The White Paper Outline Buffet: The Innovation White Paper

The Innovation White Paper outline - Putting a little buckshot in the air

Part 4 in a series of white paper outlines, each with a different structure and focus. Here, an outline for a buckshot-in-the-air white paper that scares readers toward innovation.

What do you think about scaring your prospects and customers a little bit?

How do you feel about getting them off the dime to buy your products by prodding them or making them feel uneasy? Can your content marketing writer pull that off in a white paper?

There are subtle ways in which to do that, and the innovation white paper outline shows you how to nudge readers out of their comfort zone and into action.

You just need to put a little Buckshot in the Air.


Use a title that conveys urgency:

  • Don’t Look Now… – Engineering Managers and the Coming Wave of Environmental Compliance
  • What’s Spam Got to Do with It? Network Administrators Fight This Year’s Threats with Last Year’s Technology

The paper will embody some tension and conflict (see David Meerman Scott on conflict-driven business writing), and the title has to set the stage for it.


You’re probably going to describe your own innovative remedy for the problem, so do the right thing and prepare readers for that in your summary.

Being honest about it is better than pretending that it’s an independent, authoritative resource, and then stealthily injecting advertorial late in the game. Readers don’t like that.


Keep your goals modest as you introduce the body of the paper.

  • Your product will not overcome global warming; it will improve scrubber technology.
  • It does not make ransomware evaporate, but it will strengthen Active Directory security.
  • Your service will not fix the Great Recession; it will help cautious employers screen middle-manager candidates.

Don’t bother discussing the overarching topics of global warming or ransomware or the economic crisis, because your readers already know about them. Devote a couple of precious, introductory paragraphs to the subset of the problem that your product addresses.

The Buckshot in the Air

Your readers are comfortable with their understanding of the problem and their approach to it, so you need to describe the danger they face in relying on that old-think.

Two uncontrollable forces make up the Buckshot in the Air (as in, “something or somebody pursuing and shooting at you”): competitors and changes in the industry.

Your readers are afraid of these forces because they cannot predict them. You cannot predict them either, but you have a new way of staying one step ahead of them. That is why people are willing to read your white paper.

Consider a personalization technology that helps people discover interesting mobile content without hours of fruitless searching on the phone. The ideal readers are wireless carriers, who already enjoy a tight billing relationship with users. The Buckshot in the Air might look like this:

  1. You don’t own all the data on your users. There are intermediate parties providing good content to your users, and they own very valuable information about your users’ preferences.
  2. A new category of competitor is arising, populated by last year’s strategic partners.
  3. You can try to direct your users to interesting content, but if they don’t find it relevant, you’re doing them – and yourself – more harm than good.

Does that feel as through you’re pushing the envelope? Are you afraid that your readers will think you’re bawling them out? Are you wary of sticking your nose into their business?

You are pushing it, you may be bawling them out and your nose is in their business.

This is what it looks like when you stop croaking about your products and start focusing on the problems you solve for your customers.

The Innovation

Here you describe the innovation toward which you’ve scared your readers:

  • how it differs from other approaches
  • how it will give readers a leg up on the competition and help them stay ahead of industry developments
  • why it is important to find out more about the innovation as soon as possible

Of course, most companies want the paper to describe their own innovation, and this is where they begin naming their own name. If you prefer, you can keep this section anonymous, then drop your name in the last paragraph of the conclusion.

(In the pure sense of a white paper, companies should refrain from naming their products, using the paper instead to build their own authority quietly. In practice, though, few can justify the time and expense involved in producing a good paper without talking about themselves and their products. Good marketing communications writers can balance the tasks of naming names and focusing on the customer’s problems.)

List a few technical details  in a subsection (e.g., “How Does [the Innovation] Work?) – just enough to add some depth to the paper and to whet the reader’s appetite for more.

Conclusion and Follow us

Recap the threats and the new-think for dealing with them. If you’ve left your innovation nameless up to now, mention it in passing in the conclusion.

Be sure to invite readers to follow your blog, newsletter, podcasts and webinars. If they like the way you look at their business problems in the paper, they’ll want to keep an eye on you for more insight.

The result is a first-pass white paper outline you can circulate. Your reviewers will be able to see where you’re taking the readers of your innovation white paper. Once you have their feedback, you can start on the draft.

Next, the Why-We-Did-This White Paper: Customers-Industry-Us Outline

photo credit: Torrey Wiley (BY 2.0)


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.”

2 thoughts on “The White Paper Outline Buffet: The Innovation White Paper

  1. Hi John,

    I’m enjoying this series of white paper tips and will have to print these out for ref… unless you’ve got plans to parcel them into your own paper?

    One question comes to mind from this sentence in your post:

    “In the pure sense of a white paper, they should refrain from naming their products, using the paper instead to build their own authority quietly.”

    You mentioned the client’s urge/need to have their widget/solution in the piece and gave a reasonable approach for meeting that desire.

    What do you think of having the white paper reference a landing page where other relevant info goodies await, including a free (but reg-required) webinar all about their specific products/solutions to the problems/issues raised in the white paper?

    When I was in the corp world I’d no problems accepting a tech soft-sell from a product/service vendor on a webinar.
    That’s because Account Reps had already seeded the expectation that we’d learn much more about vendor A’s solutions by attending.

    And, for the most part, we did.
    Can’t the white paper play a similar but automated ‘silent sales partner’ role. One that mimics what the human does when pressing the flesh?

    1. Mark: Hooking readers back to a landing page with more resources is a good idea, but that is still in the rubric of “For More Information.” I advocate a call to action that is more like “How to Follow Us,” because that’s where audience-building is headed. See the difference?

      Glad you’re enjoying the series of white paper outlines. I have in mind wrapping an ebook around them eventually.


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