outlineHere’s a scenario you may come across when you develop a white paper or other substantial piece of B2B content for your company …

You get your team to complete a creative brief, conduct interviews with subject matter experts, find compelling research to support your argument and you think you have a decent draft. However, when you show the copy to your team, they tell you that you missed the mark when it came to the white paper’s message. Now, you practically have to start from scratch … and the deadline is fast approaching.

What happened?

Chances are you didn’t ask your team – especially the person leading the project – to approve an outline of the white paper before you began writing. Here are a few reasons why you should always create an outline when you’re working on a substantial piece of content:

What to Include in Your White Paper’s Outline

You don’t need to have every last detail figured out in advance when you create an outline. One of the easiest things to do is use the white paper’s introduction – which we talked about in lesson three – as the basis for your outline. It contains key information, such as your target audience, their top challenge, a description of the solution and the white paper’s objective.

If you want to go a step further, you can list every section that you will include in the white paper and write a few bullet points about each section. For example, you can mention the key messages for each section, include the names of people you want to quote, cite statistics you plan to use, etc. Then, submit the outline to the person who will be signing off on the copy.

I believe that creating an outline can save you a ton of time and work as you develop B2B content. For me, an outline is a “must” when working on a longer piece of content or something that needs approval. If you have the authority to write and publish content without getting approval, then feel free to skip the outline. However, an outline is a great tool for staying on track.

What about you? Do you think outlines are valuable or an extra unnecessary step? 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. Good reasons to do an outline first. It’s particularly important if the writing involves a client, as it should in a case study. Getting the client to okay the outline, possibly after changes, is a big part of getting their approval on the final version.

    I suggest that along with the outline, you should develop a list of keywords an search phrases that will be included in the document, and check this with the rest of your team to see if they can add any that will be effective given their understanding of the market.

    1. Hi Carl,

      It’s great to hear from you! Yes, a list of keywords is crucial. I usually ask for those in the creative brief, but it’s a good idea to restate them in the outline.


  2. Thank you Rachel, it’s great to see this idea gain more traction!

    I’ve been recommending for years that white paper writers submit a short, early deliverable that sums up the current direction for their reviewers to “bless.”

    Even a busy executive can read a one-page overview and make a few comments. And this can save a ton of time and effort. It’s far quicker to delete a sentence or two than to trash 2 or 3 pages of draft. So I agree 150% with this suggestion, and hope that this becomes an industry standard practice.

    1. Hi Gordon,

      Thanks for your comment! Maybe we should start a “Save Time. Submit an Outline.” campaign.


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