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8 Tips for Writing White Papers (Hint: Don't Call It a White Paper)

When I first started writing white papers more than 20 years ago, I looked all over for a FAQ.

❶White papers are used early in the sales cycle, before the prospect makes a purchase. I have heard people urge vendors to make their white papers as flashy as brochures.

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What is a 'White Paper'

Focus on the challenges that you propose to solve. This should be something you can phrase in a few words. This helps to make your argument credible in the mind of you reader. Describe the problem you identified in greater depth. Give details as to how you concluded this is a problem. Use clear, precise terms. Your analysis should last no more than a paragraph. Provide a historical overview. Historical overviews help to explain how the problem in question became a problem.

If possible, you could also discuss how your problem was once a solution. Use specific figures, dates, and names to explain this progression. However, we now know that HFCs are actually dangerous greenhouse gases. Include charts, graphs, or diagrams to help to back up your white paper's argument. They can also win an audience's attention. Some white papers integrate visual aids into the text. Others place them in an appendix at the end. Ask your employer which method they prefer. Analyze the data and figures you present.

Detail how you arrived at your conclusions. You should aim to produce findings that can be reproduced through the analysis you conducted. Describe your proposed solution s. Adopt a step-by-step approach that clarifies exactly how you intend your idea to be implemented. Divide your content into digestible parts, such as bulleted lists or individual paragraphs with their own bold headings.

This will help your audience to read and understand your argument. Focus instead on what to expect in a solution. Use hard evidence, such as trade journals, government publications, and the data and figures in your research, to explain why your solution is the best course of action to take.

Weigh your argument against other proposed solutions. Acknowledge the usefulness of opposing solutions while emphasizing why they fall short of solving the problem. Close with a summary.

Include a review of the problem at hand. Briefly recap your solution. Re-emphasize the result you hope to see. If you choose to slip in a plug for your product or company, keep it relevant and subtle. Over time, should white papers be revised to reflect current thought or should they just be retired when either the issue or the information is no longer current? Unfortunately, there don't seem to be any clear answers.

I would definitely err on the side of revision. However, a copy of the old white paper should be kept in a database for historical overviews in future documents. Not Helpful 0 Helpful Although Purdue OWL doesn't specify whether or not to indent, the white papers available online do not indent.

Unless your employer specifies otherwise, each paragraph is single spaced with a double space between paragraphs. Paras are also marked by numbered and bulleted lists. Not Helpful 1 Helpful If you are selling a product or service in a competitive environment, then cost will be a decisive factor.

If cost is a selling point it is necessary to highlight it. The cost benefit can be introduced in a comparative table or other statistical formats. Not Helpful 4 Helpful If you're looking for marketing-specific material, check out the American Marketing Association's database at https: You can find more diverse topics at http: Not Helpful 7 Helpful Where can I find a sample white paper dealing with an educational topic or white paper that deals with education?

Answer this question Flag as Does a White Paper need a signature of the writer? Where else can I find reputable advice for writing white pages? Include your email address to get a message when this question is answered.

Already answered Not a question Bad question Other. By using this service, some information may be shared with YouTube. Did this summary help you? Government and corporate websites, as well as academic databases, are full of white papers just waiting to be downloaded. You can access most of these resources for free. Editing and Style In other languages: Een witboek schrijven Print Edit Send fan mail to authors.

Thanks to all authors for creating a page that has been read , times. Did this article help you? Cookies make wikiHow better. By continuing to use our site, you agree to our cookie policy. NL Nancy Lyman Apr 11, The examples make the "tips" concrete. I'm embarrassed to say that I've been seeing the term "white paper" a lot lately, but I've never really known what it meant. Now, with very little effort, I do. Each type is most appropriate for delivering certain information to a certain audience, as shown below.

For shorthand, I've used "offering" to represent any product, service, technology or methodology described in the white paper. Remember that there are no "rules" or universal standards for what makes a white paper But notice how many of these items are actually documentation used after a purchase when installing, learning or troubleshooting a system.

To my thinking, a white paper is strictly a pre-sales document used before a purchase. It's not documentation or support, it's sales and marketing.

For a longer discussion, see my article " When is a white paper NOT a white paper. A good white paper is based on established facts and logical arguments, like a well-researched article in an industry journal. A white paper generally takes 4 to 6 weeks of intense effort by a group of people. That's why an effective white paper can be used for one or two years, and then refreshed.

Blog posts are usually webpages, much shorter at to 1, words. A blog post can be generated in a couple of hours. A blog post can be sheer opinion, or even a rant, more like a letter to the editor.

That's why there are so many blogs: Anyone can shoot off their mouth in a blog. In a way, blog posts are a good place to test out your ideas, as they come together. You can gather comments and feedback, and see how your online audience connects with your ideas. Then you can solidify and back up your ideas in a white paper where you can pour more time and effort into the research, writing, design, and promotion.

Brochures push "emotional buttons" such as fear, greed, envy or vanity. They are generally colorful, flashy and filled with promises. They use the techniques of copywriting and advertising.

White papers , on the other hand, are persuasive essays about a certain product, service, technology or methodology. White papers appeal more to logic through irrefutable facts, iron-clad logic, impeccable statistics and quotes from industry opinion-makers. They are generally plain-looking, not flashy and filled with facts. They use the techniques of rhetoric and plain English. Some companies simply reformat a brochure and call the result a "white paper. Most readers become irritated when they discover that a vendor has done this.

I have heard people urge vendors to make their white papers as flashy as brochures. This is not correct. A white paper should be much more dignified, substantial and informative than a brochure.

Making it look like a sales piece is the kiss of death for a white paper. White papers sometimes mention case studies for evidence of a vendor's claims. But the two are quite different in form and content. Case studies are extended testimonials on how a product or service helped someone in the real world.

They are typically between and 1, words long, written in a journalistic style with many quotes from the actual customer. Before we had this terrible problem, then we found this fantastic product, and After we started using it, everything was sweetness and light.

They are generally 2, words or more, written in a somewhat academic style, with no direct quotes from the vendor's representatives. White papers tend to be used earlier in the sales cycle, to help prospects visualize a possible solution to a nagging problem.

Case studies tend to be used later in the sales cycle to reassure a prospect that other buyers benefited from the same approach they are considering.

For a longer discussion, see my article " What's the diff between a white paper and a case study? Remember, we're not talking about an electronic book intended to be read on an e-reader or smartphone. That type of e-book and a white paper can be hard to tell apart. You can often call the same document a white paper or an e-book. Many e-books look more like slide decks than text-driven documents.

In fact, some say e-books are just prettied-up white papers turned on their sides. They may be young, or on the road. An e-book may sound like more fun than a white paper that sounds like a lot of work. You could gain more traction by presenting the same content as an e-book instead of a white paper.

An ideal e-book—just like an ideal white paper—will help your target audience understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.

If your content does that, you can call it an e-book, a white paper, or whatever… and your audience will still thank you for it. Press releases are short, factual announcements of interest to a certain audience. This format has existed for perhaps years. Until recently, press releases were used to influence media "gatekeepers" and gain publicity for their sponsor.

The most effective press releases were recycled by journalists into printed articles. A contemporary press release must be highly factual.

In fact, there are rules about what a public company can say in a press release. While a white paper is sponsored by a company—the same as a press release —white papers are generally much longer than press releases, with more room to present facts and develop arguments. White papers are sometimes packaged with press releases as a "press kit. On the Web, white papers are available to almost everyone. There are no legal limits on what a company can say in a white paper.

But it's best to take a journalistic approach, backing up every assertion with statistics, facts and quotes from respected source. White papers are read by almost anyone contemplating the purchase of a relatively new, relatively complex, or relatively high-priced product or service for their business.

In larger companies, all these people may sit together on a selection committee that makes a collective decision. In smaller firms, some people may wear several of these hats and meet informally to discuss their purchase.

One survey showed that they read a median of 30 white papers a year, with some reading more than 50 a year As well, business people routinely passes good white papers up and down the chain of command, to both their managers and their staff. White paper readers are seeking useful information to help them understand an issue or solve a problem. This often involves learning about the business benefits or technical details of a product or service they are considering buying.

A survey of IT managers by Forbes. Today, many less technical people are involved in big buying decisions. These people are seeking plain-language explanations with clear business benefits, backed up by convincing facts and arguments. Executives at the IT portal KnowledgeStorm encourage clients to think of a technology sale in four phases.

At that point, a high-level white paper focused on business benefits can help them visualize the possibilities of using a certain offering. That's when a more detailed, technical white paper can help them understand how a given solution would work in their environment.

The need for white papers has pretty much passed. An Evaluator's Guide for a complex product might be helpful at this point. But more often, prospects want the reassurance of seeing case studies from other customers. They may need added information to help them do so, but it's more accurate to call this "documentation" rather than a white paper.

After all, the white paper has already played its role and the sale has already been made. Everything from this point on is after-sales support. Almost everyone working today has more to read, more to remember and more to do than they can possibly get to. For example, one study showed that the typical manager has more than 50 hours of work sitting on their desk at any point. They're not exactly waiting for another document to add to the pile?! So most people who read white papers do not read the same way they might read a novel, paying attention to every sentence.

Instead, they tend to skim, scan and skip This means that white papers must be carefully written and designed for business readers with limited time and attention. A wall of gray text is not likely to engage today's white paper reader. White papers need to use visual breakers like sidebars, callouts, headings, lines, boxes, bullets and graphics to direct the attention of scanners and skimmers. These visuals need to point out the key messages of the document in a way that's easy for today's busy readers to follow.

There's a whole book devoted to this subject. Jonathan Kantor has written an excellent guide called Crafting White Paper 2. Here is my mini-review of this book. Here's where to find more details or order your own copy. White papers abound in the technology sector, where they are commonly used to explain software and hardware products. Any B2B vendor selling anything relatively new, relatively complex or relatively expensive could likely benefit from a white paper.

This adds up to perhaps half a million potential vendors in the English-speaking world that could benefit from white papers. Vendors of any relatively familiar, simple and inexpensive B2C products don't often publish white papers, since there is little need for them. There may be exceptions—especially in energy and health care—where consumers may have to make significant decisions. For a longer discussion, see my article " Who needs a white paper?

In general, vendors publish white papers for two main reasons: On a strategic level, white papers fit into the widespread trend of " content marketing. This model acknowledges that skeptical prospects are hungry for a vendor who will serve as a trusted advisor, not just a peddler of their wares. Remember, the most effective white papers provide useful information to help a reader understand an issue or solve a problem The longer the sales cycle--aka the customer journey--the more likely white papers are part of it.

White papers are used early in the sales cycle, before the prospect makes a purchase. These can be called the "Vision" or "Planning" stages of the buying process, or the "Research" or "Selection" tasks of the Universal Tasks.

At this point, the customer needs documentation, training and technical support, not white papers. If you are creating a white paper, but aren't sure which flavor is best, you can narrow down the list with three straightforward questions. In general, the best flavor to attract attention, cast Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt FUD on competitors, or nurture a prospect through a complex sale is a numbered list.

The best flavor to influence a selection committee at the bottom of the funnel is a backgrounder. IT people generally want to see technical details. They will tolerate longer papers with modest production values. In fact, a slick and colorful format tends to make them suspicious. Executives want to see bottom-line benefits summed up in a page or two. They want to hear about lower costs, better sales, higher profits or improved customer service.

Executives expect polished production, with clear graphics they can understand at a glance. Managers want to hear about streamlined workflow and labor savings. They are keen to see how a new system would affect their area and their people.

User reps want to hear about ease-of-use, training and support. They can be more or less technical, but they will likely be detail-oriented. Users are not often a significant audience for white papers.

But if a user rep is involved in a selection committee, you need to address their concerns at some point. A mixed audience or selection committee may want to hear everything touched on above.

In this case, you may need several white papers, each with a different flavor and each with content geared to a somewhat different audience. And there are "soft costs" in terms of the time it takes your subject matter experts to answer interview questions and e-mails and to review drafts. All this to say, a white paper is a significant project in any marketing budget. Trying to do a white paper on a tiny budget will not yield best results. After working on white papers, in my experience it takes 6 to 8 weeks to get from the first planning interview to an approved white paper draft.

And it can take longer if people travel a lot or take their time with reviews. Illustration and design take an additional week or two. Translations, if required, take more time. The good news is that a vendor can often continue to use the same white paper for years. This long life helps to achieve a very positive return on the investment in a white paper.

In fact, the best way to promote a white paper is to handle it as a mini-product launch. Do everything you would do to launch a new product, and your white paper will be on the road to success. See my article on the 18 must-do tactics to promote any white paper. Remember, a white paper is a pre-sales document intended to attract prospects or explain an offering.

Any B2B vendor selling anything relatively new, relatively complex or relatively costly could likely benefit from a white paper. Writing your very first white paper for a company you don't know well, in an industry you've never written about, can be quite a challenge. Writing your fifth white paper for a long-term client in an industry you know is not so difficult. If you understand the material and work well with others, writing a white paper can be smooth and enjoyable.

All in all, writing a white paper is no harder than writing a major magazine article of several thousand words. That means one to two weeks full-time should be enough to complete a white paper Like any corporate writing project, you must allow time for interviews, research, outlining, drafting and perhaps coming up with diagrams. A client will expect a few progress reports. And you will have to incorporate their comments into your drafts.

If you manage this process well, writing a white paper can be smooth and efficient. If not, it can turn into a never-ending project that drags on and on and on and on and on and on Obviously, if you have specialized knowledge about a niche market, you can charge more than a generalist who will need more time and ask more questions to get up to speed. The most effective strategy is to head off these problems before they happen, by planning and managing a white paper to yield the best possible results.

Submit short deliverables for discussion , like a creative brief or a one-page outline, before you start writing a page document. Get your client or company to make a tangible commitment to completing a white paper. For example, freelance writers can get a partial payment in advance; in-house writers can get an okay to forego other duties writing the document.

Work closely with the designer and make sure they understand the white paper format. You're welcome to explore them all. After that, to take part in a forum where white paper writers post and answer related questions, visit my LinkedIn group, called Get More From Your White Papers. This group is by request only and sticks strictly to white papers.

Any off-topic discussions such as "where do I find clients? I crammed 15 years' worth of tips and tactics into it. You can see what reviewers are saying about it here or check out the book at Amazon here. Then, once you start writing white papers, publish good samples and testimonials on your website. And keep doing whatever works for you. For more in-depth information on this topic see my articles: To get clients, learn how to call a moose and Writers: Five strategies for finding white paper clients.

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This means writing a summary of your white paper and including an organized list of topics. Emphasize the value you will create. Your white paper is not a billboard for your business—it is an opportunity to create an image of expertise and insight that will help your readers. In .

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White papers are widely used among organizations and corporations to explain a problem and describe a solution that can meet that need, such as a product, service or program. Tailored to fit the needs of a specific audience, a white paper gives background information on the topic, explains the challenges the audience faces and presents the benefits of the writer's proposed action plan.

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While there are some similarities, writing a white paper isn’t quite like writing a blog post, case study, research report, grocery list, or well, you get the point. It’s . A white paper is an informational document, issued by a company or not-for-profit organization, to promote or highlight the features of a solution, product, or service.

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This puts a white paper at the top of pyramid, with the content from the white paper atomized into more bite-sized assets such as eBooks, webinars, infographics, blog posts, bylines, tweets, and so on. A white paper in the high-tech industry is a technical document that describes how a technology or product solves a particular problem. It's a marketing document and a technical document, yet it doesn't go too far in either direction. A good white paper is informative and is designed to show off the.