[ Editor’s Note: This article is the first of a two-part series.]
Research-based white papers can be used as promotional tools—either directly, or in support of other promotions. To be effective, though, certain aspects of white papers are most likely to be important such as:
1. Supportive, already-published, footnoted research. (Unlike blogs, white papers should be devoid of unsubstantiated statements, opinions or conclusions. Blogs are about what you think—white papers are about what independent experts think.) 2. An objective outline structure that weighs both sides of the issue. 3. An objective and balanced writing style, more formal and objective than found in most blogs. 4. A named author with independent credentials.
Realistically, promotionally oriented white papers have axes to grind. However, for them to be successful, they must seem unbiased. The conclusions must flow directly and completely from the cited research, rather than the writer’s opinions. This is a major difference between white papers and blogs and why a well-written white paper has more credibility than many blogs. White papers long have been a staple of Silicon Valley start-ups. Targets frequently include potential clients and investors, as well as the trade media.
The Process: These step-by-step instructions may sound academic, but that is because white papers are based on research, which often is academic in nature. Before you begin, develop a detailed outline of points you intend to cover. In your research seek academic or scientific sources if applicable, rather than mainstream media sources.
Thesis Statement: Spell out what you intend to demonstrate in the white paper.
Lay the Foundation: Present a background that examines both sides of an issue or provides a step-by-step history of how what exists today has developed over time.
Identify a Core Problem: This is the issue that the cited research will compare and contrast. It begins the deep exploration of the marketplace problem the white paper will attempt to solve, or point in the direction of a new solution.
Identify the Alternative Solution: This is the new alternative to the long-standing solution which, as previously identified, doesn’t work as effectively as the market would like.
Supporting Evidence: Having made the case that a new paradigm has evolved, the white paper now digs in, citing published research to validate this new paradigm.
Implementing the Alternative Solution: Here the research being cited is based on published studies of the relative efficacy of the new paradigm solution in the field. Having already cited research regarding the efficacy of the existing technology solution to the problem under consideration, compare-and-contrast can begin by citing the contrasting findings.
Draw Conclusions: Having presented both sides accurately and dispassionately, the white paper now starts to draw conclusions. Again, these should focus on published facts, rather than the author’s opinion.
Supporting the Conclusion: Having drawn the conclusion, add further support, from yet other published studies.
Summary: A brief (1–2 paragraphs) re-statement of the thesis statement found in the headline.
Cited Sources: These are standard end-notes, linked via superscript numbers to pages within the white paper. Include the title, the author, where it was first published and a hotlink (if it is digital) to the original published source.
Author’s Credentials: A brief mini-bio that focuses on the named author’s credentials. Cite the writer’s credentials as an author of books and articles and/or academic standing as a professor. While not absolutely essential, it builds credibility to have a named author with credentials. However, if this is not possible, rather than name an author who has no relevant credentials, do not include an author at all.
If you follow these steps, you will be able to create white papers that will be widely accepted by readers looking for facts underlying the issue at hand.
This article originally appeared in the January 18, 2016 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.