When I’m writing whitepapers I sometimes wish I was working with a different kind of white paper. The big blank kind. The kind that is pegged on easels in preschools everywhere, crying out to be covered in big globs of bright paint.
I know, writing whitepapers and fingerpainting is a strange link. But stick with me here.
Most of us think whitepapers are boring as batshit. They couldn’t be further from the loud, carefree, messy world of kindergarten. But they have more in common than you might think.
Kindergarten taught us important life lessons. And some of these lessons, I believe, can help us write better whitepapers.
But first, what is a whitepaper?
I’ve seen vastly different ideas of what a whitepaper is. From a one-page information sheet to a 47-page scientific document.
For the purposes of B2B content marketing, here’s what I believe the key attributes of a whitepaper are:
- Written to inform and persuade based on facts and evidence
- Research-based: backed by solid research that is fully documented by references
- Authoritative: features expert guidance and insights
That all sounds so serious and stick-up-your-bum stuff, I know. But the truth is, whitepapers are just another piece of content. And they don’t have to be stuffy or serious.
With that in mind, here are 5 lessons you learned in kindy that can help you create better whitepapers.
1. Be playful
Whitepapers are on the more serious side of the content spectrum. But that doesn’t mean they have to be boring. It all depends on who you’re talking to.
If your audience is technical engineers, then yes, your tone and content is going to be more serious. But if you’re writing a whitepaper for sales professionals, you can be a bit more playful and creative.
One of my favourite whitepaper projects was about a sales technology platform. The client actually let me use the word “bullshit” in their whitepaper. No joke! And it worked because they knew their audience.
They also backed up the rest of the whitepaper with solid research but didn’t present this in an academic way. Instead, they opted for a “pop psychology” style to make it more engaging and accessible to that audience. Check out my playful whitepaper here.
2. No snatching
Research is an important and non-negotiable part of writing a whitepaper. It’s important to include a variety of credible research sources. But, if this isn’t original research, don’t pass these off as your own. Having proper references is essential for a whitepaper. Not only because it’s the right thing to do (no one respects someone who snatches from others) but also to give your whitepaper more credibility.
Here’s a quick guide on how to insert footnotes in a document.
3. Learn your ABCs
For your whitepaper to hold authority, it’s important that it’s error-free.
There’s a golden rule in proofreading: the closer you are to the content, the fewer mistakes and typos you’ll spot.
It’s a good idea to get your whitepaper proofread by an experienced professional, or at the very least, an eagle-eyed colleague who hasn’t been involved in the writing process.
4. If in doubt, add more colour!
The word “whitepaper” tends to make people think it should be just that – a white bit of paper with some words on it.
Whitepapers need colour. It’s important to spend some time (and budget) getting your whitepaper designed to make it look as professional as it reads.
Because they’re often so fact-heavy, whitepapers can benefit from graphics to explain complex concepts or break up blocks of text.
5. Two heads are better than one
Creating a whitepaper is a big job. In fact, they take me the longest to create compared to any other content I write. The amount of planning, research, interviews, writing, and revisions involved make it a complex piece of work.
The truth is, creating a whitepaper isn’t a one-person job.
Even if you attempt to write it yourself, you’ll still need input from subject matter experts and others within your organisation.
Get someone to help. It could be a content writer or a designer, or someone within your organisation. But please for the sake of your sanity – and your credibility – don’t try to go it alone.
Writing your whitepaper is just one small part of the equation. There’s a lot more you need to think about (and do) before you unleash it on your audience.
To help, I’ve created this handy launch checklist. It details 17 important things you need to do to ensure your next ebook, guide or whitepaper is launched on time and on budget.