So, you’re ready to establish your authority in your industry with a head-turning white paper that converts readers into buyers.
But you’ve got a problem…
There’s no way you can write it.
You don’t have the time, the experience, nor the writing chops.
So, you need an expert white paper writer—a word wizard that can cast a spell over your audience and transform them into customers.
But where do you even start? What do you look for in a professional white paper writer? How do you distinguish the the great from the not-so-great?
That’s what this article is for.
We’ll go over the 5 most important principles of a great white paper writer:
Using these principles, you’ll be able to find seasoned white paper writers that can craft your white paper in a way that influences prospects to take the action you want.
A white paper is a big, complex undertaking.
When you hire a white paper writer, you’re also hiring a project manager. You need someone to coordinate all the moving parts to ensure your white paper perfectly comes together.
While it can be hard to assess a writer’s project management skills beforehand, there is an important clue: their kickoff session.
The kickoff session is an initial call or meeting that allows the writer to gain a thorough understanding of the project and what it entails. It sets the foundation for the entire white paper, which is why it is first and foremost among the five major principles.
The writer should lead the discussion while taking detailed notes. Ideally, the notes should be sent to you as a preliminary deliverable for you to review.
The kickoff session should cover things like the white paper’s:
A good kickoff ensures everyone is on the same page and allows an experienced white paper writer to do three very important things:
White paper writers must be able to clearly envision who they will be writing for. This helps them establish the tone of the white paper, narrow the scope of the research, and ensure all data is relevant to your specific audience.
There are three aspects of an audience a writer will need to discover:
Demographics: facts such as age range, education level, position in company, and company size.
Psychographics: qualitative traits such as habits, hopes, and dreams.
Technographics: the device(s) they will use to read your white paper, such as desktop, smartphone, or hard copy.
A white paper is just one part of your content marketing funnel. In order to create the best white paper possible, your writer will need to understand and adress your audience’s needs based on where they are in the buying cycle.
There are three general phases to consider:
Beginning: your audience is still exploring possible solutions.
Middle: advice and guidance can give shape and focus to your audience’s plans.
End: your audience is comparing options and preparing to choose a vendor.
Knowing all this allows your writer to pick the perfect type of white paper for your project. No one white paper can do everything, so it’s important to consider how the white paper will be executed:
Will it highlight a certain product?
Will it provoke a certain issue?
Will it solve a certain industry problem?
When considering a white paper writer to hire, make sure to get a sense of what their kickoff session entails. Seeing how they will lay the foundation for your white paper and entire working relationship can reveal whether you’ve got a rockstar or a dud.
Some say generalists, who can adapt to any topic, tend to be the best white paper writers.
After all, it takes years to attain the mastery required to become a persuasive writer that can effectively structure a white paper. Whereas any good researcher can learn the jargon, assess the issues, and identify the key players of an industry.
But there’s more to it than that.
True domain expertise can’t be replicated in a timely matter. A domain expert takes the same continuing education classes, reads the same literature, and attends the same conferences as those in their industry.
More importantly, they know the mindset and how those in their industry think because they are a part of it. They don’t just “understand” your target audience, they are (or once were) your target audience.
This allows a domain expert to write in a way that strongly resonates with your audience. When reading an expert’s work, your audience will feel like they’re being spoken to directly.
And because domain experts live within their industry, they are well connected. They can find perfect interview targets for supporting quotes and information to add credibility to your white paper.
So, if possible, you’ll want a white paper writer that is a domain expert or has some level of expertise.
But it’s not always possible to find a writer who is also an expert in your industry. And even if you find one, you’d have to accommodate their schedule and be willing to pay a premium for their expertise.
A good middle ground is to find a writer that has already written for your industry or a similar industry.
Such a writer won’t need any hand holding and will be comfortable with the industry. They will be able to easily connect the dots between your white paper and what’s going on in your industry and beyond.
The topic of your white paper ultimately decides its success. If the topic doesn’t resonate with your audience, no one is going to read it.
Professional white paper writers should be able to choose a topic that meets the following criteria:
They are qualified to write about it or can become qualified with a reasonable amount of research.
It should interest, attract, or catch the attention of your audience.
It fills a content gap where little content has already been produced to address it.
This is another area where domain expertise comes in handy. An expert will be able to spout off ideas for your white paper because they spend their days reading and writing about your industry.
Even if you already have a specific topic in mind, a great white paper writer should be able to refine and distill the topic into a compelling title and outline.
Though you can’t determine how your writer will perform here before hiring, you’ll want to get a sense of how they go about topic ideation and how they chose the topics of some of their previous works.
As they say, past performance is a good indication of future performance.
So, too, is the case with white paper writers. It’s important that you review past white papers in a writer’s portfolio to see the level of work they can deliver. These should be actual client pieces, not mockups.
Most importantly, a white paper must deliver on its premise with well-written information. But there are a few other things to pay attention to when evaluating a writer’s portfolio:
How is the writing? The tone of a white paper should be engaging, yet formal. It’s a delicate balance, but a white paper shouldn’t be overly dry nor should it be too casual. While reading a writer’s portfolio, try to get a feel for their style of writing and whether they achieve this balance.
A good white paper writer should be able to envision strong graphics that help tell the story. While writers won’t design the graphs, charts, and illustrations themselves, they take the lead by giving direction on placement and arrangement. When looking at a writer’s samples, see how the graphics are used throughout to highlight key points.
Research is an integral part of any white paper. A look at a white paper’s citations can reveal how thorough that research is. When reviewing citations, you’ll also want to pay attention to how they are styled. Do they use in-line citations, footnotes, a bibliography, or some combination?
After a kickoff, many writers jump in and start writing.
This is incredibly risky for them and you as a client. Without much direction other than some preliminary information, a lot of the work could end up removed and altered, at great time and expense for all parties.
Instead, it’s far better for your writer to provide a small deliverable to assess the direction and structure of the white paper before they start writing.
That’s where the executive summary or synopsis comes in.
After the kickoff, your writer should gather all the background information and relevant research and boil it down into a brief outline that sums up the gist of your argument. You and your team can then review the draft summary and provide feedback on anything that should be added, changed, or removed.
This simple spot check can avoid a lot of wasted time and effort. It’s much easier to tweak a summary than rework a multi-page draft.
Once approved, your writer can simply expand the summary into the complete white paper.
So, make sure your writer provides a draft executive summary as your first deliverable. If not, be sure to request it.
Just as there are things you should expect of your white paper writer, there are also things that you should not expect. These expectations are either unwise, unrealistic, or just plain unreasonable.
While any writer worth his salt will proofread their own work, it’s unwise not to have an objective third party review the document.
Editorial proofreaders make a living analyzing the words on the page. They will tear apart every sentence and find every small issue, inconsistency, or grammatical misstep. They help you maximize clarity and deliver your message flawlessly.
It may seem unnecessary, but an editorial proofreader is worth every penny as they will find mistakes you and your writer are completely blind to.
It’s unrealistic to expect your white paper writer to also be able to design your white paper.
Writers write. Designers design. Trying to get someone who can “do it all” is a surefire way to end up with a mediocre white paper.
You engage a writer for their skills with words, and so too should you engage a graphic designer for their skills with graphics.
White papers in particular are tricky to design because they are naturally dense, formal documents. A good design requires an excellent layout that breaks up the dense wall of text into sections that are easy to absorb. It uses great graphics that clarify and enhance your points without overwhelming or distracting the reader.
So, ideally you’ll want a designer that has experience with white papers and can show you some previous work. You can also ask your white paper writer if they have any recommendations. Alternatively you could use us, as we specialize in designing white papers.
Thinking that your writer will be involved in any aspect of promotion, from strategy to implementation, is unreasonable.
Once the final draft of the white paper is approved, your writer’s job is done. Promotion is up to you. Ideally, your white paper will have some kind of marketing plan that fits within your wider sales funnel. A lot of marketing strategies we see begin before the white paper is even finished.
You’ll need to have a good handle on how you plan to get your white paper in the hands of your audience. Nothing is worse than having an amazing white paper that no one reads.
Now you know what to expect (and what not to expect) from a great white paper writer.
White papers live and die by the words on the page, so use these guidelines to help you hire the perfect candidate to bring your white paper to life and grow your business.