How to write a good-quality white paper

A white paper or other long form report can be a great asset for your business. Here’s how to go about writing one.

Not many people would put their hand up and admit that they love writing long form reports, white papers and eBooks.

Me? I am an avid white paper writer. That nerd who loves getting stuck into a good long form piece of content. 3k, 4k, 10k words? Wonderful, I will tackle it. Finance, business or another complicated industry? Even better.

A white paper is, by definition, an authoritative report which explores a complex issue and poses a solution. It’s much longer and more in-depth than other forms of content like blogs and eBooks.  Done well, it can be a great tool for marketing your business and also establishing you as an expert in your field.

However, I find that the expectations and needs of writing a white paper are something people do not always understand very well.

Writing a white paper is a complex process that requires a lot of thought and planning. And there are different types of white papers of various lengths and complexity.

However, here are a few key points to get you on the right track if you want to embark on the white paper journey.

1. Be clear on why you’re writing it

Before you start any type of content writing, it’s important to be clear about your audience and your purpose. Who are you writing it for and why? And what stage of their buyer’s journey are you reaching them? Will you use it as a ‘lead magnet’ to gain new customers, to build your authority in the industry, or to raise awareness of a certain problem that your business is seeking to solve?

Research your competitors and the types of content they’re producing. From here, you may be able to do a ‘gap’ analysis, looking at what areas where there are gaps in knowledge and commentary which present opportunities to provide meaningful information through your white paper.

2. Define the topic

As mentioned, a white paper often seeks to explore a complex issue. And this might mean finding a strong angle or take on a subject. Something that will genuinely enlighten and inform your audience or address one of their pain points.

A strong angle will also help you with readability and make it more compelling for your audience.

It’s also important to research the topic well, looking at what has been written on it in the past.

From here, try writing a solid outline of the paper, looking at how you’ll develop your topic/argument and how you will back it up.

Remember, a white paper explores an issue. And while it does showcase your business and can explore the issues your products and services and addressing, it should never be a product push.

3. Gather strong evidence

Remember, white papers are well-researched and authoritative. Therefore, they need to have strong contributions from experts in the field.

As an expert in your own field, you and your staff can of course contribute to the paper. However, for a long form piece, having multiple sources of information is important.

Some ideas for additional experts include:

  • Ask one or two of your clients to act as a case study. It’s good publicity for them as well.
  • Invite an industry colleague or mentor to comment.
  • Quote from credible published sources such as academic papers and government reports

Another option is to use data. A data-based white paper can be a powerful tool, especially if used in conjunction with the insights listed above.

A way to get data is to run a survey, using a tool such as survey monkey. Just remember that you need to have a statistically significant number of responses.

You may also be able to investigate mining anonymised customer data – of course, being careful of data privacy and security obligations.

4. Make it readable

Remember, a white paper is a long piece of text, so thinking about sustaining the audience’s interest and comprehension throughout is important.

Some ways to do this are:

  • Have a strong executive summary/synopsis and conclusion.
  • Break it into chapters or sections.
  • Use graphs, infographics and other visuals to aid understanding.
  • Include ‘key takeaway’ bullet points at the beginning of each section.
  • Use boxes to break out key insights, statistics or information.
  • Make the writing clear and steer away from too many complicated words.

5. Get the most out of your investment

A good white paper is a valuable long-term piece of content, so ensure you get the most out of it. For example, you might want to ‘gate’ it so that people have to provide contact details in order to download it, thereby adding them to your contact database.

Some other ideas include:

  • Use it to make smaller posts or videos for social media
  • Run a webinar around the white paper
  • Send it to prospective and existing clients.

A white paper can be a great asset to your business if you go about it the right way. However, it’s not a simple undertaking.

Please feel free to get in touch with me if you want to know more.


Author: Alexandra Vanags

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