The In-Depth Selling Tool
A white paper is a longer piece of persuasive content that focuses on one aspect of a business. Customers and clients respond better to an informative account than advertising. The key is creating a white paper that is organized to foster a natural and genuine interest in your business.
A white paper educates customers about an issue or methodology. Think of it as a problem-solving guide. Because a white paper is in-depth, readers expect expertise backed by fully documented research.
A well-written white paper is a powerful vehicle for problem-solving, establishing authority, and generating leads for your business. To keep your white paper from sounding like a disguised sales brochure, you’ll need to plan, write, and format for understanding and engagement. Your goal is to influence the decision-making of a future customer.
Plan Before You Write
A successful white paper requires planning. You can’t just sit down and scribble away. You are creating a logical argument supported by facts.
Start with ideation.
Know your audience. Your salespeople can give you information about customers, their concerns and their needs. You need to know these because you’ll need to choose which concerns you want to address.
Choose a problem to solve.
Once you identify your audience, determine which problems you can solve for them. Match those problems with your products or services. Make a list of the problems and choose a product that meets that need for each problem on the list. You’re on your way to explain the solution you’ll present in the white paper.
Now it’s time to brainstorm to prioritize the problem list. You are identifying the purpose of the white paper.
- Ask questions like: Which problems are top priority? Which are most pressing? Or timely?
- Identify problems that tie directly to your business. Align your goals with your client’s needs. Do you have a new product or service you want to highlight? Do you want to position your product as the best solution?
- Are you an expert? A white paper can reinforce the perception of your knowledge and experience.
Before you go farther, double-check that a white paper is the right vehicle. A white paper is formal and research-based with a single focus. A case study summarizes one sequence. It’s shorter than a white paper, but you may want to include a white paper in your white paper as an example. A book has a broader scope and is longer. When you verify that a white paper is the appropriate vehicle, you’re ready to proceed.
Outline to Organize Your Thoughts
Because a white paper is long, an outline anchors your thoughts and organizes them to lead your reader to your conclusion.
A white paper is more formal than a traditional content piece. So outline to cover all the points you want to make, including your supporting facts and data. A well-structured white paper also includes sections not found in basic articles.
Give your white paper a working title, until it is finished. You may find yourself modifying your original idea. Once you decide on a title, CoSchedule offers a Headline Analyzer to help you create a headline title designed to get attention.
2. Executive Summary
This is a brief summary that tells the reader what your paper covers. It’s like a pitch to your reader to get them to continue reading. Typically this summary is about 200 words.
Introduce the points covered in the white paper to give your reader an overview. You will expand on these points in the body of the white paper.
Create a section for each point you cover in the white paper. Give each section a working title. Then list points within the section. Include bullet points for each point you want to address. Each section is a step to lead the reader toward the conclusion you present in your main title. These are the problem-solving steps.
Many white papers include sidebars with additional data or research that verifies a point in a section. These look just like sidebars in a magazine. List the points you will include in the sidebar.
Summarize the takeaways from your sections to underscore the usefulness of your information for the reader. You may also include a call to action, asking the reader to respond to your solution.
Research to Support Your Claims
Once you create your outline, you need the research and data to support your thesis. A strong white paper is fact-based and research-driven. Research gives you the details to back up your statements.
Start with your business insights and a basic Google search to support your thesis. Depending on the subject and your business, you may want to collect research findings and data from other sources.
- Industry research reports
- Research groups and original professional research
- Data collection sites like Wolfram Alpha
- Government websites (these vary depending on your industry)
- U.S. Small Business Administration
- American FactFinder
- Bureau of Labor Statistics
Be the Primary Source
The most convincing research you can do is your own. If you have the time and resources creating your own research is more convincing than any other research you find. Not only are your findings new and unique, but they also support the message of your white paper. Your business site becomes the primary source of information.
Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media Studios claims:
There is one type of content that crushes almost anything else you can publish.
And he has created an original research guide to get you started.
Write the White Paper
With your thesis outlined and your research gathered to support your premise, you are ready to write and put the outline into words.
Give your headline three critical components:
1. Professional tone
Give the reader an expectation of professional delivery.
2. Clear benefit for the reader
A statistic or action verb. The reason for the reader to consume your long content.
3. Set realistic expectations
Tell how many, how much, like "ten reasons to..." (make sure to include all ten points in the body).
An objective summary of the points of your sections and how they make your business the solution.
State the problem the white paper will solve. Cover the points in the white paper and the benefit of each point. This is the hook to get the reader to continue reading the entire document. Emphasize why your business is the solution.
Keep the reader’s attention by creating sections that deliver the promise made in the introduction. Start with an insightful statement about the topic. Help your reader understand the information by organizing bulleted lists and providing sidebars with related data.
Each section is a mini-selling point, so you need to make your argument clear and concise. Then back up your statement with supporting data from your research. Continue through each section of your white paper with the same organizational principles.
Restate the topic of the white paper. Summarize each section. And then guide your reader toward the solution. Invite the reader to take action.
Edit for Professionalism
Before you edit for grammar and spelling, edit for content. Go back to your original ideation to make sure your paper answers all the questions a reader may have on the topic. Add any missing answers.
Double-check all facts for accuracy: facts, statistics, and sources. A misquote or inaccurate data can invalidate your entire white paper from the reader’s perspective.
Review the language. Although you want to have a professional tone, verify that the language and syntax are easy for readers to understand. Eliminate jargon, fancy words, and convoluted sentences. Rewrite for clarity.
Once you feel your content is clear, accurate, and easy for readers to understand, do a final spelling and grammar check.
Once you finalize the text of the white paper, help it gain the attention it deserves with graphic design. The formatting and design call attention to your points, help readers to understand your topic, and give data presentations like sidebars a definitive space within the overall format.
Attention to the graphic presentation can boost the readership with a pleasing format, readable fonts, illustrations, and color.
Realistic Time Frame for a White Paper
Because a white paper is long-form content backed by research and data, give yourself ample time to work through everything. Creating a white paper often takes weeks. If your business does original research, this can lengthen the time to several months. Editing and graphics will add to the time before your white paper is ready for the public.
Set realistic goals for completion. If you are creating your paper in-house, make sure everyone involved has a realistic time frame for their completion. If your business outsources writing, editing, and graphic design, make arrangements to set aside time blocks with your vendors.
Rushed work won’t give your white paper the thorough attention it deserves. Vendors often work on a first come, first served basis, so arrange for the time in advance with editors and graphic designers.
Evergreen Power Communication
A white paper does more than give a deep dive into a feature of your business. It helps to establish your business as an authority as well as building rapport with potential customers. Your balanced, academic view of a solution to a problem presents your business as the solution to a customer need while establishing your expertise.
ProWritingAid is the editing tool of choice for establishing readability, creating sentences that are easy to understand, and checking your vocabulary as well as basic grammar and spelling. Use it to give your white paper the detailed attention it deserves.