Steal This White Paper Outline!

This post was written by John White on Tue, 02 Mar 2010 20:49:03 +0000
Posted Under: case studies,outline,persuasion,process of writing,social media,white papers

The first step in writing a white paper is an outline, which acts as a skeleton that you flesh out with evidence and persuasion.

My post last October, 4 Elements of a White Paper Outline, resulted in a large number of visits, so I’ll go into more detail in this post. As a matter of fact, I’ll give you an outline, right in this post.

It’s the outline for a technical benefits white paper I wrote some years ago; the client has given me permission to use it. You may go ahead and steal it. After all, I stole the title for this post from Abbie Hoffman’s famous Steal This Book, so it seems only fair.

Your company’s hardware acceleration technology relieves system bottlenecks by offloading compute-intensive algorithms from software running on host processors to dedicated hardware. The task is to create a paper that interests engineers in your technology and convinces them that your approach makes sense.

Summary

This is 1-3 paragraphs on what the paper covers. It answers the reader’s question, “Why should I bother reading this?”

Many marketing communications writers defer writing the summary until after the body of the paper is finished. I prefer to take a stab at one at the outline stage. It shows my reviewers what I understand they want to convey and gives them the opportunity to straighten me out if need be.

Since you plan to discuss your own technology in the paper, mention it in the summary. Don’t be coy and spring it on the reader at the end.

Acceleration Opportunity

The Market and Competitive Threat
The Application
The Algorithm

In this section and subsections, you describe the landscape and trends around acceleration technology: who’s buying it (citations of recent market data help to make this more credible), how they’re using it (e.g., for speeding up anti-virus scanning at enterprise e-mail gateways), and the mathematics behind the algorithm.

It’s a good idea to put some buckshot in the air and point out to readers the necessity of their doing something different. The essence of a white paper is persuasion, and the subtle suggestion that obsolescence awaits readers who do nothing, goes a long way toward convincing them to act.

Your Design

State of the Industry
Your Solution

You’ve led the reader to the point in the paper at which you describe your own approach to acceleration technology.

It’s useful to describe existing approaches to acceleration – e.g., sacrifice network throughput in the interest of security, throw more boxes at the problem, create a custom chip, rewrite the software more efficiently – but for the sake of balance, the reader needs to understand that there are downsides associated with each one. Each approach also meets several different factors with varying degrees of satisfaction: cost, time to market, maintainability, performance, standards-maturity, and so on.

Your acceleration technology is not the fastest hardware and not the fastest software, but it combines and optimizes the mix of the two for a new approach, and it most nearly satisfies all of the selection factors. You may also leave an out for the next generation of your accelerator, which will indeed satisfy all of today’s factors.

Case Studies/Use Cases

XML Processing
Network Security
Cryptography

If you’ve kept your readers this far, it’s a good idea to trot out instances where your acceleration technology is in use, preferably with statistics to demonstrate that it’s better, cheaper and faster than what was in place before.

Case studies within a white paper are a relief to a reader. “I’m interested only in cryptography, so I get to skip the other two. That will help me get through this paper faster.” Don’t try to make all of your case studies fascinating to all readers; just ensure that each one will resonate for its particular audience.

If you can drop names of customers, it’s a huge benefit.

Hardware Acceleration-Main Messages

Conclusion
Follow Us

Now, you tell them what you’ve told them. This is useful because some readers will cut right to the chase and read the end, then go back for the body of the paper only if the conclusion convinces them that they’ve missed something.

The main messages are a series of bullet points (preferably three) that skim the highlights of your paper’s argument. Again, these help the impatient reader qualify the paper as worthy of his/her time and effort.

Your conclusion picks up where the Summary left off, adding more detail about your technology and its real-world applications and savings.

“Follow Us” used to be “For More Information.” If your paper has accomplished its goal, readers don’t need more information from you. They want to go out to the Web and follow you to see what other information they can find about you. Sure, you give them a phone number and a landing page, but point them to your presence in social media and on blogs.


I hope this outline helps you. Did I leave out anything important? What’s in your white paper outlines?

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.

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