Imagine you’re invited to a dinner party with your boss.
Think of your current white paper client as “your boss.”
You arrive late, make a quick apology and take your seat. The others are already engaged in a deep discussion that sounds interesting and important.
You think, “I need to say something impressive soon. After all, this is my boss!”
But do you jump in immediately?
Not a good idea, right?
You don’t even know what they’re talking about. And you don’t want to sound like an idiot in front of your boss.
So instead, you listen carefully. Maybe you surreptitiously jot down a few notes on your napkin.
You work hard to get up to speed as quickly as possible, educating yourself and learning the jargon.
You want to say something intelligent and relevant to the conversation. You want to make a good impression. And it’s hard work!
That should be your approach to writing a white paper
As a university writing instructor and copywriter, I tend to think of white papers as research papers for the business world.
Each one requires the same exact process that you followed when doing research papers in college.
Gordon Graham recently wrote about the importance of thinking like a lawyer when you research a white paper.
I agree that it’s essential to conduct careful research on your clients and their business before you start writing.
With my students at the University of Washington, I always require them to carefully read, digest, take notes on, and discuss at least 10 to 15 relevant articles before putting pen to paper for a first draft of their papers, and even before they formulate a thesis.
I want educated comments, no shooting from the hip.
The beauty of this for writing a white paper
At some point, if you conduct good solid research, the clouds start to disperse, your topic comes into focus, and the ideas fall into your lap (or onto your page).
Your white paper takes shape because you know what you’re talking about. You’ve become a short-term expert on the product, business, industry or client featured in the white paper.
Whatever you write is then more valuable because you know what you’re talking about.
Like the dinner party conversation, you find something relevant to say.
You choose the choice bits that make your white paper fresh, insightful, and most importantly, useful.
Reading, reading and more reading, taking concise and organized notes, and keeping track of your sources are the keys to success.
To sum up: Learn before you write
Using patience on this learning curve will result in a white paper that does its job for your client, and earns you the A+ (or cold hard cash) that you deserve.
What do you think? Do you do much research before you even start to outline a white paper? Please leave your comment below.