Before You Start Your White Paper Project, Ask These Questions (Part 4 of 4)

Who will write the white paper?

This is part 4 of a series on your internal preparation for a white paper project. Fourth: Who is going to write the white paper?

Once you have decided on the message you want your paper to convey, fleshed out your ideal reader, and determined your paper’s call to action, it’s time to find someone to start writing it.

Before you start banging out tweets in a writer cattle-call, stop and think about four factors in selecting your writer:

  1. Internal vs. External – “We write our papers in house because we can’t find external people who know enough about what we do.”I hear this often from technology companies who know that the knowledge they want to publish is locked in the heads of key employees, and the only practical way for them to tell their story is with internal talent.This makes sense in some academic and research circles, and when a company is first getting its marketing act together, but who is more likely to notice (and tell you) that the emperor has no clothes: an insider or an outsider?
  2. Industry expertise vs. writing skill – “Have you ever written white papers on mobile eCommerce widgets before? Can you send me a sample?” The answer will almost surely be “no.”This is a good question if you’re looking for ways to disqualify a writer, but if you really need the paper written, you had better ask a different one: “Can you describe a project in which the subject matter was new to you, and you delivered a paper that made the customer happy?”We all want both industry expertise and writing skill – and sometimes think that our technical writers are ideal for generating marketing content – but if you can’t have both, buy skill and let the writer learn your industry. (See Will Kenny for more on this.)
  3. Content vs. layout – Do you want the writer to deliver the content alone, or the content plus layout?Most of the time, you’ll move white paper outlines and drafts around in a Microsoft Word or Google Docs file because it’s easy for reviewers to edit them. But a paper done in Word usually looks like a paper done in Word, so most companies want the final draft laid out in an application like Quark Xpress or Adobe InDesign. If you want that extra touch, you need to decide whether you or the writer will be responsible for it.
  4. Scribe vs. project manager/owner – “This project could go on for a couple of months, so we need somebody who can work independently and stick with it until the very end.”If that’s your case, you want more than just a scribe. A lot of ancillary work will go into the project, and while you may not see it coming, often your writer will. The most sensitive areas are contact with your customers and follow-up with internal reviewers; your comfort-level with letting somebody else handle these will determine whether you need a scribe or a project manager.

What factors do you apply in deciding who will write your white paper?

photo credit: Roger Price


Author: John White

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a content marketing writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Download his eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Content Marketing Writer.”