How to Write a Compelling Whitepaper

6 minute read

Upland Admin

Whitepapers are one of the most common content pillars among marketing teams. And who can blame them? When done well, whitepapers can position your brand as an industry authority and help influence buying decisions

But to get those results, your whitepaper needs to successfully connect with your audience and compel them to engage with it. Following these four steps will help you to create the most compelling, authoritative and engaging whitepapers.

1. Know Your Point of View

As with any piece of content marketing, your whitepapers should have a clear point of view. This angle should guide the creation of your paper, helping your team to hone in on the best voice, topics, and presentation of the information. Just as importantly, your point of view should tie in directly with your target audience. Your brand’s purpose and position in developing a whitepaper should be obvious to the reader right away. In fact, it’s probably a major reason why they downloaded your publication in the first place: because they have a certain need that your whitepaper has promised to fill.

For instance, both AdRoll and DS SolidWorks have extensive libraries of whitepapers, and both companies trade in products or services that can be very technical. AdRoll offers ad retargeting and SolidWorks sells design and simulation software. But each brand has taken a very different approach to the point of view they provide readers.

AdRoll’s library of guides and reports mostly offers industry-wide insights. You’ll find “State of the Industry” reviews that focus on different countries. The point of view here is that top-down snapshots of the industry will help readers to make the best decisions about their retargeting practices.

On the other hand, SolidWorks has used whitepapers to delve into highly technical topics related to its product offerings. For instance, the description of “Streamlining Designs with Vibration Analysis” is all but incomprehensible to the average person. But for the company’s existing clients, this is a useful overview of how to make better and more cost-effective choices in their daily business. SolidWorks may have limited its audience by adopting a very technical and detailed point of view for its whitepapers, but every reader who comes to its resource library will probably find the exact answers they need.

2. Put Design at the Forefront

Even though whitepapers seem to be all about the words, making smart choices in the visual elements of how you present that text makes a big difference in how effective they are as communication tools. The design of your whitepaper includes everything from your font to your color choices to your layout. These elements all help to make your publication appear fresh and readable.

Also, the best whitepapers break up walls of text in resourceful ways. Got a crucial factoid or an amusing quote in the copy? Highlight it in a graphic to catch the reader’s eye. If you have lots of data points, think about whether they should be listed in bullet points or converted to a chart.

Hootsuite is a great example of how a smart layout can make your content look great. The company’s whitepapers combine a mix of font sizes, colors, and formatting to create a flow across the page. Important words and phrases are printed in bold, while the key takeaway of each section is written in a large typeface. The color schemes are harmonious together while offering visual contrast, favoring combinations such as the complementary blue and orange along with neutral blacks and whites. It also makes smart use of bulleted and numbered lists to draw the reader’s eye to the most important information.

3. Find the Best Information

No matter what the point of view is, your whitepaper should do everything possible to prove that its contents are worth the reader’s attention. That means finding and including the highest quality information possible.

For research and studies, look for the most recent data you can find. If it’s 2015 and you’re still citing information from 2011, that’s not as helpful for your readers. Also, be sure to find reliable sources. Be alert to study sizes and sources to make sure that your information is unbiased. If your audience notices that you’re using old or suspicious studies as the foundation of your arguments, they’ll be less likely to trust what you say.

It’s also good to keep an eye on quality when you’re looking for expert sources to quote in a whitepaper. If you’re offering advice to readers, be sure it’s good advice that they’ll listen to. Feldman Creative publishes well-respected whitepapers because Barry Feldman has such an established reputation as a marketing expert. People want to know his opinions and learn from his insights, so Feldman Creative’s eBooks tend to be big hits. 

Even if you can’t find a source of this caliber, make sure to turn to experts who have worthwhile insights and can express themselves well. The best sources will know how to be engaging, which makes your whitepaper engaging.

4. Give the Reader Actionable Steps

Your whitepaper isn’t a textbook. It’s not intended to be simply a series of lessons; it should have an action or actions that you want the reader to take when they finish. Make your end goals clear to the reader at every turn.

HubSpot is great at this part of creating whitepapers. Take its publication titled How to Acquire Customers With Social Media, for example. It’s packed with not just great information, but also direct missives for how the reader can put that information to good use. Same with the company’s other titles, which cover how-to steps for sales, marketing, social media, and other business topics. With “How-to” right in the title of so many publications, the reader knows that they’ll walk away with lots to put into practice if they read the whole thing. 

To keep your publication compelling, be sure to think about all of the various steps that go into creating the desired result from your reader. Make each of those steps a call-to-action. You’re the reader’s guide, so you need to show them how to get the outcome they want, whether that’s finding customers on social media, learning about your service, or improving their own business.

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