As a general rule, people tend to think of white papers as more “academic” than most writing. They tend to be shorter in duration than most books and the content focuses on usually one very specific topic.
A good rule of thumb for the length of a white paper is anywhere from 5 to 16 pages. Shorter is generally always better but never at the expensive of delivering quality content. People will read longer papers if they are well written and they are really interested in the subject.
That being said, the elements that can affect the consumption of your white papers tend to be very similar to the elements that impact the consumability of any book.
Your paragraphs should not be overwhelming, long blocks of text. 5-6 lines at the most before you have a break before starting another paragraph. If appropriate, include visual elements such as charts, graphs, tables, pictures, etc. to break up your text and give the eye a break.
Keep in mind the audience to which your white paper is aimed. For most purposes an 11 or 12 pt. font will be fine. But if you’re targeting older readers with their failing eyesight you may want to consider a larger font.
Notice I said “may”. Always look at how a change in font affects your page layouts and impacts the overall length of your document. In some cases the trade may be worthwhile, in others not so much.
Here are the elements you’ll typically find in a white paper:
- Title – make it as attention- grabbing as possible. It should be benefit oriented aimed at the target market you want to reach.
- An Abstract or Executive Summary – don’t assume they’ll get all the way to the end to read your conclusion. You need to grab your reader immediately so include a short summary of what the entire paper is about. A well-written abstract will encourage your reader to read on into the heart of your paper.
- Introduction – this is where you’ll want to define the issue you are covering and provide some background discussion to reel your audience in.
- Definition of the Problem – Identify thoroughly whatever business problem it is that your solution—whether it’s technology, training, coaching or whatever will help to solve. The viewpoint should be completely from the perspective of your target audience.
- Solution – Discuss relevant technologies, including competitors that you will rebut later at a relatively high level. Support your argument with appropriate infographics, charts or tables and don’t hesitate to include quotes from industry leaders if they help to substantiate your position. Remember, you’re educating your target market on the current state of the industry and showing where your solution fits.
- Details of Your Solution – Here’s where you’ll provide the nitty gritty details of your solution. A softer sell seems to work better than a hard sell in white papers. You’ll want to show why your solution is clearly superior to any alternatives.
- Business Benefits – Paint your picture here of reader’s new world after they’ve implemented your solution, whether it’s going through your training or coaching program or something else. You need to show that you understand their pain and that you are their pain reliever. You might include customer testimonials in this section.
- Summary – Some people may read only your summary, so emphasize the benefits of your solution again and point out the risks to your readers of not using your product. This section needs to stand on its own.
- Call to Action – Tell your readers what you want them to do next and how to do it. This is a major weakness with most information products. You should always have something for the person who has finished consuming your content to do next.
While most of us think of white papers in a business to business environment they can have applications elsewhere. Just think in advance what you can do to help the readers of your white paper to consume your information as easily as possible.