Before You Start Your White Paper Project, Ask These Questions (Part 4 of 4)

By John White

This is part 4 of a series on your internal preparation for a white paper project. Fourth: Who is going to write the white paper?

Once you have decided on the message you want your paper to convey, fleshed out your ideal reader, and determined your paper’s call to action, it’s time to find someone to start writing it.

Before you start banging out tweets in a writer cattle-call, stop and think about four factors in selecting your writer:

  1. Who will write the white paper?Internal vs. External – “We write our papers in house because we can’t find external people who know enough about what we do.”I hear this often from technology companies who know that the knowledge they want to publish is locked in the heads of key employees, and the only practical way for them to tell their story is with internal talent.This makes sense in some academic and research circles, and when a company is first getting its marketing act together, but who is more likely to notice (and tell you) that the emperor has no clothes: an insider or an outsider?
  2. Industry expertise vs. writing skill – “Have you ever written white papers on mobile eCommerce widgets before? Can you send me a sample?” The answer will almost surely be “no.”This is a good question if you’re looking for ways to disqualify a writer, but if you really need the paper written, you had better ask a different one: “Can you describe a project in which the subject matter was new to you, and you delivered a paper that made the customer happy?”

    We all want both industry expertise and writing skill – and sometimes think that our technical writers are ideal for generating marketing content – but if you can’t have both, buy skill and let the writer learn your industry. (See Will Kenny for more on this.)

  3. Content vs. layout – Do you want the writer to deliver the content alone, or the content plus layout?Most of the time, you’ll move white paper outlines and drafts around in a Microsoft Word or Google Docs file because it’s easy for reviewers to edit them. But a paper done in Word usually looks like a paper done in Word, so most companies want the final draft laid out in an application like Quark Xpress or Adobe InDesign. If you want that extra touch, you need to decide whether you or the writer will be responsible for it.
  4. Scribe vs. project manager/owner – “This project could go on for a couple of months, so we need somebody who can work independently and stick with it until the very end.”If that’s your case, you want more than just a scribe. A lot of ancillary work will go into the project, and while you may not see it coming, often your writer will. The most sensitive areas are contact with your customers and follow-up with internal reviewers; your comfort-level with letting somebody else handle these will determine whether you need a scribe or a project manager.

What factors do you apply in deciding who will write your white paper?

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: / CC BY 2.0

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  • Promotional Printing

    Thanks for the information, it really gave a lot of insights. Writing may seem like an easy task but actually it can be complex most of the time. It will really help if you are really interested with what you are writing about and if your going to hire a writer it is important that you are both on the same page.

  • Mark McClure

    The final sentence in John's 'technical writers' post (see note 2 above) is worth memorizing:

    “When hiring a white paper writer remember to check that the writer knows the difference.”

  • Will Kenny

    “if you can’t have both, buy skill and let the writer learn your industry.” Exactly, but the challenge in getting your team to understand this is that the decision makers are more comfortable talking about data and facts and features than they are about writing and communication, so they lean toward hiring (redundant) knowledge. Keep faith in your original decision that you needed complementary skills to get the results you desire, something that is easily forgotten when you meet the first writer candidate who talks your talk very well . . . but not better than you do, which is what you are really after.

    (And thanks for the nod!)

  • andymorgann

    A very interesting post, what I like the most is the content part where you have mentioned that do you want the content to stand alone or you want it with layout. Mostly people ignore the fact the layout also plays a vital role. But again content and layout depends upon the nature of white paper you are writing.

  • junblumongsod

    This article is very useful for some writer like me, it is true that is not very easy being a writer it is most important that you know certain factors before you start on writing about something. This is in which to make your work effective. Yes and i agree that before you go on hiring a writer you should really see to it that both sides are in the same understanding. Nicely Done!

  • John White

    Yes, and if you're not on the same page, then you had better be ready to do a lot of rework.

  • John White

    Right. I suspect I'm not the only “technical marketing communications writer” who gets asked, “Oh, so you write user manuals?”

    Marketing communications writers concern themselves with the product BEFORE it has been sold; technical writers concern themselves with the product AFTER it has been sold.

    The difference lies in the element of persuasion.

  • John White

    Will: Yes. Our hurdle is to get the hiring manager to see it the way we do. S/He is in the middle between our writing talent and the exec's technical expertise.

  • John White

    Andy: It's an important detail to work out early on. Some of us are nimble enough in InDesign and Quark Xpress to not require outside talent, but whether we lay it out ourselves or subcontract it, it's separate work.

  • John White

    Jun: Nobody knows all of the factors from the start. Live and learn.

  • famous laptop batteries

    good article.
    I will do it before start my paper project

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