How to Write a White PaperIf you’ve been following along with my No More Boring White Papers! e-course, then you should be well on your way to completing your white paper. You’ve probably developed a creative brief, interviewed subject matter experts, found compelling research to support your argument and drafted an outline of your white paper.
Now, it’s time to dig in and start writing!
My best piece of advice on writing a white paper is to not focus on selling your product. This is what makes most white papers boring. Many B2B companies, especially in the technology sector, make this mistake in their white papers. They spend 80% of their white paper describing their product and 20% on the title page. You need to flip the first number and spend at least 80% of your white paper providing readers with valuable educational content. Then you can describe your product at the end of the white paper. For more information, check out my rant about selling in white papers.
The Parts of a White Paper
There’s more than one way to structure a white paper. The format I’m going to suggest is good if you want to educate your audience as opposed to sell to them. It’s similar to the format outlined in Michael Stelzner’s Writing Write Papers and the problem/solution white paper described by Gordon Graham in White Papers for Dummies – both books I highly recommend. I like this format, because it outlines your readers’ key problem and provides valuable “how to” information they can use to solve it.
Here’s a basic structure for a white paper:
The title page
Next week, I’m going to provide tips on how to write a compelling title for your white paper. Stay tuned!
For information on how to write an introduction, see lesson 3, “How to Draw Readers into Your White Paper”.
A description of your target audience’s key problem is essential to any white paper. It shows your audience that you understand what they’re going through. The more you can get them to nod in agreement, the greater the chances that they will read your white paper through to the last page.
Providing context for the problem also sets the stage for the discussion about your product that comes later in the white paper. Without knowing the context, your readers might not understand why your product is valuable.
While you don’t want to discuss your company or product at this point, here are some things you can include in the problem section:
- A discussion of the market drivers and trends that make your white paper’s topic relevant to your audience. You can even discuss where the market is headed in the future if you want to motivate your audience to change.
- A description of your audience’s biggest challenge.
- Quotes from external subject matter experts that describe the problem in greater detail.
- Statistics, charts and graphs that show the extent of the problem.
- The risks of not dealing with the problem or taking the wrong steps to solve it.
- A description of why your audience’s previous solutions aren’t working.
While your white paper may focus on one or two key pains, remember that one pain often leads to another. It’s a good idea to brainstorm related pain points to see if any are worth addressing in your white paper. For example, if your audience’s key pain is finding the time and resources to create landing pages, these might be additional pains:
- Lower opt-in rates
- Decreased conversions
- Failure of marketing campaigns
- Stress and panic
- Decreased revenue
- Getting fired
Some of these are over-the-top, but they can be real causes of stress. Although you may not want to address every pain that you can think of in your white paper, you should at least think through them and then pick the most relevant ones.
After discussing the problem, you can suggest a solution. However, don’t mention your product at this point. Instead, provide a general solution. For example, if your target audience is struggling with poor website conversion rates, you can suggest that they use software to optimize their landing pages. However, don’t mention your company’s own landing page optimization software. Here are some things you can include instead:
- The benefits of using this solution. This is very important, as it builds the case for your product – although you aren’t specifically mentioning it at this point.
- Quotes from external subject matter experts that support the new solution.
- Statistics, charts and graphs that show the benefits of the new solution.
The things-to-consider list is the reason why many people opt in for white papers. They want to know “the top 10 ways to do X”. For this reason, it’s important to ensure that your list has some meat to it. Here are some ideas for things to include in your list:
- What to look for in a solution (If we’re using the example of landing page optimization, the list may be “10 things to look for in a landing page optimization tool if you want to increase conversions and drive e-commerce sales”.)
- What to look for in a provider (This one might not work if you’re selling landing page optimization software, but if you’re selling network security services it can be “what to look for in a cloud security provider”.)
- How to get the most value from your product or service (10 secrets to getting the most ROI from your landing page optimization tool)
- Steps you can take to solve the problem (10 ways to maximize your landing page conversions)
- Best practices (10 things you must include in your landing pages to convert leads, drive sales and increase your ROI)
The sales pitch
You’ve made it to the end of your white paper and have provided readers with great educational content. Now is the time when you can finally discuss your product or service. Here are some dos and don’ts for your sales pitch:
- Do keep it short. This section should take up no more than 20% of the white paper.
- Don’t forget the benefits. My general rule is that for every product feature you discuss, you should also mention the benefit of that feature. For example, if your landing page optimization software has an A/B testing feature, the benefit is that it allows you to instantly see what’s working and what’s not working on your site so you can quickly make changes that will improve your conversions.
- Do make sure that the benefits relate to the challenges that you discussed earlier in the white paper. You don’t need to overwhelm readers with every last detail!
- Do include a customer success story. A short customer success story can provide social proof that your product or service is valuable. Don’t forget to include a quote from your satisfied customer!
- Don’t forget a call to action! At the end of the white paper, be sure to ask readers to take the next step. Contacting a sales rep is the standard call to action in a white paper. However, not all readers will want to contact you right away. That’s why you can also ask them to check out another piece of content, share the white paper with their colleagues or social networks, watch an on-demand demo, etc.
How long should your white paper be?
According to research by IDG Connect, buyers believe that the ideal white paper length is seven pages. Longer white papers tend to contain too much information and get boring. I’ve also seen two-page documents – such as checklists – that masquerade as white papers. While these documents can be useful, they don’t develop an argument the same way that a true white paper does.
What about you? What do you like to include in your white papers? Please share your thoughts below. If you have any other comments or questions about this lesson, please post them in the comments section below or message me directly.
This post is part of No More Boring White Papers!, a summer e-course outlining how to write and promote a white paper. If you follow along, you’ll have a new white paper by Labour Day. Click here to subscribe to No More Boring White Papers!
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