Whitepapers have evolved past their original function as government issue documents and have proliferated in the world of business as a way of presenting marketing information. Similar in nature to an academic essay, a whitepaper selects evidence and constructs a logical argument in favour of the company or viewpoint they are promoting.
So, why write a whitepaper?
Due in no small part to its connotations with academic writing and government documents, a whitepaper can generate more credibility and trust than a regular piece of advertising. By avoiding the usual methods of soundbites, infographics, or catchphrases advertisers employ, and instead presenting a concise but detailed argument on behalf of the company, whitepapers can also generate more sales.
So, have you decided to (or have been hired to) write a whitepaper? When your main experiences have been in more traditional advertising – or even blog writing – it can be difficult to get in to the right mind-set. Let us help, then, by providing you with our top five tips on writing a white paper.
1. Focus on Problems
The main body of the whitepaper should focus on the problems that your customer may be having. You want your readers to identify with the writing, and to know that you have a thorough understanding of the issues they are facing. This gives the impression that you value their concerns above and beyond your own – the problems being their interest, the (selling of the) solution being yours.
Once you have convinced them that you have a complete understanding of their problems, they are far more likely to believe you when you say that you have the solution. Therefore, wait until the end of the paper before you start discussing solutions.
2. Be Concise
Whilst whitepapers can be quite lengthy, they should always attempt to convey their argument in the most concise way possible.
4-25 pages is a good (if somewhat broad) guideline.
The amount of space your white paper will require depends entirely on the complexity of the issue that your promotion is targeting, and the amount of evidence you need to present in order to convey it clearly. Use as much space as you need, but bear in mind that the longer your whitepaper is, the more likely it is that people will stop reading before you get to the part where you offer your solution.
This ties into the first tip I gave you, but you want to structure your paper well in order to achieve the maximum amount of impact. We have already discussed the ways in which a whitepaper is similar to an academic piece of work, so try and follow a similar structure.
Write an introduction that summarises the ‘story’ you are going to tell, without giving away the entire conclusion. Many people read only the introduction and the conclusion, so you want to grab them and give them a reason to read on.
Next, you want to present the problem that your solution will solve (see tip #1 for more information on this).
When discussing the solution, give as much detail as possible on the exact ways in which it works to address the issues discussed in the previous section.
Once you have convinced the reader with a well-reasoned argument that your solution is the best one for their needs, you can hit them with the advertisement. Detail all the benefits and the supporting evidence such as charts, testimonials etc.
Round things off with a final conclusion about why your product or service is the best option for the reader. You may want to include a short reference section as well, so that the more diligent reader can see where your supporting information has come from.
End with contact details – Phone number, email, website etc.
4. Emphasise expertise
Remember that a whitepaper is more than a billboard advert for your business. Sure, you are going to end up advocating a certain product or service at the end, but that should not be the impression your reader is left with.
With a whitepaper, you are looking to create an image of expertise, knowledge and insight. You want people to invest in your solutions, not because they think you are a great sales person, but because you are an expert in your field whose advice is worth following.
You only have to look at the way political campaigns are often run. People tend to present advocates for their side, as people will be more likely to vote for the side that has people they respect agreeing with it. This is especially true if the issues are complex, as in the present EU referendum here in the UK.
5. Research well
This may seem obvious, but you want to make sure that you have thoroughly researched your topic.
Make sure that you understand the issues being faced completely, as otherwise you could end up presenting solutions for problems that don’t exist, or ineffectual solutions for ones that do.
Hopefully you find this guide useful when putting pen to paper and writing your first whitepaper. Have you ever written one yourself, and if so, do you have any other tips to add? Please let us know in the comments.
John Waldron is a writer with markITwrite who regularly writes on lifestyle and technology. He is also a fiction writer who has penned a number of short stories, play scripts, and stories for children. He is the author of the foraging blog, First Time Foragers: Recipes and Stories for Beginners. He has a First-Class Honours Degree in English with Creative Writing and an MA in Professional Writing from University College Falmouth, Cornwall.