How to Write White Papers that will Actually Help Your Readers
I don’t think I will go too far if I say that white papers are not the most favorite type of content for content marketers to create or for visitors to read. Creating a white paper, a good one that is, takes considerably more research and work than a normal blog post. The result is, a type of content that, for most people, can be full of business and technical jargon. White papers are not something you can read in 4-5 minutes and definitely not something that caters to the average reader. Instead, white papers can be very specific and you need to know exactly who you are writing them for. However, if you do them right, white papers can be an excellent asset to your content marketing efforts, help you generate leads and build authority on the topic.
So if you want all of that, don’t skip white papers, instead, learn how to write white papers that will actually be useful to your audience. This post will show you how.
White Paper Preparation
White papers are much longer than average blog posts. Typically, they take up several pages (5-10 usually) and each of them should be filled with content that is based on data, facts and research.
In other words, before you can write something like this, be sure to have your outline prepared and you know who and what you are going to write about.
- Know who will read the white paper. None of your content, including white papers, should be thrown around without knowing exactly who your target audience is or what your buyer personas look like. For example, you can write a white paper about the freelancing industry. In that case, your target audience would be freelancers and people looking to start freelancing.
- What problem are you trying to solve. A white paper focuses on a single problem the audience might have and showcasing your solution to that problem. You need to figure out what is that problem for your readers and present them a realistic way to solve that problem. Typically, you’d want to present your products and services as a solution.
Research the Topic
With blog posts and social media posts, you can often get by with claims that are not backed with facts. Not with white papers though. You need to have facts and data to backup your white papers.
This does mean that you will have to spend a good deal more time on research with white papers than you would with blog posts, but don’t worry, it pays off.
Here are a few ways you can conduct research for great white papers:
- Company insights and research. Chances are, your company has already collected a great deal of information and data from the market and your customers. This could be enough for a white paper. I say “could”, because it probably won’t be and you may need to dig a little deeper. However, doing your own research will give you some advantages over your competition, mainly:
Research and information that nobody else has and is unique to you and your target audience
Better understanding of your industry, market and audience
Authority on the subject
- Google. Google has a ton of information you can use for your white papers, but the problem here is that this is all public information. Which means that your competitors will also have access to it. Your research should at least somewhat be original and not something your readers can find themselves by typing it into their browsers.
- Use government websites. Another good option for your research are government websites. This will, however, depend on the industry you are in. For example, you might find some of these government websites useful:
Or, if you’re in EU, you can take a look at the following websites:
- Research reports and report groups. Tapping into professional research groups and their reports will allow you to spend more time actually writing your white paper than on hunting data around. Of course, be sure to properly cite and mention where you got the report from. Depending on your industry, you might want to look at sites like:
Write the Outline
If you are writing short, 300-500 word blog posts, you don’t really need an outline. However, for long-for content, and that is exactly what white papers are, you will find that, it’s easy to get lost. You start with one idea, write about that a little, think of something related, introduce that as well and, little by little, lose trail of what your original idea was.
The same goes for white papers. In fact, perhaps even more because of their length. As such, it’s always a good idea to write an outline that will include:
- Headline. The headline is the first contact a visitor makes with your content and, if you don’t do it right, the last. With white papers, you need to establish a more professional tone than regular blog posts, which means that click-bait and casual tone has no place in a white paper headline. Instead, be sure to offer a clear value and benefit for the reader if they continue writing past your headline.
- Summary. What is your white paper going to be about? Writing a short executive summary will allow your readers to determine if they are interested or not, instead of going through the entire white paper.
- Intro. The introduction is where you get to explain the problem and establish a sense of urgency for the reader to take action to solve that problem. It is also where you introduce the value and solution that you offer and invite them to read on if they want to learn more about that solution and solve their problem.
- Subsections. Each subsection should bring your reader one more step toward the main problem resolution. For example, if you want to write a white paper on how to select a good wine, you’d have one section explaining the difference between white and red wines, another about the process of making wine, yet another about what wine goes with what meal and so on.
- Conclusion. Finish the white paper with a few key points for the reader to think about and a call to action for them to take.
Let’s Get to Writing
You’ve done your research, you have a clear outline how you want your white paper to look, now it’s time to write it. With white papers, your goals are to:
- Grab attention
- Offer value
- Entice action
You don’t have a lot of time or space to grab the reader’s attention, so you need to make the most out of your headline and introduction. Both should serve as a hook to make the reader think “this is something relevant to me, I should take the time to read the rest of it”. People are usually very attentive to things that relates to them, so again, be sure to know who your target audience here is. If you miss here, you might as well have an actual blank white paper present to your readers. Talk about the problem your audience has.
Once you’ve grabbed their attention, you need to offer an actual value or benefit through your white paper. People want solution to their problem, not just you talking about it. This value can be tips, advice or information that they might find useful, or it can be your own product or service that will help them solve their problem.
White papers shouldn’t be used as a promotional material. That’s not their purpose. Their purpose is to set you as an authority and generate leads primarily. However, this does not mean you can’t present your own products or services as a solution and get users to take an action such as buying from you. There is a trick to this, however. Don’t use the white paper to sell your product or service, but naturally introduce your products or services as a solution in the conclusion.
Formating the White Paper
Your white paper will look a lot nicer if you format it well. Typically, this is something you should give to other people, such as graphic designers to handle. That is, unless you’re a designer yourself.
Of course, your designer will need something to start with so you should give them notes on how you want your white paper to look. Normally, from top to bottom, a white paper includes the following:
- Your company logo
- Date (day, month and year of creating the white paper)
- Author name and title/position in the company
- Introduction (usually with preceded by a headline)
- Sub-points (each with their own subheading
In addition, you can also add sidebars for data tables.
Where to Publish and Promote Your White Paper?
Once you have your white paper created, you need to find the best way to present it to your audience. You can use your own website, certain social media networks and your own email list for this.
There are two things to consider here:
- Where to host your white paper? What are good places on your website to host and publish your white paper? You could, for instance, create a resource page where you can put your white papers, case studies and other material. Landing pages can also be a good place to host your white papers since the idea here is to convert your audience and generate more leads.
- Where to promote your white paper? White papers are primarily professional documents, so you should carefully consider what social media you use to promote them. The best social media for promoting white papers is LinkedIn since the audience here consists of, for the most part, professional people who are looking to network. Other social media networks, such as Twitter can also work, but this depends on your audience. Linkedin is your best bet here. You should also remember to use your email list. If you’ve already built some contacts and you know they would be interested in the topic of your white paper, send it to them or a link to it.
Good white papers can be a great tool in your content marketing arsenal, but they are not so easy to create. This is the main reason why so many content writers avoid creating them, but that’s a mistake. I hope that this post has given you enough information about how to write white papers that will be useful to your readers and will eventually help you get more customers.
Do you have any questions or comments about how to write white papers? Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to share this post if you found it useful.