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White Paper World 10: October 12, 2022

  • Fresh content: Fix a draft that’s too long or too short
  • Quick tip: Pick your idea the way Goldilocks does
  • Just for fun: September Book Contest winner

fix a white paper length

Fresh content: Fix a draft that’s too short or too long

How long is a white paper?

Well, I’ve seen everything from a one-page sales sheet to a 100-page book called a “white paper.”

Clearly these are both extreme examples.

Most white papers today are 6 to 8 pages of main body, plus most of these:

  • Front matter = cover, contents, executive summary
  • Back matter = conclusions, call-to-action, about the company, sources

The final result is usually 12 to 16 pages total.

But what if you have a draft that doesn’t fit this format?

One that’s either way too short or way too long? Can you save it?

Here are lots of practical tips to help you hit the sweet spot for white papers today.


goldilocks not too big not too small

Quick tip: Pick your idea the way Goldilocks does

A white paper needs an idea that’s not too big, not too small.

Just like Goldilocks, you need an idea that’s just right.

Here’s how to find one…

Say you work for a company that makes electric lawn tools, the kind that run on batteries instead of gasoline.

And you’re looking for a topic for your next white paper.

Climate change?

Too big. Overwhelming.

Huge UN reports are written on this. And entire books.

Your white paper can mention climate change, but that’s about it.

And you’re not at the UN or an NGO. You’re at a company that sells electric tools.

Do you have any believable numbers on how much greenhouse gas every one of your electric lawnmowers saves over its projected lifetime?

I didn’t think so.

No more stinky fumes and loud noise?

Too small. One sentence explains it all.

Those are great benefits, but you can express them in a few bullets on your website, in your videos, and on your product boxes.

You don’t need a white paper for that.

You need a topic that will interest a B2B buyer enough to motivate them to download and actually scan through your paper.

Why your lawn care company should switch to all-electric tools

Bingo. This kind of cost/benefit analysis is exactly what a white paper does best.

You could include a table showing how much every tool saves on gas and labor every year. Maybe with a blank column where a prospect can calculate their own projected savings.

You could include tips on how to present this idea to the boss. Maybe with a pre-written e-mail to use.

You could suggest how to sign up more customers thanks to lower noise and less disruption to the neighbors. Maybe with a case study of one lawn care company who did just that.

The whole argument should point to less money out, more money in. What business owner wouldn’t want that?

See how we found an idea for a white paper that’s just right—not too big, not too small?

Goldilocks would be proud.


Just for fun: September Book Contest winner

Our first book giveaway was so popular, we’ll be doing it every month. We had answers from at least four different countries!

The question: What rhetorical device is author G. K. Chesterton using here:

An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered;
an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.

Karen Foo, Krush Consulting

The correct answer: Chiasmus.

And the winner—who submitted her answer just minutes after the newsletter went out—is Karen Foo, owner of copywriting firm Krush Consulting in Amsterdam.

Karen specializes in writing case studies for SaaS software firms, plus A-to-Z product launch campaigns including e-mails and web pages.

Way to go, Karen! You really know your rhetoric.

Two other people provided the same correct answer: Monica Hartman and Ted Goldwyn.

The most amusing answer: Michael Katz of Blue Penguin Development:

“I find Chesterton’s hairstyle to be an inconvenience
[I replied, “Even combing that would be an adventure!]
“As for the quiz, I think the rhetorical device he is using is called ‘purple.’ Did I win?”
Nope. But I do owe Mike a beer for his help with White Paper World.
As Chief Penguin, that’s what Mike does: He helps creative professionals (like B2B writers) develop and publish their own newsletters.

More on chiasmus: This device is named for the Greek letter chi or X. It consists of a two-part expression where the two parts change places to “crossover” in the second part, hence the X.

A perfect example from John F. Kennedy (JFK): “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

Chiasmus uses the pattern ABBA, so in the JFK quote, A = “country” and B = “you.” In the Chesterton quote, A = “inconvenience” and B = “adventure.” See how that works?

When it’s done correctly, this pattern sounds pleasing, complete, and rather axiomatic. Remember, X marks the spot for chiasmus.

Stay tuned for next issue and October’s Book Giveaway contest.


That’s all for this time

Wow, this is our 10th issue already! Thanks for joining us!

If you liked this e-newsletter, please forward it to a colleague who’s interested in white papers.

You can see all the previous issues here:

And if you have any comments or questions about white papers, please send them to Gordon AT and I’ll do my best to answer… maybe in my next article!

Good luck with all your projects!

Gordon Graham
That White Paper Guy


About Gordon Graham

Worked on 320+ white papers for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from tiny startups to 3M, Google, and Verizon. Wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 60+ 5-star ratings on Amazon. Won 16 awards from the Society for Technical Communication. Named AWAI 2019 Copywriter of the Year.

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