You’re an account executive, marketing project manager or copywriter tasked with writing a white paper. If this is your first white paper, what do you do?
The first thing you’ll want to find out, before learning how to write a white paper or even looking at a white paper template, is what is a white paper?
The short answer to that question is that a white paper is a multiple-page, in-depth sales document that includes statistics that are presented with various types of charts and graphs. Very often, a white paper is used in business-to-business settings.
To really learn what a white paper is, it also helps to know what a white paper isn’t.
What Is a White Paper
A white paper is NOT an ebook. There are similarities, but they’re not quite the same. An ebook is more visual, whereas a white paper is more text-heavy. An ebook is more conversational, while a white paper is more formal.
More importantly, a white paper is NOT about you. It’s about your audience. That means that when writing white papers you don’t want to go on and on about how great your product is. Rather, you want to explain how your product or service can solve your customer’s problem.
Don’t talk ABOUT yourself. Talk TO your audience.
With that in mind, you’re ready to start writing your white paper.
Establish Your Audience
Well, you’re not quite ready to start writing your white paper. First, you need to establish just who you’re writing to. You need to know your target audience.
Ask your sales team who buys your products or services. Research surveys your company has conducted. Find out which social media posts get the most reaction. Use all this information to create a profile for your audience. Answer the questions who, what, when, where and why for every type of customer that would need your product.
From all this information, you can paint a picture of your clients that includes gender, family life, income, job title, personality, location and most importantly, their problems and how you can help them solve one or more of those problems.
At this point, you can probably picture who’s going to read your white paper. As sharp as your focus is, however, you need to write for a broader audience. Don’t use industry jargon. Don’t assume everyone reading your white paper knows what SEO stands for. Write out “search engine optimization.”
Start With Your Research
Your research isn’t limited to finding your target audience. It should go without saying that research is essential for the content of your white paper.
(Image Source: Forrester)
If you do your own research, you’ll guarantee that your white paper includes proprietary information that the reader won’t find anywhere else and it could increase the inbound links to your white paper. You can also analyze white papers of your competitors.
White Paper Outline
Now, you’re ready to write your white paper outline. No, you’re still not writing the white paper, but the outline is a crucial stage that you can’t afford to skip. It will map out the course of the white paper and make it that much more organized and readable.
Don’t rush through the outline. It’s a process that’s well worth your time, and it can save you time when you’re writing your white paper.
The outline should be a team effort. The more collaboration, the better. It also will involve a lot of trial and error. Don’t be afraid to start over if necessary and expect to write and re-write the white paper outline multiple times. It’s much easier to revise during the outline stage.
This is where you plan out the components of a white paper. So, like the white paper itself, the outline will contain the following:
- Executive Summary (also called an Abstract)
- Subheadings for each section of your white paper
- Generally, the first section will be a Problem Statement. You’re pointing out the reader’s problem, or “pain point.”
- Any supporting sidebars or graphics
- The second section is normally the solution to the problem and the benefits of the solution. You also can talk about the consequences of not buying into your solution.
- Any supporting sidebars or graphics
- The final section is your conclusion. Summarize the white paper and finish with a call to action.
- Any supporting sidebars or graphics
Your white paper doesn’t have to have three subsections, but the problem statement-solution-conclusion formula is a good guide.
White Paper Template
Use our free white paper template and have a first look at the following white paper structure:
YOUR WHITE PAPER TITLE GOES HERE
Author’s email or social media handle
Ideally, your title should be 50-60 characters and should be written with search engine optimization in mind. Google Keyword Planner can be a helpful resource. You headline should be bold but professional. It should indicate the benefit of reading your white paper. It should include an action verb or a statistic to drive your point home.
Your white paper title can include the term “white paper,” but it depends on your target audience. If your prospect is someone who’s used to reading white papers, then you can include that term. If not, it’s best to keep “white paper” out of your title.
5 Ways XYZ Meeting Software Can Streamline Your Workflow
Outsourcing Information Technology Staff Can Reduce Costs by 30%
How to Increase Customer Loyalty on Social Media
This is where your executive summary, or abstract, will appear. Write this after the white paper is written. It should build upon the title in giving the client a reason to read the white paper. Touch on the key points in the white paper. The abstract should be 150-250 words and it should go on your white paper title page, creating a single page with a title and the abstract as sort of a resumé for your sales team to distribute to leads. The white paper abstract can include a link to the entire white paper.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Problem Statement
- Solution I
- Solution II
- Solution III
Next is the white paper table of contents, which can be on its own page. While the Introduction and Conclusion sections will be titled as such in the body of the white paper, the Problem Statement and Solution sections should be titled for the content of those sections. Three Solution sections are included in this white paper template example because very often both the problem and the solution have to be broken down into multiple parts. If you were thorough with your outline, it should easily boil down to your table of contents.
Also, notice how your company name and website should appear at the top of every page. You could create a header that automatically populates each page with that content.
The white paper introduction is the next layer down from the abstract. This is where you introduce the specific problem that your product and service can solve as well as the specific solution. You can go into more detail here than you did in the abstract. You’ve held your reader’s interest long enough to get this far. Now you have more freedom to maintain that interest by getting into the meat and potatoes of what’s to come. You can use supporting data if needed.
This is where you can dig deep into the customer’s problem. Talk about the problem in the context of market trends. What’s going on in your customer’s particular industry? At this point it’s almost necessary to include statistics to support your point. You also want to point to the solution that’s to come and the benefits of that solution. Remember, even though your reader has made it this far, you still need to provide a reason to keep reading. One way to do that is to appeal to the reader’s emotions. People buy on emotion, so you can bring emotion into this as long as you maintain the white paper’s overall professional tone. (effective buyer persona template here)
The chart below, which was sourced from the United States Government Accountability Office and published in the Washington Post, certainly illustrates a problem that can spark certain emotions.
Most pain points, particularly when it comes to cybersecurity, don’t have a simple solution. So the next several pages will be dedicated to this part of the white paper.
- Introduce each solution and go into detail. This is the heart of your white paper. Make the benefits of each solution clear to your reader.
- Each individual solution can be broken up into parts to make it easier to digest and execute. Whenever possible in the solutions section and throughout the white paper, use bulleted and numbered lists to make the content easier to follow.
- There might be different solutions depending on the sector of your audience. The government’s interest in cybersecurity is different from that of an ecommerce business. Take the time to talk to each part of your audience.
- Provide real-world examples of your solutions in action.
- As with the problem statement, visualized data can be used on your solutions pages.
We’ll talk more about white paper design later, but the above technique with the breakout text and the statistic was done by creating a table in Microsoft Word with two cells, one for the text and one for the data. Even if you’re not a fancy designer, there are plenty of techniques in Word or other applications that can make your document look attractive.
The conclusion is a summary of the main points of your white paper. If there are certain points you want to drive home one last time, this is your chance to do it.
With the possible exception of the abstract and the references, this should be the shortest section of your white paper. You shouldn’t include any charts or graphs at this point. This has been an in-depth read that has taken up a significant part of your reader’s day, and even if that time has been well-spent, the reader knows that the end is coming.
Reading this white paper likely is a task that’s been assigned to the reader, and at this point, the reader knows his or her job is almost done. You don’t want to keep moving the finish line. Wrap it up.
Your white paper conclusion should end with a call to action in a brief, separate paragraph. This is another place where you can appeal to your reader’s emotions. Your call to action should include an action verb and a sense of urgency. Here are some examples:
- Start defending those cyber attacks today.
- Beef up those email lists now. Don’t let any more leads fall through the cracks.
- Access our premium supply-ordering software, and you’ll have more time to run your office.
Indicate your references here. You also could include some additional resources for your readers. Link to the referenced articles. In this case, the references for this article are listed.
“The Proven 10-Step Process to Perform a Thorough Competitive Analysis [incl. Template]” by Max Benz, Filestage
“The 33 Best Types of Marketing Collateral: The Massive Guide for Better Marketing Materials” by Max Benz, Filestage
“Here’s How Your Content Marketing Process Should Look Like” by Jun Song, Storychief
“How to Streamline Your Agency’s Creative Workflow (And Go From Zero to Hero)” by Max Benz, Filestage
Don’t Forget to Edit Your White Paper
Now that you’ve written the first draft of your white paper, it’s time to edit. Don’t take this process lightly. Preferably, the editor or editing team is not the same person or team that wrote the white paper.
Edit for spelling, grammar and writing style. Remember your target audience. Did you use jargon and industry terms appropriately?
Most importantly, edit for content. Double-check your facts and research.
Be prepared to write a second draft of your white paper when the editing team has made its recommendations. However, the writers and editors should keep in mind that no document or article is perfect. Even the best writing out there can be improved one way or another. Set a deadline.
White Paper Layout
“White paper” is actually somewhat of a misnomer, at least when it comes to design. The term implies a dry document with nothing but text. While a white paper needs to be full of information and professional in tone, it doesn’t mean that it can’t look visually appealing.
If you have a design team, this is where they come in. The design process can take place before, during or after the editing process.
The white paper template included in this article includes a basic design. There’s some color coordination. Blue is a theme color throughout. Your white paper could include your company logo, with a color from that logo used as an accent throughout the report. You also could think about whether a one- or two-column layout works best for your content. You could even go six columns.
White Paper Examples
If you have a design team, your white paper can look like some of these examples.
This white paper effectively uses photography to illustrate the stealth nature of cybersecurity threats.
This white paper is heavy on infographics, and some of the graphics break from traditional graphic formats.
This is a good example of a thematic design with the cover page, table of contents and page header all using the same design splash.
HubSpot created a great resource on how to get started with content marketing. Especially, it’s designed for beginners who just want to start using content marketing.
Re-Purpose Your White Paper
Your white paper is now finished and published. You’ve spent a good amount of time, possibly weeks, on this project. Don’t just throw it on the Web waiting for people to read it. This is a wealth of information. Take bits and pieces of it and use it in short-form media such as email marketing campaigns, blog posts and social media posts.
Maximize your white paper’s impact.
Max is a SaaS enthusiast and loves actionable content that provides direct value.