If you want to know how to write a great white paper, your work doesn’t begin when you start drafting sentences and combining them into paragraphs. The key to writing a great white paper comes in preparation. The more you do upfront, the better able you’ll be to write a great white paper that will achieve your objectives.

Having goals is part of how to write a great white paper

Start by identifying what the goal of your white paper should be. Is the primary purpose to generate leads for your company? Is it to educate prospective customers who have been using a competitor’s product or service? Is it simply a mater of making sure others know something you see as critically important?

No matter what your goal may be, if you don’t know what it is in the first place, you’re not likely to achieve it. You may have multiple goals, but you should identify the one that’s most important. So before you start gathering information and drafting your thoughts, know what your primary objective is.

White paper planning

The next steps as you prepare to write a great white paper are to do two kinds of planning. The first of these is plan for all the activities associated with the white paper. For example, you may need to perform research, conduct interviews with internal subject matter experts, or find people in your industry who can contribute valuable information. You’ll want to set a target date for beginning to write the paper and think through the process of who will review it and how long it will take. You also need to think about the format it will have — will in be printed? A PDF? Posted online?

The second type of planning is for the concept itself. You don’t need to develop the kind of formal outline your high school English teacher made you prepare, but it’s a good idea to determine how the white paper will flow and what it will address, so you can make sure you gather all the information you need. For example, an outline for a white paper about the advantages of a certain formulation for car wash detergent might be like this:

  •             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

Gather information

Before you start writing the white paper, gather all the information you’ll need. That may include everything from doing research online, to reading trade magazines and studies, to performing interviews with subject matter experts. Once you accumulate all that information, organize it to follow your outline. Review it before you start writing. You may discover that some of what you’ve obtained really isn’t of value or germane to the white paper. Or you may find that you need additional information to complete one of the sections.

Start writing the white paper

Now that you have all the information together, it’s time to start developing the white paper itself. As you write, focus on conveying the information in ways that readers will understand. Most of the time, that involves writing in a conversational style, rather than using technical language or the type of writing you were expected to use when you were in school.

After you complete your first draft, walk away from it for a little while and then read through it. You’ll probably see opportunities to edit and improve it. Most professional white paper writers put as much effort into revising and fine-tuning white papers they write as they put into developing that first draft.

Get approvals

Once the white paper meets your standards, it’s time to take it through the approval process. At some companies, that may involve just your supervisor or a single department. At others, white papers may need to be approved by a variety of departments. Be sure to keep track of who requested which changes. If you disagree with a requested change, go back to the person or department who made the request and see if there is a mutually acceptable way to address their concerns.

After everyone has had a chance to review the paper, it’s ready for final formatting and publications. If you’ve gone through all these steps, congratulations! You’ve just written a great white paper.

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