An effective white paper is not the type of project you want to “wing.” Due to the length, seriousness, and fact-based nature of the project, it’s important to have a plan or outline of what you want to include in the special report.
In general, most white papers include a Title and the following eight elements:
- Stating the problem
- Presenting a solution
- Backing up the solution with evidence
- Describing the expected results
- Summarizing the information
- Suggesting next steps
- Describing the company’s solution to the problem
So let’s take a deeper look at each key component…
The overview appears immediately after the title page. In it, you’ll preview the content of the white paper — briefly stating the problem and solution. While it’s brief — about half to a full page in a 5-8-page white paper — it needs to give the reader enough information for them to want to read the full report.
The main purpose of an effective white paper is to present a solution to a problem your client’s customers have and that your client’s company can solve. So, it’s important to set the stage by describing the problem in detail, in a way your reader can relate to.
There are several options you can choose in presenting the problem:
- Quote an expert source — this could be a government agency or industry regulatory body, for example. Readers will find this particularly interesting, especially if it applies to everyone in their field.
- Paint a picture — describe a scenario in which the problem is evident, one which readers can relate to.
- Pose a question — for example, make a statement about the problem and ask if the readers have experienced the same issue.
Once you open the problem section with one of these three options, you can go into more detail on the specifics of the problem and how it could affect companies and their employees. It’s important to remind the reader of the consequences of inaction.
You could also mention other ways companies are solving the problem now and present the problems these other solutions pose. This can lead into your better solution.
The goal is to get readers to relate to the problem so they want to read the rest of the white paper to learn about the solution you’re proposing.
The problem section could be anywhere from a couple of paragraphs to a page or two.
Now that the reader has a full grasp of the problem, you want to present your new and better solution. This is usually a new or better system, technology, or product application. You’re not getting specific yet about your client’s product or service. You’re merely helping readers understand there is a solution without the pitfalls of ones they may be familiar with.
As such, in presenting the solution, it must be done in a straightforward way. You can’t adopt a sales tone or the white paper will lose all credibility and will no longer be an effective white paper.
Additionally, you want the copy to be clear on exactly what you’re presenting. This section may require the use of visuals — images, graphs, or charts — to help the reader grasp the solution. As the white paper writer, while you don’t have to provide the graphics, you could mention the types of images that would support your copy.
Depending on your solution, you may want to write about:
- How the solution works:
- A detailed explanation of new technology
- A step-by-step explanation of the new software or system
- Why it’s better than other solutions on the market
- The investment — a general overview of the time and money needed to implement the solution
Remember, while you’re describing the solution, you don’t want to mention your client’s company’s product or service yet. That will come later in the white paper.
This section could be anywhere from a half to a couple of pages.
This is the section in which you’ll use a lot of the information from the research you conducted.
You’ll want to include:
- Results from studies
- Quotes from subject matter experts (SME)
- Opinions from other experts and industry publications
Everything you presented in the solution section must be backed up with evidence.
While this must be written in a straightforward manner, it can’t be boring or you risk losing your audience. This is another section in which charts and graphs may aid your copy.
You have two choices in how you present your evidence. Depending on how you write the solution, you may want to intersperse the evidence in that section. Conversely, it could stand alone in its own section. What’s important is not where the evidence is in the white paper, as long as it’s clearly presented.
5. Expected Results
Once readers know what your recommended solution is and have read the evidence to support it, they’ll want to have an idea of what type of results they can expect. This will help them decide if your solution is an avenue they want to pursue.
Among the items to address in this section are:
- How much better the result will be from this solution
- An idea of the cost, both in budget and staff time
- Amount of money a company could save
- Amount of staff time that could be freed up for other things
- Amount of additional revenue a company could realize
- Amount of time it will take for a company to start benefitting from the results
Depending on your solution, results could be:
- Increased revenues
- Cost savings
- Increased customer satisfaction
- Increased employee productivity and satisfaction
When presenting the expected results, it’s important to paint a realistic picture. It’s more credible if you present the average results achieved as opposed to the maximum results that could be achieved.
Although this does not have to be long — usually only a paragraph or two — it’s important to briefly summarize what the overarching problem is and the recommended solution.
But it must be done in a way that motivates the reader to act on the information they’ve learned in the white paper.
7. Next Steps
Now that the reader wants to act on the information you’ve presented, you need to tell them what to do next. But you can’t take a sales tone while doing this.
Instead, you could “pre-qualify” them by listing a set of criteria they should look for when seeking out the proposed solution. This, of course, is criteria that perfectly matches your client’s solution.
You can include “Next Steps” in the summary or it could be a short standalone section.
8. The Company’s Solution and Information
In the final section of the white paper, you talk about your client and their solution to the problem. You can speak about their product or service, mentioning it by name and providing specific information on what it can do.
You can provide a call-to-action to have the reader visit the company’s website or sign up for a consultation. You can also offer a discount or provide a special offer for having read the white paper. You want the reader to be excited about what the company has to offer.
This section needs to be clearly separated from the main body of the white paper. It can either be on a separate page or at least in its own section. It could have a header like “For Additional Information,” “Resources,” or “About (Company Name).”
While an effective white paper is a complex and serious project, if you follow this outline, you’ll have the structure most companies are seeking in their white paper projects.