Writing a white paper without waste

A white paper is a persuasive essay. Too often, though, they are long-winded press releases.To avoid writing white papers that waste words and create no value, apply the 10 principles of The Lean White Paper.

  1. Define the business or technical problem a white paper solves. Explain why the problem has to be solved.
  2. Outline the value of solving this problem. A white paper starts the value argument. It's hard to do so, when there is no business case discussion of any kind.
  3. Discuss alternative solutions. Without a discussion of alternatives, you appear biased. For the client, no alternatives means no decision.
  4. Define the technology precisely. What it is, what it does, and how it's different. Too many white papers avoid concrete details about the technology, leaving the reader to puzzle it out.
  5. Be brief. Shopping lists of features and vague benefits detract from the value argument.
  6. Helpful headlines. Ban meaningless words like empower and seamless. They telegraph that you can't think precisely and have nothing new to say.
  7. Avoid lard. Lard means using more words than necessary to make a point. It usually runs at least 50%. And the reader will be long gone.
  8. Avoid mushy metaphors. Steer clear of clichés: sports (especially, Lance Armstrong), mountains, war, violent weather conditions, and appeals about the global, 24/7 society. First, they are dull. Second, they annoy some groups. Frank Lunz, the political word master, points out most women, for instance, find war and sports metaphors annoying.
  9. Stop talking about yourself. Talk about the problem and its solution. Stop talking about yourself and the wonders of your solution. Show, don't tell.
  10. Punctuate properly. Avoid inverted comma infections: resist the temptation to put inverted commas around a word -- it's probably just a cliche and you need to think of a better word. And don't over punctuate: Frank Lunz recommends no more than two commas in each sentence.

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