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How to Write a White Paper

If you’ve been following our past blog posts, you probably already know what a white paper is. In this post, we’ll explore how to write a white paper, with a focus on governmental, technical, and business white papers.

Common White Paper Elements

The term “white paper” was originally used as a label for official government reports. These government reports generally described a problem and then offered the solution. Of course, the governmental white paper was very long and very boring.

The tech industry then began using the term “white paper” to describe lengthy technical articles. These articles generally discussed a technical issue with a product and detailed the steps that had been taken in an attempt to solve the problem. Then, the software industry also began using the term. They would similarly use their white paper to discuss issues with a software program, as well as any potential solutions.

And most recently, the business world has begun using “white paper” as a marketing tool. It is a kind of hybrid between the old, boring report, and a marketing brochure. There is a big difference between a business white paper, and a governmental or technical white paper—it is quite fancy-schmancy!

As you’ve seen above, a white paper varies greatly between industries. However, there are some elements they have in common:

  • A piece of writing – typically a lengthy essay of at least six pages
  • Persuasive in nature
  • Presents a problem
  • Used to promote something – a product, service of some type, or an idea, viewpoint, or opinion
  • Uses facts, logic, and/or analysis
  • Comes up with a solution to the initially stated problem

How to Write a White Paper

Step 1: Before You Start

In order to know how to write a white paper, you need to know what you’re talking about, particularly if you are going to fill six or more pages on a topic. So do your research. Then do some more.

Then organize your research. What do you want to include, and what do you want to discard? Which facts tend to prove or disprove your point? Use those! If the facts you unearthed during your research do not tend to prove or disprove your point – discard them. Organize the remaining points in a logical progression, and now you are on your way.

Keep in mind that you will want to fill your white paper with lots of facts, figures, and graphs. Include anything that can be used to support your analysis of the problem as well as the solution.

Step 2: Know Your Audience

In order for your white paper to serve its purpose, you need to know exactly who you are writing for, and why you are writing in the first place. Your audience has everything to do with the language and style you will use for your white paper.

So let’s take a look at who the audience is for the three major categories of white paper.

Governmental Audience

When you are writing a governmental style white paper you will want to use a very professional writing style. Your grammar should be immaculate and you should write in the third person. And if you use any governmental terms or acronyms, they should be explained.

Your audience for the governmental style of white paper are people who are deeply interested in a specific topic. They want to know the pros, the cons, and everything in between as it relates to the government. They are likely lawyers or other such professionals who are accustomed to lengthy governmental reports. So this is one world wherein you don’t have to shy away from lengthy sentences and paragraphs if you don’t want to!

Technical Audience

For the more technical style of white paper, your audience is generally the user of your product. This means they are familiar not only with the product but with the industry itself. Therefore, they will likely understand industry-specific terms and phrases. So know the jargon, and feel free to use it whenever necessary.

In a technical white paper, your reader is likely using your product and is familiar with your industry. This gives you a common ground with your reader, so you can use a combination of second and third person narrative. This will give your white paper a more familiar feel that will positively impact your reader.

Business Audience

A business white paper is basically a marketing tool. Therefore, you will want a much more relatable style, which is served well by using the second person narrative. Here, you’ll also want to avoid long and convoluted paragraphs. A good rule of thumb would be to stick with four or five sentences per paragraph.

The language you would use also really depends on your audience. As always, write to the educational level of your intended audience. Also, if you are writing to promote something within your specific industry, then feel free to use industry terms and abbreviations. However, if your audience is the general population then you need to shy away from industry jargon or abbreviations known only to insiders.

Now that you know the basics of how to write a white paper, you can now put these tips into practice. To help you get started, check out our posts on the correct format, as well as some examples to get you started.

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