Demystifying White Papers: A Comprehensive Guide on What They Are and How to Write One

White papers are ubiquitous in the business world, but what exactly are they? This comprehensive guide breaks down everything you need to know about white papers – what they are, their purpose, different types, and how to write an effective white paper.

What is a White Paper?

A white paper is an informational document issued by a company or organization to promote a product, service, technology, or methodology. White papers are sales and marketing materials aimed at persuading potential customers to learn more about a solution.

They are commonly used in B2B marketing between businesses like manufacturers and wholesalers or wholesalers and retailers. White papers provide an in-depth overview or report on a specific topic to educate readers

The facts in white papers are usually backed by research and data. They often include charts, graphs, and other visualizations to present information. A white paper allows a business to communicate things like:

  • Their philosophy
  • Research findings
  • Industry analysis
  • Product or service information

Purpose of a White Paper

White papers serve several key business purposes

  • Generate new sales leads
  • Educate potential customers
  • Promote a new or existing product/service
  • Make a case for a certain methodology or ideology
  • Build industry interest and visibility
  • Establish thought leadership
  • Inform and persuade stakeholders

They aim to be educational rather than overtly promotional. White papers help build awareness, trust, and credibility for an organization among target buyers and influencers.

Types of White Papers

There are three main types of white papers:

1. Backgrounders

Backgrounders provide technical details on a product or service. They are best for:

  • Supplementing a product launch
  • Making a business case
  • Supporting a technical evaluation

2. Numbered Lists

Numbered list white papers present key tips, questions, or points on an issue. They are best for:

  • Getting attention with new views
  • Casting doubts about competitors
  • Quickly creating compelling content

3. Problem/Solution

Problem/solution white papers recommend a solution to a specific business problem. They are best for:

  • Generating leads early in sales cycle
  • Informing and persuading stakeholders
  • Building credibility and trust

Problem/solution white papers require the most research but are often the most impactful.

How to Write a White Paper

Follow these steps when writing a white paper:

Choose a Topic

Pick a specific issue, problem, or concept to focus on. The topic should be relevant to your target audience.

Research Thoroughly

Gather data, statistics, expert opinions, case studies, and other information from reliable third-party sources. Cite research to build credibility.

Create an Outline

Organize the structure with an introduction, body sections, and conclusion.

Write Compelling Content

Aim for around 2,500+ words. Use persuasive language focused on problem-solving for readers.

Design it Well

Format the white paper with easy-to-read fonts, headers, visuals, and white space.

Revise and Proofread

Refine the content and check for errors. Have others review it and provide feedback.

An effective white paper provides new insights and persuades readers through data-driven arguments. The goal is to be educational and promote solutions.

Examples of White Papers

Many companies publish white papers to attract potential customers. Some examples include:

  • Cloud security
  • Benefits of adopting cloud computing
  • Hybrid cloud solutions
  • Mainframe data migration
  • Backup and recovery strategies

These are informative pieces aimed at technology decision makers. They position the sponsoring company as a thought leader.

White Papers vs. Other Content

White papers differ from brochures, web copy, ebooks, and other materials:

  • More in-depth than most content (2,500+ words)
  • Academic but persuasive writing style
  • Focus on problem-solving with research
  • Aim to build mindshare and trust as an educator

Why Are They Called White Papers?

The term originated from government papers in the early 20th century. Important documents were bound in blue, while less serious informal reports were bound in white. Hence the name “white papers” stuck for informative reports.

Key Takeaways

  • White papers are in-depth, persuasive documents that promote a product, service, or methodology.
  • They aim to educate rather than overtly sell.
  • Research and data are used to build credibility and trust.
  • Common goals include generating leads, establishing thought leadership, informing stakeholders, and driving adoption.
  • An effective white paper provides valuable insights to persuade readers.

White papers play an important role in B2B marketing. This guide covered everything from their purpose to how to write them. In short, white papers allow organizations to build mindshare and make their case as an industry educator and problem-solver.

what is a white paper

Key Characteristics of White Papers

White paper experts including Gordon Graham have identified these key characteristics for a white paper:

  • A document containing narrative text
  • At least 5-6 pages long
  • Oriented in portrait format (landscape format tends to be for B2B e-books)
  • Educational, practical and useful, not a sales pitch
  • Used before a sale, not after a sale
  • Provides facts, not just opinion
  • Includes an introduction or executive summary

If a document has all these characteristics, it’s probably a white paper

Links to Helpful Content

White paper is more widely used and it has strong documentation to back it up. At the end of the day, white paper is the safer choice. You wont be wrong for choosing to use the space-separated version. When it comes down to it, whitepaper is an acceptable preference at best, while white paper is the standard. (from blog linked above, May 12, 2016)

(In 2022, the age of the adjective/noun mashup for naming apps and businesses, this seems a quaint opinion.)

A white paper is a research-based report which offers a focused description of a complex topic and presents the point of view of the author or body represented by the author. The purpose of a white paper is to give readers understanding of an issue, which in turn helps them solve a problem or make a decision.

The term originated in Britain, where it refers to a type of government issued document. In a business context, the purpose of white papers has evolved to an aspect of marketing and is often used to persuade.

What are Whitepapers? | Scripted


What is the purpose of a whitepaper?

A white paper is a research-based report which offers a focused description of a complex topic and presents the point of view of the author or body represented by the author. The purpose of a white paper is to give readers understanding of an issue, which in turn helps them solve a problem or make a decision.

What is an example of a white paper?

The term “white papers” originated in England as government-issued documents. One famous example is the Churchill White Paper, commissioned by Winston Churchill in 1922. Today, the term is most commonly applied to “deep dive” style publications for marketing purposes.

What does it mean when someone says white paper?

A white paper is an authoritative, research-based document that presents information, expert analysis and an organization or author’s insight into a topic or solution to a problem.

What is the difference between a paper and a white paper?

One of the main differences between a white paper and other research papers is that a white paper will present problems and proposed solutions in a persuasive manner.

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