Thursday, January 12, 2012

How to write a white paper from an interview

Here’s a method I use when a client wants me to write a white paper from an interview. This method is like sculpting; it consists mostly of removing unnecessary words from the interview transcript. The method produces a strong first draft; typically a client will say the draft is 90 percent of the way to the final draft.


Record the interview. Have the audio professionally transcribed. Then make these seven passes through the transcript:

First pass: Chisel away the irrelevant discussions: introductions, small talk, tangents, next steps, deadlines, exchanges of email addresses, and so on.

Second pass: Chisel your interview questions into short headlines. For example, chisel “Just to get started, my first question is, can you give us a brief overview of the topic without a lot of detail?” into “Overview.”

Third pass: Chisel away the repetitions, false starts, and circumlocutions that the interviewee indulges in as he gathers his thoughts to make a point. For example, chisel “Well, I was talking to a number of financial advisors – this was actually last month at a financial advisors conference in Chicago. The hot topic that came up – one of my company’s partner companies had a representative at the meeting, too, and he asked – in fact, he was a speaker there. So, offline he asked a question around commodities trading and it sort of touched off a kind of passionate discussion in that venue” into “Commodities trading is a hot topic.”

Fourth pass: Using the find-and-replace function in your word processor, delete all these filler words and phrases: kind of, kinda, sort of, sorta, pretty much, actually, totally, absolutely, out there, OK, so, I mean, I think, you know, just a thought, my two cents, well, basically, frankly, to be honest.

Fifth pass: From the top of the transcript to the bottom, chisel away all unnecessary words, phrases and sentences. This pass is usually the most time-consuming pass.

Sixth pass: Do a normal, line-by-line copy edit.

Seventh pass: You now have a strong Draft 1 of the white paper. Proof it and send it to your client.

The Takeaway: Don’t write; edit. When you have to turn an interview transcript into a white paper, don’t think of it as a writing project. Remind yourself that the white paper is already there, inside the interview transcript. Reveal the white paper via editing; chisel away the unnecessary words.

By the way, if you would like some great tips on interviewing, go here, here and here.

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