How long should my white paper be?

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Company employees writing white papers often ask this question, expecting the answer to be a set range of pages. However, it’s not always so easy. It’s also not all that enlightening when someone tells you that it should be as many pages as it takes to get your point across. White papers can be as few as three or four pages or as many as 50.

The nature of such a document is that it will pose a question of how to solve a particular problem for the client. A deep understanding of the problem will be shown, along with a suggested solution (which you, of course, can provide, but you may wait to reveal that). Research and examples may be given that support the idea that this solution is the best or only way to go. The narrative will culminate, then, in pointing the reader to your company as the best to provide said solution.

How do you know when you’ve said enough?  Say too much, and it will burden the reader, likely losing their attention. Say too little, and perhaps the case has not been made for using your product or services. Here are a few tips to help you determine what’s best for your project.

  1. The easy answer: Shorter is better. While white papers used to be the length of some novels, modern society dictates that we keep our pitches to a minimum. Everyone is busy, some overwhelmingly so. The folks of yesteryear could say, “Hold my calls.” We are assaulted by texts, emails on multiple devices, and more than one phone ringing. Attention spans are not what they used to be, so keeping it under 10 pages is what I recommend, if possible. Under 20 pages is good, if you need to go longer. The bonus side to this is that if you are hiring a professional writer to do it, the shorter length may result in a smaller bill, due to the number of hours logged.
  2. Cut the fat, and get to the point. Depending on the nature of the document, it’s best to leave out rah-rah-sis-boom-bah marketing talk and get down to business. Establish authority, yes. Provide real life examples of how your answer to the question is already changing lives or businesses. But don’t insult the reader’s intelligence with vacuous cheers and filler information about how great your company is.
  3. Don’t tell me what you’re going to tell me. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a really long document or piece of educational material that’s still saying things like, “We’re going to tell you how you can accomplish that,” or “Readers will learn what this means . . .” a couple of pages in (or more). In fact, don’t even say that in the first page. Just dive right in and tell me. Don’t dangle the carrot. Hand me the darn carrot.
  4. Too short? Then call it something else. Taking things a bit too far, some have tried to push a one or two page document as a white paper. No. The necessary elements will not exist in that economy of words. I don’t know what you might call it. Perhaps it’s a sales letter or a potential blog post. It could be used as flyer copy or website copy. White papers that are properly so-called will likely be a minimum of about 4 pages.
  5. Don’t be afraid to hire a professional. If you think you are not up to the task or that your schedule will not permit you to do your project justice, farm it out to someone who does these things for a living. If you hated writing research papers in college, don’t torture yourself by revisiting them! The end result of working with a professional writer will be a white paper that serves you better and will more than pay for itself.
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