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What Makes a Good IT White Paper Good… and a Bad IT White Paper Very, Very Bad…

Written By: Jane Affleck
Published On: November 30 2007

A white paper is a document or “brief” (and yes, perhaps unfortunately, I mean “brief” in the sense of something that informs rather than something that is short—white papers are sometimes as concise as newspaper editorials, or run as long as the latest “… For Dummies” book; examples of this will be provided in upcoming posts). A white paper’s purpose is to educate the reader, who is the potential customer/consumer of a particular industry’s service or product. The author of the white paper aims not just to inform readers, but also to persuade them to clamor after said service or product. Or, at the very least, readers are encouraged to consider the product’s use and benefits—information which may help in making key business decisions.

White papers are intended to inform—and to sell an idea or a product. Another way to look at it: a white paper identifies a need (or more cynically, creates a need or desire) and then suggests a solution. After all, as Michael Stelzner, a recognized expert in white paper writing, says: white papers are “powerful marketing tools” (or, in a more hyperbolic moment on his blog, “atomic marketing weapons”). In spite of this underlying purpose, it is generally understood that a white paper—or at least a good one—shouldn’t be overtly “salesy.” Or, in other words, a white paper is not supposed to be an infomercial in silent portable document format.



There are already a number of helpful online sources and books devoted to white paper “how-tos” and “dos and don’ts.” Here, in a series of posts, I’ll provide summaries of the main points that can be found in a couple of helpful sources, including Stelzner’s “How to Write a White Paper: A White Paper on White Papers”, as well as his web sites http://www.stelzner.com/copy-whitepapers.html, http://www.writingwhitepapers.com/book/, and http://www.stelzner.com/copy-HowTo-whitepapers.php.

Here's the first point...

1. A Compelling Title
Why? Because the title is the first part of your white paper the reader sees. And, it might be the only thing the reader sees, if the title is used as a link to the white paper itself: a lousy title won’t inspire readers to click and download, never mind read it. So, the title should grab the reader’s attention, by stating clearly and concisely what the white paper is about. Not too plain (the dry cake donut amidst the chocolate and maple glazed), but not too fancy either (an inch of frosting and with a cloud of colored sprinkles).

Stay tuned for the next "good IT white paper" point, to be posted soon.

In the meantime, need free white paper goodness? Go to TEC's white paper site.
 
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