25 Powerful Questions For Picking Your Next White Paper Topic

White papers! How do they work?

If you've written one, then you know the answer is "pick the perfect topic." A topic that lets you showcase your expertise — and that gives prospective clients a ton of value — is key.

And when it comes to finding those topics, I bet you've got a ton of fodder already incubating. Here's how to start discovering it.

Follow the FAQ

Every profession has them: The questions that the experts hear over and over and over again. (And oftentimes that you can't answer in-depth in five or ten minutes of conversation.)

Why not create a white paper around those questions?

Here are a few that might apply to journalism; think about the questions you hear over and over in your day-to-day, especially from people who don't know much about the business. This is a perfect opportunity to educate them.

  1. Where do you get your story ideas?
  2. How do you find people to interview?
  3. How do you know what questions to ask?
  4. How do you organize the information you collect?

Follow the money

If there is one thing that humans are generally guaranteed to be interested in, it's money.

Where does it go after it leaves their pocket, where could they be saving it, how does it grow and shrink, and what other people are doing with theirs are just a handful of topics that could warrant a white paper.

  1. How does the cash flow in your industry work?
  2. What are some common ways that people lose money in your industry?
  3. What are some common ways for people to save money?
  4. What is the overall financial picture of your industry? How much money is being spent, who's spending it and who's collecting it?

Give a history lesson

Did a big lawsuit just get adjudicated? Are regulators looking more closely at one area of your industry than another?

Consumers (and your peers) are probably going to have questions about where everything stands and what legal precedent (if any) had been set surrounding the issue.

Why shouldn't you be the one to explain what's happened — and what could happen — to your audience?

  1. Can you create a timeline of your industry in general ...?
  2. ...Or perhaps of a specific issue's prominence in your industry?
  3. How did the advent of the internet affect how people do business in your sphere? Can you delineate a before-and-after rundown? (The internet's just an example — though a widely applicable one.)
  4. Is your business well known in your area? Maybe instead of a "white paper," a small handout or even a page on your website can be dedicated to outlining how it started — especially if there's a history there.

Survey says?

Are there burning questions about your area of work that you wish someone would answer?

Here's the good news: It has literally never in the history of mankind been easier to survey a group of people, analyze the results and package it in a lovely report.

You can either ask clients outright about areas where they'd appreciate more insight, or you can use response to any previous white papers (or, heck, your question bank again) to figure out what and how to write your survey.

A few things you could dig into (and obviously, fill in the blanks for your own deal):

  1. How do consumers feel about _________?
  2. How do industry professionals feel about _________?
  3. How will _________ change the industry?
  4. What are the challenges/opportunities hidden in _________?

Case the joint

It's always a really awesome feeling when you can help a client achieve a goal — isn't it?

You should share that feeling. In a white paper!

Get your client's permission to write up the experience in a white paper. The benefits of this are probably obvious, but just in case: This will show potential clients what you can do for them, too.

A handful of questions to ask yourself that can help you frame the case study:

  1. What mistakes was this client making that are all too common?
  2. What ordinary overlooked solutions could have helped this client?
  3. How do you diagnose the real problem in this scenario?
  4. How do you determine whether or not the "fix" you implemented was successful?

Localize it (yeah, yeah) and they will white paper-ize it

Let's say every single one of these ideas has been tapped out for your industry. I'm not entirely sure I buy that scenario, but we're playing pretend here.

If your area is suddenly a hot spot for a specific industry and you can offer targeted information for anybody seeking it, then that's valuable.

Having experienced cannabis legalization in one state, for example, here are a few questions that copywriters or content professionals could have asked to create some white papers around the incoming industry:

  1. What are best practices for writing dispensary website copy?
  2. Are style guides important for dispensaries? How would those be crafted?

Maybe there haven't been any big changes in your locale, though — then what?

Let's again take a copywriter/content expert as an example and think about some ways we could localize content and showcase our expertise.

  1. Where are the best spots to work outside in the summertime, assuming you have a hotspot?
  2. What books available at the local library have you checked out lately, and what did you think?

Bonus idea: If you live in a larger municipality that might have industry-specific events (like poetry readings), then keeping an up-to-date calendar of what's available will endear you to everyone who loves poetry in your area. Or what-have-you!

So ask yourself: What's happening in my area that my clients — or people like me — want to know about, and is there an easy way to track those events? If not, well, this is your time to shine.

And if your area is too small for those kinds of specific events, then telling people where all the poetry readings, book club meetings and bookstore signing events are taking place in your neighborhood is equally useful for your neighbors.

How do you come up with white paper ideas? Do you need me to create some for you, reader, specifically and personally? Leave a comment or email me and let's talk.