“How do you write a white paper?” is one of the most common questions the White Paper Pro hears from companies and other organizations interested in the strategy. White papers are detailed documents exploring complex issues to educate audiences. Most often, the goal of white papers is to offer facts and arguments to convince people that your product, service, or strategy offers the best solution for the situation.

So how do you write a white paper?

Writing a white paper begins with defining the subject. In today’s business environment, customers and prospects are starved for good information, but they’re also busy. A white paper focused on a topic that’s important to them and that provides practical guidance will work well from both a marketing and an educational standpoint.  White papers are different from advertising and other sales-focused approaches because they’re designed to inform, rather than sell directly. That’s important to keep in mind as you prepare to write your white paper.

How long should white papers be?

White papers tend to be much longer than other communications tools such as brochures and blog posts. A typical blog post these days is 600 to 800 words long, but white papers are generally more than twice that length, often as long as 5000 words. Most often, white papers work out to between 6 and 20 printed pages. You shouldn’t start the white paper process by deciding how long the white paper should be. The amount and quality of the information should drive the length, instead of any arbitrary guidelines.

Choosing a white paper title

It’s important that you choose the title for your white paper carefully. Again, readers are looking for solid information instead of promotional hype, so the titles you choose should be straightforward and serious. While a promotional brochure for a product might use a headline like “Process three times as many radishes with our veeblefetzers,” a white paper on the same subject should say something more like “Evaluating processing alternatives for radish production.”

White papers aren’t about your company

The most effective white papers are about issues, not companies. Most of the time, white papers explore a common problem and ultimately present the company’s product or service as the best solution to that problem. If you begin your white paper by talking about the challenges your customers are facing because of that problem, you’ll gain their attention and build their trust in what you’re about tell them. Such an approach makes it clear you understand the problems they’re dealing with.

Describe multiple solutions

Clearly, your company sees its product or service as the best solution for the challenge. However, a white paper gains credibility when it also explores other solutions that have been advanced to address the problem or challenge. The most convincing approach is to focus on facts, keeping the content general. For example, you might begin with a general discussion, and then examine the advantages and disadvantages of each solution. Rather than boasting about how great your product or service is, discuss its advantages in general terms. If you’ve included the right information and presented it in the right way, readers will come to the conclusion that your solution is best on their own.

Tell them, don’t sell them

It’s tempting to focus on your product or service and go into great detail about what makes your Model SD60M the best product in the universe. That’s actually a bad idea. Remember, people are wary of hype and anything that sounds promotional. It’s okay to talk about your organization but do it in a short section at the end of your white paper.

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