Writing a whitepaper

How to approach writing a white paper

Writing a white paper requires a lot of planning, research, thought, creativity and a great deal of patience. But once, you have finished writing your white paper you will have an incredible asset which you can leverage multiple times, in many different ways.

Repurpose, reuse, recycle

One of the key benefits of creating a white paper is that you can use some of the content for:

  • Articles
  • Videos
  • Blog posts
  • Infographics
  • Podcasts
  • Webinars
  • Social media
  • and much more…

So, where do you start? Here are my tips on how I approach writing a white paper, as well as a free white paper template to get you started.

Define your aims and objectives

In the beginning, it’s all about knowing why you want to create a white paper, the aims, who you are targeting and when you need it. You need to be able to articulate exactly what you want in the white paper – so you can create a plan to get it done.

State the scope of the project

The next step is to have a clear scope for the project which includes input from all stakeholders, with milestones and an understanding of who is going to be involved in the production. Nowadays, it’s common that organisations have access to their own internal designers. Decide early if the design is to remain in-house or if you prefer to outsource this to a freelancer or design agency, and get it booked in. Also, set yourself some milestones to keep on track with achieving your deadline. If you can set a date for when you plan to complete the first draft, second draft and a final draft it will enable you to stay motivated and keep your momentum going. And, at the same time, think about how many rounds of edits you are prepared to accept. In striving for the perfect white paper and satisfying the demands of your stakeholders, you need to strike the balance of getting adequate feedback whilst driving the job to completion. Once you have agreed on the scope, it will provide clarity to those involved, what’s expected, who will form the approval process, and how long it will take.

Research

A white paper is a form of thought leadership content which depends on sound industry knowledge and a deep understanding of your targeted persona’s pain points and potential challenges. By acknowledging the importance of gaining this insight, you need to spend as much time as possible doing research. The secret to compiling a white paper is about the work you do before you start writing and this is what counts most. So, what do you need to know? You need to have a good grasp of the niche in the market, current trends, a deep knowledge of the specific challenges and pain points of your clients and be savvy in knowing about your competition. You also need to back up your knowledge with solid, objective data, statistics and quotes from reputable sources. And, be able to introduce your company’s positioning, messaging and expertise without it compromising your credibility. The more you research at the beginning, the easier it will be to write your white paper. Don’t worry about spending a few hours or even a few days reading up around your topic. Not all technology marketers are tech experts, so make sure you have got to grips with your product, the jargon that surrounds it and understanding the people and the industry you’re selling to is vital. Also, with all the information gathering, ensure that you are rigorous in capturing citations. Now is the time to reference where you have sourced your information. It will save you a lot of time in the end.

Create an overview and structure

Once you have done your research, you need to create a brief and a structure of your whitepaper. The purpose of this document is to shape the whitepaper when you start to write. The completed document will provide an outline of all the sections as well any messaging, content, or illustrations that you want to include in each of these sections. It also acts as a summary which you can share with your stakeholders to ensure that you get no surprises at the end! You can download a free white paper template to get you started. White paper template

Agree and ‘sign off’ the overview

This is, in many ways, the most crucial stage in conquering how to write a white paper. After all, the brief and structure are what you will agree on before writing commences. Be prepared when you share your white paper overview. You may circulate the overview with colleagues and get lots of feedback that you may not have been expecting. Just think, at this point, changes can easily be made. It’s better to make the changes now than once you’ve started writing.

Start writing

Once you have an agreed overview and structure, the task of writing the white paper will become a lot easier. Of course, it’s never easy and to start writing may be daunting, but here are some tips about how I approach writing.

  • Organise and order the research that you have complied.
  • Create a style sheet and table of contents to help you organise sections and content. It’s important to use header styles to break up the white paper, move the reader through the document and make it easier to read.
  • Populate sections of the white paper using the information that you have collected. I find it’s more effective to get the content in the right place, without worrying initially about the style, grammar and how it reads.
  • Capture citations from the beginning (there is nothing worse than having to look up where you found a piece of research at the end).
  • Place any data, images, and testimonials into relevant sections.
  • Once you have collected all the information for a section, go back and start refining the copy. I may spend several hours working on a section, refining and refining further, which puts me in a better place to move to the next section.
  • Continue with this process until you complete all sections and have a first draft.
  • Read through the whole document and check the following:
    • headers correctly describe content,
    • the story flows according to the outline,
    • adherence to your company tone of voice,
    • ensure the point of view you chose to use is consistent i.e. is it all in the third person,
    • finally, grammar. You can use tools such as Grammarly to help with this.
  • When you are ready, present your first draft, but don’t think the job is finished. There will always be several rounds of edits.

Keep the momentum

Once you have gathered feedback, quickly take this on board and make the revisions whilst the comments are fresh in your mind. Personally, I find it can be harder to make this next set of changes as the comments often deviate from my original thinking!  You may have to think about a different viewpoint, do more research, find new information, speak to different people. Don’t panic, or rush. It’s better to take your time with the feedback, and really think about how you nail it for the next time! Also, set yourself a new milestone to get the revised copy back as it will keep the momentum going to the finish line. As with all projects, keep the energy going until you get final sign off. Once your stakeholders have given their approval, then congratulate yourself on a job well done.

Need assistance in creating a white paper? Get in touch today. I’ve created successful publications for EdTech clients including QS Unisolution, JobTeaser, Ombiel and Blackboard.

Penny Thorn
30/01/19
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