Friday, February 11, 2011

Grabbing Your Prospect: The White Paper Writing Guide

The first consideration: Make your white papers readable. The title of the paper has to be catchy. Spend several hours researching and downloading relevant white papers in your target market segment. Be sure to review top technology and media sites that post white papers. See if your media rep or a contact at the site will tell you the top ten downloads. Check out what makes them eye-catching at first glance.


Every reader who picks up your white paper will be asking, "What's in it for me?" or a similar question. If your paper doesn't answer that question successfully in the title and the first few lines, then you've lost the reader. So make sure your paper addresses how to solve a problem you know is a real pain point for your targeted reader.


The audience for the white paper is likely composed of mid- to high-level technical and/or business managers, usually pressed for time. I'd therefore recommend that you keep your white paper scaled to a readable length -- 4-6 pages maximum.

White Paper:
1. Preliminary: Paper objective. A white paper "leads the reader's mind" to a positive conclusion about solving their problem and thus, selecting 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 produce a strong positive response in your reader are:
-- What's the end result we would like to achieve?
-- Who's the audience?
-- Why is the topic important? How does the topic connect to your product and/or service (if not immediately self-evident)?
-- How do you plan to use the paper?
-- Is there a competitive niche overlooked by other players in the industry?

2. Research:
-- Identify available resources in house -- key contact(s) and/or internal documents (includes PowerPoints, internal product/service description docs, emails, etc.)
-- Competitor site research: Is there a competitive niche overlooked by other players in the industry?
-- Industry research: What do the industry analysts (Gartners, Forresters, etc.) have to say, recent and/or hot topics in the field, and related trade articles, blogs, etc.
-- Contact information for any appropriate outside resources for the paper such as:
  • -- Keyword research -- Often, the site's weblog will help help to identify keyword search terms people use to find your site
  • -- Customers and/or channel partners

Takeaway for #1 & #2: Every minute spent in the planning and research cycle, the stronger your white paper.

3. Interview the Key Resource people for the White Paper.

4. Detailed Outline: This crucial step dramatically simplifies writing and approval of the final draft.
-- All stakeholders must review and approve the detailed outline. The purpose of this step is to present the proposed title, the first 2-3 paragraphs, and a detailed outline of the remaining 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.
-- The outline establishes alignment on the project and makes final approval very easy for both the writer and the reviewers with only minor edits needed.
-- Approving the detailed outline:
It's critical for all stakeholders to actually review and approve 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 write the paper soon after the detailed outline is approved.
-- Reviewed by all relevant parties.
-- Normally, if all parties signed off on the outline, only minor tweaks are needed for the first draft.

The Result: The client team easily agrees on the final draft (as vs. multiple rewrites and endless wordsmithing).
Summary: By applying this guide to developing a white paper, you'll achieve all of your content creation objectives with a minimum of effort and time. You'll achieve a catchy title, meaty SEO optimized content, and a meaningful solution for your audience's most pressing challenges.

My goal for you is that by using this guide, whether you use me as your writer or not, is that your next white paper is the smoothest experience you've ever had.


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