How do you start a white paper? It’s one of the questions I hear most often from people who would like to tap into the many advantages white papers offer. The question doesn’t always mean the same thing, though. Some want to know the process for getting started on writing a white paper, while others are looking for the first words to begin their own white paper.

Start a white paper: the process

Begin your effort to start a white paper by identifying its goal. Do you want educate prospective customers who have been using a competitor’s product or service? Are you trying to generate sales leads for your company? Or is there something you believe it’s critically important for others to know? It’s possible you’ll have several goals, but you should identify your primary objective.

Next, plan for that concept. While you probably don’t need to develop the type of formal outline you had to create in high school English, it’s wise to spell out the structure of the white paper and the topics it will address. Suppose you’re creating a white paper about the advantages of a certain formulation for car wash detergent. Your rough outline might be:

  •             Introduction
  •             Challenge: Smaller margins for car washes
  •             Information: How detergents work with water
  •             Information: What is “hard” water and how does it affect detergent performance?
  •             Information: Strategies for softening water
  •             Information: The benefits of using softer water
  •             Product: Sudzo Detergent includes chemicals to soften water
  •             Benefits: Car washes can wash more cars using less water and detergent
  •             Information: Brief description of Amalgamated Industries, maker of Sudzo

Now you’re ready to start gathering information for each of those sections. You don’t have to write them in any particular order, but you’ll want to use your outline as the basis for what you generate.

There are an infinite number of ways to start a white paper, but I prefer two approaches. The first is to create a scenario that’s familiar to the reader and describes the problem your white paper will address. Often, I’ll create a fictional character who represents a typical member of your target audience. Using the car wash detergent example described above, I might begin:

Start a white paper: the words

Jenny Thomas took over her father’s car wash business when he retired to Florida, and it has grown under her management. In recent years, she’s faced competition from a couple car wash chains. To stay competitive, she’s kept her prices flat as her costs have increased. Her community’s water supply contains high levels of lime, and she’s been hearing more complaints from customers about hard water spots.

The scenario is familiar to your readers and illustrates challenges they may be facing, so it draws them into the white paper.

Start a white paper: another way

The other approach I often use begins with a straightforward description of the challenge. For example, I might start a white paper for the car wash detergent with the following:

Today’s car wash operator faces a variety of challenges, from shrinking margins, to a wider variety of vehicle accessories that can interfere with wash equipment, to customers who are more demanding than ever. Another big problem is washing vehicles effectively with water that’s harder than normal.

Here again, what’s being described is a problem many of the readers face, so they’ll be curious to see what sorts of solutions are being discussed.

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