3 Ways to Help Your Writer Over the Hump

By John White

The blank page is a big obstacle almost every writer faces when sitting down to write a white paper.

Marketing managers can play an important role in helping writers over this hump, and get better writing in the bargain.

How does every white paper start out? As a cursor blinking on a completely empty screen.

Whether your writer had an idea of what he was going to write or not, he stared at the blank page for a while – the blank page usually stares back as well – and tried to come up with an opening, a title or an outline that would impress you and show that he understood what you were trying to convey. (And, just to help you read the cards your writer is holding, he tried to figure out the best way to start so that the rest of the writing would be easy.)

I don’t mean he was gripped by writer’s block or any other writer’s disease. It’s just the hump that your writer needs to overcome on almost every piece he writes for you.

You may say, “That’s the writer’s problem, not mine.” True enough, but getting good content from your writer is your problem.  Here’s the solution…

Getting Over the Writing Hump

Without too much effort on your part, you can try these three ways of giving your writer what he needs to get over the hump:

  1. A detailed profile on the ideal reader. It’s easy to write a love letter (valuable content) to your sweetheart (ideal reader) because you know what is important to her, how to phrase it and how she’ll react to it. The same goes for white papers: The more information you give your writer about your ideal readers, the more effectively he can convey your message. If you know the profile of your ideal readers well enough, and give that profile to your writer, he can turn a white paper or case study into a love letter to them.
  2. A reasonable storyline to follow. Which would you rather read: a press release on a new product or a story about how the product solved a business problem? As a marketing manager, don’t make the mistake of telling your writer, “I need a 1500-word paper on our new 3G-enabled, cosmodemonic flubgrubbers. I’ll send you the phone number of the engineer to interview.” You can guess what kind of story will come of that, can’t you? Give the writer hooks into the problem-solution-results structure for a story that people will tell their friends. If you give your writer the story that you want back, he’ll know how to start telling it.
  3. A salient call to action. Have you figured out what you want your ideal readers to do at the end of the paper? Pick up the phone? Go to a Website? Click on a link? Retweet/Digg it? Send you money? Think about the call to action, and give your writer some ideas to craft into a ‘For More Information’ section at the end of the white paper. If you don’t have anything to tell your readers to do at the end, then that’s exactly what they’ll do. If you tell your writer where you want your readers to go, it will be easier for him to start building the road that takes them there.

Remember: Overcoming this hump is not your problem; a professional writer knows how to overcome it himself. But you can play a role in helping him overcome it, and get better writing in the process.

John White of venTAJA Marketing posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s dirty work, but somebody has to do it.

photo credit: The U.S. Army
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  • http://twitter.com/Apryl_Parcher Apryl Parcher

    Great post, John–I can't tell you how many company executives I interview that balk when asked to deeply identify their ideal reader. They either want the paper to encompass “everybody,” or don't understand why we need such detailed information.

    Getting them to talk about the rest is hardly ever a problem, but if the ideal reader isn't identified up front, the tendency is to go off on all kinds of tangents and feature lists that don't mean diddly to anyone but them.

    And your absolutely right that the call to action is so important. It's often glossed over and paid short shrift, when it should be as well thought out as the ideal reader!

    Thanks for posting!

  • http://bettercloser.com Bill Rice

    I like your point of profiling the ideal reader.

    We see a lot of the use of personas in Web design and UI development, but we should probably do a lot more of it in copywriting.

  • Robin Kent

    Great post…I really like how you've captured the visual of the ideal reader and the steps to take to formulate the message and call to action.

  • RiverwoodWriter

    Good points, John, and well worth keeping in mind, even if you're the writer and not the marketing manager. Identifying the ideal reader is just as important for more quickly and effectively developing quality content as it is for the public speaker to know who the audience is.

  • http://writingblog.johnwhitepaper.com/ John White

    Apryl: Most marketing managers suck the life out of the call to action when I suggest landing pages, “Follow us on …” and other socmed ideas. I think it’s that they don’t have influence with the Web teams that implement that stuff, so they give up and just put an 800-number and an info@ address. Oh, well, there was a time when those too were radical.

  • http://writingblog.johnwhitepaper.com/ John White

    Bill: Yes, but it’s not easy to get reliable information about the ideal reader, at least, not from the marketing manager. Much less an engineer.

  • http://writingblog.johnwhitepaper.com/ John White

    Robin: Glad you liked it. Now take it for a spin on your own projects.

  • http://writingblog.johnwhitepaper.com/ John White

    Riv: Good point. It’s the same question, isn’t it? “Who is reading/hearing this, and what do I want him/her to do next?”

  • Ntarugera

    Mike:
    I do strongly believe that once you have your story idea and how to structure it, then # A reasonable storyline to follow. As you stated it in your adviise; I totally agree with you by writing this options:Which would you rather read: a press release on a new product or a story about how the product solved a business problem? As a marketing manager, don’t make the mistake of telling your writer, “I need a 1500-word paper on our new 3G-enabled, cosmodemonic flubgrubbers. I’ll send you the phone number of the engineer to interview.” You can guess what kind of story will come of that, can’t you? Give the writer hooks into the problem-solution-results structure for a story that people will tell their friends. If you give your writer the story that you want back, he’ll know how to start telling it.

    Rwanda:Ntarugera François( Journalist& Information analyst)

  • Ntarugera

    Mike:

    I do strongly believe that once you have your story idea and how to structure it, then # A reasonable storyline to follow. As you stated it in your adviise; I totally agree with you by writing this options:Which would you rather read: a press release on a new product or a story about how the product solved a business problem? As a marketing manager, don’t make the mistake of telling your writer, “I need a 1500-word paper on our new 3G-enabled, cosmodemonic flubgrubbers. I’ll send you the phone number of the engineer to interview.” You can guess what kind of story will come of that, can’t you? Give the writer hooks into the problem-solution-results structure for a story that people will tell their friends. If you give your writer the story that you want back, he’ll know how to start telling it.

    Rwanda:Ntarugera François( Journalist& Information analyst)