White Papers For Dummies
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Most companies don’t have researchers available to help out white paper writers. Some independent writers do hire researchers to do the grunt work of finding the perfect quotes, stats, and factoids to sprinkle through a white paper. And probably more writers should give this a try. This arrangement can be a marriage made in heaven or the exact opposite.

To work smoothly with a researcher, start by giving him right-sized directions: not too wide, not too narrow. For example, suppose you need to research virtual worlds for teens. You don’t want your researcher to send you 75 articles about virtual worlds in general; that’s too broad. For the basics, ask him for the top three or four articles that explain virtual worlds. After that, he should focus on how teens use these worlds.

By the same token, don’t ask your researcher to look into using Acme WorldBuilder 3.1 to create a virtual world. That’s way too narrow. (If your white paper happens to be about Acme WorldBuilder 3.1, you don’t need a researcher. Just get your background from your client.)

A researcher can work on several levels, depending on what you arrange. He can simply collect likely sources and send you links or PDFs to explore. To save you more time, he can scan through each source and highlight the best bits. Under Windows, you can highlight a PDF by using the free Adobe Reader. Under Mac OS, you can highlight a PDF by using the built-in Preview app. Even if you and your researcher use different systems, any highlighting shows up when you open a PDF on any machine.

Finally, insist that your researcher sends complete and well-sourced materials, not just snippets or his interpretations of something he found online. You want your researcher to bundle up his sources for you just as carefully as you package up sources for a client.

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Gordon Graham — also known as That White Paper Guy — is an award-winning writer who has created more than 200 B2B white papers for clients from New York to Australia. Gordon has written white papers on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, and for everyone from tiny start-ups to Google.

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