From the vast amount of white papers available on the net, one will be faced with a great deal of technology-driven documents. Some creative, some brilliant, others opaque and sometimes impenetrable for the non-initiated. A white paper conveys information and educates peers while aiming for great lead generation. But what happens when your target audience can’t make sense of your documents? Do you write your white papers with your target audience in mind?
Being able to convey technical information in meaningful ways is key in gaining visibility and traction. Decision makers most often have a background in business, not engineering, so it is important for lead-generation purposes that they understand how brilliant your ideas are. We have gathered for you tips and techniques to improve the understandability of your documents and help you gain traction.
Building an Influencer Map to Grasp your Target Audience
Before you start writing your paper, it is important to know who your target audience might be and the channels you can use to publicize your documents. Start by researching existing white papers in your field. Where are they hosted? Which ones seem to be getting more exposure? Do they make use of specific layouts? How do they convey the technological jargon?
An influencer map is basically a list of people, companies and sites within your field that have an influence, either as thinkers, decision makers, writers, peers or through their publicity channels (think of blogs like TechCrunch for instance). Map out these blogs, sites, forums and social networks. You can use tools such asGoogle Blog Search, Technorati, LinkedIn and Twitter to start with. Pinpoint influencers within these channels and try finding out what their backgrounds are. A lot of these influencers have profiles on LinkedIn, which makes it easier to look them up and see where they are coming from. Once you have gathered a substantial influencer map, you’ll have a better idea of what your target audience might be like.
Write a Plan. Then Simplify.
In Reality Check, Guy Kawasaki talks about the 10/20/30 rule of pitching: 10 slides in 20 minutes using a 30-points font. According to this venture-capital expert, if you can’t have your concept understood within these constraints, you’ll lose their attention and focus. A white paper is no different – talk for too long in complex terms and you risk losing your readers’ focus.
To remain on target, start by writing a plan. Lay down your ideas, your stats and solutions, then simplify them. The essence of your concept should fit in the 10/20/30 rule since this is what you are pitching. Make it explicit. Your readers should be able to understand rapidly why your idea is so good and exciting!
Explain with Visuals.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Graphs are a great way to convert complex information into meaningful data, that is if the graph is expertly constructed. Edward Tufte is a well-known professor and interaction designer expert. In The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Envisioning Information, you’ll find valuable information on how to construct meaning through the use of data. Alternately, you could ask a usability-expert to produce graphs for your white paper. Do not underestimate the conveying power of visual representation – Learn how to make use of it in your documents.
Start Writing. Then Edit.
Now that you have a plan, a target audience and meaningful representation of data, it is time to start writing your white paper. Avoid using technical jargon when possible, keep your focus tight and to the point. Make sure the essence of your concept can be understood early on in the document.
Once you’re done, have a well-deserved break and clear-up your thoughts before going over your paper again. It is hard to distance yourself from your work once you are immersed in it, but this distance is essential to objectively edit your writing. A first draft is never perfect. Bear in mind there is always place for improvement.
Ask people in your target audience to read your draft. Question them, see if they’ve understood your core concept. Address their criticisms and adjust your document accordingly. By now, you should have a fairly strong white paper in your hands. Congratulations!
Proofread Your White Paper.
Typos and errors won’t make you sound smart. They are distracting to say the least and scream unprofessionalism. If you can afford to have an expert proofread your paper then go for it. If you can’t, ask people in your network to scan your paper for typos and other semantic errors. Don’t let those spelling mistakes overcome your brilliant ideas!
Work On your Layout.
Just as graphics can simplify the understanding of complex data, a good layout can enable a meaningful flow of information to your readers. Alternately, a cluttered, dense layout makes readability more challenging. Look for instance at the manifestos on Change This. Their layouts make use of negative space (“blank” elements on a page), which de-clutter the page in order to focus attention. The use of descriptive header give cues to readers as to what they are about to read. It also breaks up information into manageable chunks of data.
Notice how the use of fonts also helps to convey a good flow of information. Serif fonts are easier to read on paper and as headers. Sans-serif fonts are great for on-screen reading. Is your target audience more likely to print your white papers or to read them on-screen? Also, use a font point that is big enough to be read easily.
Print layouts and on-screen layouts are fundamentally different. For instance, it is easier to read a printed document in “portrait” mode. “Landscape” layouts are best suited for screen viewing since they can make full use of the display. While these layouts decision won’t turn a bad concept into a great one, they can certainly improve the understanding and readability of your ideas. If you don’t have any layout skills, consider hiring a professional to construct it for you. Otherwise, check out these resources to understand the basis of layout design:
If you would like to add to these tips and techniques, we encourage you to do so in the comments. Do you agree/disagree with this post? We would also like to know!