Wednesday, February 23, 2005

What a White Paper Is (and Isn't)

In my many (many) years of business writing, I've found that one type of deliverable causes more confusion in terms of exactly "what it is" than any other: The White Paper.

It's tempting when you're spending the time to develop an 8, 12, 16 (or more) page publication to include everything about the organization, its products, and more. But the most effective white paper is one that is concise, educational, and keenly focused on a single topic, concept, or technology.

What a white paper is not:

  • A brochure
  • An overview of your solution
  • A newsletter
  • A 20-page document that says everything you want to say

What a white paper is:

  • An educational tool for the reader first
  • A marketing tool for your organization second
  • An explanation or discussion of something--a trend, a technology, an architecture--not your product though.

The name "white paper" aside, a white paper does not have to be boring. In fact, it should be as interesting and easy to read as your best brochure, but requires a different treatment. For example, your white paper should contain the following elements:

  • An introduction that summarizes the paper's purpose.
  • Four to five sections, with section headings, that cover the topic you're writing about.
  • Representative charts, graphs, and analysts comments where possible.

If possible, try to keep your white paper 12 pages or less. You can explain almost anything in 12 pages. You can offer your readers additional information on your website, or section of a website, that demonstrates your organization's specific capabilities in the topic area.

Sometimes, you can use the last couple of pages of the white paper to introduce your organization's take on the topic--How you're addressing it and how you see the future taking shape.

Brand your paper--put your logo and contact info on the front or back cover.

Copyright your paper and ask that readers get your permission before copying/distributing.

Proofread carefully. Go jargon hunting and kill all the buzzwords you find.

Use a format that is friendly to the reader's eye.


Comments:
Wow, Jeneane . . . best description of a White Paper ever, good job.

I spent much of a prior lifetime writing White Papers. You really nail it here, and so succinctly!

Wow, great job. Megakudos.
 
Thanks Dean!! Glad to see you here. What else should I tackle? Ideas welcome as to what I could transmit from my brain that might be of use. ;-)
 
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