Writing a Technical White Paper or Whitepaper
Overview and Objective
Every new technology has barriers to entry. Often times these barriers are based on myth or inaccurate facts that have been presented in the media. Some times the barriers are based on real world experience of customers using similar technologies. Other times a truly new technology comes along that addresses a problem in a different way. In all cases, it is incumbent upon the vendor to educate prospects, analysts, and the press about the technology or a new approach to solving the problem. The objective of the technology "Whitepaper" or "White Paper" is to make an argument for a technology or approach and educate the reader as to why the argument is valid.
A whitepaper can be of varying length, usually from four pages to twenty. Anything longer probably won't hold the reader's attention.
The white paper should be formatted into small sections with clear titles for easy reading. Most white papers won't be read from cover-to-cover but rather skimmed for information that is important or educational to the reader.
The outline of a white paper varies drastically depending upon the content. The following is an example outline:
1) Overview - The initial argument is stated in some detail.
2) Key points - A listing is provided of the facts and statistics to back up the argument. This is where the technology is explained.
3) Examples - Real world examples of applying the technology. Examples allow the reader to visualize how the theory presented applies in the real world.
4) Summary - A reemphasis of the initial argument pulling in a summary of the facts and examples.
The following are some points to keep in mind as you build your white paper:
1) Remember your point. Identify the point of your paper before you start writing the white paper and write it down. It is easy to get off on tangents when talking about technical subjects. Remember the point of your paper, from the opening paragraph through to the summary, and make sure that each section talks to this central point
2) Use metaphors, but make sure they appeal to a wide audience. Metaphors are a good way to help make your point, but be sure they will be understood by your target audience. For example, a metaphor that references the US government may not be understood by an international market.
3) Talk to your competitors' weaknesses. Though it is not necessary to mention your competitors by name, it will be helpful to your positioning if you call out the strengths of your product over your competitors' products.
4) Don't talk in a negative tone to your audience. In calling out problems it is easy to slide into talking negatively about the people who created them. For example, the following sentence is very negative: "Corporate bureaucrats often make their business processes far more complex than necessary." Your audience will probably not directly relate to the sentence. Someone reading this from a company with highly complex business processes would understand that their processes are complex, but also understands that they became complex for a reason. They may feel that you don't understand their company and they may also take offense. A better way to word this would be, "Corporations often have highly complex processes that have evolved over time for a number of varied reasons. Many of these reasons may no longer be valid, leaving business process far more complex than necessary." This is a sentence that most everyone in any company can relate to.
5) Try to control the length of the paper. Very few people will read through a 30-page white paper. They will, however, scan the headings and diagrams and read the sections that they feel are relevant to them.
The white paper should be just that, printed on white paper and a clean format for easy duplication and the ability to e-mail as text. It should include diagrams or illustrations that help make points. It may be stapled or bound for easier reading. It should be included in press kits, used for a handout at trade shows, and be made available on the web site in both PDF format for download and html for on-line reading. PDF may also be desired if there are lots of graphics.
Here is a basic process for writing White Papers:
1) Agree on objective of white paper.
2) Define the target reader of the white paper.
3) Interview key people in the company on their insights and opinions of the topic.
4) Interview customers or the target market on their issues and insights.
5) Gather data sheets, MRDs, competitive data, and functional specifications for back-up information.
6) Write a first draft.
7) Review first draft with technical resource and a sales resource.
8) Write second draft.
9) Review second draft with product manager, engineering, and management.
10) Review the draft with a customer or prospect to make sure that you are talking at the right level.
11) Write and review final draft.