Three dos and a don’t for your white paper

by / Tuesday, 02 September 2014 / Published in Blog
white-paper writing

A white paper has so much potential and can be a great addition to any content marketing strategy. A well-written white paper holds a certain gravitas and helps position you as an expert in your industry. Here are three dos and a don’t when developing a white paper.

Do work with a professional writer for your white paper

I would say that, wouldn’t I? But it’s true. Writing a white paper is no small task. It requires thorough research, interviews and writing — lots of writing. Thankfully, the 100-page white paper is a thing of the past and while there is no definitive ideal length for a white paper, a recent survey by Eccolo Media suggest that 6-8 pages is the most popular length. In her SlideShare on the topic, Catherine Sherlock highlights the tightrope you’re walking when developing a white paper: if the white paper is too short it can give a bad impression and if it’s too long it indicates that it hasn’t been well crafted and it most likely won’t be read, by anyone.

This is where a copywriter excels. Whether your white paper is four pages or 10 pages, in order to truly make an impact it needs to be well-written and have a logical stream of thought from beginning to end. The professional writer you hire will have the experience necessary to assimilate all the research and data gleaned from industry reports, analysis and interviews; identify the stand-out facts; and distil it all into a readable, informative piece of content marketing.

If you don’t have the budget to hire a copywriter to write your white paper, consider instead asking them to edit your final document, providing they have editing experience (many copywriters do). If your white paper has been written by different people in the company, an editor can ensure consistency of tone. A professional writer could also work solely on the executive summary of your white paper, developing an enticing overview that encourages people to read the whole document.

Top tip: when looking for a professional writer to write or edit your white paper, ask to see other white papers they’ve worked on. This will give you a good idea of their capabilities.

Do identify the target audience and the purpose of your white paper

Like any content you’re producing, it’s important you know who you’re writing it for. To work out the target audience you need to establish the purpose of your white paper. Is it a sales tool? Do you want to educate a particular demographic? Do you want to establish your expertise on a topic? In knowing the purpose of the white paper you can more clearly see who the reader will be. This is a key factor in determining the content of the white paper and the direction it needs to take.

For example, I recently completed a series of white papers for ebook distributor ePub Direct. The aim of their white papers was to educate small and medium sized publishers about the growing ebook  market, outlining the opportunities and pitfalls and showing them how working with an ebook distributor can make the process so much easier. With such a clear purpose and target market, writing the series of white papers was a straightforward project. Tone, language and content are all dependent on the reader, so be sure you have a good understanding of who the white paper is aimed at.

Do think about the ‘flavour’ of your white paper

I love Gordon Graham’s (aka That White Paper Guy) “three flavours” of white papers explanation, and he’s right, there are three main formats a white paper can take. There’s the backgrounder (what Gordon calls vanilla), the numbered list (strawberry) and the problem/solution (chocolate).  Right from the beginning you need to identify the type of white paper you want to produce, the one that’s best suited to what you’re trying to say.

  • The Backgrounder white paper

A backgrounder is ideal for explaining a general trend/market/development. Recently, a company came to us looking to develop a white paper on the stock photography market. They wanted to chart the evolution of the industry and outline the trends that have shaped its direction over the past few years. A backgrounder white paper is the perfect format for this type of white paper.

  • The Problem/Solution white paper

When writing about a product or service, the problem/solution format fits the bill as it allows you to show a before and after picture. This was the approach we took when writing the white papers for ePub Direct, who wanted to show the challenges facing small and medium sized publishers who go it alone down the epublishing route, and how working with an ebook distributor could help them better navigate what can be an overwhelming process.

  • The Numbered List white paper

The numbered list is a handy one to use if you’re creating a white paper with a lighter tone and want to offer tips or advice. We created our own short white paper targeted at marketing communications managers who may be struggling to get buy-in for marketing investment from their bosses. The lighter tone in this ‘flavour’ of white paper allowed us to develop a white paper that answered a lot of common assumptions marketing professionals face.

If you’re feeling a little daring and want to mix it up a bit, you could potentially combine vanilla with strawberry or chocolate and strawberry for a taste sensation!

Don’t forget to promote your white paper

After all the time and effort that goes into developing a great white paper, don’t just leave it to gather dust. First up, it needs to be presented well. Rather than leaving it in its original Word format, consider getting it designed by a professional designer. This will add some oomph to the document and can work to break it up visually for the reader.

Once you’re happy with the final white paper make sure you promote it across every channel you have. Here are a few ideas for promoting your white paper:

  • Your website will likely be its home so don’t be afraid to shout about it on your homepage.
  • Create a dedicated landing page, inviting people to download your white paper by supplying you with their email address (this has the added benefit of helping you grow your database).
  • If you send out regular email marketing to your customers, send an email with a short intro to the white paper and an outline of some key points, plus a link to read the complete white paper.
  • Share it across social media and get all relevant employees to share it on their networks. Engage people by developing short and snappy social media posts highlighting some of your key findings.
  • Send your white paper to key influencers in your sector and ask them for their feedback.
  • Write a short blog post about your white paper or transform it into a SlideShare.
  • Get copies of your white paper printed and hand it out to customers or at events/trade shows.

These are just a few ideas. However you decide to promote your white paper the key is to make sure it is out in the world, working for you.

Are you thinking about developing a white paper but don’t know where to start? We can help. If you would like to chat with us about our white paper services, call Sheila  on 01-6571660 or Deirdre  on 021-234 8474.

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