By Kevin Gault
You’ve received a white paper assignment from an important client. After you’ve clarified your topic and conducted a needs assessment, it’s time to do research. If you’re like many white paper writers, your first question is: Where do I begin?
Many writers struggle with this question—and waste a lot of time in the process. In a study of the white paper writing process, WhitePaperSource found that most white paper writers spend 11 or more hours doing research for one paper.
Here are some tips for improving your research process:
Let’s say your paper will discuss the value of a customer relationship management (CRM) system in today’s competitive business climate. CRM is a very broad topic-an Internet search will produce a huge amount of information.
Focus your search by answering these questions: What specific aspects of CRM will I discuss in the paper? What business challenges do I want to cover? Which industries do I want to mention? What specific benefits will a CRM system give to companies in those industries?
Years ago, doing research for white papers meant trips to the library; these days, just go to Google.com-there’s no better tool for online research. Google offers plenty of lesser-known searching tools:
* news.google.com searches recent news from major news sources
* www.google.com/advanced_search lets you conduct refined searches.
* books.google.com searches the content of a wide variety of books and actually shows highlighted pages onscreen.
* scholar.google.com searches scholarly and academic publications.
* groups.google.com searches newsgroup content.
* www.google.com/unclesam searches only U.S. government sites.
Use Many Sources
Don’t limit your research to only one type of document—search many different sources. You never know which one will give you a key piece of information. Include these in your search:
* PowerPoint presentations—Examine the speaker’s notes for additional content.
* Analyst reports—Look for key statistics, graphics and sound bites.
* Other white papers—The first few pages usually contain a valuable market assessment or needs analysis.
* Business plans—Plans used by smaller companies often explore the marketplace and business challenges.
* Industry articles—Topical articles often include research and marketplace information.
What’s the Competition Up To?
Don’t hesitate to check the news releases, white papers and websites of your client’s competitors. This is important because the subtle sales messages in your white paper should establish your client’s product as better than theirs.
Also, other companies have already done research on industry challenges and products-why not save time by using that information?
You don’t have to go it alone. There are plenty of people out there-librarians, authors, editors, analysts, PR representatives and business executives-who are knowledgeable on industry topics and will share their knowledge or tell you where to find information.
Researching to write a white paper can be as challenging as the writing itself. To make the most of your research time, stay focused, use Google and other websites effectively, and check out many types of documents as well as the competition.