How to Write a White Paper

Shirley Thom Blog

The term white paper is derived from the term white book, which is used to describe government policy.

Although white papers take their roots in governmental policy, they have evolved to refer to any paper that presents a specific problem and offers a focused solution. Thus the white paper has become a useful positioning tool for social media.

Why Social Media

  • We all have problems. When writing a white paper, seek to put forth a problem that a certain group of people who follow you can relate to. Choose your user target; choose your problem.
  • Social media is about interaction. Even though you will be offering a solution to a specific problem, (after all, that’s what a white paper does) most problems have several possible solutions. Presenting a problem is an invitation to respond.
  • Social media requires frequent exchanges. If you don’t post often, you will not attract new people, and you may lose people you already have. Let’s be honest, sometimes we run out of ideas to discuss and we’re all subject to occasional writer’s block. But because problems beget problems, you won’t run out of topics to share.

Capture the audience

  • “Focus on the needs of your readers. Establishing credibility with the reader and simultaneously filtering out unqualified customers.” – Michael Stelzner, author of Writing White Papers
  • By focusing on the pain points experienced by the reader, you are filtering the users to include only those interested in the topic. The absence of affinity can lead to misunderstandings.
  • Provide a historical perspective. “I finally learned when to text and when to talk …” (A year ago I would leave endless random voice messages; today I organize everything I want to say, and leave just one text message.) How to use new technology is always a good conversation starter.

Keep the audience interested

  • Keep it short; one subject, one white paper. Save another problem for another post. People don’t like to feel overwhelmed.
  • Use bullet points and sidebars; it keeps the eyes moving and the mind alert.
  • Use colorful images, charts and illustrations. Problems don’t have to be dreary. You are offering solutions, after all.
  • Ask for feedback. White papers, more than any other kind of writing, offers an opportunity to keep the engagement ongoing.

Finishing touches

  • Pre-test the subject matter. Use an informal occasion – coffee date? – to bring up the problem. This gives you a chance to test the appeal among peers.
  • Use an outline to test your solutions. Remember, there could be more than one solution. That’s what makes problem-solving so enticing. Select the one you prefer, and leave the others to your social media friends and followers to discover.
  • Set your paper aside for 12-24 hours. Reading what you write with fresh eyes catches errors and makes your writing more thoughtful and professional.
  • Print a hard copy. I find that seeing a real hard copy helps to makes the final draft more visually appealing.
  • Read every word out loud as if to an audience. You’d be surprised how easy it is to switch tenses and slip in a plural verb with a single noun. Reading it out loud will catch the small stuff.

Conclusion

Writing a white paper can be a very satisfying writing project. You get to learn something new and share it with your peers.