10 Steps to Write a White Paper that People Want to Read

White papers have been around for a very long time, but only a small number of white papers are actually successful at driving results for the companies that publish them. There is an art and a science to crafting compelling white papers that effectively deliver the company’s desired messages in a form that people actually want to read.

Making things even more challenging is the confusion over what a white paper actually is. White papers have evolved into big business for marketing agencies, but many of these agencies don’t produce effective white papers at all. Rather than stumbling through the white paper creation process, follow the ten steps below to write a white paper that your target audience will actually read and drives the results you need.

1. Clarify semantics.
What is a white paper? Don’t move forward with your plans to create a white paper until everyone involved in the research, writing, and publishing process is on the same page in terms of what you’re actually creating. A white paper is based on fact. White papers are closer to research papers than ebooks. They should be written in a more formal voice than ebooks, and they should include data, commentary, or other content that proves the information in the white paper is accurate and trustworthy.

2. Identify the target audience.
Who do you want to read your white paper? Everything in your white paper should be laser-focused on your target audience. Don’t veer off-topic, and don’t clutter your white paper with irrelevant information or data that your audience isn’t interested in and motivated by. A great white paper connects with the target audience and makes readers feel like they’ve benefited from taking time out of their busy days to read it. Make sure your white paper is focused on adding value to the reader at all times.

3. Gather relevant data.
White papers are often research-based, so before you start writing, conduct your primary and secondary research. Gather the data that supports the claims you plan to make in your white paper, and develop a structure for your white paper that enables you to present the most compelling data and information to drive your points home to the readers.

4. Present the problem or identify the promise that the white paper will deliver.
The best white papers present a problem that the target audience has and a solution to that problem. Your white paper should promise something to your target audience, and you need to deliver on that promise in the content.

5. Write in an informational style, not a marketing style.
White papers are informational. They are not direct marketing tools. Yes, white papers are useful indirect marketing tools, but they should not include sales language, heavy marketing copy, and endless product and services pitches. Let the information presented in the white paper do its job by raising awareness of your company and brand to readers and helping to develop a level of trust in your company and brand. If the information you present is useful and meaningful to your target audience, it’s likely they’ll dig a bit deeper to learn more about your company, products, and services. It’s also likely that they’ll share your white paper and talk about it with their own friends, peers, colleagues, and audiences. White papers can be excellent catalysts for word-of-mouth marketing.

6. Be credible.
As mentioned above, white papers are highly effective in establishing trust in your brand and company among your target audience. Therefore, the information in your white paper needs to appear unbiased, fact-based, useful, and reliable. Use your research data to prove your points, cite your sources, and include quotes from industry experts to boost your credibility.

7. Present the solution.
After you’ve identified the problem and outlined the information related to that problem, it’s time to present a solution to readers. Of course, your product or service will be included as one of the solutions, but avoid directly pitching it in this part of your white paper. At this point, your white paper should still be informative and research-oriented. You should identify possible solutions, but feel free to lean toward the solution that your product or service can provide as the best option. If you’d prefer, you can reference your solution only, but that can damage the credibility of your white paper and cause people to view it as more of a marketing piece than a true white paper. Proceed with caution.

8. End with your pitch.
After you’ve presented solutions and delivered on the promise of your white paper, you can directly pitch your product or service for readers as a way to implement the recommended solution. Truly interested members of your audience will stick around and read this section of your white paper, but it won’t damage the potential success of your white paper by annoying people who want to read a white paper, not a sales pitch.

9. Don’t forget that formatting matters.
Take the time to format your white paper so it’s easy to read, professional-looking, and easy to download and share. Include a table of contents, executive summary, and conclusion for people who prefer to skim the highlights before committing to read the complete white paper. Use headings and short paragraphs to break up long blocks of text. Create an intriguing cover image. Design matters in terms of increasing downloads, ensuring people read the entire white paper, and improving credibility.

10. Create a relevant and search-friendly title and subtitle.
Your white paper title should focus on the target audience and make it clear that they’ll benefit from reading it. The title should also include keywords that your target audience would use when they search for information like the content found in your white paper. That’s a lot to fit into a succinct title, so adding a subtitle can help.