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White Paper World 41: May 9, 2024

  • Quick tip: Get to the point
  • Fresh content: White papers and… pickleball?!
  • April Book Winner: Alison Bell Ashley
  • Just for fun: How to catch a big wave

Listen to the audio of this issue in about 18 minutes:

stressed-out B2B prospect rubbing his tired eyes

Quick tip: Get to the point

1 minute read.

NO ONE IS WAITING ON THE EDGE OF THEIR CHAIR for your white paper to arrive.

B2B prospects are busy! They have:

  • Too much to do
  • Too much to read
  • Too much to think about
  • Interruptions from all directions

And their boss just dropped another big project on their desk.

That’s why every sentence you write for them has to get to the point.

book cover The Elements of Style

Omit needless words

Strunk & White put this eloquently in Principle of Composition No. 17 in The Elements of Style:

A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.


That’s my favorite passage in that entire little book.

And I try to follow it every time I write anything.

How do you write concisely?

I’ll tell you the secret right now: Write. And then rewrite.

And then do it again.

And again.

And every time you rewrite, cut and compress.

I routinely do five drafts before I send anything to a client.

And during each draft, even the fourth or fifth, I try to cut at least 10% of the words.

It’s easy to see your word count. That’s built into Word and GDocs.

So watch your word count, and bring it down.

Get to the point.


pickleball racket and white paper

Fresh content: White papers and… pickleball?!

Full article 4 minute read. 


I mean, one’s a business document while the other’s a fast-growing sport.

But what if these two do have something in common?

The more I think about it, the more similarities I come up with.

So here’s another in my lighthearted series of unlikely comparisons: six ways white papers are like pickleball.

And if you find these silly exercises amusing…

Search for “white papers and” on this site to find 10 more examples, all the way from “white papers and… making your own beer?!” to “white papers and… George Carlin?!

The point is to stretch our imagination to look for similarities between things that at first glance seem completely different.

That’s a good exercise for any writer to do.

After all, your imagination is something no AI can match.


April Book Winner: Alison Bell Ashley

3 minute read. 

LAST ISSUE I ASKED FOR THE WORST ADVICE you’ve ever heard about white papers.

I heard from several people, and our winner came up with a doozy.

Alison Bell Ashley is a Toronto-based writer who does both content and copy, plus consulting on content strategy.

Originally from Yorkshire in the UK, Alison says she had “itchy feet” that compelled her to travel.

Alison Bell Ashley

Alison Bell Ashley, content and copywriter

She worked in France and the U.S. before settling in Canada.

“I started doing office work and for 30 years I was an executive assistant,” she says.

So she understands how C-suite executives think. That’s a valuable skill for any B2B writer.

When the pandemic hit, she worked from home.

But when her company said come back to the office, she had other ideas.

“I didn’t want to do an hour’s commute each way. I didn’t want to go into the concrete towers of downtown. And I didn’t want to be at a desk 9 to 5,” she says.

So she decided to quit that job and pursue copywriting full-time.

“In 2022, I made the big adventurous move to do strategic content marketing and copywriting,” she says, “and I am loving it!”

Happily, she landed an immediate client: a friend running a company who needed help with copywriting.

Running her own show

Like everyone who goes out on their own, Alison is facing the challenges of running her own business.

“When you go into a job, the work comes to your desk. But with your own business, you’ve got to get out there and market yourself,” she notes.

“That was my biggest learning experience so far.”

These days Alison is getting ready to do a push for more clients.

Meanwhile, she’s experimenting with ChatGPT.

ChatGPT logo“For writers, AI is definitely here to stay,” she says. “So I think the more you use it, the more powerful you’re going to be with it.”

She uses ChatGPT to generate ideas and do research.

“AI can pull up information in seconds that would take us days to find by ourselves,” she notes.

But she’s aware of the downside.

“You can’t just take what ChatGPT gives you; you have to go in and put your human touch on it,” says Alison. “You have to think of AI like an assistant.”

In her expert opinion, how does she rate ChatGPT as an executive assistant?

  • Speed: 10 out of 10
  • Research: 9 out of 10, because it can make things up
  • Thinking three steps ahead: 0

Alison says ChatGPT could never handle all the details it takes to organize events like a three-day executive retreat.

But a human assistant can, just like she did many times in the past.

That terrible advice on white papers

About 10 years ago a finance manager shared his views and “made me want to walk far, far away from white papers,” she says, “until I found out the truth.”

What was his rotten advice?

White papers should be ‘serious’ by having plenty of ‘technical-speak’ that only experts understand. If you don’t understand it, you’re not supposed to be reading it. It’s not for you.

And there should be no color anywhere, not even in the diagrams, and definitely no graphics on the front cover.

It should be all black and white, more like a scientific report from PubMed rather than an easy-to-read, easy-to-understand report that educates in a pleasant way.

thumbs down on terrible advice about white papers
Is this just the worst advice of all time?

On every count, this is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Doing any of these things would make any white paper very ineffective.

Happily, Alison recently took the white paper program from AWAI that I helped to create and she realized how bad this advice was.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” she says, “so that was a nice revelation. And I would love to go back and tell him that!”

So would I.

For her book, Alison chose a copy of my own title, White Papers For Dummies, which I was pleased to send her.

Good luck with everything, Alison, and thanks!


Just for fun: How to catch a big wave

1.5 minute read.


Like many kids, she dreams of getting millions of views and winning a creator award from YouTube.

Lily we need a hug clip on YouTube

But like most, she’s only getting views in the single digits.

The other day she decided to go with the “You need a hug” meme that’s been building for weeks.

She cajoled me to help in the middle of my morning coffee.

Production values were minimal: She played the soundtrack on her ancient iPhone and recorded us lip-synching.

We did a couple of takes and Lily uploaded a 9-second video before she left for school.

A few days later, she spotted “Meet my dad” in her YouTube feed. That little clip was her biggest hit yet, with 4.4K views!

To see it, click the image or use this link:

The lesson for white paper creators

Just like Lily, every writer and marketer dreams of going viral.

If you could catch a hot topic just right, your white paper might take off like a rocket!

There are a few steps in that process:

  1. Identify a trend that’s still building
  2. Figure out how your content works with that trend
  3. Publish your content promptly

Lily instinctively did all three.

YouTube’s Gold Creator Award
for getting 1 million subscribers

Of course, this is much easier to do with short social media posts than with long-form content like white papers.

Thankfully, B2B trends take months or years to build. That gives us more time to catch a wave.

But remember, going viral is out of our hands.

It’s up to the vagaries of the almighty algorithm and the shifting sands of public sentiment.

As Lily puts it, “There’s a low chance you’re going to become viral overnight and get millions of subscribers. It takes lots of time. So don’t give up after a year or two.”

Some of Lily’s other videos are now getting hundreds of views.

And to avoid being a one-hit wonder, do what she’s doing: Build a well-rounded library of content.

That gives any prospects you snare with one meme something more to explore next.

Keep on creating great content, and one day you may get a breakthrough.


That’s all for now

Please pass this newsletter along to anyone you think would appreciate it.

Gordon Graham, That White Paper Guy

See all the previous issues here:

Listen to the audio versions here:

To get every future issue, visit:

And good luck with all your writing 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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