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How To Write a Great (Sexy) White Paper

Thursday, July 8th, 2010 by Ruth

White papers get a bad rap. Dull. Long. Overly-complicated. Anything but sexy. But because their longer format and more academic voice are so uniquely suited to sharing thought leadership with your customers, they’re still one of the highest-impact marcom assets you can create. Give your customers what they yearn for—variety, visual interest, and bold content—and they’ll fall in love with white papers (and your company) all over again.

Add variety: Rather than settle for a long, tedious paper in your usual template, shake things up with a new format. You can still define a problem, offer a solution, outline the benefits, and draw a conclusion—but deliver this content in a tantalizing new way. Spice up your paper with a Cosmo-style self-rating quiz, create urgency with a list of top five mistakes to avoid, or open with a high-impact customer story. For instant wow, use interactive PDF (iPDF), the ultimate nav-friendly layout, for any paper 12 pages or longer.

Dress it up: Keep your customers’ eyeballs on your content with irresistible charts, information graphics, photography, and other design elements. Visual aids make the paper more agreeable to the eye, and give your reader a short break from processing page after page of your gripping text. We suggest liberal use of sidebars, call-out quotes and customer stories, plus information graphics, charts, and graphs to illustrate statistics. Don’t underestimate the power of even the most basic chart to aid retention of key concepts, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: how to create a sexy white paper

Figure 1: how to create a sexy white paper

Be assertive: Even with variety and visual interest, a white paper will fall short of expectations without ultra-compelling content. Be the first to write about a new issue or problem just flashing onto your customers’ radar. Boldly describe a new approach or concept. Take your customers out of their comfort zones –and keep them reading—by detailing best practices from other industries or regions. Take a strong stand and back it up with a list of brief, consistent bullets. Honestly, is there anything sexier than bullets that

  • Are easy to scan
  • Break up otherwise bulky copy
  • Convey multiple concepts economically
  • Generate pleasing white space in layout?

Say goodbye to mind-numbing rambles. Bring passion and enthusiasm to your white papers by giving your readers the variety, visual clues, and boldness they desire.

is a member of the Content Bureau editorial team.

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