Ever read a white paper and said to yourself: "I could have written this." I read a whitepaper the other day that was so general that I learned nothing. Unfortunately, from my experience, this has been the majority of white papers I read.
The problem, I believe, arises when producers of white papers want to entice without giving away too much. After all, if you tell the reader everything, they won't have to hire you. This is a very narrow view of whitepapers. This is compounded by the fact that most white papers are, at their core, a self-serving marketing piece. So, what you end up with is a document that tells the reader nothing they did not already know, and nothing they wanted to know.
I prefer the approach advocated by Michael Stelzner. Take a step back and first decide who your audience is and what they are seeking and then being writing from that perspective. The first step is to frame the problem or issue you believe the customer is trying to solve in coming to your site and downloading your paper. This allows you to immediately connect with the reader and shows that you understand the challenges they face. This is a great place to put any data or facts that you have to give credibility to your position.
Once the problem is framed, give specifics about the solution while keeping any product mentions out of it. You are still educating the reader and after all, if they are reading white papers, they are most likely not at the buying stage yet. Now is the time to establish yourself as a credible and valuable source of industry information.
[tags] Michael Stelzner, white papers, marketing, writing [/tags]
The problem, as I see it, is that white papers talk in generalities because the topics they cover are too broad. Choose a very specific industry problem and hone in on a specific solution for that problem. Keep your topic focused and tight; and keep your paper to no more than eight pages. Remember, you are establishing yourself as an expert; so be an expert.