Because white papers tend to be lengthy documents, they may remind you of the research and term papers you used to write in school. But white papers are very different from what you did in school, and the style of writing is nothing like the stuffy, formal approach taught in high school English and college Composition classes. In fact, if your white paper’s copy earned an A+ from your toughest teacher or professor, it probably wouldn’t be as effective as it could be.

White papers are to communicate, not impress

Remember desperately trying to stretch four pages of information into an eight-page paper to fulfill the requirements of a professor’s assignment? Most students quickly learn to use a lot of big words and complex sentences in the hopes of impressing the professor.

But writing white papers isn’t about trying to impress strict English teachers or jaded Composition instructions. Writing white papers is about selling. Telling. Convincing. Entertaining. Emphasizing. Even infuriating. Doing that effectively demands copy that’s extraordinarily individual and personal. In fact, the more copy sounds like conversation, the more effective it tends to be.

Grammar and white papers

That doesn’t mean you should ignore basic rules of grammar and syntax. The degree of grammatical correctness should reflect the situation and the audience. If the primary audience for your white paper is a group of university professors, you’ll want to make it more formal. But if you’re writing to industrial purchasing agents, your white paper should use the kind of language they use every day.

Use contractions in white papers

For example, when writing a white paper, it’s okay to use contractions (like “can’t” or “won’t”) because they keep copy talky and friendly. It’s also okay to start sentences with conjunctions like “and” or “but,” and to end them with prepositions. And while you learned not to use “you” when writing for school, using it in a white paper will make it seem more like a conversation you’re having with the reader.

Remember, that terrifying teacher or professor isn’t grading your work. The marketplace is. So instead of trying to write like you did back in school, focus on making your work appeal to the people who need to know what you have to say. That’s how you’ll get an A+ from your boss.

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