Whether you’re seasoned at creating white papers, or getting started on your first one, it doesn’t hurt to step back and think about some of the basics of what you need to do to make a white paper work. With that, here are some basic tips that should not be overlooked.
1. Make it informative rather than promotional.
A paper about creating great white papers from KnowledgeStorm and The Content Factor says, “All good communication has an objective. The primary mistake people make when writing white papers is to use the paper to talk about their product or solution. Instead, a white paper must be educational, not promotional in tone.”
As a reader who takes in the occasional white paper, I’d have to whole-heartedly agree. If the reader isn’t learning anything, there’s not a lot of value to be gained. Save the promotion for your ads and your website.
2. Take Your Time
You may feel like you need to rush to get your white paper out, but if you do, the work is likely to suffer. It doesn’t help that white papers can be very time-consuming to construct, but in the end, if you put more into it, you’re most likely going to get more out of it.
John McTigue of Kuno Creative says, “Whitepapers are usually in-depth reports on a specific topic, like a research paper intended for publication on the Web. Typically at least 10 pages in length with illustrations, charts and references, the average whitepaper is not designed for casual browsing and usually requires several readings to glean the full extent of its information. Readers expect a high degree of expertise backed by solid research that is fully documented by references. It can take weeks or even months to write and polish a good whitepaper.”
3. Don’t skimp on the intro
Having a good introduction is critical to getting any piece of writing read, but I’d hate to see you pour all of that time (and let’s face it, money) into a white paper only to have people close it just because you couldn’t hook them in at the beginning.
You’ve got to gain their interest at the start. Hopefully you’ve already done that to some extent with the subject and the title, but the words “white paper” don’t exactly conjure up thoughts of excitement. It’s your job to make readers excited, or at the very least, interested.
“Be captivating,” says Contently. “You want to catch people right off the bat with your introduction. Pique their interest, and then tell them what they’re going to accomplish by reading your white paper. This means writing a summary of your white paper and including an organized list of topics.”
4. Don’t make it too hard to read
A white paper should be informative. That much is true. What better place to get technical than in a white paper? Well, the truth is, if you want people to read it and take it all in, you’re going to have to consider the audience’s level of expertise, not to mention their attention span. You can be informative and technical, but you need to make sure you’re writing in a style that doesn’t want to make the reader jump off a cliff.
“A good white paper will be neither too simplistic nor too complex for its readers, and will be shorter or longer depending on who is reading it,” says WikiHow. “If you are writing a white paper for an engineer, for example, you should include lots of technical details and be lengthy in your descriptions; when you write a white paper for a CEO, be direct to avoid losing their attention.”
5. Either know how to write or get somebody who does
This one kind of goes along with number four, but it might be the most important one of all. White papers need to be written by writers. You don’t have to be Stephen King, but your paper needs to be comprehensible and error-free. Otherwise, your paper, and possibly even your business lose a great deal of credibility.
The tricky part is finding someone who both understands the material and can write. This may require a number of meetings, but the value of having someone that can actually write pen the piece cannot be overstated.
“A white paper is doomed to failure if the writer is not experienced at writing the concise, convincing prose that this unique document requires,” a paper from DecisionNewsMedia says. “Ideally, the writer of the white paper possesses strong writing skills, technical understanding, and marketing experience, as well as the ability to extract meaningful information from a variety of sources and translate it into coherent, compelling prose.
These may not be all the tips you need to follow to put together a successful paper, but if you follow them, you should be headed in the right direction at the very least.