Provide a “what’s next”
What does every good joke have in common? The punchline. The payoff. The reason for sticking around while the guy from down the street regales you with the story of the hippie, Henry Kissinger and the Pope jumping out of an airplane. The punchline ties it all up in a nice bow and gives you a nice laugh (with any luck).
In a whitepaper, the punchline is the conclusion and recommendations. Don’t leave your readers hanging.
After 5, 6, 10 pages (6 pages is an ideal length, but some subjects might need less and others more), have the courtesy to give your reader a little direction. They’re not expecting a laugh, so provide them with a few things they can do now that they’ve read your paper. These should be concrete and achievable (and they should be based on the rationale you’ve laid out in the paper; don’t come out of left field with something you haven’t discussed at all).
Here’s a model that has worked well for me:
Write a few sentences that wrap up the paper, highlighting the main points.
Make your recommendations short and to the point. Provide three at a minimum. Start each one with a bold, imperative statement, then follow up with two-to-three sentences that expand and reinforce the recommendation. These should be more than just market observations; they should actually tell your readers what you think they should do.
Follow these steps at the end of every paper and your readers will thank you.
Next time, I’ll show you some examples of papers I’ve read that I like (and they’re not ones I was involved in).