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10 Rules For Writing a Whitepaper

Rules For Writing a Whitepaper

A great whitepaper can be pivotal in your brand’s content marketing strategy. Whitepapers can boost your brand’s visibility, position you as a thought leader, and function as an effective lead generator. Here are 10 rules for writing a whitepaper that wins trust and investment. Don’t want to write it yourself? Of course we can do it for you.

But first, did you know…

  • The term whitepaper or white paper originated in Britain, when government papers were coded by colour to indicate distribution, with white designated for public access.
  • White papers are one of the five most important marketing tactics for B2B businesses. According to TopRank, white papers get 71% votes when it comes to the top content marketing tactics and 63% votes for being the most effective B2B content marketing tactics.
  • White papers are very popular in the technology and fintech spaces. We regularly create them for tech startups seeking investor buy in.

#1 Choose the right topic 

The internet is saturated with whitepapers on the mundane and obvious. Present something to your readers that they haven’t already seen but would be interested in. To do that, you first need to understand your audience and what they want to see.

Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • What aspect of your brand’s industry lacks in-depth exploration?
  • What are you deeply knowledgeable about that most people and brands are not?
  • Which topic would bring value to readers e.g. what could help brands generate more leads or increase profits?

The topic of your whitepaper should help readers achieve something.

#2 Pose a problem and offer a solution

The point of a whitepaper is to present a solution to a common industry problem or challenge. A good whitepaper shares a solution that most readers have little knowledge of—that’s how you bring value to your paper and keep readers engaged throughout.

A basic layout of a whitepaper looks like this:

  • Discuss the common problem in your industry
  • Methodology: which methods did you use to study this problem?
  • Solutions: discuss several solutions to the problem
  • Conclusion: there should be a lightbulb moment for the reader where they feel empowered to tackle this industry problem with the research and solutions you have presented

TIP: Break your whitepaper up into sections with learning lessons, findings and solutions. Readers often find this easier to digest and enjoy the feeling of learning in stages.

Check out the whitepapers in our portfolio

Rules For Writing a Whitepaper - Break into Sections

#3 Back up everything with data

You’re not writing a blog post. Whitepapers must be well-researched and backed up by facts and stats. Any conclusions that are drawn in your paper should be supported by evidence. Ensure you take the data from reputable sources and even then, still verify its validity.

If the topic you’ve chosen is particularly niche, and little relevant data exists, you should consider conducting your own primary research. A whitepaper that contains primary research on an underexplored topic can prove very popular.

Ensure you properly cite all your sources, either with annotations and footnotes or annotations with a reference section.

#4 Compose an attention-grabbing title

The title of your whitepaper can make or break it. Readers won’t even download it if the title doesn’t pique their curiosity and interest. Similarly, a click bait title can leave readers disappointed and tuned out. The title should be concise and clever. It also needs to promise to offer a solution to the problem posed by the paper. The best way to do this is to use a main title and a subtitle. The main title presents the problem, and the subtitle informs readers that the paper will offer a solution.

#5 Entice readers in with the introduction

The introduction should tease some of your whitepaper’s best cards. While scientific papers discuss their findings right in the instructions, whitepapers shouldn’t—you should reserve discussion of the conclusion until the end.

Typically a whitepaper’s introduction includes an abstract or summary of what’s in store for readers. Make it concise, and don’t give too much away. The aim is to get them to read the rest of the paper, not send them away because you’ve shown all your cards in the intro.

Mention the purpose of writing the whitepaper and what readers will get out of it. If the author of the whitepaper is a well-regarded industry thought leader, include a blurb to capitalise on this alongside the introduction.

#6 Create value in each paragraph

A whitepaper is all about bringing great research to the table. When your whitepaper is backed with solid research there should be no room for fluff. Each paragraph, and even each sentence, should serve a distinct purpose. Whether that be presenting problems, introducing methodologies and data, or offering solutions. There is often a temptation to deliver lengthy whitepapers that look impressive. That isn’t the point though.

White papers are usually 6-8 pages long, but they can be longer or shorter depending upon the topic. Remember, it’s quality not quantity!

TIP: Ensure your whitepaper is mobile optimised. Often they will be downloaded and consumed via tablet or mobile.

#7 Make it visually appealing

While the topic, solutions offered, and sound data are all critically important, appearance does matter. Before you begin the design process, consider how you are going to make your whitepaper on brand. Carefully study your brand’s style guide to see if there’s an established colour scheme for documentation. Also look for font pairings, icons, and other assets. Of course, you’ll want to incorporate your logo too. Whichever brand themes you carry over to your whitepaper, keep them consistent throughout. You can create ‘themes’ in most word processing software to make this easier.

Your cover page which includes your title will be the first thing readers see, so make this first impression count. Let the title take centre stage, and choose imagery that complements the title.

In addition to your cover page and whitepaper themes, your data should be visually appealing too. Attractive and punchy charts, timelines, infographics, and so on can drive your data home to the reader and make readers more likely to share your whitepaper.

TIP – When budgeting for whitepaper content, set aside additional budget for design. The number of infographics and customised designs you require, can add to the cost of the project.

 #8 Include a table of contents

Your table of contents will go after the cover page. It should list all your top-level headings and the page number of where that section begins. Add page numbers throughout the whitepaper. Your whitepaper will likely be a digital one, so you can include hyperlinks in the headings so that readers can jump to sections that are most relevant to them. Always add a hyperlink back to the contents page for easy navigation—you could use an icon for this.

#9 Proofread and edit

This rule is not to be skipped. A typo or grammar mistake in your whitepaper can instantly detract from its message and will negatively impact your brand’s credibility.

Hiring a professional content marketing agency with an inhouse editor is the best option. When you try to proofread your own work, it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll miss something since you’ve been reading the same text over and over already. Another thing that you should be checking, is how well your whitepaper is staying on brand. Along with a particular visual style, your brand should have a particular voice. If the wording doesn’t match your brand’s voice and tone, the whitepaper will seem at odds with your brand’s typical messaging.

TIP – If you haven’t yet created a TOV (tone of voice) for your brand, talk to our team. It is important to have this in place before creating your whitepaper.

#10 Market your whitepaper

Publishing your whitepaper is only a tiny fraction of the marketing work that has to be done. Here are some of the other steps we work through with our clients

  • Make a landing page: A landing page for your whitepaper on your brand’s site should be a top priority. Here you can add a CTA too such as signing up for your brand’s newsletter using an email in return for viewing the whitepaper.
  • Share it on your socials: Your social media audience is likely to be interested in your whitepaper. Rather than simply sharing a link, do a little more to promote it such as sharing select graphs or infographics from the whitepaper so that readers are aware of the value they can gain from it. An evergreen whitepaper can be scheduled for repeat shares on social media over a period of months or even years.
  • Send it to your email subscribers: While whitepapers are great lead magnets, don’t leave your existing subscribers out of the loop. They subscribe to you because they expect to receive valuable resources.
  • Contact publications: Good whitepapers are often shared by publications that have audiences interested in industry news.

The payoffs of producing an incredible whitepaper include establishing your brand as an industry thought leader, building trust, winning investor buy in and catapulting your brand’s credibility. Contentworks creates winning whitepapers for finance, payments and tech brands. Talk to us about your next whitepaper.

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