Friday, September 24, 2010

How to Write a White Paper

My first recommendation: Make your white papers readable. I'm guessing that your customers (and the white papers' audience) are mostly either mid- to high-level technical and/or business managers, usually pressed for time. I'd therefore recommend that we keep the papers readable -- 4-6 pages.

It's my experience that the more time spent in the planning and research cycle, the stronger the paper.

White Paper:
1. Preliminary: Paper objective. A white paper "leads the reader's mind" to a positive conclusion about solving their problem and thus, using your product and/or service. So put yourself in your reader's position and then ask yourself this question (which every reader is going to ask one way or another): What's in it for me? Some of the questions that will help you arrive at producing a strong positive response in your reader are:
-- What's the end result we're aiming for?
-- Who's the audience?
-- Why is the topic of importance and the connection to your product and/or service (if not immediately self-evident)?
-- How do you plan to use the paper?

2. Research:
-- Identify available resources in house -- key contact(s) and/or internal documents (might be PowerPoints, internal product/service description docs, etc.)
-- Competitor site research (if relevant).
-- Industry research: What the analysts (Gartners, Forresters, etc.) of the world are saying, recent and/or hot topics in the field, recent related trade articles, etc.
-- Contact information for any appropriate outside resources for the paper such as:
-- Website logs -- to find out the search terms people use to access your site
-- Customers and/or Channel partners

3. Interview the Key Resource people for the White Paper

4. Detailed Outline: This is a crucial step that will make it very simple and easy when writing the final draft.
-- All stakeholders must review the detailed outline. The purpose of this step is to present the proposed title, the first draft of the introduction, about 3-4 paragraphs, and a detailed outline of the body content. This step usually requires at least two iterations, occasionally three. The first draft of the outline often triggers responses such as "Oh we forgot to include this." Other changes and corrections may include upgrading the writer's understanding of the subject matter, correct technical phrases for the field (though we usually research this extensively), and other deletions or corrections.
-- This establishes alignment on the project and makes final approval very easy with only minor edits needed.
-- Sign-off on detailed outline
-- It's critical for all stakeholders to actually review and sign off on the detailed outline. Otherwise, it's too easy to "wave a hand" and say, "Oh, it's fine," and then have a senior manager find serious issues when reviewing the draft. Fortunately, this scenario is 100% preventable by the outline review.

5. Draft:
-- We usually write the paper within a few days after the outline is approved.
-- Review by all relevant parties.
-- Normally, if all parties signed off on the outline, only minor tweaks for the first draft.

My goal as your writer is to make the process for you and your busy business associates as easy as possible:

Easy to reach agreement on the final draft (as vs. multiple rewrites)
Achieve the project objectives (Catchy title, meaty content, meaningful solution for audience)
.... all with as little stress and strain on you as possible

Samples on my website (www.SteinWrites.com) include: semiconductors, serial data transmission, healthcare, security, and many more. Or call or email:
707-843-5088

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