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Six things you should know about white papers
Friday, April 20, 2012 (All day)

What are white papers? And why should freelancers write them? This brief excerpt from my upcoming e-book sketches in answers to half a dozen key questions about this exciting market.

1: What is a white paper?
A white paper is a marketing document used by a company, NGO or government department to explain its point of view on some issue. They’re a lot like advertorial: editorial content that uses facts and arguments to promote a certain view.
Most white papers today are six to eight pages. That’s 2,500 to 4,000 words... about the same as a major magazine feature.
Some other names for white papers are:
• Backgrounder
• Executive briefing
• Position paper
• Research report
• Special report.
No matter what you call them, somebody writes them. I’ve been writing these for companies all over the world since 1997.

2: Why do companies publish white papers?
Over the past 20 years, white papers have become a standard item in the marketing toolkit for many companies. That’s because they work. White papers help sell billions of dollars worth of products and services every year. They’re considered “premium” content that is more factual than other marketing materials such as ads, brochures or sales letters.

3: How much can you make writing white papers?
The going range for a white paper is $2,000 to $7,000, depending on the writer’s experience. Billing $7,000 for 2,500 words works out to $1,000+ a page or $2.80 a word. I routinely earn $200 an hour writing white papers.

4: Who hires white paper writers?
The most likely people to hire a white paper writer are a marketing manager in a larger company or the marketing VP in a smaller company. In a larger company, a product manager may hire a writer. In a small company, it may be the CEO or president. Even if they don’t hire you directly, people in these roles often comment on draft white papers being prepared for their companies.

5: Can journalists write white papers?
Sure! As a seasoned journalist, you have many valuable skills you can apply to writing white papers.
You know how to plan, research, draft and polish articles, and get them in by deadline. You know how to deal with sources and editors on an editorial team. The skills you need to write a white paper overlap tremendously with the skills you already have.

6: What other skills does a white paper writer need?
A seasoned journalist may need to develop some new skills, including:
• Analyzing an audience in depth
• Writing to persuade
• Using text enhancements such as boxes, sidebars and pull quotes
• Using graphics
• Handling reviews and comments from unprofessional editors
The good news is that all these skills can be learned from a little practice or study. And unlike 10 years ago when I started, you can now find solid advice on everything you need to know about writing white papers.
That’s why I believe that white papers are the most natural, the most lucrative and the fastest-growing market for journalists.

This article is a brief excerpt from the e-book “Journalists: Here’s How to Succeed Writing White Papers” by Gordon Graham. Gordon is a long-time PWAC member who has worked on 150+ white papers for companies such as Google, Rackspace and Oracle.

- Gordon Graham, That White Paper Guy

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