I had an opportunity recently to interview some clients about their experience with white paper writers. (As well as those who write special reports, ebooks, and other types of “long form” content.) The results were interesting — to say the least.
Much of what these clients said didn’t surprise me. For example, they were unanimous that “meeting deadlines” was a desirable trait. However, there were a few characteristics they emphasized that I didn’t expect to hear.
So if you write white papers — or are thinking of getting into this niche — take a look at the list below. These are traits you may not have realized are so important to clients. (I didn’t.)
1. A fan of white papers.
This is the trait that surprised me the most. Many clients I spoke to preferred to work with writers who have a demonstrated interest in white papers. As one client put it, “I want a writer to be a fan, to read white papers, to have an opinion as to which ones are great. And why.”
That makes sense. After all, there’s a reason Stephen King writes suspense. He’s a fan of the genre.
White papers, too, is a genre. So if you’re going to craft these documents, read them. Study them. Become an aficionado.
2. A strategist.
Almost unanimously, clients told me they want a writer who can strategize the development of a white paper. That means collaborating with the client to develop the topic and approach, dream up a great title, and basically be the brains behind the piece.
Strategist. And writer.
One client put it this way, “I don’t want a writer who needs detailed direction and hand-holding. I want to be able to brainstorm with him, get his advice, and then let him take the ball and run with it.”
Another trait clients want to see is curiosity about the white paper topic. “I want to get a sense that the writer is as enthusiastic and curious about our innovative approach to training as we are,” said one client, CEO of a sales training firm.
Obviously, if you can’t summon much interest in the topic, you’re not going to be able to write about it persuasively and authoritatively. (The twin pillars of a great white paper.)
That’s why, as a marketer and copywriter, I focus on industries that fascinate me.
4. Recommend visuals.
This has become an important skillset of white paper writers in recent years. Content is becoming more visual — simply because there are more visual learners — and, although clients recognize you’re not a designer, they do want you to contribute ideas for photos, charts, graphs, infographics, etc.
For example, I just finished writing a special report for a client where I recommended including two graphs and an infographic. He thanked me for the suggestions.
So there you have it. Four surprising (at least to me) traits of a great white paper writer. If you craft this type of content, be sure to demonstrate that you’re a fan, a strategist, curious, and able to recommend visuals.
Because if you read this far, you probably are.