Not to worry, though. Writing may not be one of your superpowers, but you can still write a white paper that does your company proud (and helps your career, too). Start with an outline. It’s a good way to organize your thoughts so writing is much easier.
And forget the fussy rules you may have learned in school. This outline is a tool for your use only. You just need something that helps you create an orderly progression of ideas.
Before you begin developing your outline:
- Clarify the message. What does your company want to communicate. Do you understand it?
- Remind yourself of WHAT you’re writing. For example, white papers express a point of view but they need to back it up with evidence. Sales letters should be heavy on persuasion.
- Learn about your audience. Are they engineers? Accountants? Sales people? What opinions do they have about your topic? Your products? Your company? Your competitors?
- Create a project timeline. Start with your deadline and work backwards from there to set interim due dates for stages of the project.
- Gather your resources. If they’re online, copy them into one folder. Create sub-folders for separate topics. Hard copy resources can be organized into physical folders. I’m partial to hard copies so I print everything and organize it in piles on my floor. Do what works for you.
- Establish writing space and time. If you need more peace and quiet than you can get in your office or cubicle, find a spot where you can focus, even if it’s off-site.
Developing the outline
Most white papers follow a basic structure:
- INTRODUCTION (A statement of your position and review of your supporting points.)
- SUPPORTING POINTS (Whatever topics you have that are relevant to your audience. Three is the minimum. I recommend setting five as your maximum. Your readers’ time and attention are limited.)
- CONCLUSION (A restatement of your message and how the supporting points support it. Mention your company's product solution here.)
You can use this as the structure of your outline. The Supporting Points section is crucial and where you should spend the most time. Your points must back up your main message in a way that’s going to make sense to your audience.
You can choose the type of outline and the style you want to use. When it comes to types there’s the Big Picture outline that lists topics in broad, general terms, or the Detailed outline that, well, goes into more detail.
Here’s what a Big Picture outline of this blogpost might look like:
Outline style is up to you as well. The traditional style is:
- Roman numerals (I, II, III), then
- Capital letters (A, B,C), then
- Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3), then
- Lower case letters (a, b, c)
Microsoft Word has its own ideas about structure. If you like their format, use it. In fact, use whatever works for you. No fussy rules, remember? Outlining is just a tool.
Writing from your outline
Once you have your finished outline in hand, you’re ready to write a draft. Since you have your resources ready and organized and you’ve carved out time and a conducive space for writing, you’ve cleared some major hurdles.
In writing you may find yourself veering away from your outline. If this happens, take a minute to think. Does the detour add to your arguments for the message you’re promoting? If so, add it to your outline and proceed with writing. Your outline is a tool that can be modified along the way.
However, if the detour from your original outline doesn't strengthen your argument, delete it. Maybe it’s a point to be made in a different white paper.
Next time you’re called on to write a white paper, use an outline to organize your thoughts. You may find it helps the writing process go more smoothly.
If you find yourself really stuck, call in a professional, a freelance writer like me. I can be reached at Claire.firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-763-546-0479.
For more on writing and outlining, visit: