this as a mantra and understanding that writing is hard. That it is never perfect. That way, the idea of writing something terrible on your first attempt is inevitable and therefore less daunting.

Writing is what I do. Today, I’ve written three blog posts for others, scheduled some social media posts and sent numerous emails and one proposal to a prospective client. I’ll estimate that amounts to a word count of around 2,500 words in total. Far in excess of my initial 1,667 words a day goal for NaNo, a target that is now rapidly increasing the longer I leave it to get started.

Writing prompts have started appearing everywhere, I’ve spotted them on Buzzfeed and have seen a few shared by various writing groups I follow on social media. I quite liked the simplicity of this one shared by Writers Write. I’m sure that these prompts will come in handy on the days when my well runs dry and I need a nudge to send my story in an unanticipated direction. What they will not do, however, is get me started.

medium_november_prompts

One fantastic tool I have found was a cheat sheet created by @peter_halasz at No White Space which you can find here. This two-sided, single sheet of A4 paper covers absolutely everything you need to consider to get your story off the ground. One side will help you explore the hero’s journey, decide upon structures, advise on adding conflict, or on making dialogue realistic. The other covers characters,  what motivates them, how they would react in a given situation, their values, virtues, personality type and physical appearance.

Yesterday, I procrastinated by spending a day working through the prompts contained  within this cheat sheet and I now have a far better handle on the story I want to tell and the way the main protagonist will move within these parameters.

I am a planner. I like to have an overview and an outline structure before I start writing a novel. I use post-it notes to draft the hooks I’ll use within the story, key scenes and characters, events and places, I move these around as I find it easier to think visually. They are not fixed, I can re-arrange them at will to change the pace or introduce conflict. This is what works for me.

For me, once I know where I am headed I can flesh out the rest of the detail. Right now, the only place I’m headed toward is disappointment for not reaching my goal of 50,000 words this month. So on that note, I’m going to sign off the blog, brew up a big batch of coffee and start writing in earnest. If I don’t like what I write, well, that is what editing is for isn’t it?

Saying More With Less

We’re living in an information age.  Every day we are bombarded with data, from the moment you switch off the alarm on your phone to that final glance at the screen before you go to sleep. The average person spends hours consuming and producing information daily. Attention spans are decreasing. What people need is for you to get to the point.

According to Statista, 725 minutes every day was spent consuming media in the US in April 2016. This included a huge:

  • 131 minutes on the computer,
  • 186 on your mobile, and
  • 245 minutes watching TV.

We are all busy. Nobody has time to spend searching through a document for the relevant information. It should be right there, at your fingertips. As soon as people have to work hard to find what they are looking for you risk them giving up and going elsewhere.

So here are Active Outcomes’ tips for crafting clear and concise communications. Whether you are drafting a blog post, leaflet, internal email, or a report that will run to hundreds of pages.


 1. Use plain English.

Jargon has had its day. We like to keep things simple and use plain English. Official, legal, technical, or academic language is entirely appropriate in certain circumstances, but you need to consider your audience carefully.

As they say over at The Plain English Campaign, it is easier to read, easier to write and you get your message across. Here is how they describe plain English:

“It is a message, written with the reader in mind and with the right tone of voice, that is clear and concise.”

2. Simplify your communications.

A one-on-one conversation can help avoid misunderstandings, but when this isn’t possible, you need to make sure your message comes across loud and clear.

When writing, imagine that you are talking directly to your reader. Adopt a tone of voice that will engage with your audience. If they don’t understand what you are trying to say your message will never be received.

Don’t overwhelm people with details, include lists and bullet points if you can. Use short sentences and active verbs. Make sure any charts or graphics are clear, with explanations or instructions for interpreting data if necessary.

A great tool to help with this is to simply ask someone to take a look at what you have written and check that they understand what you were trying to say. Get them to explain it back to you in their own words. You’ll see what they picked up on and what they missed or misunderstood.

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” –Albert Einstein

3. Have a plan.

Before you start writing, jot down all the points you need to cover. Move these points around until they are in a logical order.

Think about what you aim to achieve, what information are you going to share, who will you target, what will the end result be? The more specific you can be, the better.

4. Don’t value a document by its weight.

It can be tempting to pad a report out so that people see all your background research and can tell at-a-glance the amount of effort you put in. Resist. A document should be as long as necessary to give relevant information. If your intended audience does not read the document you have to ask yourself what was the point.

Consider including a briefing note that outlines the contents of the report, give additional information as appendices so people can refer to the data if they choose.

5. Simplicity is deceptive.

Finding the right words to get your point across quickly, and clearly, takes time.

 “Good design is as little design as possible.” – Dieter Rams

Thinking about writing from a design perspective can help. A designer must create a product that completes various functions and takes a form that customers find both attractive and easy to use. Writing should be the same.

Basic Introduction: Writing a Constitution

What is a constitution?

A constitution sets out the aims of a community group or charity. It makes clear the rules about who can join, how the group will be run and how finances will be managed. It offers a great chance for everyone interested in getting your group up-and-running to have their say on your vision and talk through any potential issues before you get started.

Why bother? Well, there are a few reasons, it can strengthen your group by setting out clear aims that you all work toward. It can prevent any future disagreements by putting set procedures in place from the beginning. A clear constitution can also really help you out when it comes to making bids for funding and a lot of funding bodies ask to see evidence of governing documents before they are willing to proceed with assessing your grant applications.

What should I include?

The following topics tend to be included in a constitution:

  • Name of Organisation
  • Aims/Objectives
  • Powers
  • Membership
  • Meetings
  • Management Committee
  • Finance
  • Alterations to the Constitution
  • Dissolution

Of course, as this document will form the basis of how you govern your organisation, you need to adapt the content to suit your own specific needs. Take a look at examples you find online, see what similar groups or organisations have drafted for their own use and see what clauses might be useful to include in your own document when you come to write it.

Think of it as being a point on a map, you need to include accurate details to show where you are currently and what you have in place to help you remain in this position.  You can’t include every detail and it isn’t necessary to get from A to B, but you need to provide enough information so that anyone could pick up the document and see exactly who you are, how you are formed, who makes the decisions and when they do.

Tips

As we mentioned, check out a few constitutions that other groups with similar aims have drawn up for inspiration BUT don’t be tempted to just cut and paste – your constitution should be written to suit YOUR needs, not THEIRS!

Set aside time to discuss your content and to re-draft the constitution to ensure that everyone gets to have their say.

Formally adopt your constitution at a general meeting so all your members feel involved in the process. You will need two current members to sign and date it.

Constitutions don’t have to be long to be impressive. Try and keep things concise and precise. If you can, avoid any jargon too as it is meant to be a public facing document. Your readers will thank you.

It may seem strange to think about dissolution if you are just starting up your group but it is important that funders know what will happen to your assets should your group disband – and trust us, it can save a lot of arguments further down the road.

Example Constitution

This simple two-page constitution was drafted for a small community association based in Goole and covers all the bases necessary for their needs whilst remaining short and to the point.

mariners-association-constitution-pdf

Active Outcomes have drafted constitutions for a number of groups and organisations and if you feel you’d like to outsource the process we’d be happy to discuss your needs, get in touch via info@activeoutcomes.co.uk.

Making it Personal: Meet the Team Question Prompts

If you’ve been tasked with creating content for the Meet the Team section of your website don’t panic, just remember to make it personal. People love to read about other people, what they like or dislike, what they do in their spare time, what their story is.

A list that tells you their job title, exactly where they graduated and when, where they’ve worked previously and how long they have been with the company isn’t all that inspiring. It’s easy to come across as impersonal, maintaining a professional façade when describing yourself and your team mates can translate as being cold to a reader. Especially when accompanied by a bland headshot with a white corporate background.

The best relationships are built on trust, authenticity and to some extent, a little vulnerability. You need to let the reader know that the people you work with are real, that they can trust you to understand what makes them tick because the real people who they will come into contact with share similar needs and wants.

So ditch the boring bios and bland thumbnails and inject a little fun into your ‘Meet the Team’ webpage. Try out a few of the question prompts below to get started and let people fill out the questions themselves, it’ll sound more authentic if you let their voice shine through anyway.

The same goes for photographs, take your headshots outside in a park, go to a café and snap a few over coffee, ask people to give you a photo of them in their favourite place or doing their favourite activity. Check out the image below, it is of Anna the owner of Active Outcomes in her guise as a volunteer organiser and host at a silent movie themed life drawing event in York earlier this year (the photo was taken by the extremely talented Glen of Allsorts Photography by the way).

1975218_942625592466526_1160350816699172088_n

  • What did you want to be when you grew up?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What are your passions in and out of the office?
  • If you could go on an all-expenses paid trip tomorrow where would you go?
  • How did you meet your oldest friend?
  • What can’t you live without?
  • What is your guilty pleasure?
  • What song do you sing in the shower?
  • List three things you love and three that you hate.
  • Tell us three random facts about yourself.
  • If you could time travel to any period in history where would you go?
  • Describe yourself in one word.
  • What is your favourite quote?
  • What quote describes you?
  • Which literary character do you identify with most?
  • What do you never leave home without?
  • Could you go a week without checking your phone?
  • Dog or cat?
  • Tea or coffee?
  • Early bird or night owl?

Of course, you can, (and usually should), include the usual information that establishes the credibility and expertise of your team, and we have included some prompts for this information below, but we feel that a few fun facts that humanise your colleagues will help engage the reader and make them want to work with you.

  • What made you want to work in this particular field?
  • What is your biggest achievement at work?
  • How long have you worked at this company / in this field?
  • What do you enjoy most about working here?
  • What are your main qualifications for your job?
  • What made you want to work for this company?

Let us know what you’d add and if you find any great examples of Meet the Team pages we’d love to see them.

Finding Time to Blog

It’s Anna here to confess that I have been struggling to find time to write this blog. For that, I must hold my hands up and apologise as I know all the benefits of blogging and the excuse that I was busy isn’t good enough. I should have made more time to write for my business, rather than just as part of my business.

It seems odd to think about it in these terms, but it can be harder to write for your own business than for somebody else. You’re often too close to what you are doing to take that step back and write objectively and you can fall into the trap of assuming that other people know as much about what you have been up to as well as you do. There’s a saying about assumptions isn’t there?

I write articles and blog posts for others frequently. I dash off web copy and social media content that reflects the brand and tone of voice of my clients and help them to establish their business online and yet I’m often guilty of neglecting to do so for my own business despite knowing how much it would raise my visibility online. I’m using this blog post to commit publically to regular updates and to ask people to get in touch if there is anything they think I could help them with.

Productivity hacks are ubiquitous online, (and they provide a guilt-lite form of procrastination too…) I have read and shared many myself. One of my favourite ideas is to plan your time in blocks. When you look at your entire week as a series of blocks of time you begin to see how much can be achieved in each and gain a greater understanding of what you can do with a limited resource (time).

The 50/10 rule can help maintain focus and gives enough time to achieve a task (such as writing a blog post) and it doesn’t require any app downloads or fancy kit. All you need is to time yourself and work for 50 minutes and rest for 10. If you’ve worked at your desk the whole time it might help to stand or take a quick walk, but the choice is yours, use those 10 minutes to grab a drink, watch a funny cat video, send an email, or check social media, it’s your rest time.

I think the most important aspect is that 50 minutes is a manageable amount of time to be out of contact. You can check your emails after the time has elapsed and will find that you don’t need to react straight away to every email as it hits your inbox. This technique helps you realise that time is an asset and that you can achieve a lot more in a shorter period of it but only if you work distraction free.

If 50 minutes might be a little too long for you, the Pomodoro Technique might be better suited, with each 25 minute Pomodoro being tracked to see how long tasks take and then planning your time around completing tasks distraction free based on however many Pomodoros you need. Say you’re clearing out your inbox at the end of the week, see how long it takes using Pomodoro time periods and then the week after you’ll know how long to set aside to achieve this objective.

I really recommend that you break projects down into smaller tasks that you can tick off rapidly in order to really measure progress and feel fired up about what you have managed to get done. I’m going to do this with blog posts. Rather than spending a day scheduling a few when I’m free, instead I’ll dedicate an hour a week to drafting one really good post in 50 minutes. Then I’ll spend the other 10 recharging my batteries by making a cup of tea and checking how many likes I got on the latest picture of my dog I uploaded on Facebook.

 

The Last Minute Guide to Proofreading

This blog is dedicated to those who are running out of time. For whatever reason, procrastination, tight deadlines, unrealistic expectations, or unexpected events – Active Outcomes are not here to judge. We’re here to help you get started.

So, if you need to proofread your document in a hurry, take a quick look at the basics – we promise, there are only five tips, it’ll only take a couple of minutes and you’ll save yourself a lot of time later.

Why Proofread?

We do not read every letter individually – we recognise patterns and then make assumptions about words. You have probably seen this (slightly spammy) email/social media post going around with the following text…

Aoccdrnigto a rscheearchat Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in what oerdr the ltteres in a word are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

See what we mean? It is so hard to spot our own mistakes because we read what we think we wrote instead of seeing the text that is actually there on the page.

Here are Active Outcomes top five tips to avoid common pitfalls!

1: Take a break!

Walk the dog, get the kettle on, have a nap, watch paint dry – do whatever takes your fancy. Just put a bit of distance between you and what you were writing. Otherwise you will read what you think you wrote, not what is actually on the page. It also helps some people to print off a physical copy of the text before they get started as they find they pay less close attention to the words on screen than they do to words committed to paper.

2: One thing at a time…

Don’t try and save time by trying to spot every mistake on the first reading – focus on one of these mistake prone areas at a time to make sure you do not miss anything.

  • Spelling,
  • Grammar,
  • Word choice,
  • Sentence structure, and
  • Continuity (formatting, font type/size, numbering of tables and so on).

3: Read aloud

By far the easiest way to check that your writing flows well is by reading it aloud. This will also help you spot mistakes your Spellchecker misses because while it can tell you that you put in an extra “e” it cannot tell you whether the word you used is the correct one.

Think of the difference between “dessert” and “desert” – I’d be pretty disappointed if I mixed them up – wouldn’t you?!

This also helps improve your writing style as you develop your own unique and consistent “voice.”

4: Stop racing on ahead

We are all busy – but you must resist the temptation to skip ahead. If you find you have been skimming, stop right there and start to read backwards. Focusing on every word, especially when it is not in order, helps you to see spelling mistakes and typos. Please note: this tip is obviously not quite so useful when checking sentence structure!

5: Get a fresh pair of eyes

A new perspective can really help – ask a friend, a colleague, the nice receptionist who remembers to ask about how your cat is doing, it really does help to have someone new look at your draft.

Remember not to be offended or take it personally if people do spot mistakes – that is what you asked them to do after all. Better you revise a draft than send an inaccurate document to the printer costing you both money and reputational damage.

Still not convinced? Why not? Even experts admit they sometimes need help…

“You think you are reading proof, whereas you are merely reading your own mind; your statement of the thing is full of holes and vacancies but you don’t know it, because you are filling them from your mind as you go along. Sometimes, but not often enough, the printer’s proof-reader saves you –and offends you –with this cold sign in the margin: (?) and you search the passage and find that the insulter is right, it doesn’t say what you thought it did: the gas-fixtures are there, but you didn’t light the jets.”

– Mark Twain (1898)

Mistakes are so easy to make, a designer once shared a story with us about a council spending a lot of money printing signage advertising a “Pubic Consultation” instead of a public one. You can imagine the damage that would have done if it hadn’t been spotted before multiple A2 sized signs left the building!

Don’t forget, Active Outcomes can help out with all of your copywriting, editing and proofreading needs. We offer a comprehensive and competitively priced service. So get in touch if you need a fresh pair of eyes to take a look at your document. Contact us at info@activeoutcomes.co.uk, Tweet @ActiveOutcomes or visit www.activeoutcomes.co.uk.

The Fundamentals of Writing a Case Study

What exactly is a case study?

In the simplest terms, a case study is a short story that provides a snapshot and gives an insight into what you do and how you do it. It is a method that an organisation can use to illustrate the way you work and the impact that your service has had on an individual, company or client.

A good case study will tell the reader three main things:

  1. WHAT: the specific problem you needed to address
  2. HOW: your approach to solving this problem
  3. WHY: the end result

 

Why should you bother?

Case studies can be powerful and persuasive tools and, here at Active Outcomes, we feel they are one of the best ways to tell the world what you can offer. When they are done right they tell a story, giving real-life examples that fully explain to people exactly how you solved the problems of your customers, clients, or service users.

They can highlight your success and generate some great publicity. As an added bonus, they are far more interesting than statistics, facts and figures, though, of course, these can be integral to the case study too.

What really sets a good case study apart is the fact that it is personal. It tells the story of an individual set of circumstances, detailing the journey you take with your clients to achieve better outcomes for them and for your own organisation.

 

Our Approach

When Active Outcomes write a case study our starting point is always to establish your exact reason for wanting one. By understanding what you hope the study will achieve we can decide how to structure it and will consider:

  • Target audience;
  • What kind of language and tone of voice to use;
  • Where will it be published;
  • What situation to cover – a typical interaction, a specific story with individual circumstances, your ideal client, your greatest achievement;
  • Who to interview; and
  • The kind of questions we’ll need to ask to gain the information needed.

We use this information to create a framework that will inform us as to what you want the case study to say. We can then ask far more strategic open-ended questions when we interview people, this helps us keep the conversation flowing and ensures that the information we gather will meet the needs you’ve identified for the case study to fill.

When we interview the Case Study subject, we endeavour to capture the essence of their story and to tell it using their own words as much as possible.

As firm believers in the “less is more” mantra – we like to keep Case Studies brief and prefer to work within the constraints of a single page of A4 as a rule, this is around 500 words of text.

 

Example Case Studies

We have worked with a local Home-Start charity to draft two Case Studies to highlight the fantastic support they provide to families with young children. Home-Start offer home-visiting volunteer support to help the parents of young children who are struggling overcome various issues.

Home-Start Hull asked us to write two studies, one to tell the story of their service users, the family; and the other to tell the story of the volunteer who worked with that family to deliver their service. This gave a great insight into the way that both family and volunteer viewed the service and what they felt they had achieved as a result of their interaction with Home-Start.

We interviewed the volunteer and family over the phone and told their stories in the two case studies we’ve included below. These were submitted to a funding body as evidence supporting a funding  Evaluation Report that Active Outcomes produced.

Check out the PDF versions of the family and volunteer case studies by clicking on the links below:

Charity_Family_Case_Study

Charity_Volunteer_Case_Study

As you can see from the two examples, the case studies included:

  • Direct quotes that helped tell the story;
  • A summary of the issues faced by the volunteer/family;
  • Details of how Home-Start worked with them to overcome the problem;
  • Pictures to help illustrate the work they did;
  • The end result and outcomes achieved; and
  • Guaranteed anonymity for the family as they asked that their name be changed.

 

Our Top Tips

  • Keep it simple: don’t use complicated jargon;
  • Have a strong opening: hook the reader right from the start (think about the beginning of a newspaper article, how the journalist will cover the “who, what, where, why and when” in a few sentences, straight away, and then go on to give more detail);
  • Less is more: people are busy, respect their time and your own, and keep your story brief to leave them wanting to know more;
  • Consider your audience: it is so important to think carefully about who will read the Case Study and what you want them to take away from it, if it is a funding body you may want to stress the added value you gave and the eventual outcomes for the service user that their money funded the interaction with, if it is for a potential new client, on the other hand, you need to show how your approach to solving a similar problem can tie in well with their company culture;
  • Use direct quotes: wherever possible, let people tell their story in their own words;
  • Permission: as best practice, you should aim to get the person or organisation who is the focus of the case study to sign off on the draft before it goes public, that way you know they are happy with the way you have chosen to interpret and present their story. This becomes more vital when the participant asks that you respect their privacy by using a pseudonym to maintain their anonymity.

For more information about gaining consent for consultations check out our Cheat Sheet to help you gain consent – available here.

If you’d like to discuss our case study writing services you can chat to us at info@activeoutcomes.co.uk, Tweet @ActiveOutcomes, or visit www.activeoutcomes.co.uk.

Writing for Maximum Impact

Here at Active Outcomes, we focus on helping others achieve the maximum possible impact in all the work they are already doing. For us, that means all writing needs to be high impact, well-targeted and easily understood so that it achieves exactly the result your organisation needs. Here is our advice to help you write it right!

Who will be reading it?

First things first, consider your audience carefully – ask yourself:

  • How technical should I be?
  • Will they understand jargon?
  • Will they be interested in what I am saying?
  • What is their point of view likely to be?

Personalise your writing, tell people exactly how you will help them. Tell them what you have achieved before. If you can tell it as a story – do it – people have been trained since childhood to love to read a good story.

What am I trying to say?

You can’t take back a first impression. So plan carefully what you want to say.

  • Have a main message in mind and stick to it throughout.
  • Try and structure what you write: introduce your topic (consider listing the points you will raise), elaborate upon the main points and then summarise for the reader.
  • Write a list of keywords and be sure to include them.

Remember the Four C’s

An easy way to remember what you should be including (and leaving out) as part of your writing is the Four C’s, explained below.

  • Clear: Use plain English, avoid jargon, stick to your structure.
  • Concise: Less is more – people are busy so get to the point!
  • Considerate: Explain anything your reader may not immediately understand, direct them to additional content.
  • Correct: Proofread! Pprooofraed! Proofread!

Our Top Five Tips and Tricks

1.Grab attention: open with a memorable phrase.

2.Lists: Everyone loves a list, e.g. these are my top five tips…

3.Write to express not to impress!

4.A picture speaks a thousand words: add interest with images.

5.Consistency: use the same formatting i.e. font, size, colour. Don’t switch from first to third person, maintain the same tone throughout (i.e. friendly, academic and so on…)

Our Approach

We focus on people. We listen actively and create copy that works for you and your organisation. We tell stories that engage the reader.

Above all, we talk to people to discover genuine experiences that can be shared and will tell the world about your values and achievements. We use these conversations to create authentic content that really hits home with your target audience.

Words are powerful things. Your customers need to read about your products. Your staff need to understand your policies. You need to communicate your success. We work with you to make sure your documents are working as hard as you are. For more information about our policy writing or copywriting, editing and proofreading services click on the links or visit our website http://www.activeoutcomes.co.uk.