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How to Write a White Paper

Learn why white papers are a marketing must-have

Three office employees are discussing a document at a conference table.
A well-written white paper can boost your company's market exposure.

A white paper is an in-depth, official, didactic document that discusses problems and how to solve them. Such papers are often used in political and business writing to instruct people and to help them make decisions. A well-written white paper can increase a company's market exposure immensely, so what are you waiting for?

What a white paper is and why it's useful

The term white paper is derived from white book, an official publication of a national government. Over time, white papers have come to refer to publications used by businesses for marketing purposes. For example, a company may publish a white paper in order to educate consumers about the benefits of a specified technology or product. The goal of a white paper is usually to describe the technology, product, or service in a way that people can easily understand. White paper documents are particularly valuable to potential customers because they provide unbiased information and analysis.

Get the word out there

White papers are distributed not only within a company, but also to other people in the same industry and to the general public. A well-written white paper serves an important educational function and uses plain language to explain complex issues in a straightforward manner.

Remember that white papers should be objective, provide adequate and appropriate detail, and be written in a clear, concise, and logical way. Overly promotional white papers have a tendency to end up in the trash bin.

Writing a white paper is not always an easy task; it often involves several contributors whose roles must be clearly defined at the outset of the project. Before attempting to write such a document, we recommend that you study your product. It is essential to explain how the product or service can be applied and why it is the best choice for customers. Furthermore, the intended audience must be properly identified, defined, and researched. There must also be agreement about the goals of the white paper and the strategies involved in writing it.

A white paper is valuable only if it contains information that the targeted audience needs and that might otherwise be difficult to find. Focusing on the needs of your audience is critical and directly affects how your white paper will be received. The more credible, unbiased, third-party information your white paper contains, the more useful it will be. You must also be able to back up any claims you make.

Tips for tackling a white paper

To help accomplish the goal of a white paper, which is to inform and persuade, consider the following:

  • Provide a historical overview. It is often useful to discuss what lies behind the problem that your product or service purports to solve.
  • Explain what potential customers should look for when seeking a solution to the problem. This provides you with the opportunity to promote your company.
  • Provide examples. It is useful to describe situations where your solution would be especially valuable or to mention particular customers who have found success with your product or service.

The most effective white papers do not exceed 12 pages, although they should be substance heavy. Effective white papers contain a few well-organized figures and tables to help illustrate the points made, contain precise and creative subheadings, and make use of callouts and sidebars.

Format your white paper for success

Begin your white paper with an abstract informing the reader of what the document is all about. You may then discuss the problem and provide some background—but be brief! The next step is to discuss in general terms how the product or service works; only then can you explain how your product or service can solve a specific problem. This is where you will offer evidence that shows what the product or service can accomplish and why it is the best choice for the customer. Treat this portion as if you were conducting a business pitch. The last part is the conclusion, which is essentially a summary of the reasons why your product or service is the best option.

Polish your document before publishing it

Once you have written your white paper, review it for accuracy. If you have any doubts about how your white paper is organized or whether it achieves its intended purpose, send it along to our business editors for a professional opinion.