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On Writing White Papers as a Freelance Writer

A Guest Writer Tells You How

So you've decided you need a white paper. What exactly should the objectives be? Will the paper be well-received? Where do you start? These and many other questions are common concerns that should be addressed from the start.

What Is a White Paper?

A white paper typically argues a specific position or solution to a problem. White papers are powerful marketing tools used to help key decision-makers and influencers justify implementing solutions.

Know The White Paper's Audience

Perhaps the biggest mistake white paper writers make involves not properly understanding the disposition of their readers. A white paper must quickly identify problems or concerns faced by its readers and lead them down the path to a solution provided by your product or
  service. Different types of readers look at the same problems from different perspectives.

Decide on an Approach

There are really only two ways to write white papers: (1) by focusing on your self-interests or (2) by concentrating on the interests of your readers. The self-interest approach focuses exclusively on a product, service or solution by expounding on its benefits, features and implications. While effective in some circumstances, this approach is best left for something other than a white paper, such as a data sheet or product brief. The self-serving approach is often focused on the mistaken belief that people like to read boring details about why your product is the best thing since the invention of the Internet.

The alternative approach is to focus on the needs of your readers. This can be effectively accomplished by leading with the problems your solution overcomes, rather than the actual solution itself.

The Needs Assessment

An important first step is performing a needs assessment. The essence of the assessment involves asking questions about the target audience and the paper’s objectives. Here are a few needs assessment tips:

  • Identify the primary and secondary target audiences for the paper.
  • Ask lots questions about the audience: what is their typical title, average age, general disposition and so on.
  • Determine the objective of the paper: to educate, sell, inform, differentiate, introduce, etc.
  • What are the big level issues, problems or needs that must be addressed in the paper?
  • Develop an outline that will guide future discussions.
  • Who are the key players who must be interviewed?
  • Who are the key competitors to analyze?
  • What is the schedule and timeline?

Add Substance

A white paper must contain informative and persuasive information. The goal of a white paper is to lead the reader toward the conclusion that your product or service will best meet his or her needs. To accomplish this, you must substantially make your case. Here are a few areas that may help you add beef to your paper:

  • Offer the "what to look for" pitch: An overview of the important characteristics that solve the problem you have been discussing is an effective solution for adding substance to a white paper. This section of your paper can be "the buyer's guide" that helps your readers set a standard by which all of your competitors will be judged.


  • Provide examples: It is always useful to explain situations where your solution would be particularly effective. You can be as specific or as generic as you like. Sometimes it is useful to talk about specific industries where the solution works well. Other times it makes sense to talk about specific customers who have found success with the product.

About the Author: Michael Stelzner has written more than 100 papers for high-technology corporations on topics ranging from artificial intelligence to the Internet and is the editor of WhitePaperSource, the leading newsletter devoted to producing and marketing white papers. Michael's clients include Fortune 500 companies such as HP, Motorola, Cardinal Health, Intuit, Quantum, Compaq and Seagate as well as small emerging startups. Contact Michael at mike@stelzner.com.

Want to Learn More? For a free copy of Michael Stelzner's ”How to Write a White Paper: A White Paper on White Papers" or subscribe to , a quarterly newsletter devoted to white papers.

Copyright 2004, Michael A. Stelzner and Stelzner Consulting.

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