Case studies and white papers are a frequent point of confusion when it comes to technical documents. A lot of the time, people just don’t know the difference between one and the other. So how are these two different then?
The Quick Definition
If you’re short for time, here’s the 5-second answer: case studies are about specific instances where a problem was overcome by a particular solution; white papers, on the other hand, are a general discussion of a general business problem and how to solve them. Basically, case studies focus on specific “cases,” while white papers suggest a general solution.
Documents That Go Together
These two types of business documents aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Most white papers, in fact, will come with accompanying case studies that act as detailed examples for the general problems and solutions that are presented. However, case studies aren’t necessary to make a white paper complete.
A case study collects and presents detailed information that focuses on a small group, like a business or a charity organization. In business applications, that information usually involves examining that group and its experiences with a particular product or service. As a form of qualitative research, case studies limit the scope to a specific organization dealing with a specific issue, in order to keep things in focused and organized.
Every case study has three core elements:
- A description of the specific problem
- The solution and why it was chosen
- The results
They will start by describing the specific problems faced by the study participants, whether it’s a department in a company, a project team or a single manager. Then, they go on to introduce the reasons why the group decided to go for a particular solution. Once that’s been laid out, you detail the outcome, both positive and negative. Often, your case studies will include quotes from the participants and other key persons as a means to making it easier for readers to understand how the solution worked.
A white paper, on the other hand, moves its focus away from how specific customers benefited from a product or service. Instead, the goal is to present business problems that are common to some organizations and how they may be addressed by a specific solution.
In this regard, white papers are more commonly employed first as a marketing tool. When a prospect is curious about a specific solution, the company can then send case studies that might mirror their situation as follow-up materials.