Any company can claim they’re the best.
But finding the evidence to prove that can be tough.
Doing research to turn up the right nuggets of proof gives your white paper more authority.
Strong evidence creates affinity with the reader, strengthens your claims, and proves that your white paper is more than one vendor’s opinion.
Throughout your research, my advice is to think like a lawyer… and not some polite lawyer in a tailored suit in an air-conditioned office.
No, you have to think like a mad-dog, street-fighting mongrel with big teeth and no interest in a win-win.
As you work, always picture the other side’s lawyer trying to poke holes in your argument.
If someone can ask, “Says who?” or “Oh yeah?” or “Prove it!” you’ve got a gap in your research that you better patch before it’s too late.
Building an open-and-shut case
When you think like a lawyer, you want to build a case so tight that no judge can question it and no jury can resist it. You need an argument so tight it leaves the other side gasping for air.
That means digging up a mountain of evidence.
That means grilling subject matter experts and executives from the company sponsoring the white paper.
That takes reading past the first screen of Google search results to see what else may be there.
And that can mean hiking over to the nearest city or college library to consult the reference librarians.
That can mean pulling up tough-to find journal articles, or locating a relevant association to contact for an expert witness.
Finding sources for a white paper
You may think you can use any source under the sun in a white paper, but that’s not strictly true.
Some sources are far better than others: more credible, more authoritative, and more persuasive.
The following table lists many sources you could draw on for a white paper—from analysts to Wikipedia—along with some brief notes on each source.
|Analysts||Yes||As long as they’re credible|
|Associations||Yes||As long as they’re credible and established|
|Blogs||Barely||Use only if you have no other sources|
|Books||Yes||Best to use classics in the field or titles published after 2000|
|Consultants||Sometimes||Make sure they’re impartial|
|Forums||No||No credibility, usually anonymous|
|Go-to experts||Usually||Make sure they’re impartial|
|Government reports||Yes||Usually have high authority|
|Industry reports||Usually||Make sure they’re factual|
|Magazines||Yes||Best published in the last five years|
|Newspapers||Usually||Stick to well-known papers, best published in the last two to three years|
|Professors||Yes||Usually have high authority|
|Sources inside the company||Yes for background, No for quoting||Good for background, but don’t quote them directly: they are clearly biased|
|Trade magazines||Yes||Best published in the last five years|
|Websites||Not usually||Be careful quoting from any website|
|White papers from other organizations||Yes||The more recognized the organization, the better|
|White papers from other vendors||Sometimes||The more recognized the vendor, the better; but do not send prospects to your competition|
|White papers from the same company||No||Not convincing, and could create a circular argument|
|Wikipedia||No||Wikipedia is a secondary source; use it to find primary sources|
This article is a brief excerpt from White Papers for Dummies by Gordon Graham.
With dozens of tips and best practices for planning, producing, and promoting effective white papers, White Papers for Dummies is the most comprehensive guide to white papers every published.