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

Click here for a full lesson on how to write a white paper title.

The introduction

For information on how to write an introduction, see lesson 3, “How to Draw Readers into Your White Paper”.

The problem

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:

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:

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.

The solution

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 list

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:

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:  

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.

Do You Want to Know More About Writing Better White Papers?

This post is part of a series that outlines how to write white papers, as well as how to promote them to reach the widest possible audience. If you would like this series emailed to you for easy reference, please sign up for the No More Boring White Papers! e-course.

4 Responses

  1. Step #1 – don’t call it a white paper. 😉

    1. Yes. I like “guide”. I used to like “report”, but now I think you should have a fair amount of stats and research if you want to use that word. “Ebook” can appeal to an audience of people who are sick of white papers. I even saw a “green paper” by an eco-company. I thought that was clever.

      1. The great thing about content is you can package it in many ways. We’re using “Guide” quite a bit. We’ve also used “Playbook” and “Ebook” a few times. I even did a “Cookbook” once which was really fun. It’s all about how the content is positioned.

        1. It would be interesting to test the same piece of content as a “white paper” and something else and see what the results are. Perhaps I’ll try it with my next white paper.

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