The inverted case study: starting with the results

You only have to read the two-page prologue to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History to find out that Bunny Corcoran was killed by his student friends. The rest of the novel explores the circumstances leading up to Bunny’s death, and the lasting effects it has on the group of students of which he was a part.

It’s a genre known as the ‘inverted detective story’ — not so much a who-dunnit as a how- or why-dunnit. Way back in the 1970s, the American detective series Columbo popularised this approach: the audience would see the crime take place at the beginning of each episode and know who was responsible. The enjoyment came from watching Lieutenant Columbo work it all out.

There’s a strong argument for writing case studies in a similarly ‘inverted’ way, especially as companies increasingly move away from the traditional challenge–solution–results case study structure. If you have a really great outcome or result to share — like 20% revenue growth or 30% operational savings — putting it right upfront in the standfirst is a powerful technique for hooking your audience, enticing them to read on and find out how and why it was achieved. Using an outcome in this way will give your case study much more impact than simply including it in a ‘results’ section at the end.

1 reply
  1. Peter Hubschmid
    Peter Hubschmid says:

    Putting the essential facts at the beginning of a story is the lesson Joseph Pulitzer taught by inventing the headline. The famous example of pre-Pulitzer chronological reporting is the account: “Yesterday, President and Mrs. Lincoln attended a performance at Ford’s Theater… Suddenly, a shot rang out…”


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