If your career has plateaued, publishing a compelling white paper can improve your visibility and stature by demonstrating your ability to recognize and solve problems. While the term “white paper” might freak you out, writing a technical document needn’t be intimidating. Here are the keys to crafting one that successfully sells you and your potential:
Define Your Audience, Problem and Solution
If your target audience is the CTO or CIO, ask yourself: what keeps him or her up at night? Clearly defining the problem you want to tackle and figuring out if it’s worth solving makes it easier to come up with a solution. “The audience is the heart of any good white paper,” explained Dr. Kim Sydow Campbell, professor and chair of the Department of Technical Communication at the University of North Texas. “It’s not enough to have a good understanding of the technology, a business leader has to care about your solution.” Once you’ve identified a burning problem, draft a short summary of your solution. However, you’ll still need to validate your key hypothesis and assumptions before you start writing.
Establishing a list of objectives will ensure that your content is focused and makes a persuasive argument. For example, is your goal to establish yourself as an authority and thought leader? Do you want to demonstrate that you are uniquely qualified to tackle these types of problems in the future? What action do you want the CIO to take? Compare your draft to your goals to confirm that your message is clear and inspires action.
Research the Market
There are several things you need to know before you begin writing, according to Pawan Deshpande, CEO of Curata, a provider of content marketing tools and platforms. First, what kind of content already exists on the topic? What are the popular keywords and phrases that need to be woven into your paper? Is there a consensus opinion regarding the solution? “Taking a unique perspective or developing a varied opinion that you can cohesively explain and support will pique interest and encourage readership,” Deshpande noted via email. What type of data or research exists to back up your solution? You’ll need to formulate a strong opinion that can be validated by research, code samples or screen shots. Foster credibility by ensuring that any data you use is properly cited and comes from a trusted and reputable source. White papers that are viewed as straight-up marketing gimmicks usually get tossed, Campbell said. While the majority of white papers argue a specific position or propose a solution to a problem, they may come in a variety of formats, lengths and structures, Campbell added. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel; follow an existing format by reading some samples
on TechRepublic or other sites
, or use a template.
Write, Edit, Repeat
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you build your paper from outline through final draft:
- Focus on tech as a solution to a business problem
- Use a business-like style with short sentences, second-person pronouns and limited tech terms (include definitions for the lattermost)
- Create a strong beginning, middle and end so the paper is enjoyable to read
- Incorporate keywords and phrases in your title and description to increase search results
- Hire a professional editor, and keep revising until it’s perfect
- Get feedback, especially from recognized experts or someone who's part of your target market
- Since you don’t want to sound too “salesy,” use a soft close by including links to your online profiles, website or portfolio
Promote Your White Paper
Publish your paper in online libraries that cater to your target audience. Promote it on social media and include a link to your paper in cover letters, emails and professional profiles. Spark a conversation online by asking other subject matter exerts to weigh in. Feeling extra ambitious? Deshpande suggests creating a short video of your executive summary that explains your research and theory. Share the video on professional profiles, YouTube and other video hosting platforms. It may take some extra work, but creating a compelling white paper can potentially amp up your career.