White Papers for Dummies is the new title by Gordon Graham. The for Dummies series has been around since the DOS operating system days. The first title was DOS for Dummies. The book was so successful the series expanded to countless volumes. Despite the rather insulting title of the series, these books are generally among the most accessible and complete works on any given subject. Gordon Graham’s effort is no exception.
Gordon Graham, perhaps better known as “That White Paper Guy,” is among the most prolific and experienced white paper writers in the world today. While he may be shy about claiming the title of “world authority” on the subject, he is certainly in contention for that title. That’s why I was excited to learn he was writing this book. Reading it is like picking the brain of a role model. For anyone interested in writing white papers, I doubt you’ll find a more thorough text, nor one packed with as much practical advice.
Graham’s comfort with the subject matter is obvious from page one. His experience shines through, allowing the reader opportunity to avoid mistakes Graham learned the hard way. The book begins with a discussion of what white papers are, what types of white papers can be found, and how they are used. There is also a chapter on the history of white papers, which I think is important because anyone working in a given field should understand the genesis and evolution of that field.
The four chapters of White Papers for Dummies covering this material is something I consider to be a lengthy but mandatory introduction. As Graham leaves the introductory material in the rear view mirror, we enter into a discussion detailing each of the three major types of white paper. There is a lot of meat here, and any white paper writer should be thoroughly familiar with this material. The subject is detailed and well-outlined. The author manages to avoid tedium most of the time, and even mention when certain readers might skip sections. (It isn’t stated, but in my opinion, professional writers should read everything.) With the information in hand, it should be easy for a writer to select the appropriate document based on the needs of the client.
Beyond the types of white papers, Graham goes into great detail on how to successfully run a white paper project, with discussion from different points of view. These include the writer, the project manager, and the graphic designer. Graham walks through the process step-by-step, giving constant solid advice. By following this recipe for success, the vast majority of white paper projects should be completed successfully. Graham even includes thorough discussion on the most likely ways a project can go wrong, and how to handle these situations.
Beyond this section is the “get down and do it” portion of the book, where Graham goes into research, writing, and promoting white papers. The advice in this section is nuts and bolts. It’s basic how-to advice with years of experience to back it up. While pretty much all of the advice is common sense, some of it is only common sense after you understand the ramifications of leaving some aspects to chance. By following Graham’s advice, the writer can produce a solid document that can stand up to scrutiny.
Closing out the book are three chapters with a hodgepodge of advice that fit nicely together. The list format of these chapters make this section a fantastic reference to use when polishing a document during edit passes.
Overall, the book is an invaluable reference to anyone involved in the creation of white papers. Furthermore, I think it is the modern go-to source for professional writers who write white papers occasionally, or as a specialty.
There are two missing aspects I believe would have improved White Papers for Dummies, which is an already excellent text. First, while the book has some discussion on how a company can find a white paper writer, there is no mention of how a new white paper writer can find clients. I’m not sure why that topic was omitted. It’s easy to speculate that the landscape has certainly changed significantly since Graham began his white paper writing career in terms of internet penetration. Any such mature freelance business runs mostly on repeat business and referral, so perhaps it’s area he doesn’t feel qualified to discuss. But, as I said, this is pure speculation. The lack of this chapter definitely leaves a hole that begs to be filled.
The other missing aspect is a discussion on technical people becoming white paper writers. There are chapters on journalists, copywriters, and technical writers moving to white papers, along with the advantages and pitfalls of each background. There is no chapter on my own path, an engineer becoming a white paper writer. Perhaps there just aren’t all that many of us, especially with the skills and interest to write at a professional level.
Overall, White Papers for Dummies is by far the most accessible and thorough book on white papers and their creation on the market today. Gordon Graham’s advice comes from experience and mistakes made along his journey to becoming one of the top white paper writers in business today. The marketing professional can learn how to work with a writer, and the writer can learn how to work with clients, as well as how to create the white paper for best results. Professional writers should read the book cover-to-cover. When finished, leave it within reach as a reference.
Overall Score: 5 of 5 stars for White Papers for Dummies.
Rick Novy Tech and Copywriting blog.
ETA: Gordon Graham and I communicated after this article went live. He told me the reason there is no chapter on finding clients is he did not want to duplicate information readily available in other books. Fair enough.