Before you can write or design it, you need to think about how to structure white papers. While a typical brochure might contain a couple hundred words, white papers are generally between 1500 and 5000 words, which typically works out to 6 to 20 printed pages. Don’t choose an arbitrary length. Instead, let the information drive the length, because the quality of information is more important than the quantity.
Structure white papers by starting with the title
The title of your white paper is particularly important. It should be serious and straightforward, instead of clever or promotional. In a product brochure, you might use a headline such as “Process three times as many radishes with our veeblefetzers,” but something that promotional won’t appeal to someone looking for objective information. Titles such as “Evaluating processing alternatives for radish production” or “Cross-cutting and spiral-coring: an engineering comparison” will suggest that your white paper offers a more balanced approach.
Structure white papers around the issue
Effective white papers often begin with a short section describing your customers’ problem or challenge. This kind of opening builds a bond with the reader, as she sees that you have a solid understanding of the situation that’s keeping her awake at night.
Discuss the potential solutions
Next, you can explore the different types of solutions that have been developed in response to the problem or challenge. After a general discussion, examine the advantages and disadvantages of each of those solutions. The most convincing approach is to focus on facts, keeping the content general. Of course, you get to select which facts you’ll present, and your product or service will reflect the most advantageous approach.
For example, if your company’s veeblefetzer uses the cross-cutting process to core radishes, rather than the spiral-coring method employed by 90 percent of your competitors, your white paper can focus on the many advantages of cross-cutting. Again, discuss those advantages in general terms, rather than talking about how great your product or service is. If you’ve included the right information and presented it in the right way, the reader will come to that conclusion on her own — and that’s a far more compelling strategy than trying to tell her how to think.
Add some sidebars
If you want to highlight a particular concept or include something that’s interesting to the reader but may not fit within the body of the white paper, consider placing it in a “sidebar.” Sidebars are smaller articles, text boxes, or lists that are separate from the main copy. They add visual interest, drawing the reader’s eye and helping them increase their knowledge.
Don’t make it promotional
You may be tempted to get into great detail about what makes your Model SD60M the best product in the universe, but that kind of content will destroy the impression of objectivity you’ve tried to create and turn what began as a helpful, informative tool into one more exercise in hype. Instead, end your white paper with a short section describing your product or service, and an even shorter description of your company.