Whitepapers can be nifty little tools to generate leads and develop authority. They work on an SEO front since you have so much space to hit the right keywords, and for digital PR because publishers are always looking for new information and opinions to drive conversations and clicks.
You’ve just been assigned a whitepaper. You’re concerned about being able to write all those words.. On the face of it, writing over 3,000 words can seem like a difficult task, because it feels like there simply isn’t enough to write about, and that’s especially true if you’re writing on a topic you have no experience with.
But this is almost definitely not the case, no matter the subject you’re now familiarising yourself with and writing on. I recently wrote a whitepaper/report for a legal client of ours, and it was on a topic I had no involvement with in my life. But, you cannot let that stop you.
Here was my process.
Data, data, data — you can’t have enough of it
Whitepapers aren’t blogs. You can’t publish a whitepaper with a handful of links to a dubious blog page full of unreferenced, out-of-date statistics. Most whitepapers are grounded in data, which is normally quantitative. The conclusions, arguments and analysis must have their origin in the data, and without robust data, you cannot reach logical or well-supported conclusions.
In my case, I was writing about the education sector, so I began by scouring the government’s data portal for as much information on my subject and geographic location as possible. I also consulted local government databases, Freedom of Information requests and even filed my own. You should do this before you begin writing anything other than your introduction.
Make an effort to sort your data into easily read tables from the beginning — you’ll probably have to incorporate them into your whitepaper, and having them easily read from the start makes it easy on your design team.
I would recommend creating a data sheet which contains all of your tables and raw data. You can find interesting insights, such as x increased by 170% between 2017-2022. Fill your data sheet with hard-hitting stats that you can feature in your whitepaper copy.
Create your whitepaper structure
Starting with your title page, create a mini-table of contents to understand what will be on what page, and what you need to write. You should have derived some understanding of the topic you’re writing on and the conclusion based on the data gathered and initial brief you received. However, don’t get ahead of yourself. The only thing you can realistically write so far is your introduction.
Structure your whitepaper with detail. With bullet points, outline exactly what will be on what page, and what you need to gather to make it a reality. My structure was detailed enough that it felt like I was just filling in the gaps, and extending the bullet points in my structure. The more thinking and work you put into the prewriting stage, the easier the writing of the whitepaper becomes.
Make it clear to yourself what you need. Decide on certain things from this stage, such as where your data will sit in the whitepaper. Maybe you need to run a poll, maybe you require some proprietary data, or access to a specific individual to interview. Start early, you do not want to be held up for a lack of data or access.
I created a Google Sheet in which I outlined every section, an estimate of how many pages each section will take, the kind of data that section will rely on and even links to the data sources if you ever lose your tables.
Now for the fun part — the writing. If you’re anything like me, you’ll relish having to write thousands of words in a specific tone of voice, making sure that you always put the message across in the way you were asked to in the brief.
I produced a whitepaper for a legal client, and that meant using very sober language, sticking to the facts, avoiding emotive language and being accurate at all times. It wasn’t quite legalese, but it took an approach of meticulousness and reviewing word choice to make sure it was what was asked for.
Read your brief over and over. Ask questions. Produce drafts and ask for reviews. It’s a challenge to hit the mark the first time round; there is a lot you don’t know unless you’re told. So, bundle up your questions and send them to whoever can answer them.
Prepare to create multiple iterations of your whitepaper before it’s done
Since whitepapers can be so long, cover so much and come to multiple conclusions, you should assume that you’ll do at least three iterations, or drafts of your whitepaper.
Your client will want the whitepaper to match their desired outcomes and seem like it’s coming directly from them, which will involve receiving and actioning lots of feedback. Incorporate as much of the feedback as you can, but be conscious of the aims of the whitepaper, and that the feedback isn’t detrimental to the final product.
And finally… don’t panic! whitepapers can feel daunting, but once you separate it into its constituent parts and see them as individual tasks, it won’t feel like such a big job.
Follow these basic steps, and you’ll have your whitepaper ready in no time!
Now, if you’ve read this and STILL think you can’t tackle that whitepaper, why don’t you drop us a message? We’ve handled a couple of whitepapers in our time, and we’ll be happy to help you!