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White Paper World 24: June 22, 2023

  • AI Survey and Big Book Giveaway: We have a winner!
  • Quick tip: Format for the screen, not the page
  • Fresh content: White papers and… home-brewed beer?!

three book giveaway

AI Survey and Big Book Giveaway

I was distracted this month by a big deadline for a white paper.

I got a first draft in, but I was thinking: Why not stretch out the Big Book Giveaway to last all summer?

And there’s still a chance to win that signed copy of Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes, 2nd edition.

Here’s where to take the AI survey… and in less than two minutes, find out whether you’re an AI Enthusiast, AI Resister, or AI Pragmatist. Plus get some career advice on how to flourish in the era of AI.

Take survey button

Click the graphic, or use this link: 

And here’s the first AI Survey winner!

Sally Chetwynd

Sally Chetwynd, AI Survey winner #1

Sally Chetwynd from Wakefield, MA is a copywriter/editor with two published novels and a fascinating series of work gigs.

Her About page tells how she’s done pipefitting in the U.S. Navy, made maps, run a horse farm, re-enacted Civil War events, and many more cool things.

Sally was one of the first to fill in the AI Survey this month, and she send me a thoughtful e-mail about AI. Here’s an excerpt:

“The survey assessed me as an AI Pragmatist, which is accurate.

“I am inclined to let the AI hype-and-hoople dust settle before I delve into it seriously…

“I plan to use it, as warranted, to pull information from the internet that I might not otherwise find in a search of my own. To outline a blog post, a white paper (cheers!), a long-form essay, a summary, whatever…”

Like any AI Pragmatist, Sally has a few issues that concern her about AI:

  1. Who owns the copyright to AI-generated text?
  2. Will AI eventually become sentient, like Data on Star Trek?
  3. Shouldn’t AI firms pay people for the work they use to train their models?
  4. Why are people using AI to ‘sanitize’ older books to match their standards for political correctness?

Those are all great questions, Sally!

And I’ve tried to find the best answers:

  1. No one, since it wasn’t written by a human author (U.S. Copyright Office)
  2. Probably, but no one knows when (5 years? 10? 25? 100?)
  3. For sure, AI firms should pay creators (I’m quoted on this on CNBC)
  4. That’s easier for lazy thinkers than doing it by hand?

As for her prize, Sally already had all three of the titles in my prize list.

So she picked my buddy Steve Slaunwhite’s book, Everything Guide to Writing Copy from my list of recommended titles. And I sent that right off to her.

That means there are still lots of books to win, including:

  • Signed hardcover of Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes, 2nd edition
  • Hardcover of Mike Stelzner’s Writing White Papers
  • Signed copy of my book White Papers For Dummies

So you can still take the 2-minute survey, get career advice on how to flourish in the age of AI, and maybe win a book.

Here’s that link to the survey:


white papers are not mini-books

Quick Tip: Format for the screen, not the page

I’ve seen figures saying 90% of all white papers are viewed on-screen. Yet too many white papers are formatted like printed books:

  • Long paragraphs of text
  • Skimpy white space
  • Few visual breaks
  • Lots of extra pages at the start

Making a white paper like a mini-book is NOT the way to reach busy prospects.

Here are three tips to make your white paper easier to read on-screen, plus one bonus tip for your white paper designer.

shrink the front matter

Screen-writing tip 1: Shrink the preliminaries

Busy readers don’t want to scroll through screen after screen of blah-blah.

I’m not saying get rid of all front matter. If you handle your front matter right, it can give a useful overview of your white paper.

Here’s how:

  • List the contents with clear section titles
    Ideally, viewers can scan down the titles to see your argument in brief.
  • Push About the Company to the end
    Too much promotion too early can turn off viewers.
  • Include a brief executive summary
    Make it a quick overview of the paper in 150 to 200 words.

bread broken in two

Screen-writing tip 2: Break up long paragraphs

One student looking through the swipe file of white papers I’d given out came up with an extraordinary discovery.

“Gee!” he exclaimed, “Your average paragraph is only two sentences!”

Yes. Just like in this blog.

That has nothing to do with the flow of the content, and everything to do with how the text shows up on screen.

No business person wants to read run-on paragraphs that would put Marcel Proust to shame. Especially online.

So forget what you learned in school about how any proper paragraph must have a topic sentence, two or three sentences of discussion, and a conclusion.

Enter keyJust press Return every couple of sentences.

Break up your text with subheads or bold, as I’ve done in this article. Your readers will skip less and absorb more.


Screen-writing tip 3: Stop using roundabout sentences

Unlike competing designs for server-side communications that copy the last forty-eight rasterized lines to temporary storage, the Acme Scanomatic 3000 provides excess capacitance that covers brownouts as short as 50 milliseconds.

This sentence is wordy and hard to follow. And that’s partly because it features a two-clause construction:

Clause 1: Unlike competing designs … blah blah blah …

Clause 2: the Acme Scanomatic 3000 … blah blah blah

When I write for the screen, I try to break roundabout sentences like this in two. Or three. Here’s how.

Sentence 1: Most competing designs … blah blah blah. (period)

Sentence 2: The Acme Scanomatic 3000 uses a better approach. (period)

Sentence 3: The rest of the blah blah blah. (period)

For extra points, make each sentence a separate paragraph!


let the sun shine in

Bonus tip: Let the sun shine in!

Books are mainly text, with wide horizontal lines of words and modest margins around a sea of grey text.

How can you make your white paper more visually inviting than a book?

Here’s one simple way: Add more white space around the margins.

That shrinks the width of your text column, which makes it easier to read.

I realize this is the job of the white paper designer. But if you have any say, raise your voice in favor of more white space.

Get your designer to let some sun and air into your white paper.

Remind them people are viewing your document on the screen, not printed out like a book.


Fresh content: White papers and…
home-brewed beer?!

At first glance, white papers and home brewing have nothing in common.

But there are some surprising similarities.

This new lighthearted post shows five parallels between creating a white paper and brewing beer, along with some practical tips on white papers.

Think of those tips as a side of beer nuts to munch on as you go.

And look for a surprise P.S. at the end. Could it be? Did AI write that article?


That’s all for this issue

You can see all the back issues of White Paper World here:

And to see every future issue, make sure to subscribe here:

Gordon Graham
That White Paper Guy

P.S. Fill out the AI survey right away for your best chance to win a free book!!

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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