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  • Writer's pictureRussell E. Willis

Do I Need a White Paper?

Strategic Writer: Episode 4


What Is a "White Paper"?


A white paper is a report or guide that addresses a specific issue, problem, or topic in detail. It typically provides in-depth analysis, research findings, expert opinions, and recommendations related to the subject matter.


Though they can arise from virtually any context, white papers are usually used in business, technology, government, and academia to inform, educate, or persuade readers about a particular topic or solution. The term "white paper" originated with the British government. Many point to Winston Churchill's "White Paper" of 1922 as the first example of this form of written presentation. Since then, white papers have become a staple of communication in government, academia, and some industries where authoritative information is vital. In particular, white papers are a time-tested tool for business-to-business (B2B) marketing.


Today, white papers usually range from six to twelve pages (3,000 to 6,000 words) but can be considerably longer. Contemporary white papers are often generated and distributed digitally, containing graphics and modern stylistic features not often associated with traditional print-era versions. Ultimately, a white paper aims to provide substantive information and analysis on a specific topic while maintaining the reader's interest and attention. The length should sufficiently cover the subject matter thoroughly but efficiently.


Often white papers are a condensed version (think Reader's Digest) of much longer, comprehensive reports or studies that contain large amounts of research. In these cases, thinking of a white paper as an abstract or executive summary on steroids may be helpful.


Key Characteristics of White Papers


White papers share a few key characteristics:

  • Objective Presentation: Even when white papers are used as a marketing tool, a white paper is expected to present information objectively and impartially, backed by data, evidence, and research.

  • Persuasive Voice: Though meant to be objective, white papers are usually written to persuade others, not merely inform them.

  • In-depth Analysis: Even if they are a condensed version of a more extended report or study, a white paper is expected to bring a sense of depth to the subject matter.

  • Authoritative Voice: White papers are either written by experts or relay expert information about a topic.

  • Targeted Audience: White papers are generally written for a particular audience, not just the general public. Thus, many white papers in business are used in B2B contexts where the audience is not the ultimate consumers of the product or service discussed but the businesses that provide these products and services. In government, the target audience might be policymakers in a particular area. Businesses and not-for-profit organizations often use white papers to target investors and funders.


Do I Need a White Paper?


There are several general scenarios where white papers might make sense for you or your organization:

  • Introduction of a New Product, Service, Tool, or Solution (Marketing!)

  • Introduction of New Technology

  • Thought Leadership

  • Policy Proposals

  • Government or Regulatory (Compliance) Reports or Resources

  • Educational Resources

  • Market Analysis

  • Investment or Fundraising Solutions or Tools

Overall, white papers may make sense for you whenever you need to communicate detailed analysis, authoritative insights, and well-supported recommendations on a particular topic. They may also make perfect arrows in your marketing quiver.


An excellent strategy to discover if white papers might work for you would be to look for whitepapers on the websites of your vendors, clients, or competitors.  You can also add "white paper" to any Google search to see who has an answer that you are looking for in the form of a white paper. Then ask yourself, How do they use white papers? Would something like that work for me?


Size Doesn't Matter!


Although whitepapers emerged from generally large-scale organizations, white papers can be an effective marketing tool for small businesses, not-for-profit organizations, and even individual contractors, especially in the B2B space.


Converting White Papers to Blogs


In the age of short-form communication (and short attention spans), an increasingly good strategy is to convert white papers into a blog format. Since most blogs are under 1,000 words, and most whitepapers are over 3,000 words, a good white paper might generate a series of two or more blogs!


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by Russell E. Willis


For more information on how white papers might be an effective tool for you or your organization, contact an AWAI Verified White Paper Specialist - me - at REWIllisWrites.com or 802-233-3242 for a no obligation consultation.


Photo by Razum Chisu from Unsplash.

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