Welcome to part one of the “bake a white paper from scratch” series. Here you sit, ready to start your new white paper. You might be a product manager who needs supporting collateral for sales, a marketing team member who’s been given the assignment, or perhaps you have a small or mid-size business, without the luxury of a marketing team, writing it yourself. Either way, you’re facing what might seem like a daunting project ahead. So, let’s take the mystery out of it and work through this together.

The first thing you need to do is determine just why you need a white paper. If you’re going to spend the time to create one, and believe me it will take much time and effort (remember your college final essay?), you better have a plan for its use. For example, will you offer it as a lead generator through a give-away in return for sign up?  Will you leave it behind after a sales call? Hand it out at trade shows? Or, will it just sit on your Resource page in your website hoping someone might discover it and find it worthwhile?

Assuming you have big plans or its use, let’s talk about some tips that will make your white paper a compelling read and successful medium. First off, white papers have been averaging 6-10 pages, and lately, as small as 4-6 pages (though I don’t think you can do a topic justice in such a short format). Expect your paper to be about 2500-3000 words. The tone of the paper should be in third-person (no using “you” or “we”). You want the paper to come across as unbiased as possible. Think of this as more of an educational tool than a sales pitch.

Now you need a topic your readers will relate to. You might brainstorm with your team or your sales rep to identify specific pain points your product solves—or perhaps you already know. Choose just one business or technical problem! If you solve more than one problem, or address vastly different industries, consider writing a second white paper.

Perhaps you offer a learning management solution that tracks employee training compliance and growth goals. Your white paper topic may be how to solve the tough job of assigning specific training courses to employees, sending reminders, and tracking successful completion. Imagine the pain in trying to do that manually with spreadsheets! Your white paper might not get distracted with assisting in employee growth through training (though may mention that as an additional benefit near the end).

Your first assignment till next time is to come up with a specific business or technical problem that your product or service can solve. In the next post, we’ll talk more about the specific details in the paper.