When asked to review a white paper draft, many people aren’t sure how to proceed. Often, that’s because they may be less familiar with white papers than with the other types of documents they may need to review.
Steps to review a white paper draft
The first step in reviewing a white paper draft is to understand the purpose of a white paper. White papers are different from brochures, blogs, and other communications tools because they’re generally intended to be more educational than promotional. White papers explore complex issues to educate audiences. In marketing or policymaking a white paper provides enough facts and arguments to convince people that your product, service, or strategy offers the best solution for the situation, educating them about the issue and making a case for your position or advice. So as you review a white paper, keep that in mind.
Review a white paper draft’s purpose
Start by considering the objective of the white paper. What is the message the white paper intends to convey and who is the intended audience? Then read through the white paper draft with those points in mind. Put yourself in the place of the intended reader and review it as they might. Is it written in language that will be familiar to them? Does it address their concerns and explore the questions they’re likely to ask? Will they be able to decide on the right course of action after reading the white paper?
Review for content
At this stage, don’t pay attention to grammar and sentence structure. Instead, review the content to ensure the white papers includes all the right information and is conveying the correct messages. It’s easier to add or delete sections at this stage of the project.
Review for organization
As you review a white paper draft, consider whether it seems to be organized in a logical fashion. Does each section logically follow the previous? Do some areas seem to be out of order? You can also look for opportunities to break the text into smaller chunks by adding subheads, bold lead-ins and similar features to help readers navigate through the white paper. It’s okay if they don’t read every word, as long as they can find the information that’s most important to them.
Review for writing
Once you’ve been through the paper for content and organization, read for style and to find mistakes. Remember that white papers should be serious but conversational. They don’t need to be written with the same type of grammar and structure as the essays you wrote while in school. If the grammar and usage seem to be correct, they probably are. It’s more important for the reader to come away with the right message than to worry about whether you should say “who” or “whom.”
Do watch for typos and misspellings, because they may suggest your company is careless and imprecise. If your white paper mentions “air condishoners,” I’m not going to trust you to make a recommendation for my company’s HVAC system. Mistakes like those are the written equivalent of showing up to a meeting with a big glob of mustard on your shirt or food residue around your mouth. Humans react to visual impressions, and no matter how kind or talented you may be, typos and misspellings suggest you’re sloppy and don’t care about details.
Review for opportunities for supports
Adding graphics and data to a white paper can make your case more convincing. If your white paper describes processes, it’s a good idea to include visuals that illustrate those processes or key steps. If the white paper compares different types of approaches, a chart comparing the key advantages and disadvantages of each may be helpful. Careful use of graphics, tables, charts, and the like also break up the text, making it easier to read.
Review for a call to action
One thing many companies and organizations forget about is what’s known as a call to action. That’s the instructions you give to the reader so they know the next steps they should it. Perhaps you want them to contact your sales team to arrange a meeting. You may hope they’ll pass the white paper along to the manager in charge of purchasing. Whatever the goal of your white paper may be, it should be reflected in the call to action, because if you don’t give the reader some guidance, they may not know what action to take.