10 Steps to an Effective and Engaging White Paper

10 Steps to an Effective and Engaging White Paper

Here are some tips on understanding and crafting an effective whitepaper from the expert digital strategists at Chemistry PR.

In a digital world, the word “whitepaper” can conjure thoughts of static, wordy PDFs. While the predecessors to today’s whitepapers may have been just that (and usually printed!), we believe a whitepaper can be not only dynamic and visual, but highly shareable, and an engaging read.

Whitepapers can be a tremendous resource for thought leadership, business development, and market growth. These documents demonstrate deep knowledge on a given topic, engendering trust in your company and its people, while lending your brand visibility as materials are shared as a resource.

Because whitepapers continue to be an effective tool for businesses of all sizes and sectors—and because the mediums in which they are developed are becoming more innovative—it’s important to take a strategic approach. Think of a whitepaper as a mix between a long-form blog piece and a research report. Informative, easy to read, but with more depth and formality than a company blog.

To develop whitepapers that perform, we follow the below guidelines:


1. Understand What a Whitepaper Is and Isn’t

Overly-promotional whitepapers are a turn off. While a simple call to action in your conclusion can be appropriate, don’t treat this exercise as a sales piece. Not only will it seem less authentic, but it can undermine your credibility. Demonstrate your strengths through the quality of the whitepaper content, and you’ll have readers thinking, “These seem like great people to work with.”


2. Have a Point of View

Unlike a research report, which must remain largely objective, whitepapers often afford an opportunity to assert your point of view and share original ideas. Ground this perspective in evidence, whether third-party research, industry data, or the insights of trusted thought leaders, to ensure credibility. Remember, people aren’t choosing your business for your ability to regurgitate what others have said, but for your insights and differentiators.


3. Identify Your Audience (and the competition)

A whitepaper directed at institutional investors will be much different from one written for mom bloggers. It’s likely that your whitepaper audience matches that of your current and prospective clients, consumers, or partners. Yet, it’s still important to understand what those audiences want to learn more about, and how they like to consume information. The simplest way to do this is to conduct a competitive analysis—read the whitepapers your competitors are producing for your target audiences. Learn from what they are and aren’t doing well.


4. Start with an Outline

Sounds basic, but it’s important to outline your key insights and flow before putting finger to keyboard (we know pen to paper is so outdated!). These are a few elements we suggest including in your outline:

  • Objective: what is the end goal—thought leadership, business development, sales, etc.?
  • Thesis: what is the ultimate point you want to make?
  • Sections/insights: organize the insights that ladder up to your thesis into sections (yes, just like writing a school paper).
  • Call to action: keeping in mind that whitepapers are not sales pieces, identify an organic and simple call to action—whether that’s to learn more by visiting your website, set up a consulting session, or encourage dialogue and feedback on the topic. This should fall at the end of the document.


5. Select Supporting or Supplementary Elements

Recall that whitepapers should include third-party data and insights to demonstrate your credibility. With your outline completed, begin selecting the supporting materials to include, and determine where they fit into your narrative. Those might include:

  • Data: depending on the topic and availability of data, select proof points to support your perspectives. It should go without saying, but ALWAYS cite sources.
  • Quotes: either by conducting interviews with trusted thought leaders or pulling from articles and speeches, select commentary that supplements your content. Again—cite sources.
  • Visuals: determine the visuals you’ll use, and how copy will support them (these could be graphs and charts, or simply photos).
  • Case studies: while not always a necessity, case studies can be helpful in supporting your ideas and demonstrating your knowledge of the market and general best practices.


6. Determine the Medium

Print is not dead. A nicely designed printed whitepaper is a great asset to bring to conferences, networking events, or to display in your office. While PDFs live in digital folders or online, your physical whitepaper will sit on the reader’s desk – how’s that for visibility? Whether or not you print your whitepaper, create a digital version. We suggest hosting it on your website and creating a downloadable copy that readers can link directly to for easy sharing.

If you really want to wow, consider creating an interactive online version of the whitepaper. More companies are taking this approach with annual reports and original research. Readers tend to spend more time with this content, and it serves double-duty as a way to demonstrate your digital capabilities and out-of-the-box thinking.


7. Write!

It’s important to choose your medium or mediums before writing. A printed whitepaper may be denser than an interactive online version or a PDF (and it’s absolutely fine to have two versions). With your outline and supplementary elements in place and medium decided, developing the narrative and melody of your whitepaper will be straightforward.


8. Develop a Promotion Plan

Don’t release your whitepaper into a void. At minimum, you should plan on promoting your content via the following methods:

  • Website: if you have a highlights section or scrolling header, use that real estate to promote the whitepaper.
  • Social media: pulse out content over 1-2 weeks, across all your channels. Include insights from the whitepaper, not just links—give your followers a reason to click through.
  • Newsletter: a whitepaper merits its own newsletter. At the least, give it a prominent place in your regular newsletter.
  • PR: not all whitepapers are newsworthy, but organizations in niche industries often secure coverage in trade press.
  • Outreach: because whitepapers are often developed as a lead generation tool, consider drafting personal emails to your top targets. Attach the report and highlight sections or insights material to their business.


9. Repurpose Your Work

Whitepapers are often considered “evergreen” content—meaning the information and insights within hold true over a longer period of time than a social media post or some research reports. Package portions of the report into blog posts, social content, newsletters, or infographics—and ensure you link back to the full whitepaper.


10. Measure and Adjust

Many of our clients produce several whitepapers each year. Whether you create one or one per quarter, it’s critical to analyze that whitepaper’s performance. How many times was it downloaded? How and when was it shared? Did it produce any leads? There are a number of tools that can help you measure content performance. Use those metrics to identify what worked, and what can be improved on—and apply those learnings to your next whitepaper. Writing your first whitepaper can seem daunting. Working with a partner to plan, develop, and release your content can save your team time, accelerate the process, and provide you with the foundation to develop more outstanding content.