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An Organization Tip for Putting More Proof In Your Marketing Content

by | Nov 20, 2013 | B2B Copywriting, Collateral, White Papers | 0 comments


It’s a crucial force in making your marketing content credible.

Yet a recent survey on the state of content marketing by TechValidate “showed that many B2B marketing communications lack credibility. Results strongly indicated that prospects have the most confidence in unbiased 3rd party evidence and fact-based marketing,” 1 according to Lauren Locke-Paddon, TechValidate’s Customer Success Manager.

Proof – or evidence, if you prefer – is, in fact, critical in “fact-based marketing” documents, like white papers.

“A white paper needs a good structure of supporting evidence: facts, figures, names, dates, places, statistics from impeccable sources, quotes from industry experts and stories from happy clients,” says white paper writer Gordon Graham, author or White Papers for Dummies. “Think of this proof as the cone that gives the ice cream its support so it can stand tall. Without well-researched and convincing proof, a white paper is about as interesting as a puddle of ice cream melting on the sidewalk.” 2

Proof comes from research. And fortunately, the Internet has made that pretty easy. A few thoughtful searches on the main points you need to make in your content piece will usually turn up some viable third-party evidence.

But organizing that research – especially for longer projects like white papers and e-books – so you can create that credible, proof-packed content quickly? That’s not so easy.

I mean, who has time to copy research notes onto index cards anymore? Right?

A 5-Step System for Organizing Your Content Research

So today, I’d like to share with you a tip I learned from fellow marketing content writer Ed Gandia, co-author of The Wealthy Freelancer. It’s a 5-step system for gathering and organizing your research, so you can easily find the facts and quotes you need, when you need them, for any content project. We’ll go through it step by step.

To begin, let’s assume you’re writing a white paper. You’ve done a lot of preliminary research on your topic. You’ve gathered a large number of source documents, which you’ve saved to your computer. Now, you’re ready to pull out the proof you need, and organize it.

Step 1: Give each source document a unique identifier.

The first thing to do is to give each source document a short, unique identifier. A letter of the alphabet works well.

I do this by printing out each document and writing the identifier letter at the top of the first page. If you prefer not to print everything, an alternative is to modify the document name on your computer, placing the identifier at the beginning of the title. This has the added advantage of making each source document easier to find in your research folder. In fact, you may find it helpful to use the latter technique, even if you print.

Also, if your document is more than a couple of pages long, make sure the pages are numbered. You’ll see why that’s important when we get to Step 4.

Step 2: Highlight your evidence.

Next, read through your source material, and highlight any facts and quotes you think will provide good proof for the points you need to make in your white paper.

Step 3: Set up a document for structuring your notes.

Once you’ve selected your proof, you’ll need a “structure” for collecting and organizing it, so it will all be right at hand while you’re writing any given section of your white paper.

Start by creating a new document in your word processing program. Then, add top-level headings for the main sections of your content piece – just as you would when creating an outline.

Since you’re writing a white paper, your top-level section headings might be:

  • Market drivers
  • Problem
  • Existing solutions and their drawbacks
  • New solution (generic)
  • Our specific solution

If you’ve already begun constructing an outline, you may want to add a couple of sub-headings under some of the top-level headings. But don’t make the structure too complicated at this point.

Leave a space between each header, because that’s where you’re going to insert your notes.

Step 4: Populate your structured notes document.

Now, you’re ready to fill your structure with your notes from your source material.

To do this, you’re going to go through each source document, using both your printed copy (if you have one) and the source file on your computer. Each time you find a note highlighted in your printed copy, copy that text from the electronic source file. Then, paste it in your structured notes under the heading where you think you’ll use it in your white paper.

At the end of each note, you’re going to append a cross-reference to your source document. That’s in case you ever need to refer back to the note’s original context. You’ll type the identifier of the document and the page number where the note can be found, in parentheses. For example, if a note comes from page 2 of the source document you’ve labeled “A,” you’ll type “(A-2)” at the end of that note in your structured notes document.

With both the document identifier and page number, you’ll easily be able to find the original quote in the source document, should you need to do so for any reason.

Step 5: Endnote a citation for each source document.

Finally, at the end of your structured notes document, you should add a citation for each source document, referenced by its identifier. If you’re using letters as your identifiers, your list might take a form something like this:

A. Author A, Title of Source Document A, Publisher A, Month and Year of publication.

B. Author B, Title of Source Document B, Publisher B, Month and Year of publication.

C. Etc.

This way, you’ll already have your citations prepared when you quote from any of your source documents. The identifier at the end of the note will tell you which citation to put in the footnote or endnote of your white paper.


I’ve found this 5-step procedure to be an easy and efficient way to organize research for content projects. It puts all of your proof in one place, right at your fingertips, in the order you’re going to use it. It saves hours of fumbling through mountains of source files, searching for proof, as you write your content marketing pieces.

Take-Away Points

To review, here’s the “Structured Notes” 5-step system at a glance:

Step 1: Give each source document a unique identifier.

Step 2: Highlight the usable evidence in each source document.

Step 3: Set up a document for structuring your notes in the order you’ll use them.

Step 4: Copy your highlighted proof from your source documents to your structured notes document.

Step 5: Endnote a citation for each source document.

Bonus Tip

I implement this system in Microsoft Word, but I think it can be adapted to other systems as well.

If you often do research on the move, using your tablet or smartphone, you might want to try Evernote ( Evernote stores all your notes in the cloud, and syncs all your devices with it.

For a good introduction to using Evernote for content projects, see:

Update: Other good online note-taking apps include Microsoft OneNote and Google Keep.  For a comparison of Evernote, OneNote and Keep, the folks at Cloudwards has put together a guide, which you can read here:

Next Steps…

Need some help putting together highly credible, proof-packed marketing content? Call CopyEngineer at (+39) 011 569 4951. Or drop me an email at


1 Locke-Paddon, Lauren, Create Trust with Your Content Marketing, TechValidate, 2012.

2 Graham, Gordon, White Papers for Dummies, John Wiley & Sons, 2013.

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