Here’s a question.
When you’re read something and you find yourself leaning in, pen in hand, ready to make notes. What is it that makes the reading matter so interesting? For me, it happens when I’ve found the answer I’ve been looking for. It’s actually that simple.
- Had a problem
- Found an answer.
What’s so special about this?
Isn’t that what all business writers do? Maybe that’s what they intend to do. But what gets published is different. Instead of being customer-centric it focuses on features, components, capabilities, and innovations. Sales stuff.
Of course, everything has its place. However, it’s best to use these to support, not drive, the narrative.
White Paper Persuasive Writing Techniques
In this tutorial, we’ll look at how you can write white papers that get a better response from your reader. Not a sales response, an emotional one.
What I’ve found after twenty-three years in business communications is that the heart follows the head. I know that sounds like a cliche but it’s true.
It means that people make choices with their heart and then justify the decision with their head, for example, using statistics, research, and endorsements to prove their making the correct decision.
But, if you work backwards, the starting point of the decision making process comes from the heart.
White Paper Writing Guidelines
Let’s look at how to write white papers that appeal more to the heart than head. See if you think this approach could work. Maybe it’s not for you. But maybe there is one idea, one tactic in here, that you can blend into your documents.
Reading this article will take less than three minutes. If you learn one thing, it’s probably worth it, right?
Let’s get started.
Name to a face
Is there anything more frustrating that meeting someone and forgetting their name?
You used to know it. It was there. Now it’s gone.
And the other person knows this. They’ve remembered yours.
It’s human nature to want to put a name to a face. When I start writing, I create a short pen-portrait of the person I see reading the finished article.
I give her a name. This small act makes a huge difference.
It focuses the writing. I’m not writing for them. I’m writing for Sandra, or Kim, or Xiao Min, or Ted. If you haven’t tried it, it might sound odd.
Try it just once.
See if makes a difference. Look at it as an experiment. What have you got to lose?
Of course, you want to be professional when discussing your product with Ted. Reflect this in your choice of words, phrases, and the examples you share when discussing how the product works.
What’s Ted’s job title? Developer or CEO?
Now that you know this, you may want to adjust the tone, right?
At the same time, you don’t want to be too stiff, too format.
It’s a balancing act.
Try not to be too chummy or too much in awe. Write as though you’re speaking to a slightly older person you respect and want to help.
Create a dialogue with the reader
Have you noticed the way I ask questions as we go along? That’s deliberate.
It brings you into the conversation. It forces you to pay a little bit more attention. It also helps me navigate you through the document.
The second purpose of questions is that I’m helping you to confirm your understanding.
The way it works is like this.
- I introduce an idea.
- Outline how it works.
- Give examples.
Then ask you if you’re ok with that?
You with me?
See I’m doing it again.
Keep it subtle. Don’t overdo the questions. Use alternatives. Include statistics, quotes, and social proof to keep the reader, Carlos, alert.
Write in a conversational voice
They say, write as you speak, but that doesn’t make sense. Instead, write in a natural, conversational style.
One way to develop a conversational style of writing is to imagine a friend sitting across the table from you.
Imagine this person wants to understand some concept but is struggling to do so. You want to help them. Do you use long complex technical terms? Probably not.
Do you use jargon and TLAs (three letter acronyms) that might impress some, but don’t help your friend.
Instead, look for ways to place the concept in context, give them an example of how it works in the real world, then get them to confirm their understanding.
Writing in a conversational voice also tends to disarm readers, who are used to business speak. Your document doesn’t feel like a sales pitch. But, again, don’t over-do it.
Help the reader determine if they’re in the right place or not.
In other words, use clear headings, titles, and sub-headings, to help them tell very quickly if this document is going to address their issue or not.
In the opening paragraph, describe what’s given rise to this problem.
Use stats and quotes to highlight a trend, issue, or factor that will resonate with the reader.
If possible, describe where/how the subject of the white paper fits in the bigger picture. For example, how open source affects banking as opposed to any healthcare.
Write short scenarios and use cases. This demonstrates your expertise and that you can draw on your experience to resolve similar issues that reader is facing. For example:
Empathy v Sympathy
What’s the problem facing the reader right now? Maybe they’ve been struggling to find an answer for several months. What’s behind their frustration and confusion? Look at ways to highlight this to demonstrate awareness and empathy.
Identity where they can save money, improve processes, streamline, resources. Again, real world examples make this more persuasive.
You can also help the reader see things they may not have already thought of. The point is not to use scare tactics but suggest that if they contact you, you can help these resolve known issues and ‘known unknowns’.
Did you know – negative headlines outperform positives ones in business magazines.
There’s different reasons for this. When writing business documents, such as case studies and white papers, mentioning where projects have failed is important.
This works for several reasons.
- It gives the reader understand what she needs to avoid.
- It shows you’ve done your homework.
- It helps them to compare one product offering against another.
- It gives them more context.
Think about it. If you don’t discuss past failings. What does that say about your knowledge of this area?
Balance Text and Images
Reading can be hard work. Remember, some people may be reading your white paper on an iPad or mobile phone. Using charts, tables, and graphics help avoid fatigue and keep your readers engaged that bit longer.
Highlight memorable stats and facts in ‘pullouts’ and sidebars. These are snippets of information that usually appear in the left margin. Use a different background color and text to make them stand out from the main text.
- Use charts, tables, and graphics to counterbalance the word count
- Use graphics to illustrate relationships between concepts, technologies, and systems
- Use charts to highlight the results of findings from your surveys, customer feedback, or benchmarking.
In the final paragraph encourage the reader to take some action, either email you, read more, or subscribe to your newsletter.
Have you read this? Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion