When it comes to white papers, I’m not just a producer – I’m also a consumer, relying on existing white papers to explain a client’s technology to me, or to bring me up to date on a hot topic for a feature story.

Having sat on both sides of the fence – as a writer and a reader – here’s what I look for in a good white paper:

Be honest: A good white paper has to educate me, first and foremost, and leave the sales spin for the obligatory final section that describes how “One example of a scalable, robust enterprise widget is the Informatics Widget 2.01…etc. etc.” I’m reading the white paper to get educated before I can begin comparing products. Taint the entire white paper with sales speak and I’m gone. But adding “a word from our sponsor” at the end is not only acceptable, but valuable, if it tells the reader where you fit in the marketplace and how you solve the problems you’ve described.

Be clear: In writing a white paper the author needs to back way, way up and explain the subject from the perspective of their spouse, their friend – someone who’s intelligent but who doesn’t live and breath the subject matter e very day. If you introduce a piece of jargon, explain it – immediately, and in plain terms. DO NOT use another piece of jargon you haven’t explained to define the first piece of jargon: “Virtualization is simply the abstraction of application services in a loosely-coupled ecosystem of interfaces…etc. etc.”

Be graphic: Diagrams help, especially when you’re describing abstract concepts such as middleware, application mash-ups and virtual machines. A series of diagrams that build on each other – simple concept first, then add a bit more complexity, then a bit more – are very effective. Make sure your diagrams don’t contain any jargon or terms you haven’t explained in the text. And if you include screen shots, make them big and clear enough that the reader can actually see them.

 If a white paper does nothing more than prove you know your subject matter and can explain it clearly, you’ve carved out valuable space in a prospect’s mind. Good luck.

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

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