The first step in writing a white paper is an outline, which acts as a skeleton that you flesh out with evidence and persuasion.
Here’s a closer look at an earlier blog post, 4 Elements of a White Paper Outline. 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.)
The background is that your company specializes in hardware acceleration. Its technology relieves performance bottlenecks by offloading compute-intensive algorithms from software running on the CPU to dedicated hardware. The task is to create a white paper that interests engineers in your technology and convinces them that your approach makes sense.
Summary (at the top of the white paper outline)
This is 1-3 paragraphs on what the paper covers. It answers the reader’s question, “Why should I bother reading this?”
Many content marketing writers defer writing the summary until after the body of the paper is finished. I prefer to take a stab at one when I’m creating the outline. It shows my clients what I think they want the paper to convey. If I’m wrong, they have the opportunity to straighten me out before we all get too far down the road.
If you plan to discuss your own technology and products in the paper, make that clear in the summary. Don’t think you can be coy and inconspicuously slip your advertising in at the end.
The Market and Competitive Threat
In this section and subsections, you describe the landscape and trends around acceleration technology. That includes 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. Point out to your readers the need to do something different and the danger in sticking with the status quo. Why? Because the goal of a white paper is to persuade, and the subtle suggestion that obsolescence awaits readers who do nothing goes a long way toward convincing them to act.
State of the Industry
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. Those may include sacrificing network throughput in the interest of security, throwing more boxes at the problem, creating a custom chip, and rewriting the software more efficiently. For the sake of balance, though, explain to your reader 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 criteria. You may also leave an out for the next generation of your accelerator, which will indeed satisfy all of today’s criteria.
Case Studies/Use Cases
If you’ve kept your readers this far, cite instances where your acceleration technology is in use. If you have statistics, use them 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, you’ll score even more points with readers.
Hardware Acceleration — Main Messages
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 impatient readers qualify the paper as worthy of their 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 landing page, but point them also to your presence in social media and on blogs.
I hope this outline helps you. How are you going to use it now that you’ve stolen it?