If you've decided to write a white paper on your own, you'll find that things will get pretty overwhelming very quickly, if you don't keep a handle on what's going on. And, the bigger the white paper you decide to produce, the harder it's going to be. That's why my advice to you is to keep things organized from the start and follow a process.
By following these 10 simple steps, you'll be able to cover all of the important aspects that make all the difference between a poorly written piece and an expertly written one.
1. Determine Exactly What Problem You Intend to Solve
Regardless of what your topic is, white papers have to solve some kind of problem or answer a specific question. In other words, it has to have a point. Even if you decide not to address this issue directly, you need to be aware of what the problem is throughout the entire piece.
Write it down, make it the title, or discuss it throughout the paper, but don't lose sight of it while you're writing. The reason for this will become clearer when you're finished. (On a personal note, I prefer to discuss the issues surrounding the problem in an introduction because it gives me the perfect opportunity to connect with and hook my readers early on).
2. Choose the Style Your Target Audience Listens to Best
Chances are, if I'm addressing academics on a serious subject, I'm not going to write the same way I do when I write a blog post for you. If I was creating a white paper for you, I'd write a bit more formally while still maintaining the personality to keep you from falling asleep by the time you reach the end of the paper.
Find out what style of writing your audience prefers before you start writing, and make sure you carry it throughout the entire piece. Otherwise, it will sound like you have multiple personalities and be about as comfortable to read.
3. Get the Facts Straight
Once you start writing, you don't want be stopping and starting because you have to find missing info, fact check or put everything in order. So, before you start, organize and check all of your information before you start. Then, match everything to your white paper outline (if you didn't write one before, do it now).
To keep everything straight, print everything out and physically put it in order, use an app like OneNote or EverNote, or assign each file a number and add those numbers to the corresponding points in the outline. This should also include links, required images, graphs, and anything else that absolutely has to make it into the final product.
(The video above has some great tips for dealing with information filled pages that you might find helpful as well.)
4. Start Writing the Piece
Getting started can be difficult, but so long as you follow your outline, things should flow rather smoothly. Also, remember items such as where you are in the piece, where you need to end up, and the purpose for writing the white paper while you write as well as later on when you edit.
- Don't delve too far into the boring stuff. Detailed histories, highly detailed explanations, and other extensive bits are too much to read all at once. As a general rule, if you're bored writing it, chances are your reader is going to get bored with it too.
- If you're writing about a particular item, technique, or feature, don't forget to relate everything back to the reader. Remember, it isn't about you; it's about them. Add value to their lives and they'll remember it.
- Don't get all markety and pitchy while writing. Your target audience has already demonstrated some trust in you by downloading the white paper. All you have to do is tell the story. If you forget all about selling, you'll connect far more easily with the reader and he'll be more willing to buy from you when he's finished (unless, of course, your white paper really does suck beyond repair).
- Don't assume too much and be sure to explain concepts thoroughly before moving on. If you assume your audience knows about a particular process, and they don't, the effects are devastating. Industry jargon and phrases are important, but not as easily understood, so you'll want to be careful. If you find that there are a lot of terms you need to explain, or a number of terms that people may or may not know, you might even consider adding a glossary section to your paper. This also works well when speaking to a mixed audience with various levels of industry familiarity.
- Make sure you explain and label any visuals such as graphs clearly. You'll find this works best for everyone and you're readers will gain a higher understanding of the topic. If you need to, don't be afraid to assign the image a number and explain it further elsewhere on the page.
5. Choose a Title, Craft a Summary, and Add an Introduction
Once you've written everything out, you have a clear idea of where the white paper is going and will be quite familiar with the contents of the piece. This will make it much easier for you to choose a title and create a summary.
It is also time for you to decide how you'll introduce everything to your reader (and use the questions you listed earlier). You can do this before you write the body of the white paper, but I find it far too difficult to come up with anything of quality at this point and often have to rewrite the entire thing. When I write this part last, however, I'm familiar enough with the subject that writing these elements becomes effortless.
6. Edit, Edit, Edit
You'll want to make a series of edits before calling the writing portion of your white paper complete. It doesn't particularly matter what order you do each edit in, so long as you edit for each thing separately...don't expect to catch everything all in one pass because you'll never do it.
First, I check grammar, spelling and punctuation. Why? So that when I do the rest of the edits, I'm not stopping to fix the stupid stuff. It also means that I'll have less chance of missing anything simple like that because there will be less of them to wade through (you'd hope, anyway). With the second edit, you want to remove absolutely any content that doesn't answer the questions you chose at the start. The third edit should be for flow, and a fourth and final look over should ensure everything's perfect.
7. Add Graphics and Layout
The next step is to finalize a layout and choose your graphics. The general idea is that pages full of text make your reader feel overwhelmed, which also makes them more likely to skim or skip the document entirely. Therefore, add just enough graphics to break things up without drowning out your text and the point of your piece. You should also consider having all of your images be in a consistent style or type to help unify the piece. Finally, remember that perfection is in the small details. Ensure that all the titles stand out and that the sections fall in the proper places on the page.
8. Links and Additional Content
Most white papers will contain links to sources, supporting evidence, and additional content. So, if you'll be including any of this in your white paper, be completely certain that they are all in place and going to the right place. Check each of them carefully because, unlike a blog post, there's no going back to edit it after it's been distributed.
You'll also want to go through everything and make certain that anything you've quoted and used in your white paper is given the proper accreditation.
9. Add ROI Elements
You need some way of determining how successful your white paper actually was. For some, this might simply be tracking the links to your white paper to see how many downloads and clicks there were.
Others might want to track when the document is opened as well as other details about the viewer. Still, you simply might be happy enough to watch your website's traffic levels increase. Regardless, be sure that you know for certain what you'd like to do and take any of the necessary steps to get that set up.
10. Prepare for Distribution
By this stage, you need to know how you'll distribute your white paper and if there will be any special requirements. Will you host it on Scribd? Make it downloadable from your home or services page? Or, will you create a special landing page for it? Each option has its own set of pros and cons, so be sure to weigh them carefully and ensure you set it up so that you can get the most benefit from it.
Congratulations! You've just finished creating a beautiful white paper that would make any expert copywriter oooh and aaah. It really isn't as difficult as it seems is it?
Angie Nikoleychuk (Haggstrom) is the Senior Copywriter and Consultant at Angie's Copywriting Services. She loves to create SEO Web copy and other types of online and offline content, but she figures SEO and Social Media is pretty great too. She likes to chat about business and marketing, find great links, and more. Oh, and you can find this copywriter on Twitter too.