- The value of writing content that stands out to the audience
- 6 steps on how to write a whitepaper
- Download your free whitepaper template
A whitepaper is one of the cornerstones of B2B marketing content. Unlike other types of content, these in-depth, technical pieces of content are designed to discuss an issue or situation in lots of detail. That makes them perfect for discussing what your company is about, or what your solution aims to achieve in a lot of detail. But if you’re trying to work out how to write a whitepaper, you’ll quickly discover that they’re also one of the most challenging pieces of content to get right.
Whitepapers by their nature are longer than other pieces of content – which gives them the room to explore complex topics in much more detail than you’d get in a blog or even an eBook. In the world of B2B technology marketing, knowing how to write a whitepaper is particularly valuable, because we’re dealing with uniquely technical concepts, and a readership with a genuine desire to be properly informed. For that reason, whitepapers remain one of the most powerful tools for B2B marketing.
But due to the length and complexity of whitepapers, they can be difficult to write effectively. In B2B marketing this is made even more difficult when considering the challenge of translating often complicated, technical information into clear language that your customer can easily engage with. That’s why we’ve pulled together these six simple steps, together with a downloadable whitepaper template to help you get started.
How to write a 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.
1. Work out the whitepaper’s aims and deadlines
How you plan your whitepaper depends entirely on your style and your organisation’s processes.
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, including marketing managers or sales directors. From there, you need to establish a few goals for your content. This plan should include:
- A rough idea of the aims of the paper
- The relevant product or service you wish to highlight
- 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 is not relevant to your audience, 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 data and analytics, 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. If you don’t have personas, this is a good opportunity to create them.
Once you understand your audience, 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. 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
- Wikidata – Wikipedia’s central store of structured data
- Also remember government data sources and reports by major tech analysts like Gartner and Forrester
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 synopsis as writing the full draft. 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 much easier.
Whitepapers come in many shapes and sizes, but the majority follow the same basic structure:
- 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 are a powerful way to give your audience a snapshot of the trends relevant to your subject. 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’
Using effective case studies within a whitepaper is a great way to bring your information to life. Case studies are designed to describe a real-life application of what you’re talking about. Your content is much more powerful when you describe how a real-life business achieved success with a particular product.
But besides the real life example, people love a story. Stories can trigger the emotional part of our brain, help us to empathise with characters 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 the writing 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?’ Don’t think about the fact that you’ve got 2,000 words ahead of you. Instead, using your synopsis as a guide, 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 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.
The writer, Jodi Picoult, puts it more succinctly: “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page”.
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 gotten to grips with how to write a whitepaper, you’ll stand in good stead to produce an effective piece of content that informs your readers and solves real problems. This, above everything else, is the key to successful content marketing.
At Fifty Five and Five, we’ve written whitepapers, blogs, eBooks, and a whole range of content for international B2B technology clients for several years. This gives us unprecedented expertise in how to create content that captures the audience’s needs and creates real prospects. Get in touch today to find out how we can help you do the same.