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How to Write a White Paper


When it comes to how to write a white paper, there isn't much I can say about the technical nuts and bolts of this kind of content that hasn't been said before. But I do feel like I have some insights to help you sort out what a white paper really is.

How to write a white paper

Again, others have covered this extensively, so it's not a good use of either of our time to reinvent the wheel. That being said, I first want to refer you to my favorite source on how to write competent, if not killer, white papers. These are the resources I still turn to every time I whip one of these up. 

  • White Papers for Dummies by Gordon Graham: This is a staple on my bookshelf, and I'll be passing it out to all team members the first time they are assigned to tackle a white paper for us. It's very comprehensive. 
  • Purdue OWL: I've been using their resources on writing forever, and this page on the white paper is no exception. It's brief and to-the-point, so it provides a decent enough overview for someone who is just itching to churn out a fresh white paper.
  • Content Marketing Institute: They have resources on all kinds of content creation, and the white paper is not an exception!

What makes a white paper a white paper

white_papers_for_dummies.jpgIt can get kind of murky when it comes to what makes a white paper versus an ebook or other kind of content. At least in the present.

There are many kinds of iterations of white papers today. We've done some that are short and super duper serious, and we've done others that are long and relatively light. 

The thing that made them all a white paper was that they included data and research, communicated a point of view on a topic that was relevant to readers (and what we're about), and included ideas that one would assume to be new to the audience. Also, like any quality content for marketing purposes, these documents were educational and high-value--selling was off the table. And yes, this description could apply to ebooks too. 

So what's the difference?

When it comes to how to write a white paper to not be an ebook, I think the key is to do more showing than telling. While both can have a narrative strand, white papers must include illustrative research and stats, but an ebook, not necessarily so. I see ebooks more as something that will be instructive and explanatory, telling readers how to do something or talking through a concept--with fewer hard stats and less "nitty gritty" involved, if that makes sense. 

This also aligns to the sales funnel / buyer's journey. The softer, easier-to-read ebook is brilliant for folks who are not as far in their buyer journey. In the awareness and consideration stages, they may not want all the dirt, but they do want an overview of a concept. Alternatively, for some in the consideration stage and many in the decision stage, they want all the details--hence the super duper detailed white paper. 

And don't get confused with case studies

Case studies usually focus on a singular case. While a white paper could too, they usually are more of an overview of a concept. 

For instance, we could do a white paper about how to increase lead generation through inbound marketing. It could be pumped up with research and stats on how inbound helped businesses globally land more leads. This could be an excellent mid-funnel offer for those in the consideration phase. Then we could follow it up with a case study of what inbound did for one particular client (hopefully one of ours!), and that case study could be infused with stats from their specific case--hence the name!

Ready for white papers?

How will white papers fit into your overall content strategy? Do you have the buyer's journey built up to get folks to these detailed downloadables? Or do you need to do a bit of groundwork first? 

Let us help you sort it out! Get your free content evaluation on the books today:

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white papers, content, content strategy

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