What’s a white paper? A white paper is a type of business document that uses research to address a problem or challenge in a particular industry. When looking to amplify your brand or organization’s expertise and knowledge, it can be challenging to find a format that best attracts interest and new business opportunities.
A white paper is an excellent way to formally present your company’s overall relevance and industry knowledge while promoting your own brand.
Here’s what we’ll cover in this article:
What is a White Paper?
A white paper is a formal document outlining your company’s area of expertise and focus in a particular industry. These types of reports are authoritative in nature and are an extremely valuable marketing tool. While they have many similarities to business reports, white papers are distinctly different and unique.
White papers combine industry-specific knowledge and research into a document that makes a case for a specific solution or recommendation to a problem. Through the course of the document, the reader is taught to understand an issue and solve an identified problem through the lens and opinion of your brand or business.
White papers are business focused and rely heavily on research and text content to strengthen their argument and highlight their business prowess. Due to their overwhelming research component, the tone of white papers is often formal and business-focused.
A white paper can also be a component of a marketing strategy for any type of product or service and a formal way to present a problem, solution or expertise in a business-minded format. Unlike blog posts, social media or other forms of content marketing, a white paper is written for a very select target audience, not the general public or consumer.
There are various types of white papers that a business may publish to attract a following. Commonly, white papers either do an in-depth analysis and/or breakdown of what benefits their business/product/service can offer for the consumer or explains how their business/product/service can solve a common issue in the industry or market. Some even opt to conduct an interview with an industry expert and use their answers to support their business.
Whatever type you plan on publishing, the tone and contents of the white paper should be authoritative. They’re meant to explcitily showcase the level of mastery and expertise that your business has in that given topic/industry. The role of a white paper is to establish a company as a thought leader in a particular industry as well as to market themselves to future consumers or investors. White papers are not internal documents and should be written with that perspective in mind. They are a valuable tool for attracting and obtaining new business opportunities.
White Papers are an example of Evergreen Content – content that remains relevant over time and requires little, if any, updating, reformattng or thickening. Learn more in “Evergreen Content: Full Guide with Tips, Keywords and Examples.”
What’s In A White Paper?
As we learned above, the structure of a white paper is similar to a business report but is distinguished by a number of unique key elements. The basic structure of a white paper is designed to guide readers through a problem in an easily understandable way.
As this is a formal report, a white paper should include informative and clear headings to help readers navigate through the content. As mentioned above, it is important for white papers to take an authoritative and formal tone to help establish the business focus of the document.
1. A compelling title
An enticing and accurate title is critical in helping readers understand the purpose of your white paper. A good title will encourage readers to choose to read your white paper, but it is important not to overdo the creativity and risk undermining the formal business tone required for this type of document.
The term white paper doesn’t necessarily need to be in the title; your target audience may be put off by the authoritative term, while others may appreciate the clear understanding of what the paper is hoping to accomplish.
2. Abstract or Executive Summary
An abstract, or sometimes called an Executive Summary, is a brief overview of the white paper and what topic, challenge or problem the paper will discuss. An abstract is an important element in attracting readers as it allows a reader to review a brief synopsis of your white paper to ensure it is relevant to their needs. This is an important step in attracting and retaining your target audience.
In order to accurately identify and explain the problem or challenge to your reader, it is important to present extensive background information that supports your thinking and ultimate solution.
Many writers incorrectly skim over this section in order to rush forward to the solution or their primary ideas. This is a mistake. The background section of your white paper is a critical first step in establishing your brand or company as authorities in your industry. It is important to identify and articulate the problem or challenge you wish to solve and give the reader confidence in your critical thinking and analysis of your particular industry.
Whether you are referencing your own research or the research of others, it is important to present the information in a thorough and comprehensive way for your readers. This can be done effectively through the use of visual aids such as graphs, charts or other presentation methods. Whether your content is detailed or broad, it is important to understand your target reading audience and their background knowledge (if any) on the topic. Do not strive to oversimplify or over-complicate your research in order to make your point.
If you are conducting your own research for a white paper, it is important to understand the methods and strategies required to keep your research sound and objective. Do not sway your research to fit your conclusion or solution, and ensure an effort is made to keep your biases as removed from the results as possible. Tampering your research to fit a predetermined solution or opinion will only undermine your credibility as a brand and business.
5. Analysis and Recommendations
This section is the ‘highlight’ moment of your white paper. The Analysis and Recommendation section presents your argument or solution based on the evidence and research you presented earlier. This is the primary focus of your white paper and is the opportunity to amplify your company’s goals, mission and industry expertise. However, it is important not to jump directly to this section. The quality of your argument or solution is based on the foundational knowledge you presented in your Background and Research sections.
6. A Conclusion
This section summarizes the major findings and/or solutions presented in your white paper. This is not the time to present new content or ideas but to simply summarize your primary points and goals. It is important to keep this section short and succinct as it is the final impression left with your readers.
The conclusion is an excellent time to reiterate your company’s expertise and the key findings made in your white paper research and analysis.
In order to maintain ethical standards of plagiarism and original content, it is important to reference all sources and research used in your white paper. A reference page is also an excellent resource for your reader who may be looking for additional information or for content to support your white paper’s findings.
A reference page should follow a citation format that is appropriate for your industry. If you are unsure, two valid and widely accepted examples of citation formats are MLA or APA.
How Do You Start Writing A White Paper?
When creating your white paper, it is imperative to select and narrow your topic of focus to effectively engage readers. It is important to understand your audience and how best to target that particular reader. By reflecting on your desired audience and their questions and knowledge, you can accurately adapt your writing style to appeal to your ideal audience.
In order to write an effective and thorough white paper, be sure to thoughtfully and carefully examine your content, research and target audience. A white paper is a thorough business document with a formal tone, therefore requiring extensive planning in order to maximize your content opportunities.
As a first step in creating one, we recommend using a mind map or other form of content planning strategy to help organize your thoughts and understand the ultimate goal of your white paper. What do you hope to accomplish through this white paper? How do you want your target audience to think or feel about your brand after reading your white paper? These are all important questions to ask yourself before diving into the nitty-gritty of writing the content that supports your white paper.
If you’re unsure where to begin, take a look at our interview with our very own CTO Chanh Doan. Doan and a few members of our deveolpment team had the opportunity to visit the Google Cloud Next Conference in 2019. We had the opportunity to have Doan field a few of our questions regarding cloud technologies and their impact on the modern workplace.
A white paper is an important component of any brand or business’s overall marketing strategy. However, despite it’s formal and research-focused tone, it cannot operate in isolation from other content marketing strategies such as blog posts or social media. When reviewing and reading your white paper, it is imperative to understand your reader’s point of view and what you seek to teach or highlight to them.
They’re not designed to be a sales pitch or aggressive tactic, but a method of establishing your company as an expert in your field. The ultimate goals of creating a white paper include increased business and investment opportunities in the future.