I have many years of experience writing technical articles in various different capacities. From a consulting standpoint, I have written numerous White Papers for organizations that want to promote their products by providing useful, in-depth information to IT professionals. On this page, you’ll find an overview of my approach. As always, feel free to e-mail me for more information!
Goals of Technical Documentation
Organizations have to compete with a lot of background noise when it comes to clearly articulating the need for their products and the value they can provide. At one extreme, it’s easy to find "pure marketing" documents that compile feature lists which highlight specific solutions. On the other extreme, there are pure technology-focused documents which often focus on what to do, but not how to do it. While it would be ideal for all products to succeed based on their merits alone, organizations must find a way to generate mindshare and credibility before purchasing decisions can be made.
As a technical professional (and one who really enjoys reviewing new products and technologies), I have found that one of the most frustrating aspects of interacting with new product-related materials is that they often come across as thinly-veiled marketing collateral that does little to further actual knowledge. They clearly have a specific purpose (to sell products), and are often difficult to accept as reliable technical resources. That’s where technical White Papers come in.
My Writing Approach
White Papers are written to provide information about a specific technology or practice, and are written by individuals that have expertise in that area. Many successful technical professionals are attracted to new technologies and enjoy learning about new approaches and products that can make their professional lives easier. Based on this (and coupled with industry experience), the general approach that I take to writing White Papers is to keep them as product-neutral as possible. This offers a major benefit: Instead of being seen as just another sales pitch, the information provided can be useful whether or not the reader decides to purchase a product. The reader gains significant benefits, while the publisher increases its position as a technical authority.
Typically, I organize my White Papers into several sections. The first is generally an introduction to a technical topic, or an overview of the purpose of the technology. Put simply, it’s a statement of a problem, and a recommended type of solution. This section focuses on how and why this information should be of interest, including the real-world applications of the technology.
The second section generally covers factors related to evaluating various solutions for the technical problem. In almost all cases, there are several competing solutions that provide benefits. In this section, I cover the various features that IT staff should look for when evaluating their options. Some of these can be see as industry "best practices" and are often broadly-applicable to other areas, as well.
Optionally, a third section is included in which an organization’s specific product or technology is described. Again, to avoid including too much marketing-related information, the focus is limited to how the solution’s features match the recommendations shown in the second section. Of course, if readers want more information about the product, additional marketing collateral will be readily available.
I have found that this approach strikes a good balance between the needs of marketing departments and the needs of their technical users and decision-makers.
Benefits and Value
Based on this approach, organizations can meet two important marketing-related goals:
- To be recognized as a leader in a market space (vs. just another vendor): By publishing strong technical information, companies can be seen as important contributors to the community instead of just software-based businesses. This helps establish the image of industry expertise and leadership.
- To provide significant technical value to their IT communities: As creators of some of the most successful software products can attest, building mindshare can be priceless. That’s what tends to turn product “users” into “fans.” It’s usually quickly apparent when searching online forums and newsgroups that technical professionals are not shy when it comes to expressing what they do and don’t like about various products and technologies. Organizations can leverage this feedback to be more responsive and to encourage dialog with their customers.
Keys to Success
In order for White Papers to be taken seriously by technical professionals, they must be written by industry-recognized experts. Examples include accomplished authors, contributors to magazines and web sites, trainers, etc. It is also important that the writer not be an employee of the organization that is publishing the paper. This answers the question of neutrality. Well-known technical professionals are known for their credibility, and IT staff and decision-makers quickly understand this.
Organizations may choose to make their White Papers available for free on their company web sites, or they may opt to require users to register before viewing the papers. In some cases, the organization may charge a fee for the information to offset research and development costs. The actual costs themselves can vary significantly based on the depth and breadth of the information to be covered.
White Paper Writing Samples
Most White Papers that I’ve written are copyrighted by the organization that requested the work. However, several samples are available directly from my clients’ web sites. Please e-mail me if you would like more information.