7 Questions to Ask When Choosing a White Paper Writer

August 13, 2014 by

When it comes to making purchasing decisions, technology buyers consistently rank the white paper as the most sought-after, most shared and most influential of all forms of marketing collateral.*

But creating an effective white paper is no easy feat. White papers generally require more research, greater subject matter knowledge, and more journalistic skill than any other content form.

Which can make finding a good white paper writer a tough task, especially in high-tech markets.

That's why I've created this list of seven questions to ask when interviewing a freelance white paper writer. Each has been crafted to dig out the key information you'll want to consider when hiring one.

* According to surveys by Eccolo Media {1}, TechTarget {2}, and KnowledgeStorm/MarketingSherpa {3}.

Question #1: Could you tell me a bit about your career background?

What you're trying to find out with this first question is this: Is this writer capable of understanding our offering and our audience?

Naturally, this is a major concern in high-tech industries. Your white paper needs to sound convincing to your target audience. So, your white paper writer must be able to speak to your target readers in a peer-to-peer fashion. He or she needs to speak their language. This can be extremely difficult for writers whose background doesn't match up well with your industry.

This doesn't mean they need experience in your specific industry or market. If your company competes in a narrow niche, such a criterion could make it virtually impossible to find a qualified writer.

What it does mean is that the white paper writer you choose should have a background that will help them understand your product or service and relate to your target reader.

Question #2: What experience have you had writing for technology companies?

Most qualified white paper writers come from one of two backgrounds. They'll either have a technical background and have transitioned to marketing and writing, or they'll have a writing background and experience in writing for technology companies.

So this question serves as follow-up to the previous one.

If the writer you're speaking with boasts a technical background, their answer to your first question probably established whether or not they can cope with your offering and audience. Now you want to find out what kind of track record they have in writing marketing content.

If, on the other hand, your interviewee comes from a more traditional writing background, their answer to your first question might not have told you whether they can communicate effectively with your SMEs and understand your product, services and market. This second question is designed to fill in those blanks.

Again, it's usually not so important that they've written for your specific market. It's far more important that they're able to communicate effectively with your SMEs, so they can gather the information they need quickly, and so they don't need a lot of hand holding afterward.

Question #3: What kind of white papers have you written?

What you're trying to find out with this question is pretty straight forward: Does this writer have experience in writing white papers?

It's not necessarily important they've written a lot of them, but they should have at least a couple under their belt. They need to have some experience with the process.

How much experience will depend upon your situation and needs.

If you're in a highly competitive space with several big players, one where it's very difficult to differentiate from the competition, you may want a highly experienced white paper specialist, or a writer who's very familiar with your market.

If you're in an extremely specialized technical niche, on the other hand, you'll want to be sure your writer can relate easily to your SMEs, your technology and your prospects. In this case, it might pay to favor a technical background over portfolio size.

Also bear in mind that while a more experienced writer may offer greater advice and faster results, a newer white paper writer will likely ask a much lower fee. And with a big name, you could wait months before they're available.


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7 Questions to Ask When Hiring a White Paper Writer
A CopyEngineer "What to Look For" Guide

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Question #4: Could you send us some samples of white papers you've written?

You need to read some white papers the writer has authored. You want to find out: Is this writer capable of keeping our readers engaged?

Read parts of two or more. You don't need to read every word. But do check for the following:

• Does the writer have an engaging tone?

o Is the tone conversational?

o Does it sound like an expert taking peer-to-peer with another professional?

• Is the paper easy to read?

o Are the sentences clear?

o Are paragraphs mostly short?

• Does the writer cite plenty of third-party evidence to back up his/her claims?

• Does the writer provide good examples and illustrations that make concepts clear?

If your white paper lacks an engaging voice, readers won't be compelled to read to the end… or heed your call to action.

Question #5: What kind of white paper would you suggest for us?

This question assumes you have a particular objective in mind. This is always best, as it gives your writer something specific to focus on. It will keep them from bouncing back and forth between hypothetical scenarios. If you don't yet have a specific project in mind, suggest an objective.

What you're trying to learn here is: Is this writer able to propose the right kind of white paper for our objectives?

If you want to generate leads, for example, your best bet is a classic problem/solution white paper, or a numbered list with a problem-solving focus. (See this article, and this one, for more information on different types of white papers.)

At the opposite end of your funnel, if your sales team needs a tool to help close deals, you probably want a backgrounder, which will describe just how your prospect can achieve splendid results using your product or service in a specific application.

In other cases, a simple numbered list will often be your best choice. Not only are they the most versatile of white papers, they also tend to be the fastest and least expensive white papers to create.

But remember, this is not a quiz! You're not looking for the writer to give you a "correct" answer. Just listen to what he or she proposes, and see if it makes sense to you.

Question #6: What's your process, and how do we work together?

Once you've determined that a prospective white paper writer can understand your product and market and is capable of putting together a decent white paper, there's still one more thing you need to find out…

Is this writer able to deliver what we need in a reasonable time? Or in other words: Will they deliver our white paper when they say they will?

And the best way to do determine that, is to find out:

• Do they have a process?

• Can they describe that process?

• Does that process make sense to us?

Having a process means the writer is methodical, organized and thinks logically. It also significantly reduces the likelihood that the writer will get bogged down, fall behind schedule, and slip your delivery date. So, you'll know what to expect.

What makes a good white paper writing process? Here are three things to look for:

Seeks input early. As soon as he or she starts the project, the writer should begin gathering input from you, your SMEs and possibly your sales staff. They should ask for background materials and set up interviews right at the outset, to guide further research. You and your team are, by far, their best source of information. But they'll need outside sources, as well.

Submits an outline for approval. Shortly after they've completed their interviews, writers should submit an outline for the paper and solicit your feedback. They should make sure you're happy with their concept of the project, before they begin writing the paper itself.

Solicits comments and provides revisions. The writer should submit a polished draft for your review and then provide revisions – according to your instructions – until you are satisfied with their results.

These three steps will help assure you get just what you need in your finished white paper.

Question #7: What else can you offer us once this white paper is complete?

What you want to find out with this last question depends upon what you need, and what in-house capabilities you already have on hand. Those factors will also impact the wording of this question.

If you need to generate leads, for example, you might want to ask, "How can you help us promote this white paper?" And you'll want to listen to what this writer can offer in terms of advertising, direct mail, email marketing, and landing page writing to support your white paper campaign.

If you're looking to get maximum mileage out of your white paper, you might ask, "How can you help us re-use this content?" Or, if you frequently need outside copywriting help, you might ask, "What other types of projects do you do?"

Asking this question – in any form – can help you get more for your money. Freelance writers frequently offer discounts when related projects are purchased as a package or as immediate follow-ons.

Conclusion

By asking these seven questions of a prospective white paper writer – and quickly reviewing some of their work – you should get a pretty good idea of whether or not they can do the job, whether or not they're a good fit for your company, and what else they can offer you.

So the next time you interview a white paper writer, ask these seven questions.

And be sure to contact CopyEngineer to get my answers.

Take-Away Points

To summarize, here are the 7 Questions to Ask when Choosing a White Paper Writer, and what you're trying to find out with each one.

1. Could you tell me a bit about your career background?

Is this writer capable of understanding our offering and our audience?

2. What experience have you had writing for technology companies?

Is this writer's experience relevant to our needs?

3. What kind of white papers have you written?

Does this writer have experience in writing white papers?

4. Could you send us some samples of white papers you've written?

Is this writer capable of keeping our readers engaged?

5. What kind of white paper would you suggest for us?

Is this writer able to propose the right kind of white paper for our objectives?

6. What's your process, and how do we work together?

Is this writer able to deliver what we need in a reasonable time?

7. What else can you offer us once this white paper is complete?

How can we get more for our money, using this writer?

Next Steps...

Need some outside help creating a new white paper? Call CopyEngineer at (+39) 011 569 4951. Or drop me an email at info@copyengineer.com.

 


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This article is now available in PDF for immediate download.

7 Questions to Ask When Hiring a White Paper Writer
A CopyEngineer "What to Look For" Guide

Get your copy now!

-


References

{1} Eccolo Media 2008-2014 B2B Technology Content Survey Reports, Eccolo Media Inc.

{2} TechTarget, 2008 Media Consumption Report: Perception Vs. Reality of the IT Pro and the IT Marketer, January 2008.

{3} KnowledgeStorm/MarketingSherpa Connecting Through Content Survey, Issue 1: How Technology Marketers Meet Buyers' Appetite for Content, March 2007.

1 Comment

  1. […] companies – recently posted, in a LinkedIn.com group, a link to a helpful article called “7 Questions to Ask When Choosing a White Paper Writer.” The article is from the blog of still another creator of marketing content. (It’s no secret […]

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