How to write a white paper with Google Docs
White papers are team projects.
So why do we all work on separate PCs?
Why do we all look at separate drafts, and e-mail around separate comments?
Isn’t that a little… old-fashioned?
About 10 years ago, I wrote a white paper for the first time with Google Docs.
It was a challenging document with many reviewers: a sure prescription for version-control headaches. But with Google Docs, it was a smooth, even exhilarating experience.
And since then, I’ve done several more white papers using GDocs. Here are some observations I’ve made.
The biggest difference of all from using Word on a PC: You create an online version of a document that all reviewers can access… and that changes a lot.
From waterfall to river
The traditional white paper process involves a series of deliverables: notes, draft outline, draft text, comments, revised draft, and so on.
In software, this is called the “waterfall” model.
Forget that: In Google Docs, there are no neat and tidy stages. That white paper went through an ongoing flow of refinements more like a river… or like the Agile method for developing software.
From flat comments to active discussion
When a reviewer goes through a Google Doc, their comments show up in text boxes in the margin. You can answer comments in the same place.
It doesn’t seem like much work to review a doc online, so reviews tend to come in faster. Comments are often shorter and easier to handle.
And since everyone’s comments appear in real-time, you can achieve a consensus faster than by e-mailing around multiple drafts.
From writer and client to collaborators
To stop all this openness from degenerating into a Wikipedia-style edit war, someone has to manage each document. In Google Docs, that tends to be the person who created the file and shared it with others.
My client was a very good writer in her own right. So we worked shoulder-to-shoulder on drafts, and passed “ownership” of the document back and forth. With such close collaboration, the writing felt strangely light and effortless.
The right tool for the job
Google Docs is clearly modeled on the key features of MS-Office, so that most writers can use it with no learning curve.
To find out more, there are online videos and a training center available right from the Help menu.
But it’s not an all-or-nothing choice.
Nearly everyone in business has Microsoft Office. So it’s really a matter of picking the right tool for the job: desktop or online. (I’ve found the online version of Word lacks some critical features, so I consider it a desktop product.)
Which is better: desktop or online?
That all depends on which stage of your white paper you’re on. The ideal may be moving back and forth between desktop and online to match the right tool to the job.
The table below sums up my views of which tools are faster or better for various tasks in producing a white paper.
|TASK||ONLINE TOOLS||DESKTOP TOOLS|
(E-mail, social media,
As you can see, I believe the only area where the clear advantage still lies with desktop software is in the final formatting.
It’s remarkable how the momentum has moved away from the desktop to the cloud so quickly.
By the way, I wrote this article in Google Docs… can you tell?
Have you ever written a white paper with Google Docs? How did that work out? Please share your comments below.
Want to hear whenever there’s a fresh article on this site? Subscribe here to stay in the know on long-form content. From time to time, we’ll also send you word about some great new resource or training. And you can unsubscribe any time.
[…] See this article for a head-to-head comparison between Word and Gdocs. […]
hello i am doing my own whitepaper we are about to join the whole world of teachers together on one program to educate those that cant afford it free online classes we are doing in mexico and start the deec in the united states we are looking for country s to join in with us and we will help them get going but we believe the problems in the world are due to lack of education and want to do our part we fond a way to make education fund itself i am working he white paper now but cat get the format i need it doesn’t look done and bother me
Hi Ada: Good luck with your initiative! It sounds to me like you need a designer. We don’t have any designers willing to donate their time at the moment. Perhaps you can find one through your networks?
Hi! I am working on white papers but can only use google docs. Is there a template i can download to help guide me?