With different industries using different styles for their white papers, it is difficult to put together one guide to the correct white paper format. Generally, these documents are at least six pages long. But other than that white paper formats vary widely, especially between industries. However, there are certain common practices in three different industries that I wanted to let you in on.
Governmental and Technical White Paper Format
Start with a cover page. The title should clearly state what the white paper is about. Some writers also include an executive summary of the paper on the title page. The executive summary is a paragraph that is no more than 250 words that sum up the paper. It is completely up to you if you want to include it, but providing a nice, concise summary can help your readers by giving them a guidepost to the rest of the piece.
In many cases, especially if this is a governmental white paper, the agency you are working for already has a published guideline as to what should be on the cover page and the rest of the layout of the white paper. Of course, you will want to use those guidelines if they exist.
Your next page should be the table of contents. Governmental and technical white papers tend to be lengthy so it’s a good idea to give the reader quick reference points to each major part of your paper.
The table of contents should be followed by the body of the paper. Start with an introductory paragraph that outlines the issue(s) to be discussed.
After the introductory paragraph, you should discuss the problem that is being addressed. Whether it is a social issue, a legislative issue, or an issue with a product, the first part of your paper should be an in-depth discussion of the issue that prompted the paper in the first place.
The second part of the white paper should be the solution to the issue. It should be clear and concise and give the reader confidence in your solution.
At the end of the paper, include a conclusion that sums up the problem and solution. You will also want to cite additional resources after the conclusion.
Business White Paper Format
First, remember that a business white paper is a marketing tool. It falls somewhere between a technical white paper and a marketing brochure. Keep that in mind as you proceed.
Start with a title page but make it a good one. The title you pick is key to grabbing the reader’s attention, but keep it short. Feel free to use lots of graphics and cool layouts to make it eye-catching.
If your white paper is more than ten pages or so, you will probably want to make the second page a table of contents. This will give the reader a quick reference to the parts of your paper that they may be most interested in.
The next page should start with an introductory paragraph that sets up the problem the paper is going to address. This should really grab the reader’s attention and make them want to read more.
After the introductory paragraph, the first part of the body should give the background of the problem and outline the problem itself. Use lots of graphs, charts, and pictures to really punch it up.
Follow this with the solution to the problem. Of course, the solution to the problem is always your product. What a coincidence! Show how your product will solve the issue, and make the world a better place in general. Again, don’t be shy about using graphics to illustrate your ideas.
The general layout of the body of the paper really has no specific guidelines. You can be as creative as you want. Wrap text around graphs, use double columns, use one column to display a picture, whatever you want. Go crazy with the white paper format here, but not to the point of distracting the reader. Remember, this is an authoritative document and should still look professional.
At the end of the paper, you may want to include an optional conclusion that sums up the problem and solution. You will also want to cite additional resources and most importantly, your company’s contact information.
Keep an eye out for future posts on how to write a white paper, as well as examples to get you started!