Castrating Your White Paper in 1 Easy Step

This post was written by John White on Thu, 19 Nov 2009 08:50:07 +0000
Posted Under: graphics,persuasion,white papers

castrate-white-papersStep 1: Cut off its graphics.

The writer was not happy.

“I put a lot of time, thought and effort into the graphics I used for that white paper, and the client pulled out every last one of them before publishing the piece. It’s an eight-page wall of text now. What a waste!”

She showed me her final draft to the client, and the version as published. She was right. They had castrated it by cutting out four informative graphics from a 10-page paper.

“They must think people read white papers as if they were the Dead Sea Scrolls,” she continued. “They don’t read them, they skim them. I use the graphics as eye-hooks to give readers places to park their attention for a second. They’re a big part of the persuasive element in any white paper. Without graphics, people’s eyes glaze over.”

I started to go through the published version but had to stop because I could feel my eyes glazing over. It hurt.

The Why of Graphics in White Papers

In “Punch Up Your Writing with Graphics,” Kevin Gault quotes two prominent marketing communications writers on the topic:

“There’s a connection between visual appeal and comprehension. We’re attracted to visually appealing and pleasing design elements, and making a white paper more visually appealing helps readers grasp important messages about products.”   -Jonathan Kantor, The Appum Group

“Words have to be read, but visuals provide instant communication. Properly used, graphics let you add a visual element to your message. They can engage readers by visually telling a story.” Roger C. Parker, author of Design to Sell

Did the writer ask why the client had castrated the paper removed the graphics?

“The marketing manager said that none of the other pieces in this part of their content library uses graphics, and they wanted to maintain consistency.”

When Writers Care Too Much

A point of order: I deliberately avoid the term “copywriter,” because it sounds like “hired gun,” somebody with no skin in the game, who is merely writing to keep the wolf away from the door. In fact, most business writers I’ve worked with put a great deal of themselves into their work and take proverbial pride in ownership of their product. Occasionally, this pride goes unrequited – or altogether spurned – when the client shoots himself in the foot. But hey, the words belong ultimately to the client, and the marketing communications writer who learns to deal with such setbacks will last longer in the profession.

The Moral

Good marketing communications writers go beyond telling your story to telling your story in a way that people will want to read. Graphics are a big part of this, so don’t castrate your white paper by cutting them out.

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: Flynn Wynn

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