For technical audiences, white papers have traditionally been seen as unbiased, lengthy academic articles that look like a chapter straight out of a textbook. However, nowadays many companies commonly use this media format in content marketing to attract and inform customers.
What is a White Paper?
A white paper is text-based narrative that presents technical information in about 1000 words or more. For use both online and in print, they generally contain images, diagrams, and even embedded videos and links. In contrast with blog posts – which are usually shorter, are frequently written and address current trends and issues – white paper content tends to be lengthier and more in-depth. Given the amount of time it takes to create a white paper, choose an “evergreen” topic that is not tied to a specific date or time period. Write the content in a way that addresses common or recurring pain points for your potential customers. Common subject matters include:
- Introductory information about a technology
- How-to tutorials or best practices
- Authoritative reports about industry changes
- Lessons learned about an engineering challenge
- Analysis from your research and experience
Follow these 3 steps to create a thoughtful and compelling white paper that will increase web traffic and gather highly qualified leads from potential customers.
Phase #1: Establishing the Plan of Action
Before undergoing the writing process for a white paper, it is essential to establish the purpose and parameters of the document. Marketing writers often have standard white paper questionnaires to fill out that lay out all the necessary information in the preparation stage. Details to nail down may comprise of:
A) Goals and Key Messages
What is this white paper for? What is the end goal you want the reader to do, understand, or believe? For example, Kline Technical Consulting (KTC) has a goal to be seen as the leading industry experts in physical security systems. Therefore, they chose to write about The Top 7 Most Critical Considerations for Physical Security Systems. By discussing important industry considerations interspersed with customer examples, this white paper shows how KTC understands the application pain points and has insights on solutions.
Who are the primary and secondary target audience for this white paper? What is the reader’s level of knowledge about the subject matter? Make sure you are attracting the right kind of customer with your content marketing.
Decide whether to use a first person versus third person voice. With the first person point of view, directly addressing the reader with “you” sounds more personal, whereas the third person voice may sound more objective and unbiased. The level of objectivity may depend on the usage of the white paper, such as establishing credibility, attracting new clients, or sharing updates with existing customers. Regardless, use an authoritative tone that shows you are the experts on this topic.
D) Release date and timeline
Are there any deadlines for the release of the white paper? Will it be used for a product launch or the next company e-newsletter? Make sure that you leave time in the schedule for not only writing, but also for reviews, copy editing, formatting, and printing or uploading onto the website.
If you have a lot of solid source material or if the discussion is fairly lengthy, will you shorten the white paper to make it more concise or will you create multiple white papers? If the subject matter is easily dividable, the content may have more widespread impact or greater longevity as an e-book with several chapters or as a series of articles released one at a time.
Phase #2: Tackling the Writing
The key to writing a good white paper is to put yourself in the reader’s shoes and consider “What does the customer want to learn?” However, the hook is just the first step to get the audience to start reading the article. Remember that ultimately your goal is not necessarily to keep the reader reading, but to get the reader to accomplish your goal and complete that next call-to-action (CTA).
Committing 1000 or more words to paper may seem overwhelming, so the best way to defeat writer’s block is to create an outline. Does the structure and flow of the document make sense and drive to your key points and goals? Once the framework of the white paper has been established, take your source material and organize them under each outline point, adding extra notes and thoughts as they come to mind. Voilà! The first very rough “draft” has been completed.
As you begin thoroughly cleaning up and rewriting each section, it may help to print out the outline with its notes and cross off sections of source material as you use them. Don’t forget to include appropriate references and links to other sites to increase credibility. Since white papers can be very text-heavy, keep the readers interest by visually breaking up the content with quotes, call-out text blocks, and enticing images. Label the pictures, diagrams, and tables with full-sentence descriptions that help summarize the content in case readers scan the material.
No matter how educational or objective the white paper may be, remember to include CTAs, next steps, or related links you wish the reader to follow. You are not writing this white paper for free; it is intended to forward people down the sales and marketing funnel. If nothing else, add a short corporate overview at the end with a link to company website, especially if the white paper will be used as a print media.
Phase #3: Putting on the Shine
Once the white paper is ready for review, get another set of eyes on it to uncover areas where you may need to explain certain concepts more clearly. Having both reviewers who understand the core messages and technology discussed in the article along with those who aren’t familiar with the subject matter can be very useful. With multiple reviewers, it will be more efficient for the writer if all the feedback is consolidated into one file. Microsoft Word is one of the easiest tools for tracking changes and adding comment boxes. Adobe Reader also has the ability to insert comments, highlight areas, and cross out text.
After all the feedback has been collected and integrated (for multiple iterations if needed), do a final copy edit sweep for spelling and grammar errors. For some extra polish, consider putting the white paper in a design template with elements of your company branding. This can be as simple as adding the company logo and website URL to the footer so people will see it on every page.
Now that you’ve spent all this time and effort completing the white paper, how do you get the most bang for your buck? In Part 2, we’ll discuss how to best promote this content so that it reaches the widest audience possible.
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