Effective Business Writing: The White Paperby Anjana Srikanth
The Internet Writing Journal, September 2002
Category: Business Communication
A white paper is considered to be a standard marketing tool today. Statistics show that decision makers in organizations use them as their first external source of information. White papers are an effective medium that educate and inform and, most importantly, influence a prospective customer. A white paper from a company should reinforce why the organization needs to be selected over the competition.
Outline of Any White Paper:
Define the target audience/market and the purpose of the white paper, i.e., whether it is to establish authority on a particular topic, or create awareness of an upcoming issue or trend, or to provide information that will help buyers make decisions and differentiate the company from the competition.
Define the message the white paper is going to deliver and ask yourself the reason why anyone would want to read it.
What Does a White Paper Usually Contain?
- Current industry problems/trends: Begin with a description of the broadest issues and trends in the industry that will introduce the reader to the topic. Then move on to discussing the specific attributes of the solution.
- Technology: Description of the technology if necessary.
- How the service offered or the new technology or business model works.
- Benefits/application/ROI/case studies.
- Visual appeal: Add graphics, charts and images to break the monotony of reading text and also tools to understand the topic better.
- How to choose a solution/vendor if applicable.
- Avoid using technical acronyms and other difficult terminology.
- Avoid technical complexity.
- Avoid writing a user manual.
Training guidelines for a business article:
The goal of this article is to acquaint you with the standard white paper, the appropriate content for a white paper, the kind of research that is required and how to write globalspeak.
You may write about an interesting topic after collecting all the important information that you need, but your article may put the reader to sleep after a brief look. Well, let's face it; do you want your article to send readers off the site? Would you want it to be the exit page on a site? We know that your writing is not that bad and our scare tactics don't really work, but this could happen to any web writer. Don't let it happen to you.
What kind of business articles does your company need? What kind of brand do you want to portray? As far as credibility goes, how do your articles fare? Do you have what it takes to get a site like Yahoo, Bit Pipe or Forrester to list them? Articles of a certain caliber, we mean!
Let's summarize the writing process:
- Writing Plan
- Writing process:
- Search engine tips
- Free writing
- Structure of ideas and writing patterns
- Paragraph sequence formation
- Introduction and Conclusion ideas
Know thy target audience: an irrefragable rule of web writing! The article you write may supply information to the reader, help him make a decision or recommend a procedure. How much your reader knows will determine what kind of background information you need to provide.
For example, what is the reader trying to gain from this article?
- New and useful information
- Intellectual stimulation
- Keeping abreast with the current trends
- Skills improvement
- Practical hints or "how to s"
Do you assume that the reader knows the basic concepts and has a general understanding of the topic? One of the worst gaffes you can make is to assume that he knows a lot more about the topic than he actually does or worse still, assume that he knows nothing and sounds patronizing instead.
Deadlines for the project, the purpose, scope, proposed approach and time allotted to write are some of the specific requirements that you must chalk out before you get your hands on that keyboard (or pen on paper).
What are the skills required of a writer? Determination, patience and practice! Researching, writing, reviewing and rewriting, rewriting and rewriting!
Getting ideas: Original ideas and unusual approaches come from random thinking -- a mix of random and logical thoughts. This is a left-brain and a right brain effort.
Research: How do you research the content of your article? In some cases, what you want is easy to find. But, while writing about new trends and new ideas it is likely that you will find information in the most unlikely places.
Personal contacts and friends, your past experiences, printed information, the Internet, visual sources and companies and organizations are the various sources that can form a germinating ground for your research.
Use the Internet to search for the information that you need.
A few search engine tips: Before embarking on the research process, it helps to check on the existing knowledge, either resident within yourself, or with your peers or in a knowledge base accessible within the company. After you have collated all the information you will need in your knowledge base, it's time to start your research.
It's important to know exactly what you are looking for. When typing in keywords in search engines, use words that are precise, but not overtly restrictive. Key phrases might yield more accurate results. Using wild cards to truncated key words in an appropriate manner also help here. Use the search engine and the navigational tools within the site, and perhaps modify the URL of the site to help you in your search.
Collating all the information that you have so painstakingly collected and incorporating it in a writing process is what you will do next.
At this stage you have not worked out the "how" of the article.
You can put down whatever thoughts come to mind in a point-form without worrying about grammar and style, or even punctuation used. There are many ways of doing this, either by free writing, clustering or even using a flow chart to sequence your points. You need to form ideas at this stage, group them and then later decide on the structure and sequence of your writing.
Brainstorm: Brainstorming is a method of generating ideas using free association. All minds, however uncreative (supposedly) are wonderful tools for developing ideas and brainstorming is a sure fire way to get those itsy bitsy gems of thought out in the open.
Free writing is a fine method of developing critical thinking skills. What it means is writing free of constraints -- without worrying about grammar, spelling, the right words or punctuation. Writing whatever comes to mind continuously without worrying about the style and instead concentrating on investing ideas onto a paper is the main objective here.
Mind mapping: Sketching out ideas in the form of visuals or doodles (that make some kind of sense) on a piece of paper and grouping them in clusters is a fun approach to your idea germination. We could call it the graffiti approach. What you would do here is to write a word that you associate with your topic, lets say, "search engines." Write down words related to this -- keywords, descriptions etc. Now, jot down sub categories for each of these words and then group them in a logical manner. Here, you are using both the creative and logical mind (we assume that you have both). Using a colored pen you can draw lines between groups or clusters and write down the association and other ideas that occur to you.
Don't forget to jot down introductory/summary remarks, abbreviations, important facts, dates, graphs and drawings. Any personal comments you want to make regarding your article or otherwise can be bracketed.
Step 1:Identifying the core statement:
Establish a purpose to this process by answering these questions:
What do I want people to do as a result of reading my article?
What do I want to say in this article? This will also tell you what kind of headline you want to incorporate -- something that says a lot to the reader and motivates them to read more.
Step 2: Setting objectives:
Identify about 3 to 6 main objectives of the article. This will help you decide on the structure and sequence of the contents in the article.
Step 3: Framework:
A route map of what and how you are going to structure the article is the general idea here. Are you going to adopt the narrative style, the persuasive form or the technical (scientific form) or the descriptive style? Once you've agreed on this, an outline for the issue to be discussed, any arguments for and against if necessary, a recap along with a suitable introduction and conclusion constitutes a rough framework for the article.
If you are persuasively trying to sell a product or a service, you will paint a scenario that requires your product or service and then move on to describing the problems or reasons for using the product. This outline will comprise a description of the product benefits and also demolish reasons against the product. At the end, you may summarize the benefits of the product or service and then conclude in an action statement. An action statement is one that makes readers act.
The scientific form or a technical article has a framework as follows:
Description of the purpose of the report or the investigation followed by the methods used in supporting this investigation, the data used and the final conclusion of your report. Using visual tools and aids here give more clarity to your findings or explanations.
Introduction to the article:
This may be the most difficult place to start. Opening remarks are crucial, even more so in web writing.
A useful model to follow in the introduction is AIDA
A - Gain Attention
I - Attract Interest
D - Create Desire (Anxiety)
A - Stimulate Action
Adopt a journalistic approach or the "inverted pyramid" method. The inverted pyramid style works best here. Who, what, where, when, why and how of the information that you are going to provide summarized in gist and then the rest of the article upholding these statements is what is called the inverted pyramid approach. So, start with a conclusion and spend the rest of the essay supporting it.
Asking a question, stating an important fact, quoting someone famous, making an interesting and startling observation are some of the many ways that one can introduce a topic. The aim here is to grab the attention of the reader, a hook that seduces.
Just in case this BRILLIANT INTRODUCTION doesn't happen immediately, you can always write, "Brilliant introduction goes here," and work on it later.
Complete your draft and review the points that you made. Analyzing your draft will give you an idea of the structure and the form that your article is going to take. Think of metaphors, analogies and parables or examples or any visual aids and illustrations that you can use to help the reader understand the article better.
At this juncture, you can decide which idea goes into what paragraph and the sequence of these paragraphs. Now you need to work on those individual paragraphs and, of course, write. Sentences and paragraphs begin to appear with more clarity here.
Keep in mind the following:
Organization: The opening words of a sentence convey the main idea of the sentence. The main idea of the paragraph is conveyed in the first sentence, also called the topic sentence. Don't include more than one idea to a paragraph.
Vary the sentence length and pattern (about 7 to 20 words per sentence). Paragraph lengths can vary from 6 to 8 lines with appropriately titled sub-headings. Bulleted lists and adequate amount of white space aid readers who skim through articles in deciding whether the article is worth more than a cursory perusal. So, make your article pretty and easy to read.
Language: Adopt a conversational tone and use terms that your readers can picture. Don't write in the third person, you don't want your article to sound like boring official memos, do you? Put people in your writing; write to one person, use anecdotes, eyewitness accounts and other interesting fables or examples to captivate the hurried reader. Be assertive and forthright in whatever you want to say.
Eliminate non-motivating phrases and sexist language. Instead of writing "We hope to have covered all salient features in this article," accent the positive and motivate your readers with "Now, that we have covered the salient features of...." Conveying an image of confidence and credibility takes priority when writing an article. Backing up all assertions made with solid foolproof explanations comes next.
Keep your prose short and trim. Flowery language doesn't help in keeping readers on your site. The dictionary has a billion words but it does not mean that you use all of them in your article. Clean up the dead wood and use phrases and words that a reader easily understands. Immediate gratification is what most readers today are looking for.
A few things to avoid:
- Spelling and grammatical errors -- Use the spell checker on your computer and then get a peer or a friend to edit your article.
- Long verbs: use shorter verbs like introduce, begin, start or commence instead of "in the beginning."
- Passive voice: Eliminate sluggish passive voice expressions.
Example: We need a cover letter for the final report.
For the final report a cover letter was needed.
- Use verbs of action:
I received a copy.
I was given a copy.
- Not capitalizing abbreviations: Always capitalize abbreviations and expand them when you introduce them in the essay.
- Avoid using qualifiers like little, rather and very.
- Abstract language: Use precise language and write in the active voice.
- Use the comma correctly.
- Avoid wordiness: Wordiness is using lengthy words and sentences when the same idea can actually be conveyed in a more concise manner.
- Unclear words and sentences: Don't use unfamiliar words,
clichés and redundant language.
Use Instead of So in order that Because due to the fact that If in the event that As in accordance with
Style: Develop an individual style of your own by writing about anything that interests you as often as you can. A useful checklist at the end of writing:
- A powerful introduction
- Emphasize key points in an unusual manner
- Adopt a conversational style
- Examples, anecdotes, illustrations
- Easy to follow arguments
- Right tone
- Unusual stories and words
- Personal writing -- using the word "you"
Tips to handle writer's block: You are all set to start writing when all of a sudden your mind is a blank! A familiar feeling among all writers; a forlorn sensation of desolation and dread! Your article needs to be submitted in a few hours and your mind is stuck in a state of nothingness!
Well, it does not signal the end of your writing career nor does it mean the death of your article. Writer's block need not become the bane of your existence. All it requires is some mature handling.
Read a book, go out and look at the garden, indulge in a hobby, play a game, chat with a friend, listen to music or do anything that can relax your mind, be it bungee jumping or curling up in bed and reading your favorite book! And if you are not willing to let go of your writing, then write by all means. But, write about something else -- about the ten favorite things you like (or hate!) about your spouse or your friends or your boss, the wonderful things you plan to buy with a million dollars or the first time you cooked a meal.
You will soon find your creative juices flowing, and that article or essay will be easier to write. This article from The Guardian tells you more about writer's block.
Vocabulary Aids: When you come across a difficult word, look it up in the dictionary (place one on your desk or bookmark any online dictionary). Create your own list of words and store them in an accessible place. Use the new words that you learn in sentences while conversing with peers (as long as the words are used within context and people don't think that you are trying to show off your newfound knowledge, it's okay).
Because we are discussing selling ideas to people, we also need to look at promotional copywriting and what it takes to bring the marketing focus into a business article. What is promo-copy? It is writing that sells! It is writing that sells your services, a product or your brand. It also means getting listed on the search engines and ranking high on their lists.
Write down the keywords that are related to a topic and sprinkle them liberally in the article. Usability studies have shown that if your article is 500 words long, each keyword can be used (2-3% of 500) about 10 to 15 times in the article. It helps to use more keywords in the first paragraph of an article (search engine strategy).
Persuasive marketing is much more than using the correct keywords. It also means using the right tone in the article, offering something of use to the reader and selling ideas in a way that hits home.
Use words that demonstrate action and give a great visual image. Offer benefits and give directives, while explaining business issues or trends. Implementing promotional copy into an article that serves as a tutorial may not be a good idea but making your service pages promo-heavy are a must. Use your discretion and decide how persuasive your language needs to be.
Links to Business Sites Dictionaries, Style Manuals, Grammar Handbooks, Editing Resources
- Dictionary.com allows you to search multiple dictionaries and references at the same time.
- Merriam Webster Dictionary
- S9 Biographical Dictionary
- Bartlett's Familiar Quotations
- Elements of Style