Case Studies vs. White Papers, What’s the Difference?

By Michael Stelzner

Jim Szopinski asks, “What is the difference in content between a white paper and a case study?

Great question, Jim! You’d be surprised how often this question comes up.

Let’s start this answer with a definition of a case study.

This is a bit technical, but here we go:

Case study refers to the collection and presentation of detailed information about a particular participant or small group, frequently including the accounts of subjects themselves. A form of qualitative descriptive research, the case study looks intensely at an individual or small participant pool, drawing conclusions only about that participant or group and only in that specific context,” as explained by Colorado State University’s online writing guide.

In other words, case studies typically examine a specific company and its experience with a product or service. They often include quotes from a key person at that company and are designed to help prospects see an example of how a solution worked for someone else.

Sample titles might include:

  • How Microsoft Streamlined Their Internal Communications
  • Enhancing Worker Productivity: Wal-Mart’s Story

Case studies typically start with an explanation of the specific problems faced by the study participant. They go on to introduce the reasons for selecting the ultimate solution and the final outcome.

Here is a specific example of a case study WhitePaperSource produced:

Now to your question: What is the difference between white papers and case studies?

Where a case study focuses on a very specific case example, a white paper tends to NOT include details about how specific customers have benefited from a product or solution.

Rather, the white paper will examine general business problems and how to solve them (or describe processes). A case study can be used in conjunction with a white paper, typically as a follow-up sales piece.

The core elements of a case study include:

  • The specific problem
  • Why solution X was selected
  • The results

The core elements of a white paper include:

  • General problems faced by readers
  • A discussion of the solution
  • Business benefits

Finally, both white papers and case studies both are very powerful marketing tools.

Do you agree? Join the discussion.

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  • gaurav

    nice one !!!

    Hey! i m looking for step step guidance for writing a white paper for a company..

    i am totally new to this field so i am looking a help and nice guidance from a expert like you ..

  • Michael Stelzner

    Guarav – See for the step-by-step guidance you are seeking – Mike

  • Janice King

    Case studies are huge for giving credibility to your marketing messages — whether the case study is a standalone document or is part of a white paper.

    A good case study requires three things: a good story, good writing, and good processes for recruiting candidates and handling reviews and approvals.

    For tips, see my article “Case Studies Deliver High-Value Stories of Customer Success” at:

  • David Leland

    Great topic. Lemme jump in. I’ve written dozens of case studies for clients during the past 15 years or so.

    Case studies are about people. Told in a narrative fashion, a good case (also known as a testimonial or success story) study pulls at the emotional strings of a reader — much like a good novel tugs at its reader.

    Both white papers and case studies are vital parts of a marketing push. When I write a case study, I’m typically trying to stimulate the reader’s interest so they want to learn more about the solution. Where do they go? The white paper, of course.

    For more tips on writing case studies, check out my blog at:

  • Martin Middlewood

    Liked the article and discussion about the differences between white papers and case studies. Let me note one thing. Case study writers need to be prepared to make a business case in their case studies just as white paper writers do. This is particularly true when large ticket items are involved, like enterprise software. Case study writers need to dig out the business problem and why the case featured made a change. And whenever possible, they need to back that business case up with hard or soft return on investment.

    For case study writing tips, case study marketing and critiques of case studies check out And if you’ve got any feedback, I’d appreciate it if you post any comments.

  • gaurav Vashsist

    Thanks all of you for nice discussion…
    i am learning slowly slowly …

  • Michael Stelzner

    Martin, David and Janice – Thanks for your addition to the discussion.

    Gaurav – Keep reading and you will learn.

  • Whitney

    RainToday also provides their take on writing case studies at:

    Guarav — if you’re writing white papers for the first time, you DEFINITELY want to buy Mike’s book. Highly readable, extremely informative. More than worth the cover price.

  • Jonathan Kantor

    I agree with most of the views here. Another aspect that should be considered is whether the case study is created as a stand-alone document or integrated within a white paper.

    When used inside a white paper, the case study validates theoretical solution points by presenting real life challenges and how the solution solved those challenges.

    On my blog, I discussed the components of a good case study, entitled “A Case for the Case Study”.

  • Shannon Walker-Lembke

    Like Jonathan I often incorporate a case study summary in a white paper as a side bar. It helps to validate the approach or solution you are putting forward in the white paper.

    For a writer it can also mean some additional work either by improving existing case studies that clients have or getting to write them from scratch.

  • Swapnil

    Great !!
    Absolutely appropriate

  • Natalie Brahan

    I do agree

  • Nancy

    Ok, so if you are a white paper writer, what’s wrong with including a related case study with it or vice versa? You give your client more marketing ammunition and you make more money.

    So you really need to be good at writing both white papers and case studies.

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