Book Review – White Papers for Dummies


Name: White Papers for Dummies Type: Book Category: Industry
Pros: Great resource to write and promote white papers. Also, good writing tips overall. Cons: Would have liked a template, but otherwise terrific. Notes: Great book. Excellent content from “the” master of white papers–Gordon Graham.
Overall Rating: 5 Stars
Comments: Part of the Dummies series


I was excited when I reconnected with Gordon Graham, “That White Paper Guy,” just to keep the relationship alive, and discovered he had been selected to author a book about White Papers for the well-respected Dummies series. I couldn’t think of a more qualified candidate. I asked him to send me a copy so I could review it. He sent me two (one got sent to an old address–so he sent it again (Thanks to Gordon!)).

I first heard about Gordon when he was the editor (and author) of the newsletters for SoftwareCEO (part of CompTia), when I sat on the advisory board. But the first time I learned that he wrote white papers was when I was approached by an SEO company to link to his white paper content from

I looked at his site and content and immediately linked and was happy to reconnect and talk about his white paper experience. Actually, I was looking for validation that the approach I was using for helping my clients with their white papers was correct. He provided some great tips, but he also referred me to places where I could publish my white papers for free–a great tip. I even referred several of my clients to his service.


Upon arrival, I noted White Paper for Dummies had all the hallmarks of the Dummies series, including a well-organized format and conventions with tips, things to remember, true stories, and warnings. It is also comprehensive and covers some of the history of white papers, the reasons for creating a white paper, but also some tips for freelancers (including potential revenue figures and ways to keep clients focused and happy–these are saavy tips for any freelancer).

The book then defines what a white paper is and what it is not–specifically it is not a puffery piece (and even includes words to avoid), but instead, it is a proof piece–a persuasive essay that uses facts and logic. It is especially helpful when you have evidence (and he details sources and types of credible (not flawed) evidence to consider) that the product or service you provide solves a real, juicy, nasty problem–usually in a way that is unique and critical to the user (and industry).

It is the ultimate proof piece that validates your positioning, creating in the mind of the reader the impression, “I would be a fool not to consider this.” He also points out that the pragmatic result of every white paper is that it should produce a lead (thank you for the validation– an ROI for the cost and effort).

Of course, having authored several white papers (but as a sideline–not my main profession), I was especially hunting for things I had never known. The three types (flavors) of white papers was interesting, 1) the backgrounder, 2) the list and 3) the problem/solution white paper. I had only used the problem/solution format–as the most convincing “king of content” (as he describes it). Each flavor has its own purpose, but I think I’ll continue with the most convincing “King” for most of mine–when I have to write it (or set the direction) since I am looking for maximum “persuasivity.”

All said and done, the acid test (from a marketing practitioner who has to constantly defend his budget) is, “Will it generate enough interest (curiosity) to produce a LOT of qualified leads?”

The book also contains well-documented sample processes including ways to ensure clarity, set expectations, but also avoid derailment from those with a title and veto power–that neglected to attend the original meeting. This is SO critical or the white paper can get line edited and messed up at the furthest stage by someone who came in late, didn’t understand the purpose or format, and has an “ignorant” opinion, but with absolutely no track record of successfully generating leads with white papers. This process alone is worth getting the book.

I also liked his typical times and prices for different types of white papers (I won’t spoil it–get the book). His recommendation to put more call to action at the end was good, along with choosing the right kinds of graphics and an effective title. His recommendation to use odd numbers with a list format (increases credibility) was helpful, as was following good typography for easy reading, plus his caution about how to address competitors (although I like to deposition them and the entire category–if I have the facts to prove it).

Gordon’s section on sources for white papers, along with the rules for “evidence” like proximity, authoring, timeliness, and relevance were terrific. Again–provide credible proof to make your white paper and argument bullet-proof. As he points out, weak-minded, feeble research and vague generalities have no place in a proof paper–or it works against you.

The most valuable new information I learned was his checklist of “must” and “could do” promotions. Like he says, why spend so much effort to produce a persuasive white paper and then not get it out there to generate leads. I also appreciated the English tips–including a good example for passive vs active voice (I think this was the reason for the minus in my A- that I got in college English).

The only thing I felt was missing was a template for a persuasive problem/solution white paper–undoubtedly because I was looking to validate or correct the template that I already use (but I’m sure he can add it to his website, Even still, this is a really comprehensive and helpful book–I got through it (with notes), in between meetings, in only a few days.

Congratulations on a terrific book that will help beginners and advanced white paper writers alike. I give it five Stars! Add it to your library–it will serve you well.