Today's how to write article will focus on whitepapers. After you read the article, you should be able to write excellent whitepapers in the technical or business realm. Let's get started.
What is a Whitepaper
Before we get started, for those of you who don't know, let's explain what exactly a whitepaper is. Here's Wikipedia's definition:
A white paper is an authoritative report or guide that informs readers concisely about a complex issue and presents the issuing body's philosophy on the matter. It is meant to help readers understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.
The initial British term concerning a type of government-issued document has proliferated, taking a somewhat new meaning in business. In business, a white paper is closer to a form of marketing presentation, a tool meant to persuade customers and partners and promote a product or viewpoint. White papers may be considered grey literature.
Whitepapers are traditionally used in the technical realm in order to explain the workings or features of a product or service, or the science/research realm.
They are not quite as interesting to look at as other forms of advertisement, so they're not as often used in other realms.
So how do you write a whitepaper? Read on...
Getting Started with your Whitepaper
How you get started depends on what the whitepaper is about.
If you have a technical product or scientific research that you are looking to write about, you normally will have some idea of what you need to do. You can skip the next section.
However, sometimes you are tasked with writing a whitepaper about a certain topic and you're not sure exactly what to write about.
In that case, you will want to do some research. How do you do that? We will explain in the next section.
Researching your Whitepaper
How you research depends greatly on what you're looking to write.
The first thing to think about is whether you really want to write a whitepaper to begin with.
You may consider communicating your point in another form -- especially if you're looking to advertise a product or write a general summary on a topic.
But let's assume that a whitepaper is definitely what you want to write, and that the whitepaper is the best way of communicating your information.
The next step is to narrow down your broad topic to come up with something specific that you can discuss in your whitepaper.
Let's look at an example.
In a past job, I was asked to write a whitepaper on technology in the banking industry.
That subject is far too large to write a whitepaper on, so I decided to look into hot subtopics that I could expand on.
In order to narrow your topic, try the following:
- Look at magazines about your industry. They often have stories on the most significant issues, and they can give you a jumping off point.
- Ask your colleagues. They may have come across a specific question or problem in their work, which they were unable to answer.
- Check out Google News. Search your general topic and see what news reports have come out. That may give you some ideas about what issues people are interested in right now.
- If you are looking for statistics and research information, you can try sites like eMarketer. These sites have a lot of research on a variety of topics.
- You may have access to more in depth research databases, such as Lexis Nexis. These can be very valuable in finding statistics and data.
- If you can't find the answers in databases, you may want to look into doing your own poll or surveys. The specifics of doing a poll or survey are out of the scope of this article, but you can easily find organizations that provide this service.
Once you've narrowed down your topic, you will want to come up with a thesis, or some original research/revelations/ideas to present.
In my case, I decided to write about the risks of social engineering in banking and technology.
But again, that topic is too broad, and I didn't have anything original to add. So I decided to think further, and I decided to write a whitepaper that explains how to protect against social engineering in the banking industry.
If you're unable to come up with something original to focus on in your whitepaper, you may want to consider writing a "how to" piece.
For research, you can try to perform whatever task you are explaining. That way, when you write the whitepaper, you can walk someone else through how to do the same task, and provide tips and tricks to avoid pitfalls.
Preparing for Writing your Whitepaper -- the Outline
Once you have come up with a compelling idea for your whitepaper, and you have researched the topic, you should know what you want to write (at least generally).
But you won't have your thoughts in an organized manner, and you won't know if you're missing something important.
So before doing any writing, you will want to outline your whitepaper.
You don't have to be too specific, but you will want to cover all of the points you want to include in your outline. You will also want to come up with an abstract or executive summary, and a title.
Other things to include in your outline are:
- any charts, graphs that you plan to include in the whitepaper
- if you have a complex concept, consider including one or more diagrams that help explain the concept
- any callouts that you feel are necessary (for example, term definitions)
You should also add captions to all of these.
Your outline should be complete enough that each subheading corresponds to a paragraph, and each heading corresponds to a section.
Format your Whitepaper Document
Before doing any writing, you will want to prepare your document. That entails adding a header, setting up heading styles, adding page numbering, adding footers, and setting up multiple columns.
The following instructions explain how to do that in Word:
- Add headers by going to Insert -> Header. You should add the title in your header.
- Add footers by going to Insert -> Footer. Add your logo in the footer, as well as the page number, as well as a document number (if relevant)
- Add a title page, including a logo and space for a very short abstract.
- Set the format to two columns by going to Page Layout -> Columns -> Two
And Now, We Write...
Finally, we can write. The best way to do this is to start filling out sections from your outline. Don't write the introduction or the executive summary just yet. Instead, start with the first content item.
Go through each heading and subheading in your outline. Add headings in your document that correspond to the headings in the outline. Then, for every subheading, fill in a paragraph in your document. For example, take the following outline snippet:
- Types of Dogs
With that outline, you would write a header "Types of Dogs", and then 4 paragraphs underneath it.
The first paragraph would be an introduction. The second paragraph would be about retrievers; the third would be about spaniels; and the last would be about poodles.
Specific Types of Whitepapers
There are specific types of whitepapers that require special rules.
- ICO Whitepapers - Whitepapers for initial coin offerings (ICOs) are somewhat different from traditional whitepapers. If you want to write a whitepaper for an ICO, check out how to write ICO whitepapers.
- Technical Whitepapers - If you want to write a computer science, engineering, or technical whitepaper, check out how to write technical whitepapers.