How to write a technical white paper in 6 steps

How to write a technical white paper in 6 steps: B2B technology marketing

  • The value of writing content that stands out to the audience
  • 6 steps on how to write a technical white paper
  • Free white paper synopsis template download

Whitepapers are one of the cornerstones of B2B content marketing. No other type of content shares its ability to coherently set out a company’s position on a problem, issue or philosophy. In short, if you want people to come away with a detailed understanding of what your company is about – and what your solution aims to achieve – a whitepaper is the best way to do this.

But whitepapers are far from the easiest pieces of content to write. In fact, they might well be the hardest. Apart from the fact that they’re often longer than standard content, they also must set out a more complex and comprehensive set of concepts and issues to grapple with. Nonetheless, as online marketing expert Perry Marshall points out, they remain one of the most powerful tools for marketing – especially in the world of B2B marketing.

The internet is full of content, all trying desperately to grab your attention. Because of this, most digital content aims to get its point across succinctly – to reduce the risk of this attention being lost. But a whitepaper stands out from the crowd and draws on the most precious of commodities: time. They’re not designed to attract the maximum audience for the minimum possible time – they intend to filter out the audience that has the time and dedication to really understand what you have to offer. When someone downloads and reads your whitepaper, they’ll have engaged with your brand in a way no other piece of content can manage – and nothing’s more valuable than that.

But due to the length and complexity of whitepapers, they can be phenomenally difficult to plan and write effectively. In B2B marketing this is made even more difficult when considering the challenge of translating complicated, technical information into clear language that your customer can understand. That’s why we’ve pulled together these 6 simple steps, together with a downloadable whitepaper synopsis template to help you get started.

How to write a technical whitepaper in 6 simple steps

With any piece of content, success comes with good planning. With a whitepaper, this is even more the case. You might be able to pull together a passable blog or website page without planning in much detail – but a whitepaper is too long, technical and structured for this to be even vaguely feasible. So, to set yourself up for success in writing your whitepaper, there are a few simple steps you should follow.

With that in mind, here’s how to write a technical whitepaper in 6 simple steps:

1. Work out the whitepaper’s aims and deadlines

How you plan your whitepaper depends entirely on your style and your organisation’s processes. But whatever form your whitepaper will take, you’re going to need a basic plan.

At this point, you need to sit down and discuss your concept with the key stakeholders around the company. These are the people who are invested in the success of the content; perhaps marketing managers or sales directors. Next, you need to establish a few goals for your content. This plan should include:

  • A rough idea of the product and aims of the paper
  • A deadline
  • A decision about who will oversee the whitepaper production – including content writing, design and editorial

Understanding this information will stand you in good stead when it comes to the following stages of whitepaper planning.

2. Think about your audience and what they want

When it comes to writing a whitepaper, nothing’s more important than knowing your audience. You can have the greatest topic in the world, but if it’s not actually solving anyone’s problems, don’t expect it to be a hit.

Solving a difficult problem with the right product is a vital part of any content marketing. To do this, you need to understand who your customers are, and what their problems are. Using analytics data and researching search trends and terms is a good place to start with this. Also if you have marketing personas, this would be a good time to consult them. Alternatively, this might be a good opportunity to create them.

Once you understand this, it’s easier to predict what they’re looking for. What is the specific problem you aim to solve – and what are the features of your product or service that can help achieve this?

3.  Do your background research

The more you plan and prepare, the easier it will be for you to write your whitepaper in the long run. It’s important to take the time to really get to grips with the language and concepts you’ll be discussing. It’s also important to remember that you’re not just describing what your product or service does – you’re translating it into the language of someone who isn’t necessarily tech-savvy. There are several tools that can help you understand more about your customers, the market you’re selling in, and the concepts you’ll be discussing:

Some of the tools we use include:

  • BuzzSumo – a great tool for finding popular content
  • Google Trends – discover what’s popular
  • Microsoft by the numbers – especially useful for Microsoft partners, back your research up with cold hard facts
  • Radicati – loads of fascinating facts about the internet
  • Wikidata – Wikipedia’s central store of structured data
  • Also remember government data sources and reports by major tech analysts

Once you’ve collected all your notes and research, you’re now ready to do the most important part of the whitepaper: the synopsis.

4. Write a synopsis

A decent whitepaper realistically requires as much time spent researching and writing your synopses as writing the final document. Because planning is everything! The synopsis is useful for both you and the other stakeholders around your business. It allows everyone to come together and agree on a broad thrust of the main issues you’ll address, the language you’ll use, and the solutions you’ll offer. It helps you focus your thoughts and, when well-constructed, will make writing the whitepaper very easy.

Structure

Whitepapers come in many shapes and sizes, but the majority follow the same basic structure:

  • Introduction
  • Problem
  • Solution
  • Conclusion/Call to action

There’s no rule about how long each of these sections should be. But it’s best if the main thrust of the report is dedicated to the problem and solution, perhaps two thirds, with the introduction and conclusion contributing to roughly another third.

Statistics

Statistics are an incredibly powerful tool because they simplify reality, and people like things simple. They also provide an air of objectivity to your arguments, lending weight to the issues you’re discussing. It’s often helpful, when outlining a problem, to offer statistical proof of your argument. You should always ensure your statistics come from a respectable source such as industry analysts, research from independent organisations or government agencies.

Case studies and ‘break out boxes’

Besides statistics, people love a story. People have always used stories to demonstrate more complex ideas and values. We love stories because they trigger the emotional part of our brain; we can empathise with characters in stories and feel as if we were in their place. It’s useful, therefore, to include a compelling story or case study in your whitepaper.

Other forms of legitimacy

Quotes from recognised industry leaders or a foreword by a respected analyst firm will add tons of weight to your whitepaper. When making decisions, people are looking for advice from respected sources. If you can include any form of endorsement at all in your report, it will take on a whole new level of significance among your readers.

5. Internal review of synopsis and ‘sign off’

This is, in many ways, the most crucial stage in mastering how to write a whitepaper. No one person can create a perfect piece of content alone. Getting the best out of your work requires input from other people around the organisation.

Circulate your synopsis with colleagues, ask for their feedback and make sure you’ve got the tone right. And if there’s significant feedback or edits to be made on the synopsis – it’s a lot better to catch these early on in the process.

6. Write your whitepaper

Writing your whitepaper is by no means the easy part of the process. But if you’ve taken the time to get the other five steps right, this will be a lot simpler than if you hadn’t. Nonetheless, writing a whitepaper can be a tricky process, even if you have taken all the preparatory steps. So, here are a few tips to help you along in the writing and process.

One step at a time

There’s nothing more daunting than sitting down to see a blank page and thinking, ‘Where do I start?’ When you’re sitting down to write, don’t think about the fact that you’ve got 2,000 words ahead of you. Go through the content section by section, breaking it down into manageable chunks.

Perfection is the enemy of progress

When writing, it can be tempting to over-analyse every word and phrase, trying to find the best things to say at the right time. Noble as that objective may be, being too methodical can result in you tying yourself in knots trying to find the right words, and inevitably making no progress whatsoever. Sometimes it’s just better to get the words on the page, give it a couple of days, and then take a fresh look.

A quote from Jodi Picoult puts it slightly more succinctly:

You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.

Eliminate distractions

Writing is a particularly immersive experience; it’s not the kind of task you can easily dip in and out of. If you’re flittering constantly between writing, checking emails, talking with colleagues and other distracting tasks, you’ll find little progress being made. It’s vital to carve out a chunk of time that you can sit down and dedicate fully to the task at hand. Try turning notifications off on your computer, or engaging the focus assist mode in Windows.

Feedback, feedback, feedback

Once you’re finished, or perhaps even during the process, it’s vital to get feedback from other people. Another set of eyes can help you understand things about your writing that you wouldn’t have otherwise been able to see. Getting input from other people allows you to reshape your writing in a way that readers can understand.

Once you’ve planned your content thoroughly, and gotten to grips with these writing tips, you’ll stand in good stead to produce a quality whitepaper that informs your readers and solves real problems. This, above everything else, is the key to successful content marketing.

Ready to get going?

Start off by checking out our free white paper synopsis template. And don’t hesitate to get in touch with us for more assistance!

Matthew Rooke

Matthew Rooke

Matthew specialises in grammar and syntax, making sure each sentence packs the most meaning into the least possible space.