If you’ve visited the Web even once during the last decade, you’ve surely been prompted to download a white paper. If you are a regular Web user, the chances are that you are adept at fighting off circular swarms of such requests. So what, exactly, is a white paper and why don’t people like it?
A white paper is a term denoting an authoritative report on a complex issue. Unfortunately, the authoritative nature of this type of document has been largely undermined by unscrupulous marketers who try to pass poorly-written advertising brochures as white papers. If you are averse to writing driven by badly planned content quotas, you better learn how to craft a white paper that won’t be put down by readers after a minute of brief perusal. Clearly, there is something talented paper writers know that you don’t. Something, you are about to find out.
How do the outstanding writers manage to glue their readers to white papers? Maybe they intersperse them with fun facts and bawdy jokes? Certainly not.
The secret to writing a gripping white paper is preparation.
Let’s pause a bit. This secret doesn’t look much like a bit of wisdom withheld from the public by a cabal of talented writers. Can you think of any worthy endeavor that doesn’t require preparation? Nonetheless, many people attempting to create a white paper, fail to prepare. Don’t follow their steps, and do some planning.
Who are you writing for? Ideally, your organization will provide you with a customer profile. Study it carefully to understand their needs and interests. You will target them later. Don’t know your intended audience? Do some research.
Once you know who you are writing for, you must answer the question of ‘why.’ Nothing can be simpler. You are writing the white paper to solve people’s problems. Identify a tangible problem of your readers and lead them to a solution. Hint: it’s your product or service.
It’s time for a brainstorming session. How to write? What to bring in? What to leave out. Think about it. And remember: a white paper is not a French stew – it doesn’t benefit from more ingredients.
Helpful questions to consider during the preparation stage:
If you are traveling to an unfamiliar destination, bring a map. Bring a Google map. Bring something that won’t let you get lost. Similarly, you need to see some directions when writing a white paper.
I would be lying if I said I haven’t tried writing a business paper without an outline. Terrible experience. Don’t do it.
To find your way out of a tangle of thoughts create an outline that has:
Nothing specific. It shouldn’t be set in stone. A simple, temporary headline will do.
A summary can be thought of as an elevator pitch to your reader. Write approximately 200 words and try to make them as informative and persuasive as possible.
An introduction gives you a chance to list the key points you’ll make in the paper.
Again, nothing is set in stone at this point. The headings are only to give you an idea of what to discuss in each section of the paper. Under headings, list bullet points further clarifying the focus of your discussion. Later, you could turn some of them into sub-headings.
Under each heading, include ideas for sidebars or breakout boxes. These could be data tables, infographics, or bullet-points.
Summarize your key arguments here. Don’t forget to incite your readers with a powerful call-to-action.
Trustworthy and authoritative white papers are data-based. To build the foundation for your paper, conduct a research. Fortunately, you don’t have to resort to any trickery to dig up reliable information. A Google search will provide you with access to thousands of articles and books on any topic. However, if you want to kick it up a notch, go much deeper:
Industry-specific market research reports can provide a solid context to your arguments. Check out professional report aggregators to access information on niche and emerging markets. Make sure to cite your sources.
Government publications are bountiful sources of information on a host of topics. Federal and state level agencies compile data materials from executive agencies, judicial and legislative bodies, and regulatory committees. The sweetest thing about the information from governmental sources is that it is entirely copyright free. The list of useful websites is too-exhaustive-to-include-here, but the ones you don’t want to miss are maintained by GPO Access, the Department of Commerce, the International Trade Administration, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Once you’ve scoured available Web sources, do your own research.
Admittedly, it is not an easy thing to do. But hey, you are writing a white paper, not a high school essay. Flex your mental muscles!
Consider these benefits of conducting original research:
You’ve done all the necessary legwork and preparation. Now it’s time to do the actual writing. Don’t trust anyone saying writing is easy. It’s not. Nonetheless, if you haven’t been lazy during the preparation stage, you’ll be able to slide into a groove and start producing something. Dive into your material and don’t let anything distract you.
Whatever you write, don’t go for fancy-schmancy lofty language. Serious readers won’t appreciate it. Instead, opt for formal tone and precise definitions.
Put your first draft through as many edits as humanly possible.
Don’t be verbose. Do more with less. Make it shine.
Go and delete everything that doesn’t work efficiently and doesn’t look as you want it to.
Delete everything that doesn’t work.
Let us know in the comment section if you need more actionable information. If not – ready, set, write!