There’s very good reason not to use acronyms and jargon in your white paper, even if you’re writing in an industry in which those acronyms and jargon are used frequently. That reason goes to the very purpose of a white paper: sharing information with people who probably don’t know the subject as well as you do.
Jargon in white paper
The longer you’ve worked in your industry, the more likely you’ve accumulated a long list of jargon and acronyms you use when communicating with co-workers and others in the industry. Why repeat a lengthy name for a particular piece of equipment or a process when everyone around is familiar with the acronym abbreviating it? The same is true of jargon. If everyone working with your product is aware of what a hot melt is, why should you have to explain it?
Purpose of white papers
Companies and organizations like yours create white papers as educational tools. Whether you’re trying to detail the advantages of your proprietary technology, convince policymakers that a particular course of action would be inimical to your industry, provide a comparison of several potential courses of action, or any of the other reasons people create white papers, you’re sharing useful information with people who don’t know as much about the subject as you do.
Don’t assume people understand
It’s easy to assume that the reader of your white paper already has some interest in the topic, so they probably understand it – but that’s a dangerous assumption for a couple reasons. First, the reader may be somewhat familiar with the topic, but may have received incorrect or misleading information from others. They may have even bought into common myths you know just aren’t accurate or true.
Simply put, you can’t assume other people know as much as you do. Take the acronym JATO. If you’ve spent a lot of time around military aircraft, that acronym is so familiar to you that you’d use it without hesitation. But suppose you’re a reader who has never seen that acronym, even if you’re familiar with the concept it describes. Or perhaps you’re an engineer who has just started working in your company. What does JATO mean? The acronym is an abbreviation for jet-assisted takeoff, which describes the use of rocket engines or other source of additional thrust to help heavy aircraft take off in less distance.
Must you explain everything?
I’m not suggesting that your white paper needs to provide an in-depth exploration of the JATO concept, especially if that concept plays a small part of what you’re trying to convey. What I am saying is that if you thoughtlessly use the term JATO without sharing the term or basic concept behind that acronym, some share of your readers won’t know what you’re talking about. It may be as simple as including the full term in parentheses after the first time you use it, such as: “Because the airfield’s runways are unusually short, departing cargo planes are often equipped with JATO (jet-assisted takeoff) rockets.” Even if the reader is encountering the term for the first time, they can then see what it means.
More than one reader
An even more important reason to sidestep the use of acronyms and jargon is that your primary reader may not be the only audience for your white paper. In most organizations, important decisions are rarely made by a single individual. Even if that individual champions what you offer, others will have to chime in on the decision – and often, those people lack the technical knowledge or expertise of the initial reader.
How the process works
Let’s consider a fictional example reflecting the way many companies make decisions. Suppose your company sells an expensive piece of equipment that makes users far more productive and efficient, so much so that most buyers achieve a complete return on their investment within the first year of use.
Your product is innovative, impressive … and expensive. That leads to a long sales cycle, both because of the cost and because your technology differs significantly from what your competitors offer.
The production engineer who reads your white paper is convinced your technology will deliver the performance their company needs. Unfortunately, that engineer lacks the authority to make a purchase decision. Instead, they have to kick that process to the operations manager and the plant manager. And, based upon the price tag, the CFO, CIO, and CEO will also have to bless the idea.
It’s a tougher process than usual, because of your innovative approach. In addition to selling all the decision-makers on the value your company’s equipment; you’ll need to convince them to take what they likely see as a gamble on something that’s brand-new to them.
So you create a white paper that compares the traditional approach to your innovative solution. You include a detailed description of the processes involved to help people like the engineer and the plant manager. You also include a simple diagram to help decision-makers like the CFO, CIO, and CEO see the advantages, along with tables comparing efficiency of both approaches.
Now the production engineer can use your white paper to help make the case, attaching your white paper to their recommendation to help them fully grasp the advantages. Plus, they can give copies of the white paper to the operations team so they can see the advantages and add their support. Your white paper provides the information all the decision-makers need, helping them reach the purchase decision far more quickly.