Killing 3 Birds with 1 White Paper Abstract

This post was written by John White on Tue, 12 Jan 2010 10:53:38 +0000
Posted Under: value in content,white papers

White paper summaries or abstracts take time to write and to read. Are they worth it? They are if they help answer tough questions in a hurry.

Do you rely on an abstract at the beginning of a white paper to tell you what you’re about to read? Do you think the readers of your own papers rely on your own abstracts? Do you wonder whether it’s worth it to create them?

You can find a lively, ongoing debate on the topic in forums like, with experts contending that an “executive summary” (read the scorn I heap on that term elsewhere) takes away from the persuasive essence of a white paper. Other experts contend that the abstract is necessary for packaging, SEO, article submittal, etc.

They frame their debate in the context of a reader with a white paper in hand and ready to read, but a post from Mark McClure of zooms out for a much broader context.

Personally, I think that an abstract should answer 1 question very quickly:

  • Is it worth my time to read this entire paper?

Mark takes a step back, recalling organizations in which “director-level decision makers were preparing a report or presentation for their bosses…where technology directors were in the hot seat over project ‘x’ with various C-level dignitaries.”

Mark points out that the goal of these meetings was to answer 3 questions about the project under discussion:

  • Can we delay or cancel it?
  • Can we get it cheaper or go elsewhere?
  • What if it doesn’t work?

“White papers that helped middle managers address the concerns (nay, fears) of the budget-holders and influence-wielders in such meetings were deemed ‘worth reading’ in the preparation for the meeting.”

What if you could kill these 3 birds with 1 abstract in your white papers? Better yet, cut to the chase: Instead of opening with an “abstract,” call it your “Summary and Recommendation”. Catch your reader unaware by making your recommendation right off the bat:

“The translation/localization industry is not doing enough to help customers develop new pricing models.”

“CEOs should refrain from corporate blogging because it dulls rather than sharpens their influence.”

“Wireless carriers who resist offering personalization and discovery technology to subscribers will have their lunch eaten by new kids on the block.”

Think about it: Isn’t that the answer your readers are after? Give it to them early on, and use the body of the paper to support it. Now, that’s real value in your content.

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.

photocredit: Marshall Astor

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