The Business Dictionary provides two definitions for a white paper. First, a white paper can be defined as “a concise report that informs readers about a complex issue, often used to convey an organization’s philosophy and persuade potential customers. This type of document contains proposals for the specific policy area suggested during the consultation process initiated with the publication of a green paper.”

Additionally, a white paper can be defined as, “marketing tool in the form of information on the technology underlying a complex product of system and on how it will benefit the customer.”

Being that a white paper can take on many forms, we focus on the marketing-oriented approach rather than the business-oriented approach. Either way, a white paper is an informational document that is a great tool in your marketing toolkit.

What a White Paper Isn’t

Now that we’ve established what a white paper is, it’s only right to discuss what a white paper is not. A white paper is not the same as a product pitch!. So, don’t be alarmed when you come across writing that is more academic style than your usual marketing nature. Hubspot, which describes a white paper as an “advanced problem-solving guide,” warns marketers to avoid being overly pushy about your product, service, or idea because doing so could be a turn off to readers. The blog explained the purpose isn’t to “tell the world why people need to buy your products right now.”

Types of White Papers

The 3 most common types of white papers are:

  • Backgrounders— which explain technical features
  • Numbered lists— which highlight tips or points; and
  • Problem/solution— which introduce an improved solution to a common business or technical challenge

Why Use a White Paper?  

A white paper can help you “promote a certain product, service, technology or methodology, and to influence current and prospective customers’ decisions”, according to Investopedia. While usually used for business to business marketing, it can inform and persuade the reader that a certain offering “is superior for solving a particular business problem or addressing a certain challenge”.

A white paper is a great way to reach your target audience and is something that should be included in your marketing plan. It is a “great resource for your prospects and sales team, and [it helps] you build credibility and trust with your readers”, according to HubSpot. Credibility and trust are essential for each and every brand.

Creating Your Own White Paper

Unlike press releases or other marketing documents, white papers are different in terms of requirements. They have none. However, marketers agree that there are some general boundaries that a white paper should stay within. By not following the suggested guidelines, the intended audience may be confused and your brand may lose credibility. Fortunately, there are only a few fundamentals to keep in mind.

Structure: The order is as follows: title page, table of contents, introduction, presentation of the issue, the solution, and conclusion. While you don’t need to include an executive summary, you can as it’s usually helpful in understanding the paper as a whole.

Length: White papers can be pretty lengthy. While it shouldn’t be shorter than 5 or 6 pages, it shouldn’t be longer than 50 pages. The length will depend on your subject matter. Regardless, feel free to use as many pictures, graphics, charts, and references as necessary.

Format: White papers are typically in a PDF format and in portrait orientation.

The document should have a serious tone and be well written and edited. You can have a little fun with the design, fonts, colors, and images. Again, the overall look shouldn’t be overwhelming, but it’s acceptable to spruce it up.

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