trophy for award winning white paper
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How to write a white paper that wins awards

It's official: a white paper I worked on won an award! Want to learn what makes a prize-worthy piece of content? This is my step-by-step guide on how to write a white paper like a pro.

Last week I got exciting news: a white paper I worked on won a Gold Quill Award!

It was a huge and important project, tackling Australia’s failing aged care system and how the government can address the crisis. 

This white paper was different from most. Not only did it serve as a piece of thought leadership, it also made waves in the media and helped forge government relations.

It was long. Really long – over 30 pages.

It didn’t include any proprietary research.

The journey to completion stretched over a year and a whole host of experts weighed in. I played a small role, part of a larger collaboration.

Why am I telling you all this? To bust common white paper myths. They don’t need to be under ten pages. They don’t always need original research.

But, there's definitely a winning formula – a secret sauce – that all standout white paper writers follow.

In this guide, I’ll answer ‘how to write a white paper’ by sharing the crucial elements you need to master to create a white paper that truly packs a punch. We’ll cover: 

  • Setting sharp objectives
  • Market validation
  • Picking a winning topic
  • Visual storytelling
  • Managing your stakeholders
  • Measuring what matters.

Setting objectives: what’s your endgame?

Before anything else, zero in on precisely what you want to achieve. 

Sounds straightforward, right?

You’d be amazed how many B2Bs fumble this step.

Crafting a goal that aligns tightly with your business objectives isn’t a snap decision – it requires deep thought and, in my experience, isn’t a one-person job.

And no, you can’t pick three objectives.  

The best white paper writers are laser focused on one, ambitious primary objective. I don’t mind including secondary objectives, but there needs to be a hierarchy to avoid diluting your message. 

Are you aiming to make a name for yourself with groundbreaking insights? Or perhaps you're looking to direct high-quality leads directly to your door?

Get clear and ambitious from the get-go. Here’s what winning looks like for different white paper goals: 

  • Lead generation: think educational content with built-in pathways that invite further interaction with your business
  • Thought leadership: focus on delivering unique insights that catapult you to the front of industry conversations like this Grammarly paper
  • Media coverage: target current hot topics in your industry that will catch the eye of the press
  • Event signups: concise papers that promote events like webinars, offering just enough value and insight without giving all the goodies away
  • Influence policy: include an ‘ask’ alongside well-researched, compelling arguments that speak to public policy and legislative frameworks like this Ryman Healthcare paper
  • Brand positioning: if you want to shift perspectives, delve into proprietary research or new innovations that reframe your brand.

Your objective should act as a compass, guiding every decision you make on the white paper, from topic selection to the PR/marketing strategy. The right goals will resonate deeply with your audience and support your business aspirations.

Market validation: the white paper writer’s secret weapon

Before you even start thinking about brainstorming potential topics, you need to make sure there’s a solid foundation for your white paper.

This is where market validation steps in. 

If you’ve launched a white paper in the past…and no one probably missed this step. 

Market validation is how you find out what topic will stick with the people you want to reach.

Figure out:

  • What the burning issues are in your industry
  • What your competitors are discussing, and more importantly, what they’re missing
  • What your potential audience want to know. What questions they have that are unanswered: you can do this through catch ups, surveys, social listening and interactive forums.

This isn't just a box-ticking exercise; it’s an essential process that ensures the topic you eventually choose has the traction to engage your audience and stand out in a crowded market.

It sets the stage for selecting a topic that’s more than relevant. It’s magnetic.

Your white paper should pull in readers because it’s precisely what they need to hear about right now.

Topic selection: will your white paper hit the mark?

dark hitting the mark like a good white paper
Photo by Immo Wegmann / Unsplash

 Now for the fun part. The step you've been waiting for.

I beg you: don’t just grab the first decent idea that comes up in the brainstorm. You have set a clear, ambitious goal for this white paper.

You know what your audience wants. Your topic is a strategic selection that makes sure your white paper cuts through the noise. 

Find the sweet spot: imagine a Venn Diagram. Your ideal topic lies where industry relevance, audience interest, and your unique expertise overlap. It's that magic intersection where you bring something no one else can.

Address the gaps: you’ve scoped out the landscape; now use what you know. What crucial conversations are your competitors avoiding? What are the unanswered questions your audience is dying to explore? That’s where your white paper should live. Dive deep where others are skimming the surface. 

Hook your audience: choose a topic that not only fills a gap but also pulls in your audience with relevance and urgency. Think about the problems they face that keep them up at night – your white paper should offer the solutions they’re desperate for.

Futureproof it: picking a topic that’ll be topical for a while will maximise the lifecycle of your white paper. Look for enduring issues or emerging trends that will keep your content on reading lists for months, or even years.

Selecting your topic with this approach helps you build a foundation for sustained interest and ongoing discussion.

Visuals matter: more than just eye candy

Now that the writing’s started, it’s time to think about what your white paper is going to look like.

My advice? Kick off the graphics game early by bringing a sharp designer into the mix right from the start.

Good visuals aren't just eye candy.

Charts, graphs, infographics and case study headshots all help tell the story of your white paper. They should support your master narrative, not just take up space.

If you have research (most white paper writers will include some), use graphics to slice through complexity and make your data stick.  

Whatever you use, make sure your visuals do more than sprinkling some sparkle. They’re about making your white paper as powerful and punchy as you want it to be.

Stakeholders: keeping everyone happy without selling your soul

If you haven’t developed a big piece of content before, get ready for the stakeholder ****show.

Most freelance white paper writers will agree: if there are a lot of SMEs or case studies to be interviewed, plus various levels of approvals, things can get tricky. 

So, getting your stakeholders aligned early and keeping them engaged is crucial.

My top tips?

  1. Identify the key players: pinpoint who needs to be in the loop from the get-go. Whether it's department heads, partners, technical experts or other consultants: identifying these individuals early helps you set expectations and a realistic timeline.
  2. Set clear expectations: right from the start, lay out what you aim to achieve with your white paper. Clear communication about goals, timelines and roles simplifies complexity and cuts through potential confusion.
  3. Regular updates: keep the communication lines buzzing. Regular updates prevent surprises and keep stakeholders invested in the process. Whether it’s through weekly emails, quick calls or regular meetings, make sure everyone knows the progress and any hurdle you’re facing.
  4. Feedback flow: set clear feedback and approval flows from the start. Try your best to keep stakeholders accountable and adhering to the agreed process. There’s nothing worse than receiving a draft full of tracked changes from one person, then a total contradiction from another team a day later.
  5. Address concerns proactively: if a stakeholder has a concern, tackle it head on. Proactive management of issues maintains trust and respect, helping smooth any collaboration.

Metrics that matter: the white paper writer’s toolbox

Measuring how your white paper is doing isn’t something that should be left until the last minute.

To accurately track your strategy and performance (which you should), decide what metrics you’re going to track when you land on an objective.

The right metrics will show you if your paper has done its job. Some of the most popular ways to measure success are:

  2. Lead conversion
  3. Engagement
  4. Social shares, likes, mentions
  5. Direct feedback

Match these metrics to your goals to gauge the white paper’s impact.

Wrapping up white papers

So, hopefully by now you’ve realised white papers come in all shapes and sizes.

Some are sales-led, others are focused on positioning and policy.

But, the elements above can be found in every white paper that gets results.

Did you notice I didn’t include a section about hiring an amazing white paper writer? 

As important as good writing is (and it is), it doesn’t guarantee a punchy piece of content that gets noticed. The early strategic decisions you make and the foundations you lay are even more important if you want to hit your ambitious objective.

Bet you didn’t think a writer would say that, did you?

If you’re ready to create a white paper that inspires action (and wins awards), let’s talk. Book a free consultation call with me today, with absolutely no strings attached. Ever.

Written by

Caroline Voaden
trophy for award winning white paper
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