White Papers

White Paper Interviews

You've been assigned the task of writing a white paper and you need to interview your company's brilliant thought leader. How should you prepare for the interview?

If you write white papers, you will eventually have to conduct an interview.

When that day arrives, just remember that the quality and effectiveness of a white paper is largely determined by its content. A bad interview will inevitably produce a bad white paper.

Preparation and structure are the key components of an effective white paper interview.

As the writer and interviewer, the idea is to follow a step-by-step process so that the interview reflects the flow of the white paper itself:

  • Collect background information. Before you contact your interviewee, do as much research as you an about the company and the product(s) featured in the white paper. Reports, studies, marketing materials, websites - everything is fair game.
  • Prepare the Interviewee. No one wants to go into an interview unprepared - including your interviewee. It's common courtesy to give your interviewee the topic in advance. However, it's good business to also give him a list of general questions to think about so he can prepare for the interview.
  • Prepare your questions. You should know 99% of the questions you are going to ask the interviewee before you arrive at the interview. Prepare a list of open-ended questions that mirror the structure of the white paper. Start with questions about the problem the white paper addresses, move on to informational questions about the solution (i.e. the product or process), and end with questions about the product's primary benefits. It's always a good idea to wrap up the interview with a generic question that asks the interviewee if there is anything else he thinks readers should know.
  • Stay focused. You know exactly what you need to accomplish during the interview, but your interviewee may have other plans. When the conversation wanders, it's up to you to bring it back on track. Be respectful and firm in helping the interviewee focus on the topic.
  • Conduct appropriate follow up. It's standard operating procedure to create an audio recording of the initial interview. However, during the course of writing the white paper you will probably think of additional or follow up questions to ask the interviewee. Most interviewees don't have a problem responding to follow up questions either by phone or email, especially if you discuss the possibility during your first meeting.

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