How to get great reviews for your white paper

Every white paper gets reviews, often by numerous people.

But these reviews aren’t always helpful.

To gain an effective review, a white paper writer or sponsor sometimes needs to take reviewers by the hand and give them a little guidance.

This article includes five tips, plus a reviewer’s checklist you can download and circulate to your reviewers with your next white paper.

photo of business woman doing a white paper review - That White Paper Guy

 

Tip #1: Help reviewers focus on a high level

First of all, you must help your reviewers to think on a strategic level about the white paper they’re reviewing.

Ideally, a reviewer will check how closely a white paper matches the company’s vision and voice, and gauge how well it will achieve its purpose.

If a reviewer can do that, they’re well on the path to providing a helpful review.

Tip #2: Remind them of the purpose

During the planning process, you already defined the business goals for the white paper, right?

Make sure to remind your reviewers of those goals when they start their review.

I do this is by showing the purpose(s) on the first page of any white paper draft I circulate for comments.

For example, right below the draft title of the white paper, I include a line like this:

Purposes: To generate leads, and to raise the visibility of the company

This helps orient every reviewer at the start of their read-through, and refresh their minds about what you’re all trying to achieve.  

Tip #3: Remind them of the audience

For the same reason, I remind reviewers of the audience we’re aiming at with a white paper.

And I show that right on the first page as well:

Audience(s): Design team leaders in Tier 1 automotive manufacturers with authority to specify third-party electrical parts  

These two reminders help your reviewers stay on track with their comments.

Then, if a reviewer makes some comment that you think misses the mark for the target audience, you can politely ignore that comment.

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Tip #4: Forget the rules of composition they learned in Grade 3

  • “Never start a sentence with And or But!”
  • “Always type two spaces after a period.”
  • “Never end a sentence with a preposition.”

Egads! It might be 50 years since an executive heard these rules from Miss Smidgeon back in Grade 3. But they’re still trotting out those rules as iron-clad absolutes that everyone must follow.

The truth is, many of those “rules” are by now irrelevant.

For example, in conversational writing it’s fine to start a sentence with “And” or “But.” And I do it all the time.

As for spaces after periods, typesetting software like InDesign eats the extra space. It also adds more spaces for padding to justify a column. So it doesn’t matter how many spaces you type after a period: They won’t show up in the final white paper.

And as for ending sentences with prepositions, some linguists believe this rule originated with writer John Dryden in the 1600s. Isn’t it time for an update?

Following this convention leads to some unseemly sentences, like this grammatical joke attributed to Winston Churchill in 1942:

This is the type of impertinence
up with which I will not put!

You want your reviewers to focus on more strategic matters than singling out a preposition at the end of a sentence.

And if you’re trying to write in a conversational style, you don’t want to sound stilted and unnatural.

Sometimes it’s preferable to break an old-fashioned rule of grammar rather than sound too formal.

Businessman doing a white paper review in hard copy and on screen - That White Paper Guy

Tip #5: List all the key items you want your reviewers to check

So you don’t need reviewers for a spelling or grammar check. Your software and the lower-level reviewers can take care of all that.

But there are 3 key things you want your reviewers to pay attention to: facts, logic and details.

Facts: You want every fact and reference to be accurate and precise. When a reviewer helps with that, they really earn their salt.

Logic: Pointing out a hole in an argument proves that a reviewer is really paying attention. And if they offer a way to fill in the hole, give them a gold star!

Details: Do readers really need to know about that? There’s a natural tendency to expand every draft with more details. So it’s usually great when a reviewer tells you, “We don’t need to get into that here.”

Get your reviewer’s checklist

To help get better reviews, click here to download a handy reviewer’s checklist you can circulate with your white paper drafts.

 


What do you ask your reviewers to look for in a white paper? Please leave your comments below.

About Gordon Graham

Author of close to 250 white papers on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients everywhere from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, for everyone from tiny startups to 3M, Google and Verizon. Also wrote White Papers for Dummies which reviewers call "a must-read... fantastic... outstanding... terrific... phenomenal... the best book of its kind."

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