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ClickInsights: What is the ideal length of a white paper?

ClickInsights: What is the ideal length of a white paper?

How do you concisely convey the information you want to present in your white paper? How long should a white paper be to convey information and yet hold readers interest from start to end? We have invited White Paper Experts to shed light on the following question: "What is the ideal length of a white paper?"

We have invited White Paper Experts to shed light on the following question: "What is the ideal length of a white paper?". Read on to get their insights.

Michael Stelzner

Blog WritingWhitePapers Twitter Mike_Stelzner

"Anything less than 5 pages is just too short to be a white paper"

Michael Stelzner's Bio

Michael Stelzner is one of the leading authorities on the topic of writing and marketing white papers. Michael is also the author of the bestselling book, Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged.

Michael Stelzner's Tip

There's a lot of slop out there masquerading as a white papers.  These are thinly disguised brochures, data sheets or some other piece of collateral trying to ride the good name of a white paper.  I think anything less than 5 pages is just too short to be a white paper.

Why? Because for a white paper to achieve success it must resonate with readers.  That means discussing trends, problems and history-three elements often overlooked.  Content is still king, so grant your prospects some love by giving them a great content-rich white paper.

Michael Stelzner Recommends

Jonathan Kantor

Blog WhitePaperPundit Twitter Jonathan_Kantor

"If you accept the premise that a white paper is an educational document, then assign a minimum of six pages to properly execute that task”

Jonathan Kantor's Bio

Jonathan Kantor is the principal and founder of The Appum Group, "The White Paper Company", and has been producing commercial white papers for the past 11 years. He is also the author of the White Paper Pundit blog. Jonathan's experience with white papers is also coupled with over 25 years of enterprise business experience with leading industry innovators such as Apple Computer, Microsoft, Digital Equipment Corporation, and J.D. Edwards Enterprise Software (now a division of Oracle Corporation). This experience included a variety of sales, marketing, business development, and management positions.

Jonathan Kantor's Tip

In a recent study that was conducted by Information Week, one of the top white paper attributes that business executives are seeking is “minimal marketing”. With this target audience, short (2-4 page) white papers have only enough room to feature product/solution attributes and benefits. As a result, these extremely short papers will continue to bring diminishing returns for marketers that embrace this strategy.

The minimum size for a legitimate educationally focused white paper is six pages, and the following structure provides a good example:

  • Page 1 – Executive Summary
  • Page 2 – Introduction/Industry Dynamics
  • Page 3 – Topic-Related Problems/Challenges
  • Pages 4,5 – How Solution Approach Solves Problems
  • Page 6 – Concluding Summary/Call to Action Information

Most educationally focused white papers today fall into the six to eight page realm. The addition of a one-page case study is optional, but helps build credibility by transitioning the white paper from a theoretical discussion to a “proof of concept”.

In addition, including visually enhancements, such as design, graphics, sidebar callouts, shaded text boxes, and bullets helps readers with ‘short attention’ spans to easily assimilate large blocks of associated text. For business marketers these visual enhancements quickly deliver essential bottom-line solution advantage messages, allowing larger white papers to be more readily accepted with readers with short attention spans.

Jonathan Kantor Recommends

  • Free document distribution sites: Scribd.com, DocStoc.com, Slideshare.net, Gazhoo.com, Yudu.com, and WhitePapers.org.
  • Blog sharing sites such as BizSugar.com, Sphinn.com, and Reddit.com.
  • WhitePaperPundit: The Friday FREE White Paper List, a listing of free white papers from weekly Twitter Tweets that don’t require registration, posted each Friday.
  • Twitter search criteria set to keywords: “White Paper”, and “White Papers”.
  • Google Alerts set to “White Paper”, and “White Papers”.

Gordon Graham

Website ThatWhitePaperGuy

“The minimum length to be called a white paper is 5 pages”

Gordon Graham's Bio

"That white paper guy" is Gordon Graham, an award-winning writer with 30 years in technology. He's written hundreds of white papers and case studies for big-name clients like Autodesk, IBM, and Oracle... plus many smaller firms with big dreams. He's taught technical and marketing communication at two universities, and given countless workshops and webinars to professional audiences. And he's also editor of SoftwareCEO.com, the world's largest online community of software executives. 

Gordon Graham's Tip

I've seen everything from a 2-page flyer to a 100-page book called a "white paper." But the sweet spot for today's business white papers seems to be 6 to 8 pages. For a technical audience, you can do more pages, as long as you're providing truly useful material. Once you hit 12 to 15 pages, it's time for a reality check. Ask yourself: Could this be split in two?

On the other hand, the minimum length to be called a white paper, in my book, is 5 pages. Less than that, and it's hard to provide enough background or proof points to be persuasive. A "page" equals 300 to 400 words, so a true white paper is at least 1,500 words, and more commonly 2,500 to 3,000 words.

It's better to call a 1-2 page piece an "article." This isn't much longer than a blog post.

Gordon Graham Recommends

Stephanie Tilton

Blog Savvy B2B Marketing Twitter StephanieTilton

“Respect your readers' time but make it worth their while to read your paper.”

Stephanie Tilton's Bio

Stephanie Tilton is an expert case study and white paper writer who helps B2B companies advance the buying cycle by engaging prospects and customers. Harnessing her unique blend of technical knowledge, marketing savvy, and writing skills, Stephanie has crafted nearly 150 case studies and white papers for leading brands such as Akamai Technologies, EMC, Macromedia, Novell, SAP, and Symantec. Her website is Ten Ton Marketing.

Stephanie Tilton's Tip

The people who read white papers have spoken, and it appears they want to see a minimum of four pages.

In February 2009, InformationWeek Business Technology Network published a report entitled "How to Maximize the Use of White Papers In Your B2B Marketing and Sales Process." They surveyed 542 professional IT buyers – on both the technical and business sides of the house – from organizations of all sizes. 86% of respondents preferred white papers under 10 pages, with 50% wanting even shorter ones at under 5 pages.

More recently, Eccolo Media published the B2B Technology Collateral Survey Report in September 2009. Eccolo surveyed 501 responsible for either making B2B technology purchases or influencing purchasing decisions in U.S.-based companies. The majority of respondents (65%) felt six pages or less to be the ideal number. Although slightly more respondents (24%) preferred even shorter white papers of just four pages, almost as many (21%) leaned toward eight pages.

These findings make perfect sense. B2B buyers typically consume white papers to be educated on business issues and possible solutions to them. While you certainly want to convey your points as succinctly as possible, don't shortchange readers by skimming the surface. The key takeaway is to respect your readers' time but make it worth their while to read your paper.

Stephanie Tilton Recommends

Cindy King

Blog CindyKing Twitter CindyKing

“The ideal length of your white paper comes down to why you need the white paper, who will read it and what you need to accomplish with it”

Cindy King's Bio

Cindy King is a Cross-Cultural Marketer & International Sales Specialist based in France.  She uses her dual background in sales & marketing, in international business development, to help businesses improve their international sales conversion. She is also adept at content marketing, international web marketing and social media marketing.

Cindy King's Tip

You can see different lengths of White Papers in North America and Europe.  White Papers in North America are getting shorter.  White Papers are not used often in Europe, and when you do see one, they are noticeably much longer than the North American White Papers.

I like Drayton Bird’s advice: “the length should be long enough to cover everything relevant -and no longer. The more complex or serious the subject, the longer the copy.”

And I also like what Apryl Parcher has to say: “White papers by definition are both educational and persuasive. To accomplish this, it needs enough meat on its bones to fully explore problems the reader faces, outline the market drivers and position the solution. In my experience that takes a minimum of six pages—even when writing as economically as possible.”

The ideal length of your white paper comes down to why you need the white paper, who will read it and what you need to accomplish with it.

Cindy King Recommends

Jonathan Kranz

Blog Kranzcom Twitter jonkranz

"Ask the right questions to determine content and length of white paper."

Jonathan Kranz's Bio

Jonathan Kranz is the author of The eBook eBook: How to Turn Your Expertise Into Magnetic Marketing Material and coauthor, with Joe Pulizzi, of The Content Marketing Playbook. He’s all about writing helpful content and making screwy videos. Join the party!

Jonathan Kranz's Tip

What’s the ideal length of a white paper? To me, the question belongs in the same category as the weight of a soul or the number of angels on the head of a pin. It’s the wrong question. The right questions include:

  • Who’s your intended reading audience and what kinds of things do they like to read — and how?
  • What’s your purpose? Is it to educate? Provoke? Challenge preconceptions? Tease?
  • What’s the nature of the material? Does it lend itself to sound-bites or dissertations?
  • What actions do you want on the part of the reader? An immediate response? A good opinion of you? Deeper engagement on your site? Viral distribution of your content?

When, and only when, you have meaningful answers to these and other relevant questions can you arrive at a meaningful and reasonable conclusion as to the length of your particular white paper.

Jonathan Kranz Recommends

 

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Ambal has robust 17+ years experience working at and partnering with high-profile technology companies in both B2B and B2C marketplaces building scalable, reliable, high performance products (both hardware and software) for business with multi-billion dollar in annual revenue. She has done various roles that includes engineering, program management, business development, strategy and marketing for premium and fast growing product divisions at Cisco, Telecordia (prior name Bell Labs) and strategic marketing consulting firm ClickDocuments. At Cisco, she focused on world wide marketing and positioning of Cisco's Cloud & Data Center switching business. She brings both strong engineering & marketing skills with verticals experience from many different industries. Ambal received her Masters in Computer Science from Purdue University and an MBA in Marketing, Strategy and Entrepreneurship from Wharton University of Pennsylvania. Ambal is an avid reader and hiker. Her hiking pursuits have taken her to several mountains including Mt. Whitney at 14,500 feet (which she managed to climb in 1 day). Ambal lives in Austin, TX with her family of 3 boys (that includes her husband!) and a border-collie+lab mix dog named Rainbow.

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