8 Essential Elements of an Effective White Paper

So you’ve decided to create a white paper. You have a topic and know that your insight will bring nothing but traffic, leads and love to your brand, but don’t know where to begin. Start with these eight elements to turn your ideas into a profitable paper.

1. Clear Goals

These goals shouldn’t stop at “build brand awareness” or “generate more leads.” Your goals should go deep into exactly who you want to target for the paper, what they know and what this information will make them do. How much jargon is your audience familiar with? Answering this question will help your writers use the right tone and word choice. Are you looking for leads who are unaware that they need your product or are already familiar with your industry?

Drilling down to exactly what level your readers are on and what you want them to do with your white paper will help your team create the paper and help you measure the success of it.

2. A Concise Summary

Think of the entire white paper is a pot of soup and the summary is a spoonful that your readers taste to see if they like the flavor. If it’s something that tastes interesting to them they will continue reading deep into your data and research.

Your white paper is meant to provide thorough insight that even the most detailed blog post can’t cover all at once. Tell your readers what they’re getting into with the summary and rope them in to read more.

shutterstock_224595553. Data Transparency

You want your white paper to be a source for others in your industry or anyone who wants to learn more about the paper’s topic. If the data you are using is original, share as much of it as possible. For example, share a data point and then include the sample size that led to that number, or explain how you achieved the sample size and how you went about collecting answers. This data lets other thought leaders take that data and manipulate it for their articles, websites, etc. The source comes back to you and builds your name up.

If you took data from another source, list out where you go it from and give credit where credit is due. It shows that you’re not biased or just out to make a profit.

4. Qualitative Data

Data without context isn’t a white paper, it’s a spreadsheet. Consider interviewing thought leaders in your industry to get their opinions on the topic that you’re writing about. If you don’t have the time or resources, add opinions of your own: add quotes answering why you wanted to ask certain questions or why certain answers surprised you. Needless to say this isn’t meant to be a PDF about your personal preferences, but a strong white paper merges hard numbers with thoughts and ideas.

As you consider what content to add to your white paper, look into adding case studies from clients or peers. Case studies illustrate how the information you’re presenting is found in the field and adds credibility to your findings.

5. Logical Flow

As the data is getting analyzed and the writers and designers are starting to figure out the structure, ask multiple people for their opinions on the layout. As they read, take note of any questions that spring up that aren’t immediately answered in the next section. Question whether the sections follow a logical process that brings readers to your final conclusion. Remember, if your white paper comes from surveyed data, it might not make sense to present the data exactly as the survey was administered.

shutterstock_105936788This is why it’s so important to identify your exact target market before you create the paper. Knowing your audience will help your writers decide if the data should be presented in such a way that anyone can understand its importance or in a way that industry experts would find intriguing.

6. Data Visualization

Whether you’re tapping into the genius of your in-office design team or simply playing around in excel to create charts and graphs, there needs to be a design element to your white paper. Data visualization helps illustrate your points better, especially to those who are visual learners or who aren’t good with math. If your white paper relies heavily on statistics, adding pictures in key places can add some life to it.

Content is important, but it’s easy to lose readers with little or no design strategy.

kellyIGpicture87. The “Why” Element

Now that you have your statistics, quotes, charts and photos, you need to explain why your information it is important. What does this paper show about your industry that’s different? What will this data change? When people can take the numbers and findings and add meaning to them, your white paper will start getting shared to by your peers and potential clients.

Don’t just create a white paper just to attract leads with impressive statistics, set out to answer a question about your field.

8. A Launch Plan

How are you going to release it into the world? Treat it like a product launch, which it is. You are launching your expertise and your knowledge.

Consider taking a few key statistics and building a traditional PR plan around them. Start by sending out a release to media outlets that are known to cover your industry, then create a strategy for promoting the white paper on social channels, and with your email list. Another option to promote your paper is to reach out to industry blogs to guest post about the data and white paper back story.

For companies on a smaller budget, break down the White Paper over time into a series of blog posts. If your white paper has quotes from thought leaders in the industry, ask them to elaborate on their points in an interview. Your White Paper can be referenced and linked back to for months after it has been published, so make sure you have a long term plan to make the most out of your hard work.