7 Tips to Write a Better White Paper*

A “White Paper” is a long article that explains a new and/or better solution to a problem. Although White Papers vary somewhat in length, the average length is usually about 2000 words (or 8 pages, including a front cover and the back page that details the company whose technology or product is being profiled).

Other names by which “White Papers” are known are the “Special Report,” “Creative Brief,” “Guide to X.”

Here are 7 tips on how to write White Papers more effectively:

(1)   White Papers are educational and not sales-oriented documents. So you should only generically allude to the process or product, without actually naming it (until the very last page of the paper). This may seem counter-intuitive, but the last thing the reader of the paper wants is to find a sales pitch. The paper is a form of indirect marketing.

(2)   Make sure that you have a viable topic for the paper—such as a description of a technical or complex product that is innovating to its field; or a new product or service available that solves a problem or limitation.

(3)   Do a lot of research: research is everything to a White Paper. This is a fact-filled B2B format. You may need to interview your client and the technician who created the product or uses the process (a “Subject Matter Expert” or SME).

(4)   Use visuals—a diagram, chart, table, or map (depending on what kind of information you’re including) adds credibility, and prepares the reader better to  understand and believe what you are saying.

(5)   Do not get “creative” with the components of your White Paper. Follow this structure:

(a)    Title

(b)   Overview (“Executive Briefing,” ½-1 page long, no more, and provides a summary of the total paper.)

(c)    State the Problem or goal upfront, clearly (that the technology/product will help)

(d)   Solution—explain the benefits of what the technology does, but remember not to  mention the product or process by name.

(e)   Evidence—give material that supports your claim: incorporate a success story from a client about this product or process, and cite their testimonial.

(f)    Expected Results—say what results the buyer can expect (e.g. lower liability costs, lower insurance costs, etc).

(g)   Summary—similar to the Overview, but prepare to name the product in the next step.

(h)   Pitch Page—the last page; here promote the product/service and its company by name. You may wish to give a free offer or a demo. Make sure that the prospect knows here what you are promoting.

(6)   Give your White Paper a title that uses active verbs (and fewer nouns) and that tells the prospect how the report will enable them to gain something, in reading it. But don’t name your product or process in the title. You may wish to try using numbers (as I have in this blog posting—“7 Tips to Write a Better White Paper”), and keep the title vivid (e.g. “Time Management Software for Executives too Busy to Learn it”). You may want to test different titles with prospects, before selecting one.

(7)   Don’t be afraid to read other Copywriters’ White Papers, to get a feel for the format. There are some excellent books published on this format and the American Writers’ and Artists, Inc. (AWAI) sell a small course entirely devoted to White Paper writing. The latter is written by two B2B professionals, Ed Gandia and Steve Slaunwhite.

*My thanks to White Paper Professionals Gordon Graham, Bob Bly and Steve Slaunwhite for sharing all of the aspects of good White Paper composition, in their webinars and writing, that I have named above.

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