Five mistakes to avoid when writing whitepapers

Don’t fail to define your audience

If you fail to define who will read your white paper, you or your writer will find it difficult to craft a clear message for the paper. What industry are you appealing to and which clients will find the paper interesting? Decide who you are talking to before you create an outline or start writing the paper. Understanding your audience up front will help the paper flow and keep the paper focused. Defining your reader will also streamline any content interviews you conduct for your white paper and will ensure you relay the messages that matter most to your readers.

Don’t sound overly promotional

Unlike marketing collateral that is supposed to sound “salesy,” white papers are more subtle in their approach. A white paper’s goal is to inform, educate, and share valuable information about a product or service. If a paper is well-written, then it will create sales leads. But the white paper’s primary goal is to hook the reader, share valuable information, and then (hopefully) incentivize the reader to inquire into the company, product, or service being described. Readers know that a white paper’s primary purpose is to inform and for this reason, they don’t tolerate white papers that sound overly promotional. People expect a brochure to contain a sales pitch but they want to see thought leadership in a white paper. When you define a white paper’s objectives, make sure you share valuable insights. If you truly need a document that discusses product features and benefits or lists information about your company, consider creating a brochure or sales sheet instead of a white paper.

Don’t write a white paper that is too short or too long

Nothing is more disappointing than reading an attractive, interesting white paper, only to discover typos, poor grammar, and spelling errors. When this occurs, the paper instantly loses credibility with the reader. In order to appear professional and believable, a white paper must demonstrate superior writing and contain correct capitalization, punctuation, and spelling. Sloppy formatting, passive writing style, incorrect tense, and poor sentence structure are red flags to readers. If your company lacks writing skills, hire a professional writing firm to manage white paper development. If you have a style guide, share it with your writer. Make sure several people in your organization proof-read the paper, including a marketing contact, product specialist, and possibly your legal department, depending upon the paper’s content.Today’s business professional is extremely busy and most prefer quick information bites.

Don’t create a paper that looks unprofessional

Look at the format of the “USA Today” newspaper or any of today’s popular news sites and see how communications is becoming an art based on brevity and clarity. The ideal length of a white paper is 8 to 10 pages and includes interesting graphics or photos to illustrate the points covered in the paper. A paper with more than 10 pages can overwhelm the reader. On the other hand, white papers that are shorter than eight pages may lack enough information to prove a point. Most white papers require at least eight pages of copy and graphics to fully explore a topic and to incorporate a white paper’s typical elements–title page, executive summary, introduction, body, conclusion, and end notes.

Don’t let your paper languish

Creating a well-written, professional white paper is a worthwhile undertaking…..unless you let the paper sit on your hard drive. Many companies spend time and in-house resources creating white papers or they outsource the task to a professional writing firm, create the perfect paper, show it off around the office, and then the paper sits on a shelf. After going to the time and expense to write a paper, you need to promote your white paper so all your hard work pays off.