The White Paper Outline – Discover, Consider, Decide

white paper outline

Breaking your white paper into these three parts can help you build a campaign around it. Start with your white paper outline.

It was supposed to be a simple, short paper:

We’re looking for 4-6 pages of copy. It’s for a lead generation campaign. It’s about our new line of wireless schmedlapps.

That’s all they knew. I knew a little about schmedlapps myself, so they were comfortable with me. We signed the agreement and scheduled the interview.

The schmedlapp subject matter expert is a senior marketing manager. He briefed us because he knew how he wanted the campaign to go, and because he had enough exposure to customers to understand the audience for the paper. It was a jolly, upbeat interview, resulting in a decent helping of grist for the writing mill.

So I started the white paper outline

as I always do: I reviewed my notes, listened to the recording (you do record your interviews, don’t you?) and began moving bits around into a decent flow. Then, suddenly, I got a wild idea from an Alinean webinar I attended featuring Tom Pisello & Jim Novy.

The webinar was titled “Mapping Your Interactive White Papers to the Buyer’s Journey” and it emphasized three steps on that journey:

  1. Discovery
  2. Consideration
  3. Decision


I’ve never been shy about using a good idea – especially if it wasn’t mine to begin with – so I started rearranging the white paper outline into exactly those sections.

  1. Discover – Why are Schmedlapps Becoming So Important?
  2. Consider – Are Schmedlapps Right for My Organization?
  3. Decide – How Do I Make the Case for Schmedlapps in my Department?

Readers crave structure in white papers, and this seemed perfect. Betting on the come, I wound out the 4-6 pages of copy to an outline worth 9-11 pages and submitted it.

Double ker-ching – The client’s reaction

We held a conference call to review the outline – they had given me lamentably few actionable changes in writing – and most of the marketing manager’s comments were run of the mill until he said:

I think we should take this structure and break it out into three separate white papers.

To repeat, I’ve never been shy about using a good idea – especially if it wasn’t mine to begin with, and could result in additional business – so I let the manager continue down that road. He had sold himself on the idea of developing three separate white papers and telling the schmedlapp story over a three-month campaign.

Works for me. And, I didn’t have to convince anybody of anything.

So, we’re full speed ahead in building the discover-consider-decide series of papers. The client understands that this represents a change of scope, which affects the original estimate. It’s a better-rounded series of papers for the client, and new work for me.

Caveat writor

While I think this is a good structure for the schmedlapps story and campaign, I don’t want to encourage marketing communications writers to impose it on every white paper you ever write. There are times where it won’t apply, and even when it does apply, you should not use it for every paper.

Why not?

Because your writing will become formulaic and staid, and your white papers will start to look like those ghastly boring case studies that everybody posts on their website, with the invariable Challenge-Solution-Result flow.

If the only tool you have is Discover-Consider-Decide, you’ll start bending every client’s story to fit.

Keep this in mind as one way to tell the story, but not the only way.

photo credit: joguldi


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.”