how to write a white paper

How to Write a White Paper that Will Engage People

Understanding how to write a white paper will help you position your brand as a thought leader. In addition, a good-quality white paper will generate leads and boost future sales of your core products or services.

What is a white paper?

A white paper is a text-focused, long-form piece of content that addresses a business-related problem and presents a solution. Ultimately, it educates its readers on the industry as well as helping them to better understand the problem and the solutions available.

how to write a white paper

In other words, a white paper is very similar to a blog, except it’s longer and more educational. In fact, sometimes brands create a white paper out of a collection of blog posts that are about similar topics.

White papers are more widely used to share business solutions in a B2B market. Compared to the B2C market, B2B buyers need an in-depth understanding of the problem and your brand’s solution before they become paying customers. Since a white paper is detailed and technical, it is the perfect tool to use for educating your audience.

Why do you need a white paper?

A white paper can be a powerful piece of content marketing. Not only does it position you as a thought leader but it also helps you build trust among your target audience. If you can share your expertise in your white papers, then people will start to rely on you as a valuable source of information.

People who trust the information and advice you share are more likely to buy your core products or services in the future. In other words, creating a white paper is a powerful way to generate leads for future sales.

Different types of white papers

Before we talk about how to write a white paper, let’s outline the different types of white papers which you can write:

  1. Backgrounder: This white paper focuses on your core product or service. It addresses either the benefits of this product or service or how to use it.
  2. Problem-solution: This white paper talks about a business problem and presents a solution.
  3. State of the industry: This white paper simply comments on recent trends in the industry.

Here at Contio, we prefer the problem-solution white paper format. This format helps you to talk about a common problem your audience is experiencing and recommend your brand as a solution.

The backgrounder white paper should be used with caution. This is because it can easily be seen as a blatant sales pitch. And, as we know, buyers are very wary of blatant advertising from brands. Using the backgrounder can therefore make it hard for you to connect with your target audience.

How to Write a White Paper

In order for your white paper to be effective, you need to make a plan beforehand.

The readers of your white paper are probably a B2B audience. These people usually have a very clear idea what kind of information they need. It also takes more effort to convert a B2B lead into a paying client than it does to convert a B2C lead.

For these reasons, you need to think through all the content you produce for a B2B audience very carefully.

The last thing you want is to pour hours, sweat and tears into creating the perfect white paper only to realize you didn’t properly outline the solution. Or, worse still, you misunderstood the problem.

In order to produce an effective white paper, we would recommend following these three steps:

1) Choose a topic

Before you start writing your white paper, you need to choose a topic to focus on. You can get inspiration for this topic from your audience, your area of expertise and the knowledge gaps in the industry.

  • Your audience

Taking time to understand your target audience will help you create a white paper which people want to read. If you can study your audience, then you will know their pain points as well as how to help them.

Sometimes when you profile your target audience their problems aren’t obvious. If this is the case, don’t despair. You can always use a survey to help you understand what these people need help with.

Once you know the problems your audience faces, you can propose a good solution. This will help you produce information which is valuable to them.

how to understand your audience's needs

In-depth knowledge of your audience will also help you to use an appropriate voice when you’re writing your white paper.

If your target audience is new to the topic you are addressing, then it is essential to use easy-to-understand language. If, on the other hand, your audience is already knowledgeable about the topic, then it’s safe to use more complex language and industry terms.

  • Your expertise

Don’t just focus on finding a topic which your audience is interested in and declare it a genius idea. In order to produce a valuable white paper, you also need to make sure you’re knowledgeable about the chosen topic.

Is this an area you have expertise in or will you be struggling to generate those 3,000+ words? If you think you’ll have a hard time writing about the topic you’re considering, then you should choose a different topic.

Don’t risk writing about something you don’t know much about. If you accidentally give false information, you’ll wind up losing the trust of your target audience.

  • Knowledge gaps in the industry

It’s a good idea to write about topics which haven’t been addressed much in your industry, so as to establish your role as a trusted authority.

Try to write about something new, or share a new perspective on a common problem so that your white paper can stand out from the crowd.

By choosing a unique topic, you will add value to your white paper before you’ve even started writing.

2) Do some research

White papers are designed to be factual and objective. For this reason, it’s important to do research and gather supporting evidence.

Collect data which you can share to back up any claims you’re going to make. Ultimately, research data generates a deeper sense of trust among your audience than unfounded claims.

In addition to doing research for supporting evidence, you should also read other white papers in your industry. These can be a good source of inspiration, especially if this is your first white paper.

3) Write the white paper

Once you’ve come up with a topic and done your research, it’s time to start writing the actual white paper. You don’t want your readers to go digging through your white paper for the important information. With this in mind, it’s important to stick to the standard white paper format:

  • Title

It’s important to craft an interesting title which will entice your website visitors to read the rest of the white paper.

A good title is both concise and descriptive. When in doubt, come up with a few ideas and run them by your coworkers. They should be able to tell you which title would convince them to read the rest of your white paper.

Contio is a good place for you and your team to brainstorm and create new content faster. Sign up today and streamline your content workflow to collaborate while producing and publishing content for your clients.

  • Executive Summary

A summary is a sneak peek of the key takeaways from your white paper. It helps both you and your readers. It keeps you focused and it also gives your readers a good idea of what they should expect from you before they dive in.

Your executive summary is where you can really convince your readers that this white paper is truly worth reading. For this reason, you should include some interesting quotes, data and visuals from the main body of your document.

  • The Problem

It’s true that every single part of your white paper is important. Even so, you should write more about the problem and the solution than anything else. After all, your audience has come to you to be educated and these are the most educational parts of a white paper.

Take time to outline the problem and explain how it makes life difficult. By approaching the problem in this way, you will help your readers feel understood.

  • The Solution

The solution is where you present your social proof – evidence that the audience should trust you. Ideally, the solution is where you introduce your brand’s product or service – a solution to the aforementioned problem.

It’s more effective to avoid directly linking your solution to your brand immediately. This way, your white paper won’t seem like a sales pitch. Warm your audience up first by telling them there is a solution to their problem.

By presenting a seemingly neutral solution, you will disarm your audience. If they don’t suspect you’re trying to sell something to them, then they will be more open to your solution.

By the time you’re done talking about this solution, your readers will already be wondering where to find it. And that is the perfect segue for the call to action section of your white paper.

  • Call to Action

In your call to action, you explain to your audience where to find the solution to their problem. With you!

The call to action is where you introduce your brand itself and tell your readers how to get their hands on your solution.

Do they need to sign up for something? Do they need to pay for a product? Give them all those details here so that they’re not left with unanswered questions.

  • References

A good white paper doesn’t simply use research data. It also lists the sources where this data was pulled from. Being transparent about your sources helps to encourage your readers to trust you.

How to write a white paper: Best practices

As a content creator, your job doesn’t end as soon as you’ve understood how to write a white paper. You need to go beyond this if you truly want your content to stand out.

Here are some things you can do if you want to produce a white paper which people will be excited to read:

  • Include your own research

Facts and figures are great, but they’re even better if they’re coming from your personal research. Your audience doesn’t want to see the same data they’ve seen hundreds of times before.

Take time to conduct your own research so that you can offer your readers new findings.

  • Include quotes from thought leaders

Another way to differentiate yourself from competitors is by including quotes from thought leaders in the industry.

People always want to hear from industry experts, so quoting them will add an interesting dimension to your white paper as well as back up your claims.

  • Make it visual

A common misconception about white papers is they need to be laden with texts and numbers to be both professional and convincing.

However, adding visual content to your white paper will help you explain complex concepts and break down figures in a fun way.

  • Make it engaging

Speaking of fun, just because your white paper is aimed at professionals doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make it engaging. We know you’re excited to educate your readers, but paragraph after paragraph of dry content will only turn people off.

You can educate your audience while also being engaging. In fact, your white paper will be more enjoyable and memorable if it is fun to read.

How do you make it fun to read? Firstly, you can use a conversational tone. Secondly, you can make your white paper interactive instead of static.

An interactive white paper is more enjoyable since people can actively engage with the content. Some brands choose to create white papers whose pages can be turned, for example. Others include interactive quizzes in their white papers.

  • Make it gated

Another way to harness the power of a white paper is to make it gated. With a gated format, you can provide a sneak peek to your white paper using the executive summary. This will encourage website visitors to give you their email addresses so that they can read more.

A gated white paper is a good way to generate leads which could turn into future sales for your brand.

  • Include case studies

Case studies will help make your white paper more interesting. Numbers are a good way to back up your claims but storytelling goes one step further to convince your audience to trust you.

If they read about how your solution helped another client, your readers will be able to put themselves in that client’s shoes and imagine how your solution can help them too. Simply put, case studies will make the solution you’re presenting more relatable to your audience.

  • Invest in the design

As we’ve just said, visuals matter just as much as your text and figures. Design an appealing white paper. This way, you can stand out from your competition immediately and stand out in your audience’s memory later on.

  • Follow the buyer journey

Your white paper is an effective tool to use at the awareness stage of the buyer journey. At this stage, the client has just become aware of the problem they’re facing. They want to be educated on the problem as well as any potential solutions and your white paper does just that.

However, it’s not enough to simply educate your audience and send them on their merry way. If you do this, they might disappear, never to be heard of again. In order to move this client to the next stage of the sales funnel, you must keep in touch with them long after they have read your white paper.

This is why it’s a good idea to collect email addresses in return for your white paper. If you have someone’s email address, then it’s easy to keep in touch and send them more educational material later on.

Once this person has moved on to the interest stage, you can entice them with the other elements of your B2B content marketing strategy.

Writing a white paper can be a daunting process, especially when you still have a blank page in front of you. However, with the steps outlined above, you should now know how to write a white paper that will engage people and convert leads.

Does your team need a good project management tool to help you create your next great piece of content? With Contio, your team can brainstorm, pitch and approve content ideas. You can also schedule assigned pitches as tasks that automatically fall into your content calendar.

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