If you need to create a white paper for your company or your organization, you have many important decisions to make. One of them is how to format the writing of your white paper. Some people claim that white papers have to be in a certain format, but that isn’t true. There are any number of formats that may be appropriate for a white paper. In this post, I’ll outline a white paper format that has been effective for my clients.
State the problem
You’re probably writing the white paper to address a problem or a challenge faced by your customers or another audience. A great way to reinforce that and draw the audience into the white paper is to describe that problem or challenge in familiar language. That immediately tells the reader that you understand the issue they are facing, and that reading your white paper will be a productive use of their time.
Talk about ideas
Now you can recap the various solutions people and companies have developed to address the problem or challenge your readers face. You may want to explore the advantages and disadvantages of each. An honest appraisal of other approaches — even if it involves saying nice things about your competition or opponent — helps to build credibility in your message and lend credence to the case you’ll make for your product or point of view. Focusing on facts will make your message more believable.
Suppose your product is a car wash detergent that produces more suds because you’ve added a chemical that softens the water. Instead of mentioning your product by name at this point or pointing to its superiority, you might say something along the lines of: “One approach that has been successful is to blend in small amounts of chemicals that reduce the natural hardness of the water. Because water hardness interferes with the effectiveness of detergents, this approach reduces the hardness, so the detergents produce a higher level of suds.” Rather than promote your product at this point, you’re stating the facts, which provides greater credibility for your message.
Avoid outright promotion
When you’re developing a web page, an ad, or a sales email, you probably choose language that’s highly promotional, along with comments that support what you’re selling. That kind of messaging is inappropriate for white papers, because it interferes with the impression of objectivity you’re trying to promote.
Instead of talking about how much better your product is in specific terms, consider summarizing by pointing out its advantages in general terms, such as: “Car wash operators have found the use of water softening agents can dramatically increase the suds produced by each gallon of water, allowing them to wash the same number of vehicles with less water and detergent.”
Then, in the next paragraph, you can mention — just mention — the fact your product uses that superior approach, as in: “The evidence from research into the advantages of softer water is what let Amalgamated Industries to incorporate softening agents into the formulation of Sudzo Car Wash Detergent.” No sales pitch, no flowery language — just an explanation that allows the reader to draw their own conclusion based upon the evidence you’ve provided.
Nor is a white paper the place to brag about your company and its history. A brief mention, such as “Since 1923, Amalgamated Industries has been at the forefront of car wash innovation” is really all you need.
Consider sidebars and charts
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’re also a good place for charts, tables, or other statistical information.