How to Write a White Paper for an IT Audience, Part 3: Coming up with an inviting format that’ll draw readers in

This is Part 3 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: How to define your target audience Read Part 2: Refining your topic, deciding on an approach and assembling supporting information

Coming up with an inviting format that’ll draw readers in

White papers are an important component of any IT company marketing plan, as they help educate your audience and drive lead-generation efforts. In the first installment of this 5-part series, we covered how to decide on a target audience for your paper and choose an appropriate topic for that audience. Section 2 covered how to define the white paper content and make a compelling case for your topic or point of view. In this section, we’ll cover how to make sure you present that content in an inviting format.

Creating a Look

Probably you’ve opened a white paper, or other formal document, to find page after page of dense text. Chances are you didn’t read that document, or at least not very much of it. No prospect has to read your white paper, so your job is to make them want to read it.  An inviting layout goes a long way toward accomplishing that goal

Keep it tight

First of all, try to keep the length under control. A good rule of thumb is to keep the paper to 6-8 pages or less. Any more than that, and you run the risk of readers dismissing it out of hand, because they don’t have time to read it.  This really gets back to defining your topic such that it’s narrow enough to be covered in a reasonable amount of space – and resisting the temptation to broaden the scope.

Use plenty of entry points

Even if your paper is reasonably short, if you’ve got nothing but dense text on every page, it will come across as uninviting, if not daunting. Break up the text by using lots of entry points. Entry points are elements to which the eye is naturally attracted. They can include graphics, charts, quote boxes, bulleted lists and subheads, to name a few. Such entry points also allow readers to gather valuable information even if they only casually skim your paper (and many readers will do just that).

Add some air

Entry points go hand in hand with another crucial layout concept: white space or “negative space.”  White space is essentially any space that is empty on the page. Used effectively, it can ensure that graphical elements have more “pop” and that the reader’s eye is naturally drawn to the entry points on the page. At the same time, a proper amount of white space makes the whole paper more pleasing to the eye, increasing the chances that readers will stick with the paper to the end.

Come up with a creative title

To top off your paper, you’ll need a catchy title and one that uses popular descriptive language that your target readers will understand and likely use in their places of work. Tools such as Google Adwords’ Keyword Planner, or SEM Rush’s suite of search engine marketing (SEM) and optimization (SEO) tools, can help you identify phrases prospects use when searching for products like yours. This technique applies not only to titles, but throughout your paper. The title also has to be something that both immediately grabs attention and gives the reader a good idea of what the paper is about. Give it the attention it deserves. In some cases, you may start with a title and let the content spring from it. In others, the title comes last. Either approach works so long as you come up with a good one. Read Part 4 of our series: 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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