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How to Write an Edgy White Paper

Friday, April 15th, 2011 by Ruth Burk

Ho-hum. Another white paper. Most clients struggle to turn this staple of the high tech industry into something exciting, engaging, and most important, actually read. An edgy white paper is refreshing. Challenges your thinking. Shows true zeal.

We’ve written hundreds of white papers. Though often few and far between, the edgy ones are my favorite. So how do you produce that somewhat elusive, but very effective, edgy white paper?

Take a stand. Popular or unpopular, you need to make a point and take a stand. Develop your story, explain options, and finish with one legitimate answer: your way. Don’t waffle, don’t try and cover every possible related topic, don’t oversell. Instead, focus on the task at hand. Take a stand. Support it. Conclude. Be done.

Don’t be afraid to be negative. Everybody wants to be positive – all the time and to a fault. A bit of constructive criticism never hurt anyone. (Unless you ask my 12-year-old son.) Don’t be afraid to say what is wrong, what could go wrong, or what will go wrong if certain actions aren’t taken. Write about “the five most common mistakes companies make and how to avoid them” and readers will flock to your asset to make sure they aren’t making the same mistakes.

Sprinkle with humor. In judicious doses, understated humor isn’t off limits. In fact, most would welcome some levity in their day. Have a little fun. Make light of a situation. But don’t be overly witty, or your readers will tune out.

Don’t underestimate the power of layout. Visual layout helps create the right vibe. Colors, font, graphics, and all that good stuff can help push the edgy quotient of your paper over the, well, edge. So you need to strike the right balance – and let the design enhance the copy, not overpower it. Take great copy and give it a great layout and you’ve got an eye-catching, easy-to-skim paper that can impart knowledge without being dull. In fact, use visual embellishments to entertain. Leave a lasting visual impression.

Follow these tips and you’ll entice readers to dive in and absorb your content without realizing they are reading a (cue dramatic music) white paper.

is a member of the Content Bureau editorial team.

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