A question I often get asked by clients is: ‘What exactly is a white paper?’

In short, it’s a formal research-led report that either argues a position on a subject or solves a problem for the reader.

It also gives your audience much deeper context than a blog or newsletter which may only touch briefly on the topic.

For marketing purposes it’s a great tool for influencing the decision-making of current and prospective clients, and showcasing your company’s specialist knowledge and expertise.

Most importantly, though, you want it to be an original piece of content that provides a unique insight that you can’t find anywhere else.

Structuring a white paper

So how do you go about writing a white paper?

As with any piece of writing, first you need to establish who your target audience is going to be and the problems they need addressing or key issues that affect them most.

A good way to do this is by brainstorming and drawing a mind map of all the possible areas that you might want to cover.

After you have got your main ideas down then you can start structuring the content.

As a bare minimum you will need:

  • A headline or working title setting out the key benefits that it will bring the reader and why they need to read it
  • An executive summary or abstract outlining what the white paper is about
  • An introduction covering the key points that you are going to make
  • The main body divided into bitesize sections for each main concept, starting with the background and research methods used – this will make it easier for the reader to digest
  • Sidebars with additional information, tables, graphs or graphics to illustrate a point
  • A conclusion detailing your main takeaways and calls to action
  • A bibliography of all of your sources

To get a better idea of what’s required check out other white papers both from within and outside your industry and see what works well and doesn’t.

Doing the groundwork

Once you know how you want your white paper to look then you need to start doing your research to find all the key facts, figures and quotes to support your main arguments or statements.

You can use any manner of methods including books, newspapers and magazines, research papers, library records, and the internet.

A useful factual search engine is Wolfram Alpha under which you can look up a host of different categories from statistical and data analysis and engineering to culture and media, and sport.

Government websites are another invaluable resource for publicly available information.

And you can also carry out your own original research using surveys, questionnaires and interviews.

If you are unsure how to do this there are plenty of professional research groups or researchers out there who can help you.

Putting pen to paper

Now that you have gathered all of your data you can start writing your white paper.

Before putting pen to paper though consider the style and tone of voice you should use.

Above all, your tone must be professional and you should have a narrow focus on one particular area of interest that you will examine thoroughly.

And any claims you make must be backed up with true facts and figures that fairly and accurately reflect the point you are making.

Checking your work thoroughly

There’s nothing worse than making a mistake, whether that be a typo or factual error, so check and double check your work thoroughly to make sure you’re your white paper is accurate, makes sense, easy to understand and reads well.

Use a quality English spell check to weed out any spelling or grammatical errors.

Then take a long hard look at it and ask yourself if it answers all of the questions that your readers may have.

Reading it out loud can also help to make sure that it flows properly.

It’s always best to have at least a second pair of eyes look at your white paper, particularly if you have been working on it for a long time and have been very close to it as you are more likely to miss something that someone else is able to spot.

It’s worth enlisting the help of a professional editor who can look through your work, make any necessary changes and provide feedback on what is missing or how it can be improved.

Applying the finishing touches

After you have finished the editing you need to decide on the design.

Keep the format easy so that it’s easy for the reader to access, with limited use of bold, italics and underlining, only to illustrate a key point.

I would recommend using a professional designer who you can sit down with and explain exactly what you want.

Then determine what marketing channels you want to use to promote your white paper.

This will be primarily driven by your target audience and may include direct email marketing, press releases, blogs, newsletters, your website, and social media campaigns, or even at public speaking or networking events.

You should also repurpose your content depending on which platform you are using and who you want to reach.

You can also break down each section and use it as a teaser in your press release, blog or newsletter, or on your website with a link to the main piece.

To avoid turning off your key audience and any confusion as to what it is, call it a special report rather than a white paper.

Get in touch

  • Struggling to get your white paper started? Give me a call on +44 (0)7949 590213 or email alex@alexwrightjournalist.com