10 Best Practices for Writing Accurate, Focused White Papers


White papers can be difficult to write because they must be persuasive (without shouting to the reader "Hey! Buy our product!") and educational. The ultimate goal of a white paper is to show that you understand the reader's problem and have a solution(s). Sounds easy, right? The problem that most writers have is that the white paper tries to sell rather than educate and subtly persuade. 

1. Show readers you understand the problem. You must show that you understand the problem they or their company or industry face and show them why those problems are a problem. Sounds counterintuitive, doesn't it? You'd think if there's a problem that the company or industry would know about it. Sometimes your ability to illustrate the problem can make them slap their heads and say, "Oh! I didn't realize that that's a problem, but you're right, it is!"

2. Provide a solution. Readers are reading your white paper to find a solution to their problem.  But this is where it gets tricky because, again, the idea is to illustrate that you understand the problem and have the solution, but you want to bring a balanced approach to the solution. That said, this section should discuss all reasonable solutions; including all solutions shows readers that you've done your research, that you're a problem-solver, and that your goal is not just to sell them on your company's solution.

3. Guide the reader. One goal of a white paper is to guide the reader to your solution, and this is where being persuasive really counts. Use a logical progression to bring readers to the outcome you desire.

4. Keep the readers' needs in mind. Too often, white papers are written from the perspective of the writer or his/her company, rather than from the perspective of the reader. Readers don't care that you think your company is the greatest thing since sliced bread; they care about themselves, their problem, and a solution to their problem. Avoid focusing too much on telling readers how great your solution is; again, focus on the solution from the reader's perspective.

5. Do your research. Read other white papers on the topic and see what solutions your competitors  offer. Understanding your competition can make your white paper that much stronger. 

6.Write a strong introduction that tells readers what they can expect in the paper and that illustrates that you understand the problem and have a solution. Again, however, avoid being "salesy" in the introduction. Your goal for this section is simply to begin to guide readers logically through the content. Your introduction should identify the topic and establish its relevance to the reader. Subsequent sections should explain the topic's background, previous solutions related to the topic, and empirical data from other studies.

Choose the appropriate length. Experts disagree about the appropriate length of a white paper, but a good rule of thumb is five to 10 pages. The length of your white paper often depends on the topic.

8. Use a professional rather than casual tone, but don't slip into jargon. Your writing should remain accessible while still conveying authority.

9.Present your data clearly and cite your sources. Data in a white paper is both informative and persuasive, and care should be taken to ensure that readers can interpret the data correctly and understand it in its context.

10. Write a compelling, interesting title. Titles are important and should be designed to attract attention! Ensure that you use "white paper" in the title and that it is compelling and that it describes the problem.

The final section is "Solutions," which is where you provide the solutions. Make sure that the solutions you provide are directly related to the problem(s) outlined. Be persuasive here, but not overly so; again, the goal is to guide the reader to your solution by showing readers that you understand their needs, why the problem is a problem, and the various solutions available. Using logic, you can guide readers to the conclusion that the solution you're offering is the best available. Include these 10 white paper elements to ensure your documents are persuasive and educational, without sounding aggressive.