A white paper is a short, authoritative report that provides readers with information of value. As a business tool, white papers are used to educate prospective clients about products or services, create free publicity for a company, or encourage people to sign up for newsletters and mailing lists.
The term white paper often intimidates writers, perhaps because such documents are associated with technical knowledge and high-performing corporations. The truth is, white papers are quite easy to create, if you keep the following tips in mind.
Don’t Call It a White Paper!
The public either doesn’t know what a white paper is or associates the term with marketing, which is an immediate turnoff. Instead, use a snappy title to clearly identify what the paper offers to the reader:
- 6 Ways to Maintain Your Roof—and When to Call the Pros
- How to Brush Your Purebred Cat between Grooming Appointments
- 8 Ways to Write an Informative Sales E-mail
Find a Topic That Answers an Audience Need
Deciding on a topic for a white paper isn’t that difficult. Ask yourself, “What information do I possess that brings value to my reader? What advice can I offer that will help my audience?” Most white papers—even those that describe products or services—focus on providing a solution to a problem.
The nature of this solution should be made clear right at the start of the paper. Let readers know right away what the problem is and how the issue negatively affects their lives or businesses. Once this is covered, you can get into the meat of the article: demonstrating how to solve the problem.
A White Paper Is Not a Sales Pitch
Nothing turns white paper readers off faster than realizing they’re reading a sales pitch—even if the paper focuses on a new product or service. Instead, white papers build customer loyalty and generate leads by establishing a business as a trusted and helpful authority. Adding a sales pitch effectively sabotages these intentions—imagine how turned off you’d have been by this article if it had focused on selling you a service instead of offering the information you expected when you read the title.
Prove Your Claims
You might be an authority on your topic, but that doesn’t mean your readers will take your word for everything. Whenever possible, back up your facts, figures, and statistics with resources or quotes from other experts. If you claim that 29 percent of the average US household energy consumption goes toward heating, for instance, you’ll add extra authority to your argument by verifying that statement with a link to the Department of Energy.
Graphics and Design Help
White papers should be broken up into easy-to-read chunks of information. Subheadings, callout boxes, infographs, bulleted lists, and graphics all engage readers and increase readability. A white paper might benefit from some formatting by a graphic designer, whose services are readily available online.
While we’re on the subject of readability, consider the length of your white paper. While the term white paper conjures images of massive tomes of information, most papers are only six to ten pages long, according to Gordon Graham, author of White Papers for Dummies. A highly technical paper aimed at industry experts could be much longer, but if your white paper is longer than ten or twelve pages, you might have enough information to split between two or more papers.
Promote the Heck out of It
Writing the white paper is only the start of the process. For your hard work to matter, you need to get it out into the wild, where people can find it. Linking to it from your blog and social media accounts is a start, as is including a link in your monthly newsletter. Other options include creating a landing page that offers the white paper as a bonus when people sign up for updates or newsletters, starting a small PPC campaign centered on the paper, or asking bloggers in your field to review the paper. The more you get the white paper out there, the more it helps generate leads and builds confidence in your brand.