Ideally you will create one white paper for every segment of your target audience.
But what if you can’t swing that?
What if, for some reason—time, money, or whatever—you need to reach more than one audience with the same white paper?
In a previous article, I described how to “clone” one basic document for various segments of an audience.
But what if you can’t do that either?
What if you absolutely have to write one white paper for people in different roles, such as technical vs. financial or top executive vs. line-of-business manager?
What if you must send your white paper to people with vastly different levels of knowledge or experience?
In this case, your white papers will need “layers” of information, one for each segment of your audience.
Here are 6 possible tactics for layering the information in a white paper. Remember, you can mix and match among these as needed.
Info-layering tactic #1: Definitions
In-line definitions (brief asides that define a term or acronym, just like this) are used after the first occurrence of a term that not all readers will know.
You can see this every day in any news report.
Info-layering tactic #2: A glossary
A glossary of terms may be useful if your white paper is peppered with terms and acronyms that some segments of your audience may not know.
One shortcut: Gather together all your in-line definitions on one page at the end of your paper.
You can find many glossaries already published by industry associations or on related forums. But please, don’t just cut-and-paste someone else’s definitions into your own paper. At least, show your sources.
Info-layering tactic #3: Links
Hyperlinks to background material can be very useful for layering information.
For example, if your white paper mentions virtualization you can include a link to a good background article on that topic from a credible source, just like the one earlier in this sentence.
You can even link to an illuminating discussion on a blog, although those are best if they take the same dignified tone as your white paper.
If you’re distributing your white paper as a PDF, make sure to make all the clickable text visible. And test every link before you send it out.
Hint: Don’t link to any Wikipedia articles. That’s just lazy. Find a more credible source like an acknowledged expert, industry association or trade journal.
Info-layering tactic #4: Sidebars
Sidebars are short lists or supporting articles set off from the main body of your white paper, often as text boxes.
These are useful for presenting background that knowledgeable readers already know.
They’re also handy for a list of bullets, steps in a process, or a mini-case study.
You can often spot sidebars in magazines and newspapers.
A sidebar can be as short as a single sentence, or as long as a whole page.
I don’t recommend running on more than one page; at that length, your sidebar can start to overwhelm the main body.
Info-layering tactic #5: Summaries
Quick summaries are small text boxes that sum up an entire section or page in a few quick points.
This tactic has the double benefit of boosting the “scan-ability” of your white paper. And it’s a must-do for any case study, too.
Info-layering tactic #6: An appendix
An appendix is a separate section tucked in at the back of a white paper.
While we don’t often see these in white papers, I have used an appendix to help reach a second audience with the same document.
An appendix can present more or less technical information, list step-by-step procedures, describe the methodology used in your paper, or cover any other information that you think not every reader wants or needs to know.
One or more of these 6 layering tactics should help your white paper communicate to your different audiences.
And beyond that, you can use these tactics in almost any white paper to provide different pathways through your document for readers with different background or motivation.
What do you think? Have you ever used info-layering in a white paper? Are there any other tactics this article doesn’t cover? Please leave your comments below.