- This just in: My latest white paper
- Quick tip: Check quotes with your sources
- September Book Giveaway: Spot the goof-ups in my white paper
- What I’m reading: Percy Jackson!
This just in: A new white paper I wrote
The Linux Foundation just published a white paper I wrote on the mobile sector, where two Big Tech companies (Apple and Google) dominate the entire global market for smartphones.
You can see that here: https://www.linuxfoundation.org/research/open-mobile-software?hsLang=en
This is the first white paper I ever wrote that was translated into Chinese (Simplified). That’s neat!
And here are a few more notes on this project.
Scope: This document is 9,000+ words over 32 pages. That’s long for a white paper.
But this has an ambitious scope: To sum up the market failings of an important sector and prescribe how to fix them.
Research: This was extensive, covering 15 interviews with people in six countries, plus tons of web research to yield 67 footnotes in all. That’s a lot.
Structure: This paper is somewhat like a problem/solution (chocolate), although it doesn’t fit the template perfectly, as shown in the table.
|2||* Infographic||Set of little visuals of some key points|
|3 + 4||Contents||List of all the sections|
|5||* Foreword||Welcome from the white paper's sponsor|
|6||Executive summary||Quick summary of the whole document|
|7 + 8||Business drivers||The landscape, with the newshook that sales of smartphones have slumped|
|9–15||The problem||The challenges for mobile app developers and Android device makers|
|16||*||Some counter-arguments for balance|
|17–21||The solution||The proposed solution: a more open and competitive market, achieved through more open source|
|22–25||*||Profiles of five open source projects now underway|
|27||*||Acknowledgments and about the author|
|28–31||References||Footnotes to sources|
|32||About the company + copyright||Notes on the sponsors and copyright notice|
This includes several non-traditional sections (marked * in the table). These add up to seven pages, more than one-fifth of the whole paper.
And those sections point to the clients for this project.
Two clients: I really had two clients: the Linux Foundation as publisher and Futurewei as sponsor and developer of the Open Mobile Hub, which the paper is intended to support.
That meant more reviews and more drafts than usual to make everyone happy. But we got there.
People involved: White papers are never an individual effort. And this one went through more hands than any other white paper I’ve worked on.
Between 15 sources and the staff at both clients, nearly 30 people were involved in this white paper. Wow.
No wonder it took six months to complete.
Readability: This comes close to my targets, according to Word:
- Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease 48 out of 100 (I aim for 50 or higher)
- Grade Level of 10.6 (I aim for Grade 10 or lower)
- Passive sentences only 3.2% (I aim for 10% or less)
Format: Many organizations are evolving their white paper design to be readable on the screen, and I think this is an example.
The landscape orientation fits better on a PC screen. And the two-column format is easier to read, especially for a sidebar, like on page 9.
The infographic makes a cool introduction to the topic.
I would have liked to see more graphics to break up the text. But I didn’t come up with them, and neither did the designer. So that’s that.
AI usage in this project: Very little.
I asked ChatGPT for some topic briefings and questions before my first few interviews. And I used it to format some sources into proper footnotes.
But that’s about it. I can’t say AI saved me any time on this project at all.
So, what do you think of this white paper? Is it easy to read? Or TL;DR? Persuasive? Or not?
And keep on scrolling for your chance to win a book from this paper…
Quick Tip: Check quotes from your sources
When you quote someone, make sure to get their quote right.
This is especially important if they’re an ongoing source you want to go back to again.
Remember, most business people are not used to being quoted. They’re not spokespeople. They’re not celebrities.
So they’re unsure about the process.
To reassure a source, here are three simple steps:
- Explain that you’d like to quote them by name in your white paper.
- Promise to check their quotes before you publish anything.
- Make good on your promise.
How to check quotes with a source
You don’t have to show your entire draft to people outside the company. Instead, show them just the parts where you quote them.
The easiest way is to e-mail them those parts, perhaps with a sentence or two from above or below to show them the context.
This also gives you a chance to double-check the spelling of their name, their company, and their work title.
I recently quoted eight sources in one white paper. And sure enough, I’d misspelled one of their names in a couple of places. Happily, he caught that so I could fix it.
But whoops, for a recent article, I neglected to check my quotes.
Two of my sources pointed out errors they would have caught if they’d seen their quotes before they were published.
I felt like an idiot. So I re-learned my lesson: Never skip checking quotes.
What if they want to change their quotes?
Don’t be surprised if some sources want to tinker with their quotes. Tweaking a few words is usually no problem.
And it’s probably not because you misquoted them; it’s more likely because they want to clarify their thoughts when they see them.
Try not to let a source expand one sentence into an entire paragraph.
After all, you combed through your transcript to find the most quotable quotes, right?
Some professionals like to qualify every tiny statement to capture every possible nuance or cover every possible edge case.
I’ve found it helps to say the goal of your piece is to cover “the most common 80%” or “the majority of cases.”
And remind them that this isn’t a journal article, it’s a commercial white paper.
Hearing that often helps a source relax.
Or even retract their quote entirely?
Happily, this is rare. But if it does happen, I have one thing to say: “Rats!”
Especially if their quote nailed down an important point perfectly.
First off, try to find out why. What are they worried about?
Most often, it’s fear for their career or job prospects. Try assuring them that being quoted, and thereby recognized as an authority, will enhance their career, not hurt it.
If they insist, another approach is to keep the same quote but make it anonymous, as shown below.
Before, with attribution:
“This goes against everything higher education stands for,” says Artemis Bournier, professor of classics at Harvard. “A well-rounded education must include having your ideas challenged. Students can’t simply label any opposing views as bullying or hate speech.”
After, without attribution:
“This goes against everything higher education stands for,” says a professor of classics in an Ivy League school. “A well-rounded education must include having your ideas challenged. Students can’t simply label any opposing views as bullying or hate speech.”
Footnoting your sources
On top of giving an in-text citation as above, you may want to footnote your sources. Here’s how.
1: Artemis Bournier, Harvard University, Zoom interview, 14 September 2023
1: Name withheld by request, Zoom interview, 14 September 2023
So there you have it: A quick guide to checking quotes from your sources.
This is an important best practice.
Aaaaand… as I’ve said, doing interviews is something that AI just can’t do.
So the more interviews you do for your white papers, the less you have to worry about AI.
September Book Giveaway: Spot the goof-ups in my white paper
You know how sometimes you really, really want to get something out?
- Maybe after you work on it for months?
- Maybe in time for a special event?
- Maybe before you get around to proofreading it properly?
Well, that happened with my latest white paper.
That paper was rushed through production with four other white papers needed for two special events. I didn’t get a chance to proof it.
So that first edition includes a few, um, goof-ups that need to be fixed.
Can you find any?
To see that paper, click on this link: https://www.linuxfoundation.org/research/open-mobile-software?hsLang=en or on the thumbnail below.
Then drop an email to gordon @ thatwhitepaperguy.com with your notes on what should be fixed.
Deadline: 6 PM Eastern Time on Wednesday, October 4.
I’ll draw one entry to win a free book and be featured in a mini-profile in this newsletter.
Previous winners have built buzz on LinkedIn and landed new work!
I can’t promise that will happen. But it’s worth a try!
You don’t have to send me 99 errors, just a few are fine.
P.S. I’ve already gone through this and sent my fix-ups to the designer. I’ll be really impressed if you spot something I missed!
What I’m reading: Percy Jackson!
Ever since our kids were infants, we’ve read to them almost every night.
Now that one is a teen and the other a tween, my wife, Angie, and I are thrilled to report that they still come to gather with us when we yell “It’s Storytime!”
Harry Potter got us through Covid and a scary health crisis for Angie. During our hardest days, we could all count on that time to cuddle up and delve into the wizarding world.
These days, we’re midway through the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by former teacher Rick Riordan.
Yes, Percy Jackson has a few similarities to Harry Potter:
- There’s a school for kids with unusual powers
- Regular folks have no clue what’s really going on
- A Big Bad Guy wants an all-out war
But there are many differences too.
1. Percy Jackson revels in Greek mythology.
Harry Potter keeps its classical roots well-buried.
There are Greek and Latin words used to name spells and people, but you don’t have to spot those to enjoy the books.
In Percy Jackson, the Greek gods are out in the open, explicitly named, and often seen.
Any relevant Greek myth is explained just enough for you to follow the action. But the more you know, the more fun you have.
2. Percy Jackson is all action, with little reflection.
Some of the Harry Potter books move at a ponderous pace. And Harry is not above feeling sorry for himself for months at a stretch.
In Percy Jackson, no one can mope for more than five minutes before there’s another thrill ride or a fresh monster attack.
And this series includes more of the smart-alecky humor kids love. We seem to get far more laughs from Jackson than we did from Potter.
3. Fans say the Percy Jackson movies suck.
While they were cast with big-name actors, the movies departed quite a lot from the books, mainly by leaving out entire characters and subplots. And that left many fans disappointed, including our kids.
At Rotten Tomatoes, fans give the two Percy Jackson movies only 53. Critics are even more harsh, scoring them 49 and 42.
By contrast, the eight Harry Potter movies score an average of 85 from critics and 82 from fans.
But there’s good news: Disney plans to remake the whole Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, this time with lots of input from the author.
At a pace of one title per season, just about everything from the books should be included. The two-hour premier is scheduled for release on Disney+ in December 2023.
And thanks to seasoned B2B writer Erika Cuccaro for recommending we read this great series.
That’s all for this issue
The tip in this issue rounds out a set of three in a row about using sources in your white papers. Next issue, I’ll be on to something new.
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That White Paper Guy