How to Write a White Paper
for an IT Audience, Part 2:
Refining your topic, deciding on an approach and assembling supporting information

This is Part 2 of our 5-part series covering all the steps required to write a quality white paper, from defining the target audience and creating a compelling package to getting it in the hands of prospects.

Read Part 1 of our series: How to define your target audience


Refining your topic, deciding on an approach and assembling supporting information

White papers are an important aspect of any IT company marketing plan, to educate your audience, add authoritative content to your website and drive lead-generation efforts in LinkedIn and elsewhere. In the first installment of this 5-part series, we covered how to decide on a target audience for your paper and how to choose an appropriate topic for that audience. In this second section, we’ll discuss how to define exactly what the paper will cover, choosing an appropriate approach, and making a compelling case for your topic.

Develop an outline

The most effective way to get agreement on what should be included in your paper is to come up with an outline. This is a crucial step that can save you loads of time overall. If you can create a detailed outline of the paper you envision, and have all appropriate stakeholders sign off on it, you will greatly improve the chances that the paper will hit the mark with the first draft. That, in turn, will save you from going back and forth between the writer and all reviewers multiple times, a process that is not only time-consuming, but frustrating for all involved.

Creating the outline is really an extension of the process you started when you picked the topic, but fleshed out with far more detail. The idea is to make sure that you have enough supporting information in the white paper to accomplish your overall goal, which is to educate readers about your product or service and how it can help them.

Choose your tack

In the end, your paper needs to provide value to readers, which is essentially the insight and expertise of your company. You are positioning your organization, or perhaps a specific executive, as a thought leader on the topic in question.

Depending on your situation, you may accomplish that goal in a number of ways, including:

  • Defining a new class of product or service: Start-up organizations in particular often develop products or services that don’t fit neatly into any existing category. While this presents exciting opportunities, it also presents the challenge of defining the product category. A white paper is a perfect vehicle for such a task.
  • Explaining a technological evolution: Most products and services improve upon what came before in some fashion. If you can walk readers through the evolution by which you arrived at your new offering, they will have a firm grasp of how it works and where it fits in their environment.
  • Exposing the status quo: Technology is all about change. Stagnate too long and, eventually, you will find yourself woefully behind the competition. That goes for vendors and end-user organizations alike. White papers can be effective at pointing out the changing landscape that has given rise to your new product or service.

Make the case

No matter which tack you decide to take, you’ll need substantive information to make your case. Much of this will come from your own subject matter experts, as it should; after all, they are the thought leaders you’re trying to promote. But the more you can include third-party facts and figures, the more credible your paper will be to readers.

Such third-party sources include:

  • Industry analysts: Cite reports or get actual quotes from respected industry analysts who cover your market segment.
  • Government statistics and data: Governments around the globe spend lots of money conducting research into various markets. You can often use their statistics to make your case.
  • Industry groups: Depending on your market segment, there may be an industry group that has conducted research you can leverage to shore up your argument.
  • Media sources: It’s fair game to use quotes from respected IT media publications and websites in your white paper if they help bolster your positions.

Perhaps the best third-party source you can tap is your own customers. It is powerful indeed to have one IT executive “speak” to another through a customer case study. If you already have case studies on hand, you can likely pull information from them to reference in your white paper (while at the same time directing the reader to the full case study). Alternatively, you can encourage one or more relevant customers to agree to an interview, and to have their experiences included in the paper.

What to leave out

What you don’t want in your white paper is too much product-specific information. You’re trying to sell readers on a concept or an approach, so try to stick to the technology without overwhelming them with references to your specific product(s).

The idea is to build a case that points to your product as the only logical solution, then ease in mentions toward the end of the paper, almost like a punch line.  Keep the mentions brief, perhaps two to three paragraphs. Again, you’re trying to provide information of value. If you muddy those waters with a blatant marketing pitch, it could sour the whole deal.

Call to action

The final piece of text in your paper should be a call to action: one or more specific things the reader should do next. This is where you point readers to information on the product or service that fulfills the vision discussed in the paper, including:

  • Website pages
  • Data sheets
  • Case studies
  • Additional white papers

It’s also a good idea to include a phone number, email address or other contact method that readers can use to get additional information. Just be sure you’re prepared to handle the resulting inquiries.

Read Part 3 of our series: Coming up with an inviting format that’ll draw readers in

Part 4:  Finding the best writer and a tried-and-true approach to getting the job done

Part 5: Getting your paper in front of your target audience – without breaking the budget

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