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Whitepapers are often the most challenging marketing pieces to create.

Why? Well, most marketers don't have the time or the resources to get such a complex project off the ground.

And that's not the only problem: A whitepaper (when you do manage to create one) sometimes fails to yield even a marginal return on investment and effort.

Challenges in Writing Whitepapers

I work with marketers in scientific tech companies. Things I hear often:

  • "We've seen so many examples of bad whitepapers. We don't want to risk creating one until all the pieces are in place."
  • "We simply don't have the time or bandwidth necessary to get one written."
  • "We've had a couple whitepapers on the backburner for some time, but our marketing team is just too swamped to take ownership."

Do any of those statements sound familiar? If they do, you might be wondering how you can successfully plan your next whitepaper so it actually gets written—and succeeds.

This article will give you the most important pieces to include in a whitepaper plan. Use it as a springboard to writing whitepapers more quickly and easily.

What a good whitepaper plan does:

  • It sets a frame of reference for the full whitepaper and engineers it for success. A plan also saves you time when you get to the actual writing.
  • It gets all reviewers on board, which minimizes debates, arguments, and rewrites.
  • It keeps your whitepaper on track from beginning to end.
  • If you outsource the writing of your whitepaper, a plan is a low-cost, low-risk deliverable that allows you to easily engage writers and see whether they're a good fit for other projects.

So how do you go about creating a whitepaper plan? Here are five steps to get you started.

Five Steps to Creating a Whitepaper Plan

Step 1: Get all project reviewers on board

By "reviewer," I mean anybody on your team who has a say in what goes into the whitepaper's content. A reviewer might also be actually reading and reviewing the piece. Pull all those people together for a meeting.

Is it necessary for everyone to be on such a call? No, but everyone does need to sign off on the plan before you start writing the whitepaper (more on that in a bit).

If everyone on your team is on board with the plan, there will be fewer surprises (if any) when the first draft is finished—meaning fewer rewrites and revisions.

Step 2: Agree on the 'Big 5'

The Big 5 are the five most important questions to ask when writing whitepapers (and, yes, you can apply them to other forms of marketing content, too!):

  1. What is the goal of the whitepaper?
  2. Who will be reading the whitepaper (the target audience)?
  3. What is the whitepaper's topic?
  4. Where in the sales cycle will it be used?
  5. How long will the whitepaper be?

Step 3: Compile the Big 5 into a plan

Once you've spoken with everybody on the initial call, you should have good answers for each of the Big 5 questions. The next step is to compile those answers into a document.

List the questions and their answers to make sure you have a solid answer for each. The more detail you can give, the better.

The answers form the basis of your plan, and thinking through the Big 5 questions helps give your whitepaper focus and direction. It's also more than what most marketers do, so you're already ahead of the curve when you plan in such a way.

Step 4: Add important details to the plan

Additional information can be useful in a whitepaper plan. Such details might include...

  • Keywords for SEO
  • Timeline (start date, date for completion of first draft, allocated time for revisions, etc.)
  • List of all reviewers
  • Budget for the whitepaper
  • Sources of research
  • Possible titles
  • Call to action

That last point is particularly important. A CTA means you know what you want your reader to do after reading the whitepaper.

Ideally, you want to be able to track CTA clicks, so sending readers to your website homepage is a bad idea. Instead, send them to a dedicated landing page, or have them call a dedicated phone number.

Step 5: Get all reviewers to look over the plan and sign off on it

Once your whitepaper plan clearly outlines all of the above information, send it to every reviewer (as well as anyone who was on the initial call) and have them sign off on it. When everyone is happy with the plan, you can be confident there won't be any surprises when you submit the whitepaper draft.

Don't skip this step! Discussing information and getting buy-in from every reviewer in advance is the entire point of creating a plan.

A whitepaper plan is important; but, at the same time, don't spend more than a week on it. It's not an in-depth outline of the full paper with tons of research, graphics, and footnotes. It's short and snappy, designed to help you get your full whitepaper started on the right track.

It's should be a short document that can be completed within 3-4 days.

After You Have Your Whitepaper Plan

Use your plan to guide your writing the full whitepaper. Someone needs to take ownership of that. Ideally, you'll have two or more people involved: one person writing, one designing and organizing graphics, one supervising, etc.

The person supervising needs to take ownership of the entire project to ensure its completion. But with a solid plan in place, you're off to a great start.

You can use the steps in this article to plan any longform content. Once you get the hang of planning, it will eventually become second nature and you'll be creating content faster and more efficiently, with minimal revisions or rewrites.

More Resources on Writing Whitepapers

10 Shortcuts to Gathering High-Quality Whitepaper Content

No Time to Create Content? Turn One Webinar Into Nine Marketing Pieces in Less Than 14 Days... Without Killing Yourself

How to Make Your Content Work Harder: Seven Fatty Phrases to Avoid in Your Writing

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image of Colm O'Regan

Colm O'Regan is a marketing consultant for science who helps lab technology marketers create engaging content that generates awareness, leads, and sales. His newsletter Science Marketer Weekly covers the latest in science marketing.

LinkedIn: Colm O'Regan