White papers have been around for a long time, varying across industries, and can be invaluable when it comes to promoting your business. In its most simple form, a white paper outlines a problem your industry faces and how your company approaches and solves that problem. By showing how you handle a problem successfully, you’re telling potential customers that you don’t mind facing whatever challenges they have because you’ve proven you can handle them and be successful.
What a White Paper Is…and What It Isn’t
So you know that a white paper showcases a problem in an industry and the creative solution someone took to solve that problem. While it’s true that you’re showcasing what your company has done to solve a problem, a white paper is not an advertisement. This document is formal and informational. You’re showing how your solution worked and why it was successful using data and facts. White papers should never be diluted with overt sales pitches.
White papers also are not eBooks or extra long blog posts. They’re actually more akin to a college thesis in that they require lots of research, time, and formatting. Readers will expect the paper to be full of statistics and references that support your methodology. A white paper will be very detailed and have an authoritative tone, so there will be little to no personality or cheekiness. Save the personality for those blog posts and e-books.
What Do Great White Papers Have?
A great white paper is a lengthy document, so don’t expect to produce anything under six pages. A white paper could reach up to 50 pages if the topic requires a high level of detail. In order to break up all this text and make the paper more readable, it’s important to fill these pages with pictures, graphs, and references.
Solid white papers are well-structured and usually consist of the following:
- Title page
- Table of contents
- Executive summary
- Several pages outlining the problem
- Several pages covering your hypothesis
- A lengthy section explaining the solution used and the results achieved
- Reference page.
Don’t worry that it’s too much. White papers aren’t made to be skimmable. They should be dense with information, and readers will probably need to study them more than once to get all the information.
White papers should also be authoritative and professional in tone. To achieve this, they must be well-written and well-edited, and they must look the part. They should always be presented as a PDF in portrait orientation and use professional fonts (no Comic Sans, please). Before finalizing your white paper, you might want to hire a graphic designer (or at least someone with graphic design experience) to ensure that the formatting is done correctly and professionally.
Steps for Creating an Amazing White Paper
The first step to writing a white paper is to identify an issue that is relevant to your industry. It shouldn’t be a niche issue, but one that many people face, so there will be demand for your white paper. You might want to consider building a buyer persona to put yourself in your audience’s mindset. This will help you to explore what kind of information they’d be interested in.
Next up: research, research, research! White papers are authoritative and informational, and to get that, you need plenty of quality information. More importantly, you need to provide original information that you can’t get anywhere else. You can do your own original survey or study, conduct case studies, or use data you collected while conducting a project or process. Then, you’ll want to back up your methodology and findings with corroborating sources like government or research organizations.
Third, begin to organize your thoughts in an outline. White papers are large content projects, so creating a framework to work within is important. Start with an introduction that explains the significance of your paper and the problem you’ve solved. Next, move into an overview that explains some important terminology, describes the details of your methodology and summarizes the paper. Then you’ll move on to the body, which consists of the main points of your paper. Finally, you’ll come to the conclusion, where you explain the key takeaways and any directives you want to give your audience.
The fourth step is to…well, write the white paper. This is where you begin to flesh out the key points laid out in your outline. Use an authoritative tone, and employ facts early and often. Every paragraph you write should build to the conclusion, which plainly states your position. Take note, however, when we say that a white paper shouldn’t be split up among writers. If you don’t have the time or knowledge where the actual writing is concerned, you might consider hiring a ghostwriter to provide professional writing skills and a consistent, professional tone.
The fifth step is to use charts, graphs, data tables, and pictures to support your white paper. Visuals help communicate your information in different ways, providing readers with more methods for consuming information. They can also communicate that information in a more interesting way and make your paper more readable by breaking up the mass of text.
The sixth step, one of the most important phases, is to get feedback on your white paper. This is proofreading, editing, and format critiquing. Authoritative sources provide high-quality content, and proofreading/editing/formatting is pivotal in how your audiences see your white paper–and by extension, your brand. It’s important to have professionals look at your white paper to ensure quality.
Finally, it’s time to format and design your white paper. This consists of doing all the small things that make your white paper more attractive. As mentioned before, this might be the time to employ a graphic designer, or at least find someone with design experience to help you. Don’t get too crazy, but keep in mind that fonts, colors, layout, paragraph spacing, text wrapping, and letter spacing can make your white paper much more readable.
Creating a white paper requires time, patience, and expertise. While it’s a lot of work, a white paper can be a long-form, professional, and authoritative business card that can generate leads for your business. In a 2016 Content Preferences Survey Report, 82% of B2B decision-makers replied that they use white papers regularly to make buying decisions–more than any other content type.
So, if you’ve decided it’s time to create a white paper and need help with any or all of the details explained above, contact us today! We would love to help you with all your white paper creation needs.