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White Papers – Build the Bones First

In discussing with writers the problems they face in developing white papers, one thing stands out among many of them: where to start.

Once the topic is chosen, there is often a temptation to just get things going by “beginning with the beginning.” However, brainstorming headlines and working on the paper’s introductory page is something that should come later–sometimes much later—in the process.

Michelangelo didn’t form the model of his David by starting with the skin—he began by establishing bone structure and muscle mass. A compelling white paper is “sculpted” in much the same way, starting with the bones (the outline gleaned from the needs assessment interview) and fleshed out with muscle from subsequent interviews and research.

Taking this analogy a bit further, one could also say the white paper writer uses what he knows about his reader to “pose” his under-structure in a way that will make the finished piece most attractive to his audience.

That’s why it’s so important to know as much as possible about your reader—what motivates and inspires him—what problems he faces—his personality type—how he assimilates information. Keeping those things in mind when gathering information and building your outline helps form a finished product that is appealing and keeps your reader’s attention.

Much like the “skin” of a sculpture, the headline and opener is laid on last—even though it’s the first thing people see when they encounter your work. It’s what makes your white paper smooth and inviting. However, it needs the underlying persuasive bone structure to give it lift, form and appeal.

Building your paper from the bones outward gives you a better sense of how to make the skin more appealing. That way your reader will stick around for a long, lingering look—appreciate the entire sculpture—and want to find out more about the artist.

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