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And most white papers are read on desktop screens, not mobile phones. So people who read white papers don't read the same way they might read a novel, paying attention to every sentence. Instead, they tend to skim, scan and skip Don't you? This means that white papers must be carefully written and designed for business readers with limited time and attention.
A wall of gray text is not likely to engage today's white paper reader. White papers need to use visual breakers like sidebars, callouts, headings, lines, boxes, bullets, and graphics to direct the attention of scanners and skimmers. These visuals need to point out the key messages of the document in a way that's easy for today's busy readers to follow. Good news: There's a whole book devoted to this subject.
Jonathan Kantor wrote an excellent guide called Crafting White Paper 2. Here is my mini-review of this book. Here's where to find more details or order your own copy. Highly recommended. White papers abound in the technology sector, where they are commonly used to explain software and hardware products.
Any B2B vendor selling anything relatively new, relatively complex, or relatively expensive could likely benefit from a white paper. This adds up to perhaps half a million potential vendors in the English-speaking world that could benefit from white papers.
Vendors of any relatively familiar, simple, and inexpensive consumer products don't often publish white papers, since there is little need for them in B2C marketing. There may be exceptions—such as energy, investments, and healthcare—where consumers may have to make considered purchases.
For a longer discussion, see my article " Who needs a white paper? On a strategic level, white papers fit into the widespread trend of " content marketing. Content marketing is based on the belief that skeptical prospects are hungry for a vendor who will serve as a trusted advisor, not just a peddler of their wares.
The most effective white papers provide useful information to help a business reader understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision. At this point, the customer may need documentation, training, and technical support.
They generally do not need any more white papers until an updated product is available, and they must decide whether to upgrade. If you are creating a white paper, but aren't sure which flavor is best, you can narrow down the list with three straightforward questions. In general, the best flavor to attract attention, cast Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt FUD on competitors, or nurture a prospect through a complex sale is a numbered list.
The best flavor to influence a selection committee near the end of the customer journey is a backgrounder. IT people generally want to see technical details. They will tolerate longer papers with modest production values. In fact, a slick and colorful format tends to make them suspicious. Executives want to see bottom-line benefits summed up in a page or two.
They want to hear about lower costs, higher sales, richer profits, or better customer service. Executives expect polished production, with clear graphics they can understand at a glance. Managers want to hear about streamlined workflow and labor savings. They are keen to see how a new system would affect their area and their people. User reps want to hear about ease-of-use, training, and support.
They can be more or less technical, but they will likely be detail-oriented. Users are not often a significant audience for white papers. But if a user rep is involved in a selection committee, you need to address their concerns at some point. A mixed audience or selection committee may want to hear everything touched on above. In this case, you may need several white papers, each with a different flavor and each with content geared to a somewhat different audience.
And there are "soft costs" for the time it takes subject matter experts to answer questions and e-mails and to review drafts. All this to say, a white paper is a significant project in any marketing budget. After working on white papers, in my experience it takes 6 to 8 weeks to get from the first interview to an approved white paper draft.
The good news is that a vendor can often continue to use the same white paper for years. This long life helps to achieve a very positive return on the investment in a white paper. In fact, the best way to promote a white paper is to handle it as a mini-product launch. Do everything you would do to launch a new product, and your white paper will be on the road to success. See my article on the 18 must-do tactics to promote any white paper.
Remember, a white paper is a pre-sales document intended to attract prospects or explain an offering. Vendors of any relatively familiar, simple, and inexpensive consumer products don't often publish white papers, since there is little need for them in B2C.
There may be exceptions—especially in energy, investments, and healthcare—where consumers may have to make considered purchases. Writing your very first white paper for a company you don't know well, in an industry you've never written about, can be quite a challenge. If you understand the material and work well with others, writing a white paper can be smooth and enjoyable.
All in all, writing a white paper is no harder than writing a major magazine article or blog post of several thousand words. That means one to two weeks full-time should be enough to complete a white paper Like any B2B writing project, you must allow time for interviews, research, outlining, drafting, and perhaps coming up with diagrams. A client will expect a few progress reports.
And you will need to incorporate their comments into your drafts. And freelancers tend to produce faster than in-house or non-professional writers, probably for the simple reason that writing is their business, and time is money. Obviously, if you have specialized knowledge about a certain niche, you can charge more than a generalist who will need more time and ask more questions. As well, an inexperienced designer can destroy the readability of an otherwise strong white paper.
The most effective strategy is to head off these problems before they happen, by planning and managing a white paper to yield the best possible results. Submit short deliverables for discussion , like a creative brief or a one-page outline, before you start writing a page document. Get your client or company to make a tangible commitment to complete a white paper. For example, freelance writers should get a partial payment in advance; in-house writers can get an okay to forego other duties writing the document.
Work closely with the designer and make sure they understand the white paper format. You're welcome to explore them all. And of course, you can always buy my book, White Papers For Dummies. I crammed 15 years' worth of tips and tactics into it. You can see what reviewers are saying about it here or check out the book at Amazon here.
Other things you should do are to build a web presence , at the very least an effective LinkedIn profile. Then, once you start writing white papers, publish good samples and testimonials on your website. Some final tips: Pick three marketing tactics you can carry out every week. Use a mix of inbound and outbound tactics. Even if you're introverted, choose at least one outbound tactic. You don't have to do everything.
Just keep doing whatever works for you. It was used to distinguish shorter government briefings and position papers with white covers from longer reports and policy books with blue covers. I have located white papers from the UK dating back to the late s. I am still searching for the earliest one on file in the UK government archives. An early example that many people point to is the so-called Churchill White Paper from See more background.
With the rise of the PC in the s, white papers started to become extremely popular in the IT industry. And in the s, the Web provided an inexpensive distribution channel that sparked the explosion of white papers over the past 20 years. That's because truly effective white papers are read by B2B decision-makers and passed on from person to person. White papers have a major impact on buying decisions for billions of dollars worth of products and services every year.
Yet this label is applied indiscriminately to many documents that are nothing but thinly veiled sales pitches. Although these formats can offer a more engaging experience for certain audiences, they require higher budgets and different production methods. And it's not useful to call these "white papers" since they are not delivered as text on paper. Those who call some other medium a "white paper" are likely trying to trade off the popularity and impact of these documents.
For a longer discussion, see my article " When is a white paper NOT a white paper? If you have any questions about white papers that aren't answered here, or you find an answer that isn't clear, please e-mail Gordon at That WhitePaperGuy. Click here. But I couldn't find one, so I decided to write it myself. Or anyone who wants to understand them better. White paper definitions White papers and other documents White paper readers White paper sponsors White paper writers White papers past, present, and future White paper definitions What exactly is a white paper?
Are there any industry standards for these? Aren't there at least some conventions? What different types of white papers exist? When is each type of white paper most useful? What's NOT a white paper? White papers and other documents White papers and blog posts: What's the difference? White papers and brochures: What's the diff? White papers and case studies: What's the diff? White papers and e-books: What's the diff? White papers and press releases: What's the diff? White paper readers Who reads white papers?
Why do people read white papers? When do people read white papers? How do people read white papers? White paper sponsors Who publishes white papers? Why do companies produce them? Where do white papers fit in the sales cycle? Which type of white paper should your firm create? How much does a white paper cost? How long does a white paper take? How do you promote a white paper? White paper writers What kind of companies need white papers? How hard is it to write a white paper?
How long does it take to write a white paper? How much can you charge to write a white paper? What main problems do white paper writers encounter? How can you learn more about white papers? Where do you find clients? White papers past, present, and future Where did white papers come from?
Where are white papers today? Where are white papers going in the future? Back to top What exactly is a white paper? Ask any 10 people this question, and you'll likely get 12 different answers. Here is the best short definition I've ever found, after years of looking: A white paper is a persuasive essay that uses facts and logic to promote a certain product, service, or viewpoint. For some better clues, look at the content and format of these documents: The content of a white paper provides useful information for business people seeking to understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.
Back to top Are there any industry standards for these documents? In a word, no. Everything from a two-page flyer to a page book has been called a white paper. There are even "video white papers. How can a video be a paper? But there are no fixed rules to define a white paper, and no one to enforce them if there were.
Back to top If there are no standards, aren't there at least some conventions? Well, perhaps. That White Paper Guy aka Gordon Graham has identified these key characteristics for a white paper : A document containing narrative text At least pages long Oriented in portrait format landscape tends to be for B2B e-books Educational, practical, and useful, not a sales pitch Used before a sale, not after a sale Provides facts, not just opinion Includes an introduction or executive summary If a document has all these characteristics, it's probably a white paper.
Back to top What different types of white papers exist? White papers come in many different types, with no universal system for labeling them precisely. Given this, the majority of white papers fall into one of these three types: 1.
A backgrounder describes the technical features and benefits of a product or service 2. A numbered list provides a light and lively set of points or concerns about some topic 3. It's difficult to combine both perspectives in the same piece. Beyond these, many other terms are commonly used to describe white papers: Competitive review Evaluator's guide Executive briefing Market overview Position paper Product briefing Special report But all these descriptive terms fit under one or another of the three main types, so these terms are not as helpful.
Back to top When is each type of white paper most useful? For the three main flavors of white papers: 1. Backgrounder : Best for prospects evaluating a shortlist of offerings near the end of the customer journey; also best to support a product launch for journalists, analysts, and channel partners 2. Numbered list : Best to nurture prospects in the middle of the customer journey with a light and lively roundup of points about some topic; also good for spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt FUD about competitors 3.
There are many other types of useful information, but I don't consider them white papers. Optimizer Pocket guide Troubleshooting guide Tutorial But notice how many of these are actually documentation used after a purchase when installing, learning, or troubleshooting a system. Those may be useful, but they're not white papers. White papers and blog posts are usually quite simple to tell apart. White papers are usually PDF downloads of 3, to 5, words.
That's why most blog posts are relevant for only a few months. Back to top White papers and brochures: What's the difference? White papers and brochures are almost complete opposites. Brochures are sales documents intended to create interest and desire. Today brochures are most often used in B2C for major purchases like cars, trucks, and boats. Back to top White papers and case studies: What's the difference? We're talking abut e-books used in B2B content marketing. A B2B e-book can be just about any length on just about any topic.
In any case, here are some scenarios when an e-book might work better than a white paper: 1: Your audience is prone to distraction They may be young or very mobile. Back to top White papers and press releases: What's the difference? Today, press releases are available to anyone on the Web, without the need for any gatekeeper.
Back to top Who reads white papers? White paper readers play a number of different roles in business, such as: Corporate executives decision-makers Finance executives financial recommenders IT managers and staff technical recommenders Line-of-business managers managers User representatives users In-house supporters of the purchase "champions" In larger companies, all these people may sit together on a selection committee that makes a collective decision.
White papers are especially well-read by IT managers. Back to top Why do people read white papers? White papers used to be aimed strictly at IT professionals. Today, many less technical people are involved in B2B buying decisions. Back to top When do people read white papers? People tend to read white papers when they are: Dreaming of a way around a pressing problem Wondering if anything could solve their problem Looking for something to satisfy their wish-list Researching a possible purchase Drawing up a shortlist of qualified vendors Executives at the IT portal KnowledgeStorm now TechTarget encourage clients to think of a technology sale in four phases.
Back to top How do people read white papers?
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