How to start a white paper.

Let’s assume you have come up with a thought provoking and original topic for your new white paper. Now you just have to write it. But often that’s easier said than done – even without the constant phone calls, emails, crisis meetings and other possible interruptions.

Like most things in life, the task is not so daunting when it is broken into smaller pieces. Here are some areas we think about that help us focus each paper we produce – you may find it useful as well.

  • Target Audience – You’d be surprised how many organizations embark on a white paper project without giving much thought to who will actually read the final document. Be sure you define your audience and any unique characteristics they may have as this will have a major impact on your white paper. For example, writing for a C-level audience is going to be more oriented to business impact and solving key business challenges compared to an end user audience, where the paper would likely be more feature/function oriented and more technical in nature.
  • Main Message – Before writing any content, try and articulate the key message you want to get across. In one simple sentence, what is the main message you want to communicate?
  • Define Challenges – Define the problem(s) the product/service you are writing about can solve for your target audience. This is ideal content for the “set up” of the paper. After you have outlined all the challenges and got the reader’s “buy in”, you will be ideally positioned to offer a potential solution.
  • The Promise – This is the single most important benefit of using your product/service. This should map to some, or ideally all, of the challenges you have set up earlier.
  • Point of Difference – If you are fortunate to have one or more points of difference, list them. Use this opportunity to articulate what differentiates your company and its product/service from your competition.
  • Support Points – These should support the promise and point of difference – this is where you lay out in detail the proof points for the paper. In order of priority, list a maximum of five points that are benefits of using the product/service or features of it.
  • Call to Action – What action do you want the reader to take? Too many white papers, while well written, just end with a whimper. Clearly state whom you want the reader to contact for more information (and provide contact information!) or where they should go to get it (list the website address). Here you have a great opportunity to start a dialog with a prospective customer and start building a relationship with them. Don’t waste it.

With forethought and some structure provided by using the above points as a guide, starting that white paper shouldn’t be so hard or daunting. You might even look forward to it.

If you’d like a copy of the more comprehensive White Paper Worksheet that we use with our own clients, please contact us for a complimentary copy



3 Responses

  1. You make some great points. Whitepapers take time to write — and read — and most companies fail to leverage the opportunity effectively. I’ve found many use whitepapers to churn out heavy technical and comp specs (regardless of audience), or to gloss over the same information that’s already in the product’s sales and marketing collateral. Either method fails to deliver relevant value.

    Nice site!

    • You raise an important issue Vicki. In many cases, white papers are owned by technical writers in engineering or product development. The content of white papers really needs to be driven by the marketing group and/or to a lesser extent sales where the product features, benefits and business case can be developed with the organization’s objectives and key messaging in mind. –Gordon

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