As a relative newbie to the craft of writing white papers and social web content, I have glommed on to all the advice I can find on making the process faster and easier as well as to make the end product more readily consumed.
Renowned among my friends and co-workers as a prodigious talker, one of the attractions of writing is that your audience doesn’t have to read what you write—there’s no, metaphorically speaking, “gun to the head”. They can stop reading whenever they want.
In conversation, your audience may listen out of politeness or a sense of duty while thinking, “Geez this guy can really talk—how am I going to get out of this without a) hurting his feelings or b) losing his business, as the case may be.”
It is really an honor when someone actually reads something you write. Thus, I approach writing as less of a job and more of a privileged craft.
As many in my trade are now inclined to do, I have fallen back on mentally defaulting to a white paper format that is list based. This seems to be a pervasive tendency in our culture. But lately, I’ve become concerned about the long-term effects of this phenomenon on our trade and present these 5 Reasons to Stop Writing List Based White Papers.
Reason 1: We’ve become too predictable with our number of tips. Ever notice how the number of tips is always an odd number or an increment of 5? Once our readers catch on, they might start to wonder if we have some secret writers’ cult like the Free Masons or Skull and Bones in which it’s heresy to use an even number that’s not an increment of 5. Marketing executives don’t typically assign budgets to resources they suspect to be working in a basement with painted floors with Ouija Boards on our desks.
Reason 2: What If a Competitive Paper is Published with One More “Tip” or “Challenge”? Let’s say you publish a paper, “7 Tips For Making Workplace Facebook Posts More Efficient” and the next week your competitor publishes a similarly themed piece but with 10 tips? In this metrics based performance economic environment, does that mean they win? I can see it now, sales reps of competitors meeting with your prospects and saying, “We’ve got 10 and they only have 7. How could you even think about not selecting us?”. Or, if you post a blog, “5 Challenges Facing Today’s Llama Ranchers” and your competitor blogs about 7 challenges those same sales reps will be telling their prospects, “Those guys don’t have clue how to address 6 and 7!”
Reason 3: We’re Stuck in a Rut. I like to think of writers and editors as creative creatures from whence innovation flows. If we don’t nip this trend in the bud think of where it will takes us. Centuries from now will the Galaxy Wide Web (GWW.) feature posts such as, “10 Tips for Easing the Hassles of Interplanetary Teleportation”? Sure, we won’t be round to see it but we should have some pride in the legacy we leave behind.
Reason 4: The Threat of Radical Pricing Model Reform. Once Marketing decision makers catch on to this racket, they might want to rethink the way they pay us. Instead of a buck a word they could start charging by the size of your list. Think about it—at a buck a word, a 3,000-word paper that covers five “Tips” pays $3,000. That’s $600 a tip, which just sounds exorbitant. And the ripple effect is staggering. For example, those brainy Microsoft Word developers will have to add “Tip Count” and similar functionality to the Tools dropdown menu to go along with “Word Count” and “Thesaurus”.
Reason 5: The Negative Impact on Our Personal Lives. I don’t know about you, but this list-based craze has impacted my personal life. As a home-based worker, I don’t’ get out as much as when I used to commute into the city. I’ve had some close calls that could have been embarrassing, like pulling into Staples and realizing I’m still wearing sheepskin slippers. Or glancing in the mirror as I head out to my daughter’s high school basketball game and seeing my Grizzly Adams-like unshaven reflection. The other day, after fuming in line at the Safeway deli counter, I stepped up and announced, “I can think of 7 ways to improve your lunchtime deli counter efficiency”. The clerk was not receptive to my suggestion of suggestions and I think he skimped on my $4.99 Three Meal Deal portions.
Hopefully, I’ve presented a compelling case for snuffing out this trend. Resolve today that your next project won’t have a number in the title. The credibility of our trade depends upon it.
Let me know if you have any good ideas…I’m very impressionable.
About the author: Jim Lein is Marketing Director for a large software provider. When not writing riveting white papers, case studies, and fluffy web content, he wanders the Colorado mountains in search of questionable characters with quirky life stories. See http://www.linkedin.com/in/jimleinReceive email updates when new articles are posted.