Eleven Easy Steps to Creating an Excellent White Paper

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Great article from Steve Hoffman at Hoffman Marketing Communications, Inc.  Enjoy!!

By Steve Hoffman, Senior Writer
Hoffman Marketing Communications, Inc.

An interesting and informative white paper requires hard work but is not an impossible task. It does, however, require some up-front planning and a solid interview with a knowledgeable content expert. If you consider the following questions before you sit down with a writer, your white paper briefing will be off to an excellent start.
1. Who is your target audience?

Who will read your white paper? What companies will find this interesting and which job titles within these organizations are you targeting? Which industry are you appealing to? Decide who you are talking to before you consider the following questions.

2. What is the desired length of the paper?

At Hoffman Marketing Communications, most white papers we create are between eight and ten pages in length. Some clients, however, request a more concise, five-page, white paper brief and others require 15 to 20 pages to truly explore a complex topic. The length of the paper depends upon how much information you need to convey. Just make sure you include enough content to adequately cover your topic–but not so much that your readers are buried in unnecessary details.

3. What is the white paper’s objective?

This may sound like a no-brainer…but it’s not. Surprisingly, many people say they need a white paper without a clear idea of what the white paper will accomplish. Will the paper be used to create sales leads or to send to prospects who request more information? Will you distribute the white paper to press and analysts to create buzz or will you use it internally to educate salespeople about a new product? Define a clear objective to guide the content interview and act as a foundation for your white paper.

4. What is the white paper’s primary topic?

What is the focus of your white paper? Are you subtly plugging a new solution or service? Are you sharing best practices about how your customers can build revenue, save money, or weather the recession? What information will you provide to educate readers and deliver valuable insights?

5. What tone will the paper adopt?
How do you want to approach your readers? Will the paper be informational, using a credible third person tone (recommended), or will it adopt a more familiar, “friendly” tone using first or second person?
6. What challenges will resonate with your reader?

What business or technical challenges do you want to address in the paper? These are the problems that your products or solutions help solve. Do you have any current statistics, relevant data, industry stories, or customer examples to underscore the difficulty of these challenges?

7. What primary messages will the white paper share?

What are the top three to five primary messages you want to leave with your reader after they read this paper? What information do you want to stick with them? What memorable lessons can you share?

8. What supporting information can you provide?

What supporting documents and illustrations can you send to your writer that will augment the interview and help round out the white paper? Assemble sales presentations, marketing collateral, videos, previously written papers, news articles–anything to quickly bring the writer up-to-speed.

9. What is the schedule for completion?

What is your deadline for completion? Do you need it ready to coincide with a new product launch? Do you want to take the white paper to a trade show or do you need it for a scheduled press campaign? Work with your writer to establish important milestones during the kickoff call such as the date you will receive an outline, a first draft, and a revised draft. Also, allow enough time for design, layout, and printing–if appropriate.

10. What is the writer’s scope of work?

Will your writer provide writing services only or are design, illustration, and layout needed? If you are using different vendors for writing and design, make sure all parties are aware of the schedule for completion.

11. Who are the key contacts within your organization?

During your initial white paper planning meeting, provide your writer with the names, titles, email addresses, and phone numbers of key personnel involved in the project. Define the primary subject matter expert(s) and state who will need to review and approve the paper. Also, establish a contact for financial questions, such as the person at your organization who will handle contracts, purchase orders, and invoices.

The best white papers result from well planned, informative interviews. Sit down beforehand, make notes, and answer the questions above. Preparing ahead of time will shorten the interview time and will ensure your project starts off on the right foot.

Next month, read about “Green White Papers,” which will explore the benefits of digital distribution.

Want to use this article in your e-zine or Web site? You can! (as long as you include this complete blurb with it): Hoffman Marketing Communications, Inc., specializes in writing white papers for leading technology companies around the world. Since 1985, Hoffman has developed persuasive marketing collateral for more than 100 clients, including Symantec, SAP, HP, Adobe, and Sprint. Visit http://hoffmanmarcom.com/.


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