White Papers: Writing Mistakes that Turn-Off Readers

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A compelling topic and an attractive design will initially draw readers to a white paper. But those readers may lose interest if the paper contains any of five common writing mistakes.

Mistake #1: “It’s All About Us”

Of course, a white paper primarily presents the company’s perspective on an issue or technology. But if the focus is too much on the company, it is easy to forget about the reader’s interests.

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When reading a company-focused document, your prospect may feel it doesn’t present useful and unbiased information. Avoid this mistake by asking: “Does this content really address the reader’s interests and concerns?”

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Mistake #2: Lack of Clarity

Don’t make readers guess the messages you are trying to convey in the white paper or why readers should be interested. Excessive use of passive voice, overly long sentences, convoluted syntax, and complex words and noun strings can make a white paper seem incoherent or overly academic.

Write directly and simply, and you’ll create a white paper that is engaging and understandable to readers.

Mistake #3: Jam-Packed Jargon

Some marketers feel their materials won’t be effective without the latest trendy words, regardless of whether these words have become over-used, have any real meaning for the topic, or have any power for delivering the paper’s key messages. But using trendy words in a white paper may prompt readers to view it as “just another bunch of sales noise.”

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Don’t forget that readers may not understand the latest hip jargon or internal terms used in your company every day. For example, would you understand that Visit your PrimeWidget value-added channel partner actually means “go to a computer store?”

To avoid this mistake, list the words and phrases that are currently trendy in your industry or target markets. Then write a list of synonyms or alternate phrasings that are simpler and clearer, as well as more relevant and interesting to readers.

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Mistake #4: Forgetting the Audience

Don’t try to make one white paper be all things to all people. For example, business executives have different concerns than the IT staff or product users about a product purchase.

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Separate white papers may be necessary to address these different audiences and better support the sales process. Within a paper, effective techniques include using subheads that identify the audience or isolating information for a specific audience into a sidebar.

Mistake #5: Errors and Irrelevancies

After multiple drafts and even more reviews, it is easy for errors of fact or omission to find their way into a white paper. Not only can these errors be an embarrassment, they may cause legal problems.

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To catch errors before publication, use checklists of facts, proofread on a printout instead of the screen, and give the white paper to an expert reviewer who is seeing it for the first time.

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Irrelevant information is another mistake that can arise when you feel you need just one more bit of evidence to support a message. These irrelevancies will distract readers, or worse, will raise unnecessary questions in the reader’s mind: “Oh yes, what about that?” You want to give readers just enough information to make a decision or take an action–and no more.

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Avoiding Mistakes in Your Writing

Did some of these mistakes seem uncomfortably familiar? Did you think of other problems that commonly creep into your company’s white papers? Good! Use this knowledge to create a checklist and guidelines that will help you recognize these mistakes in the future.

By avoiding these common errors, you can create white papers that will be more effective and useful in your company’s promotional efforts.

Copyright(c)2006, Janice M. King. All rights reserved; used by permission. Janice is an award-winning freelance copywriter who helps technology companies around the world produce clear, compelling sales and PR materials. Her latest book, Copywriting That Sells High Tech, has been called “a superb guide to great copy for any technology-based product or service.” Learn about the book and find many valuable resources for high-tech marketing at Janice’s site: http://www.writinghightech.com

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