Tips for writing a great white paper

Writing a white paper sounds daunting, doesn’t it? After all, it’s supposed to be a long, research-heavy document, full of diagrams, numbers, and dense, formal prose that borders on the academic. And you would be right – somewhat.

A white paper is a paper on a specific topic that describes a problem and offers a solution. It is more serious in tone than an eBook or a blog post, and it is usually 8 to 10 pages long (it can be longer – I once wrote a white paper that was 36 pages long! But don’t the let the length deter you; it was downloaded more than 200 times in its first week). It does require research, and it should include numerical and/or graphical data to strengthen your findings, conclusions, and recommendations. But just because it is a longer piece of informative writing doesn’t mean it is – nor should it be – a tedious exercise. Good writing is in conversation with the reader, and a well-written white paper should be a captivating piece! After all, you want to attract readers and create customers! It should be informative and thought-provoking; it should resonate with the customer’s experiences and pain points; and it should be persuasive not promotional.

Every content strategy should include white papers. They are a wonderful tool for generating leads, building your credibility, and best of all, it includes enough content to be reused, repurposed, and marketed through a variety of channels. Writing white papers are not easy, but the following six guidelines can help you focus and be on your way to writing a great white paper.

Choosing your topic. What concern do you want to address and why is this topic relevant?  Who is your audience? What are their common issues? What information do they need at certain points during the lead, sales and/or customer cycles that will help them with their decision making process? Or do you want to establish yourself as a thought leader and write a paper that offers your definition of the business space your company, product or service resides in. Choose a topic that is interesting to your audience and focus your paper around it.

Structure your paper. White papers are meant to be long (usually 8 to 10 pages), so they should be formally structured. They usually include a title page, a table of contents, an executive summary, and an introduction (which should include what your paper is about and why it is important), while the main body is divided into smaller sections that explains and explores the issue and offers (a) solution(s), and finally a concluding section or paragraph.

Include well-researched content. The number one reason a white paper is a white paper is because of its researched content. You are not expected to regurgitate what others are saying, but you are expected to be knowledgeable about your topic and offer original and innovative insights. Prove your claims by including facts, figures, figures, and quotes from experts and reliable sources; reference previous authoritative work on the subject.

Your writing style. White papers are formal in tone, but they should also be persuasive and interesting. They are meant to educate and inform the reader, not bore them to sleep. It is a delicate balance between being serious and being engaging; I find it is best to write in clear and direct sentences to avoid any confusion, and to use vocabulary that is relevant to the topic.

Outline and draft. Outline your white paper; section it out with headers and include at least 3 to 5 relevant points you want to discuss within those sections. For example, your introduction for the white paper “The top 5 KPI’s for measuring your content marketing strategy” could include the following 3 points:

  • What are KPI’s?
  • Why do content marketers need KPI’s?
  • What are the 5 KPI’s content marketers should track

This will help you organize your paper and keep your focus on the topic.

Edit, proofread, rinse, repeat. Writing white papers is a team effort. It is always a good idea to go through at least one editing cycle with your manager and director to make sure the document is clear, logical, and, error-free.

White papers are meant to be published on the web, so all the digital promotional elements including social media, google ads, email marketing, and landing pages, should be considered when publishing and promoting them.

Remember, your white paper is not a sales pitch. It is an effective tool to help your readers, prospects, and customers with their questions and issues. You want to be a resource that offers them the best information about, and solution, to their problem. Your white paper is an opportunity to be known as an trusted expert in your field.

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