How to Write a White Paper Using the WHITE Method

Ok, I agree it’s not a very original name for a method, but this WHITE method works to plan a white paper!

White paper copywriting is walking a fine line between educating and selling. Hard selling in a white paper will ruin the mood!
White paper copywriting is walking a fine line between educating and selling. Hard selling in a white paper will ruin the mood!

Let’s first agree on what a white paper is…

  1.  A white paper is primarily a persuasive piece of commercial writing that does not do hard selling.  A white paper informs and educates about a problem and possible solutions, but only mentions you in passing at the end of the paper.
  1.  White papers are often used as lead generating pieces, meaning that you ask someone for their email address before giving them a link to the PDF white paper.  They can be very powerful selling pieces, even though there is no “hard selling” in them.
  1. Some additional features of white papers:
  • Use facts, logic, and proof to back up the problems and solutions
  • Prospects will read a white paper before a purchase is made, during the research phase
  • 6-8 pages (generally) is the average (effective) white paper length
  1. White papers work because they educate, and white papers are especially useful when selling complex products or services, that fix complex problems.  The prospect figures that if you know so much about the problem, you must also know how to fix it!
  1. For most white papers, think: problem –> solution.  A case study (different type of commercial writing genre) is more before –> after.

Ok, so now that we have defined a white paper (by my exacting standards, ha!), let’s start hammering out the WHITE method!  Each step in the WHITE method helps develop a key ingredient that you should incorporate into your white paper.  Except for the “E-End” section, you could interchange these features, such as telling several stories throughout the white paper, or showing illustrations in the problem AND solution sections.

Here we go…

* W *  – What is the main problem?  Use facts, logic, proof to describe the problem in great detail.  Try to really get into the mind of a prospect that might come across your white paper.  Their business has a nasty itch, and they want to learn more about how to soothe that itch.  Teach them, professor, about their itch!

* H * – How do you fix the problem?  Be careful here — you don’t want to now start blabbing about how good your product and service is.  This is time to talk about a solution – in general – to the problem discussed above.  Think “flux capacitor” instead of “our newly reconfigured Flux-O 7000A with wi-fi.”

* I * – Illustration.  Use pictures to help explain the problem.  Whether you use a graph, infographic, picture (with captions and maybe callouts), add some interesting visuals to the discussion.  Many technical people are helped by crisp, clear graphics, and you can reach people that think visually.  If the problem has an equipment picture or a diagram that can help explain it, I recommend using callouts with arrows.  

* T * – Tell a story – and/or – Testimonial.  Do you have a client that can describe the problem in exquisite detail before they fixed it using your product or service?  Get their experience or testimonial into your white paper, just be careful to sanitize mentions of your specific product and service, use the general term for the solution.  

Be very careful with talking about your business, products, and services in a white paper. White papers are not brochures!
Be very careful with talking about your business, products, and services in a white paper. White papers are not brochures!

* E * – End with just a bit of information regarding your business.  Hard selling in a white paper can ruin the mood!  Delicately — like a beekeeper using that smoke can to calm the bees — use a separation line and give a brief 1-2 sentence description of what your business does.  This is why it’s nice to get the prospect’s contact info before sending them the white paper, so you can follow up.

There you have it – the WHITE method for writing a white paper!

If you would like to hire the guy that created the WHITE method, for writing your white paper, or any commercial writing for that matter, go here.