The popular blog site, Copyblogger, had an interesting post the other day entitled, “Why Cutting ClichÃ©s From Your Copy is as Easy as Pie”. The gist of the piece discussed why the use of clichÃ©s should be avoided in professional writing projects. As quoted in the post:
ClichÃ©s are the words and phrases that come to your mind when you write your first draft. They are the very first thoughts that occur to you about an idea, and they help you quickly figure out whatâ€™s on your mind. They are the language you hear and use when gossiping with your pals. Put simply, in writing, clichÃ©s are bland and overused phrases that fail to excite, motivate, and impress your readers or prospective buyers.
Is this a bad thing? After all, if clichÃ©s represent the first thoughts that come to a writer’s mind, shouldn’t those expressions alsoÂ be the first things that come to the reader’s mind as well? If the use of clichÃ©s helps build a greater affinity between reader and content, that’s a welcomed feature andÂ not something that should be avoided in a white paper project.
According to Copyblogger, writers should replace clichÃ©s with more energetic, invigorating, and exciting phrases. Phrases that give your copy a unique aura and hypnotize your readers. Here’s one example that was provided:
ClichÃ©: Our product sold like hotcakes.
Original: We sold out the whole stock in just a week.
To me, one of the critical problems plaguing white papers is the tendency to turn them into text-based “white bread”. In other words, an all out attempt to cut straight to the bottom line and provide the reader with “just the facts”, eliminates the opportunity for building greater reader appeal and affinity. The use of colorful expressions, analogies, and clichÃ©s eliminate reader boredom and monotony, enhancing reader retention of key business concepts.
For example, I could indicate in a white paper that “business executives sometimes have to decide between two difficult alternatives”. But doesn’t the expression, “a Hobbs Choice” make the same concept easier for the reader to digest? I think so.
Now, obviously it’s difficult to use clichÃ©s when you’re writing about the developmental benefits of Java servlets in content management applications. But since the vast majority of white papers fall into the “hybrid” variety that are focused on the business benefits of complex solutions, the use of clichÃ©s seems to be appropriate in those circumstances.
The bottom line is this: While being an exceptional writer is certainly a requirement for a good white paper, writing skills alone aren’t enough. You also have to be a good communicator. The use of techniques such as clichÃ©s helps communicate key concepts to the business reader, making your white papers more effective.
And you can put that in your pipe and smoke it!
Well, it seems that Apple is at it again, raising the standards for innovation in notebook computing. Their latest foray is a sexy, 3-pound, 13-inch, 5-hour, all-wireless enabled notebook called the “MacBook Air”.
One of the more interesting components is an optional 64-Gb, solid-state drive that replaces the traditional “winchester” style drives found in most desktop and notebook computers. Solid-state drives use flash memory rather than electro-magnetic technology to store information. This option is not cheap, adding a whopping $1300 to the base price of a standard MacBook Air configuration!
So being the curious type, I decided to do a little research into the advantages of using solid-state drives. Lo and behold, I stumbled upon a white paper released in April 2007 entitled, “Bringing Solid State Drive Benefits to Computer Notebook Users”.Â The white paper is produced by Sandisk Corporation, a leading provider of solid state drive technology.
So what are the benefits of a solid state drive? There are many:
Reliability – given extreme temperatures, humidity, vibration, and altitude.
Longevity – more than 2 million operating hours.
Faster Booting – boot MacOSX twice as fast.
Faster Application Launching – no spin-up time.
Fixed Performance – no fragmentation or optimization utilities.
Power Efficiency – uses 50% less power.
Less Heat – generates 50% less heat.
Quiet – no noise since no moving parts.
Lighter – doesn’t add additonal weight.
Are these advanges worth an additional $1300 added to the base cost of a notebook? As with art, that depends on the eye of the beholder. For the frequent business traveler, maybe so.
But clearly, as this technology becomes more widespread, the cost will continue toÂ be drivenÂ down. After all, remember when CD-writers used to cost several hundred dollars?
Using referenced sourcesÂ is aÂ critical component to building the credibility of your white paper. Unfortunately, not all white papers effectively practice this concept.
AnÂ article that recently appeared in the regarding libel laws in that country,Â takes a somewhat jaded viewpoint of white papers and their use of anonymous sources:Â
“In early America, there appeared pamphleteers who published scurrilous pamphletsâ€”not unlike the present â€œwhite papersâ€ against persons issued by anonymous sourcesâ€”attacking the enemies of the authors. Those pamphlets usually resulted in the aggrieved parties at that time challenging the authors to duels. The duels were a â€œbreach of the peaceâ€ to prevent which the founding fathers passed the libel law so that those libeled can sue in court instead of challenging their tormentors to duels. This is the libel law that we inherited.”
While this journalist’s perspectives on white papers could use a refresh, his view of using anonymous sources in a white paper should certainly be heeded.
Making claims in your white paper without valid references or legitimate sources can destroy the credibility of your white paper, making it come across to your reader as either biased or factually incorrect.Â Some of these practicesÂ include:
-Â Leaving out a named source – if you think your reader won’t notice, they will.
- Using “un-named” or an “anonymous” sourcesÂ - such as the use of the term “anonymous sources indicate that such a position is sound”. Readers won’t believe that they exist unless you can attach a name to that source.
- Using old news references – Articles and stories posted on the Internet quickly go out of date. Don’t use news references that areÂ older than three years from the date of your white paper. They won’t be credible.
- Using associate references or sources – Associate references or sources are those that have a relationship with the sponsor of a white paper. These could include named sources from within your enterprise (such as a quote from the CEO or chairman), references within the same industry, a parent company or division, or a business partnership that has a vested interest in your business. All of these sourcesÂ tend to create the appearence of bias. Look for well-established, valid third party sources to back up the claims made in your white paper.
KoMarketing Associates, an online marketing services firm in Waltham, MA, has issued a list of over 200 Negative Keywords that search engine marketers should not use in their PPC advertising campaigns. The list is made up of 12 categories:
Avoiding Job Seekers
No Research & Stats
We Donâ€™t Provide Education
Avoiding Price Shoppers
Selling Commercial Software
Manufacturing & Industrial
Other Negative Keywords B2B Marketers May Consider
The category named “No Research & Stats” references the terms “white paper” and “white papers”, as words that should be avoided in a PPC ad. The category includes this description:
“Assuming you have a limited advertising budget, avoid people doing research, and make sure your are using your advertising $$ to generate sales and qualified leads:”
Now color me suspicious, but it seems to me that that offering a free white paper in a PPC ad is a great way to accumulate clicks and leads. After all, didn’t Michael Stelzner of the Writing White Papers blog essentially buildÂ his business basedÂ by offering a free white paper “How to Write a White Paper” in a PPC Google ad?
I have to disagree with the hypothesis presented by KoMarketing Associates. The idea of using a white paper in a PPC ad, whether it is free or not,Â is a great way to attract eyeballs and build clickthroughs while providing a measurable ROI for your PPC ads.
Also, the fact that they have included the terms “white paper” and “white papers” in the category calledÂ ”No Research & Stats”, tells me that they believe white papers are relegated to scientific research, instead of being a legitimate medium for business and/or technical marketing.
Just when you thought white papers have made it into the marketing mainstream, there are always a few that still have to be brought up to speed.
We heard statements like these it a thousand times before from every marketing guru that can fog a mirror:
- Understand the customer
- Target your market
- Get inside the head of your buyer
- Get vertical
Now one blogger has stated something that white paper writers already know. Reading white papers from your target market is a great way to understand that market. The Freelance Switch blog had this to say on the subject of using white papers as a way to achieve this goal:
Similarly to industry events, trade papers and reports usually highlight the latest news and developments in your field. You can keep up-to-date with whatâ€™s going on in the industry plus whatâ€™s going on outside of the industry by reading white papers, research findings and keeping abreast of the latest buzz in and around the industry. If you donâ€™t have the budget to conduct extensive market research about your market (and letâ€™s face it, not many freelancers do), then take advantage of information provided by those who do even if it requires an investment on your part.
Two critical parts of every well-written white paper is an Introduction and a Business Challenge section. These sections include elements such as trends from industry analyst reports, incidents from news articles, or quotes from leading industry executives or business customers.
The purpose of a good Introduction is to familiarize the reader with background issues surrounding the topic before solution advantages can be presented to address those issues. A Business Challenge section pinpoints the specific impediments that prevent a business from reaching their stated goals.
Therefore, by reading the Introduction and Business Challenge sections from white papers that target a specific industry, you can better familiarize yourself with the key issues in that industry and understand the fears, doubts, uncertainties, and ultimate business goals with your target customer.
This aspect of using education as a promotional vehicle is one of the reasons that white papers have become an accepted, mainstream marketing approach to reach a target audience across many different business industries.
According to Geoffrey James’ Sales Machine blog, brochures are a waste of paper and ink, not to mention time and resources, rightfully earning them the badge of BS. While he admits that that most marketing executives swear by the medium, he doesn’t think that many top sales professionals use them, particularly in B2B environments.
One of the many reasons that he identifies in his blog post is that brochures can quickly become out-of-date once they are produced.
But while brochures may be BS, white papers aren’t because of their depth of information and ability to be updated. As a result, white papers provide a greater marketing value for a much longer period of time. From his perspective:
“In most cases, the brochure is a subset of whatâ€™s available on the website. While Iâ€™m no fan of â€œbrochure-wareâ€ websites they do have the advantage of providing depth (like detailed case-studies, white papers, etc.) and they can be updated to reflect product changes, news stories and other information that timely. In todayâ€™s fast-moving world, a brochure, once printed, is generally out of date.”
From my experience, the shelf life of a typical white paper depends on its “elevation“. For example,Â a white paper that provides a high-level overviewÂ of a business philosophy, market vision, or strategic solutionÂ advantage correlates to a high elevation. A technical white paper that is focused on a specific niche market, solution subset, target audience, or theÂ details with a specific piece ofÂ technology correlates to a low elevation.
Therefore,Â a white paper with a high elevation can last a year or more since strategic messages don’t change very often. On the other hand,Â a white paper at a low elevation might last only six months as the result of product development cycles, new markets, or the competitive landscape. Low level white papersÂ need frequent changesÂ to reflect changing solution attributes or audiences.
So, here’s the bottom line: White papers provide a greater ROI than brochures over a longer period of timeÂ . For a cost that is similar to a professionally designed brochure, a well-written and produced white paper will generate a greater, and more measurable return on that marketing investment.
In a day when businesses are yearning for greater ROI for their marketing dollars, white papers are certainly not BS in anyone’s book.
One of the unique qualites of a white paper is its ability to present complex, technical information in a straightforward and logical fashion. The use of text symbols is often a necessary part of this process.
One of the text symbols that gives white paper writers a lot of leeway is the versus symbol, and there are three perfectly acceptable alternatives to choose from:
Versus – is a Latin term meaning “against“. This popular version has the word completely spelled out and is useful when describing named conflicts, such as the upcoming AFC Championship football game featuring the San Diego Chargers versus the New England Patriots.
Vs. – is a second, abbreviated version which is useful in headlines, titles, and subtitles, such as Mad Magazines’ popular “Spy vs. Spy” comic strip.
v. – is the third alternative that is used most frequently in legal contexts for the names of the various court cases, such as “Brown v. Board of Education“, or “Roe v. Wade“.
However, when the term is used in a white paper, it’s best to use the full version, “versus”, especially when making detailed, technical, or complex comparisons, such as:
“World Class 100 sales organizations are hyper-investing in their sales forces, averaging an SG&A spend of 31 percent of revenue versus 22 percent SG&A spent for non-World Class sales forces.”
It’s also a good idea not to mix the abbreviated version, vs., with other text symbols such as the percent symbol (%), the dollar sign ($), the atmark (@), or the ampersand sign (&) in the same sentence. The combination of symbols and the abbreviated vs. creates visual conflicts that make it harder for the reader to quickly grasp the key message in the sentence. Under those circumstances, it’s best to use the complete word, versus.
When is an white paper not an white paper? When it’s an e-Book.
The e-Book is an interesting medium, that has yet to achieve the status that it deserves. The ability to create, publish, and distribute an electronic version of a book eliminates a considerable amount of time, effort, money, and resources that would normally go into publishing a conventional book using traditional means. For the first time author, this makes a lot of sense. Even major online retailers like Amazon.com, are putting a considerable amount of effort into promoting the medium along withÂ their new Kindle Book wireless, handheld reader.
ForÂ industries that publish very large white papers, such as law firms or government agencies, this medium may make more sense that using the term white paper. As one blogger, Law and More, indicated in post entitled, “Please, Stop Posting Those White Papers -Try an E-Book“, he feels that e-Books have become a suitable replacement for large white papers:
“One attorney recently issued a 126-page white paper on climate change.Â I passed on reviewing it.Â In fact, I didn’t even print it out. What, though, if that same attorney had sent us an e-mail that he was releasing a 27-page e-book?Â You bet I would perk up. So might his prospects, clients and network.Â We’d be curious.Â We’d welcome what seemed to promise a riveting read on such a complex topic.”
This perception is very interesting. First, a reality check. If you’re already writing 126-page white papers, then you ARE publishing e-Books. Just change the name of your document, and call it an e-Book. Problem solved. But there is something more here.
Is this merely an issue of the the perception of the term “white paper” versus “e-Book“,Â orÂ instead, an issue of size?Â Hearing the words “a 100-page white paper“, doesn’t conjure up as much enthusiasm as hearingÂ the wordsÂ ”aÂ 100-pageÂ e-Book“. Let’s face it, very few industries are publishing white papers beyond 20 pages these days. In fact, most businesses rarely publish more than 10.
So perhaps what’s going on here is that with very large documents, say over 30 pages, the more appropriate term to use is “e-Books” instead of “white papers”.Â Some may feel that using that term will generate more interest for existing white paper contentÂ and may change certain perceptions for the reader as well. After all, the most important thing is to get the reader to read the document. If the term, e-Book helps in that effort, so be it.
Then again, if you’re using a handheld reader to read white papers on the go,Â then you really do need a vacation.
Do you have to be emotionally invested with your client’s positionÂ in order to write a highly effectiveÂ white paper?
That’s the question that many writers face every once in a while, when they are contacted by a company, organization, or influential group that represents a position that might be different from their own. For example:
If you’re a Democrat, could you write an effective white paper for a Republican candidate or political group?
If you’re an environmental advocate, could you write an effective white paper that dispells the issues surrounding Global Warming?
If you believe in the right to life, could you write an effectiveÂ white paper for Planned Parenthood?
If you practice one particular faith, could you write a white paper for another faith-based institution?
Recently, I was contacted by a highly controversial company located in another country that, shall we say, is not considered one of our greatest supporters. While the contact was lucrative, I turned the business down because I knew I could not be emotionally invested given their current position. I knew that I could not do a good job for them.
While it may sound somewhat trite, that old expression from ancient high school years books, “To Thine Own Self Be True“, seemed to ring true for me at the time.
I believe that writing a good white paper is a function of being emotionally invested in what your client does, and the position that they stand for. When you are emotionally invested, the quality of your work and your overall productivity is far greater than if you aren’t.
Of course, a lot of white papers are written to address technical subjects, and it’s difficult to become emotionally invested in a topic like supply chain management. It’s merely a presentation of technical facts. But as white papers become a more widely accepted mainstream marketing vehicle, infiltrating political campaigns, social and advocacy groups, foreign countries, and think tanks, this issue will come up with greater frequency.
After all, besides formal writing experience, it’s not hard to image a day when an advocacy group will need to determine where a prospective writer stands on an issue before they agree to hire them for a white paper project.
If you’ve ever walked along a cobblestone path, you have to admire the hard work that goes making it. Each stone is carefully selected, measured, honed, spaced, and placed in the best possible position along the pathway that will accentuate its usefulness and appearance.
In many ways, creating a white paper is similar to the process of building a cobblestone path. Here’s how:
Sifting through the Stone Pile – Just like finding the best stones for your path from a massive quarry, a writer has to sift through a massive amount of background information for a white paper project. This “pile” might include presentations, technical development documents, web text, industry articles, and recorded SME conversations. In many circumstances, a lot of this information is either inappropriate or just a misfit for the project. As a white paper writer, you have to determine which “stones” are going to be a good fit for your white paper, and disgard the ones that aren’t.
Calculating the Distance - In order to build a cobblestone path, you have to know where you’re going. Similarly, when you’re writing a white paper, you have to know what the end result will be. What critical message do you want the reader to walk away with after they read it? Just like calculating the distance between two points, once you have both a starting and an ending point, the process ofÂ creating the bulk of white paper content that fits between those two points becomes much easier.
Placing and Spacing – Once the distance is calculated, the next step involves determining how many stones you will use, whether the path has one or more bends or turns, and how far apart each stone will be from each other over the course of that distance. In white paper terms, this relates to the overall page length (distance), the name and amount of individual sections (bends and turns), and the segue added between each section that transitions the reader from one portion to another (spacing). When taken in total, the combination of these attributes translates into the usefulness of the cobblestone path, as well as the readability and comprehension of the white paper.
Flattening and Smoothing – Just because a stone is in the ground doesn’t guarantee that it has been placed correctly. After all, you don’t want someone tripping over a stone that is higher than the others. Just as each stone needs to be flattended and smoothed, every good writer needs a good editor that smooths out your words and flattens your rhetoric. A good editor protects you from the problem of having your client trip over your words that ends up getting both your client and you hurt (fired).
Cleaning and Polishing – If you ever seen marble before it’s polished, it isn’t a pretty sight. While some may like the look of raw stone, I’m not one of them. Just like polishing raw marble, the addition of graphics, formatting, and design polish raw text, making reading the white paper much more palatable and enjoyable. And like the attraction of a polished marble floor, the addition of professional design creates interest, generates a higher number of downloads and a greater incentive to read your entire white paper.
Cleaning Up – There is often a lot of dirt and pieces of shaved rock left around in the work area after the cobblestone path has been completed. Just like sweeping up after the project is over, you need to get feedback from your client to make sure that the project achieved what they were looking for so that the white paper (and the cobblestone path) will serve their needs for many years to come.