How many times have you clicked a white paper lead bait to download it, only to find out it’s a poorly written sales brochure? Our guess is more times than you can count.
While white papers have some serious advantages for brands looking to grow their bottom line, they’ve developed a poor reputation which has led marketers to shy away from creating them.
White papers vary between industries and the structure is intimidating to master. But in business, white papers typically address a particular audience and discuss products or services. Similar to an e-book, business white papers serve a multitude of purposes for brands looking to build brand awareness and promote lead generation.
Let’s dive into how to write a white paper that people want to continue reading and converts qualified leads. Read on to discover tips, examples, and templates to help you write killer white papers to meet your business objectives.
What is a white paper?
If you’re going to start writing white papers that convert, you need to understand what they are and why they’re different from other marketing materials.
White papers are in-depth reports written from a place of authority. Marketers develop white papers to educate their audience on an issue and provide advanced problem-solving and methodological solutions. The solution, of course, is usually their brand or service or something their brand or service can help readers master.
To download a white paper, people often have to submit their contact information first, making white papers excellent lead magnets.
The reader is interested enough to download a long report from your brand and therefore enter your customer journey.
What is not a white paper?
White papers are not product pitches.
While white papers are persuasive, the goal is to inform your audience based on evidence—not writing a long list of features and benefits about why someone should buy your product.
Your white paper is not the place for overtly promoting your brand. People expect a detailed report, and if that’s not what they receive, your material could turn them away from your brand.
How are e-books and blogs different from white papers?
Of course, a white paper is not the only medium that converts customers. You also have the option to create impactful e-books and blogs that can present an interactive way to engage prospects with the same authoritative and persuasive tone.
The main difference between a white paper and other long-form content is the overall length and amount of time it takes to compose them. Blogs and e-books are typically flashy materials that need anywhere from a few hours to days to create.
However, white papers are much less showy and can take months to polish and edit. While all marketing materials need to be heavily researched, white papers are usually more detailed and feature in-depth research as opposed to more casual blog posts or guides.
How to write white papers that convert
Now that you understand what a white paper is—and what it is not—it’s time to learn how to write your own. While there are no “rules” you have to follow, you don’t want to confuse your audience and lose your thought leadership by creating materials that don’t fit the bill.
For starters, let’s learn the basic guidelines to write a killer white paper that brings in leads:
- Length: At least six pages or more, with plenty of supporting charts, illustrations, and references to support your claims with reliable evidence.
- Structure: Your whitepaper needs to include a title page, table of contents, summary, introduction, hypothesis, results, and a conclusion. If that seems like a lot, remember a stellar white paper works as an educational resource.
- Format: While this may vary, if you’re emailing the white paper to your readers, it should be created as an 8.5” x 11” PDF. Otherwise, white papers can be a landing page or even a SlideShare.
- Style: Well written, professional, and serious.
Writing a white paper isn’t easy but it’s a great way to stand out in your field and build authority with your audience. For that reason, developing your white paper should take time since you need to write with purpose.
Don’t rush the process: An effective white paper needs quality over quantity.
5 steps to write white papers that impress
White papers take a lot of preparation before you begin writing. However, after you’ve set your content up and have completed thorough and original research, you can finally put those fingers to work and start composing your white paper.
Let’s take a look at a few general guidelines you need to follow as you start developing your white paper.
1. Build a template
Consider who your audience is and how your brand can help solve their problems. Once you have that figured out, you need to start building an outline. Building an outline for your white paper is crucial to staying on topic and organized while writing.
Make sure your white paper outline includes:
- Working title
- Sub-headings (as many as you need)
2. Hook readers with a title
Your headline will be your white paper’s first impression and needs to pack a punch to draw readers in. It needs to convey how your solution will provide value to the reader without sounding like click-bait.
The headline should convey:
- An established benefit for reading the white paper
- A professional tone
- Expectations for what your white paper will detail
3. Write an impactful introduction
The introduction is your chance to captivate your audience and pique their interest so they continue reading.
Along with providing a quick topic summary, ensure your intro also includes:
- The problem you intend to solve
- An organized list of key features you will cover
- The benefits of what the reader will learn
4. Organize subsections to stay on track
Once you’ve hooked readers with a compelling headline and introduction, you need to make sure your subsections deliver on the expectations you’ve defined. It’s easy to get lost while writing detailed long-form content, which is why sticking to an organized outline is crucial.
Follow your outline to ensure you cover the subsections adequately and it flows well to prove your point. Include well-researched facts backed by charts and statistics.
Note while there is not a set limit you need to write, ensure your subsections are detailed enough to answer any follow-up questions your readers might have.
Remember, your writing should be concise and to the point. Don’t waste your readers’ time with fluff. Always make your point as simple and obvious as you can. You aren’t trying to win a Pulitzer with your white paper. You want to make and support your claims to win over your readers so they agree with you and see the value in what you have to say.
5. Write first, edit second, and proofread extensively
After you develop your subsections, start writing while your points are fresh in your mind. Don’t overthink your grammar or your sentence structure. You can go back and refine your prose later, but first things first: You have to get the words on paper.
While your first draft will not be perfect, you should write it first and then go back to edit second for grammar, spelling, flow, and content.
When your first draft is complete, it’s vital to ensure the content solves the initial problem you proposed. While editing, ask yourself these questions:
- Did you solve the problem without leaving any remaining questions?
- Are the content, sources, statistics, and graphics factually correct?
- Can readers understand and digest your writing?
White paper examples
If you’re looking for white paper inspiration, we’ve rounded up some great examples to inspire you. These brands have mastered the art of white papers and have created detailed content that continues to provide value to prospective customers.
Take it from the experts and learn from the examples below.
LinkedIn’s ‘The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to LinkedIn’ white paper goes above and beyond the minimum requirements of what a white paper should be.
The first thing you notice is a bold, designer cover page and catchy title that immediately captivates readers. The rest of the 48-page document contains a how-to guide, testimonials, and the statistics to back the facts up.
While the cover features a bold graphic design, it doesn’t take away from the white paper’s value. Remember, you can be professional without being boring or dry! Let your brand’s personality shine through.
Note the ‘Limited Edition’ text that creates a sense of urgency for the reader to want to continue reading.
The ‘What Developers Want: 2018 Developers at Work Survey’ by CodinGame is presented in a unique way, but includes everything you would expect from a technology white paper. Not only is it well researched, but the graphics are interactive which keeps readers engaged and invested to the last page.
CodinGame organizes the white paper’s subsections with different colors that separate the survey results. The brand then explains each result in detail and offers recruitment to help readers attract top talent in the tech industry.
Writing a white paper is a tough task to master—however, it can earn your brand serious rewards in terms of gaining new customers and brand awareness. In order to write a white paper that compels prospective leads into sales, consider the following:
- Create an organized outline to stay focused
- Write a dynamic headline and introduction to hook your readers
- Include in-depth subsections full of research
- Edit and proofread profusely to ensure your points are made
Now that you understand how to write a white paper, it’s time for you to develop an outreach strategy to promote your work. Learn how you can utilize both email marketing and landing pages to create a dynamic marketing strategy that will boost engagement for your white paper.