5 Tips on Writing Whitepapers that Make a Splash

February 28, 2010



Want credibility? Just write a whitepaper.

Whoa, not so fast.

Many companies have valuable info and advice to offer, but fail to deliver it in a way that’s easy for readers to digest.

Which makes me ask, “Why waste time and money writing papers that go unread or, worse, undermine your business?”

So, I’ve created a list of 5 things you can do to write whitepapers that win over readers and build your expert status.

1. Write for a single audience.

When you try write a whitepaper for more than one audience, you dilute your message and risk losing your readers.

If people don’t feel you are speaking to them or that you understand their needs, they won’t bother to listen. If you want to grab your audience’s attention, target the content and tone precisely to them.

Even a recent report from MarketingSherpa showed 82% of those surveyed rated industry-specific content, and 67% rated job-specific content, as more valuable than non-specific content.

2. Use shorter words and sentences.

Long sentences and paragraphs can bore (even annoy) people—especially busy professionals.

Use smaller words and keep sentences and paragraphs short. Readers will get your message faster—and with less effort.

3. Avoid jargon or tech-speak.

Your audience shouldn’t have to decode your writing.

For example, too many whitepapers read like this:
XYZ Company is a customer-focused industry leader that can add value by streamlining your back office business processes and optimizing your front end with best-of-breed, enterprise-wide solutions that have been validated via a rigorous testing methodology.

When they should read like this:
Do you want to cut operations costs, close sales faster and boost top line revenue? Our software can help you improve performance across your entire organization. For more than a decade, XYZ Company has been helping clients in the aerospace industry do just that.

That said, there are times when technical terms are okay. For example, if you’re writing for an audience of aerodynamicists, talking about span and hypersonic flow is just fine.

4. Focus on benefits—not features.

It’s good to love your product. But don’t be blinded by its ‘cool factor’ and lose sight of customer needs.

A prospect reading your whitepaper wants to know one thing: “What’s in it for me?”

Instead of focusing on product features or technical skill, write about how they can meet goals or solve problems faster using your product. The features should be secondary.

Or, offer practical and product-agnostic advice on issues common to your reader’s job role or industry. In this way, you establish expert status and build trust with prospects.

5. Use active voice—not passive.

Why? Let’s rewrite the sentence above:
It is best when active voice, not passive, is used.

Active voice is more direct and concise. In most cases, it’s also more persuasive.

People favor the passive voice when they want to deflect responsibility for a comment or soften it because they think it may be too harsh.

But you have to ask yourself, if you’re not comfortable making an active statement, should you be making it at all? If yes, try rewriting it using the active voice and then softening the tone.

Go ahead, write that whitepaper.

I’m the last person to deter you from writing a whitepaper. I think they can be great prospecting tools at the early stages of the sales cycle, especially in leaner times.

Just be sure to write with clarity, honesty and purpose–and readers will respond.

Have any tips you’d like to add? Reply below.

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