10 Steps on How to Write a White Paper

How to write a white paper that sells or collects an email address

how to write a whitepaper

At Mequoda, one of our basic principles is to give things away. After all, how can people trust your content until they have a sample? And how will they ever find you again, unless you ask for their email address in exchange for the free product?

That’s all a part of Mequoda’s 3C Architecture, which I suggest you read when you have a chance, but is not what we’re getting into today. Today let’s talk about those free products, specifically, white papers.

Many B2B publishers publish white papers, which are information-packed downloadable documents they either sell for $99+ or give away for free in exchange for that golden email address I just mentioned.

Several years ago we got permission to share these guidelines by Michael A. Stelzner in his book Writing White Papers, which has been a go-to resource for many of our readers and continue to hold true even so many years later. Because the topic comes up again and again, we decided to update it for 2015 and share them again.

Creating white paper can seem daunting if you don’t have a set process for getting it done. Stelzner’s guidelines are gold.

How to Write a White Paper Step #1:

Clarify the topic: Focus your lens. Come to the table with a specific topic in mind. Will you be writing about a broad subject or a narrow one?

Mequoda add-on: Do your keyword research to find out what people are searching for – it will help you decide which white papers to write first!

How to Write a White Paper Step #2:

Identify your ideal reader: Are you fishing for whales or guppies? Identify your ideal reader with precision. Pinpoint the intended reader’s industry, job title, age and general disposition. Keep the reader in mind as you write the white paper.

Mequoda add-on: Keyword research will help here, too. When you’re doing an overview of that keyword research, ask yourself, “is this someone who would buy my product?” If not, choose one that is searched for by your ideal buyer.

How to Write a White Paper Step #3:

Decide on an objective: Figure out your endgame early. Do you want to educate, sell, inform or differentiate? Is this paper designed to generate leads? Will it be technical or business benefits focused? Be sure to stay on topic throughout the entire white paper.

How to Write a White Paper Step #4:

Develop an outline: Good directions get you to your destination. An outline helps break the paper into manageable pieces and keeps you on track. Be sure to receive buy-in from key people before you write the first word.

How to Write a White Paper Step #5:

Interview the experts: Sometimes the best content lives in someone else’s head. If you are not the sole content expert, interview their sources to gather a fresh perspective. When interviewing an expert, be sure to ask probing questions such as “Why is that important?” and “What is the implication of that?”

Mequoda add-on: If you want people to buy your product, be the expert. Use customer data if you can, to tell a story and reinforce your B2B products.

How to Write a White Paper Step #6:

Research: The web is your library. Read as much as you can about your paper’s topic. Seek industry analysis, competitor information and internal documents.

How to Write a White Paper Step #7:

Write the first page first: Lay the foundation and build on it. The first page sets the stage for your document. Carefully craft and refine it to perfection. The rest of your paper will build on those first words.

How to Write a White Paper Step #8:

Write the title: First impressions matter. Create a relevant and compelling title that will invite readers to explore your efforts further. Keep it simple and focus on the benefits the paper will bring your ideal reader.

Mequoda add-on: Keep that keyword research in mind!

How to Write a White Paper Step #9:

Write the core: Break the paper into manageable components. Continue to repeatedly refine, streamline, redraft and fine-tune your messaging. Come back to your paper over a period of days. Be sure to stay focused on your topic, your objective and your ideal reader.

How to Write a White Paper Step #10:

Use an editor: For a refining touch, seek an editor. As a painter is blind to missed spots on the wall, so too will you be blind to error in your writing. An editor can provide an objective safety net for correcting glaring problems and can ensure your words are well written.

On the other hand, do you want to know how to write a white paper that scares Google away, annoys your readers and doesn’t create any leads? Read How to Write a Really, Really Bad White Paper.

In terms of formatting and selling white papers, read Don’s take on selling research reports and white papers.


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