Must-Have Components of an Effective White Paper

23 Feb 2021


“White Paper” or “Whitepaper”

Research shows that the term “whitepaper” originated with the British government and was a more concise version of an in-depth “blue book.” Both terms were derived from the color of the document’s cover. The terms “white paper” and “whitepaper” are interchangeable. Whitepapers are typically longer and more in-depth than a blog, but more concise than, say, a business plan.

A web search for ‘published whitepapers’ yields over seven million results. This tells us two important ideas about whitepapers. First, they are an effective method to bring your ideas to a target audience; otherwise, there would not be millions of them to read. And second, there is a lot of competition for your audience’s attention.

With these thoughts in mind—whitepapers can be an effective and compelling medium for your message AND they must be differentiated to draw in your audience—let’s explore some of the components of an effective whitepaper.

Choose a Subject That Will Resonate With Your Audience

Wikipedia says that “A whitepaper is a report or guide that informs readers concisely about a complex issue and presents the issuing body’s philosophy on the matter. It is meant to help readers understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.”

For a whitepaper to be effective, you must first determine the point that you want to make. Whitepapers are written for a particular reason and convey a particular message. Choosing a subject, and working that into your subject line, will draw readers to your whitepaper.

Once you choose a subject, the next step is to determine the target audience. These will be the people who are most likely to be interested in the information you wish to convey. Your target audience will demonstrate common characteristics, like demographics, interests, and behaviors surrounding the subject of your whitepaper. Remember, you’re competing with millions of other sources of information; make yours the one that your target audience wants to read.

The message you want to convey will resonate with this particular audience. The choice of subject and target audience will also help you determine the media choices for launching your whitepaper.

Getting Started

Starting with an editorial calendar can help solidify your thinking before diving into the whitepaper itself. An editorial calendar, either figuratively or literally, will determine the timeline for the white paper, due dates for content, and resource requirements to achieve the timeline.

Acting as a kind of outline, an editorial calendar will reflect the subject matter. It will also provide focus on your target audience. Once you are satisfied with the outline, start writing. You can start from the top down or choose a section that you particularly want to write.

The editorial calendar gives you a visual checklist, ensuring that all the points you want to make have been covered.

Avoid Data for Data’s Sake, Art for Art’s Sake

Data, charts, photos, drawings, and infographics can help make your point, but avoid ‘filler data’ that adds no value.

Plan ahead for the kinds of data, graphics, and artwork that you want to include in your whitepaper, and make sure that what you choose will amplify the subject matter and resonate with your target audience.

Position data and graphics appropriately within the text and/or as exhibits attached to the whitepaper, referenced from the text.

Attribution is important when including sources of information that are not your original material. In most cases, you can mention your source in the text and provide a link to it. For more detailed citations, use an industry accepted style guide, such as the Chicago Manual of Style.

Image by Kevin King (Chandana Perera) from Pixabay

Create a Launch Plan

Paraphrasing the 1989 movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” Right? Wrong! Content such as whitepapers, blogs, and articles do not magically draw viewers.

A carefully scripted plan is required to bring your target audience to your subject matter. This launch plan will cover the platform for publication. Consider a company or personal website, LinkedIn, and social media as publication sites.

A typical source for whitepapers is an informational advertisement on a website or social media site, a data collection page to collect the requestor’s name and e-mail, and an e-mail or download source for the whitepaper itself. In this way, information on requestors can be collected and matched against target audience parameters.

Consider using Search Engine Optimization (SEO) concepts to attract your target audience. SEO allows your target audience to find you, follow you, and want to follow up for more. Your audience is not the only target you want to reach, but also the search engines your audience uses to find your whitepaper. SEO is the “secret sauce” that allows this to happen.

Exploit Post Publication Opportunities

Once your whitepaper has been researched, written, and published, there are some post publication options that will keep your work in front of your target audience:

  • Write a blog about your whitepaper. Include links to your whitepaper in the blog, as well as amplification of your subject matter.
  • Feature your whitepaper on your website. Use the publication of your whitepaper as an opportunity to bring attention to it and to keep fresh material in front of your audience.
  • Launch an e-mail/marketing blast about your whitepaper. This is a relatively inexpensive method to bring your subject matter to your target audience. As you collect and download information on requestors, add them to your distribution list to bring more content to interested viewers.

Effective White Papers Are A Valuable Tool

Whether you are marketing a product, a service, or yourself, your expertise can become a major sales tool. Whitepapers allow you to publicize your expertise in a way that attracts a target audience to your content.

Following these concepts will allow you to create and publish a whitepaper that resonates with your target audience.

Harry Goldberg 

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