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White Paper

White Paper: Brief Summary

A white paper is an in-depth report or document, which aims to inform readers about a specific topic, with a view to explaining the publishing body’s stance on the matter and convincing those who read it to adopt the same stance. In most cases, white papers are produced by businesses as a piece of marketing literature, promoting specific products, services or methodologies by suggesting they are part of the solution to a problem.

Generally, a white paper will present researched facts and information, as well as persuasive language and arguments, in order to build a case which is favourable towards the publishing body, its products, services, viewpoints or processes. In many ways, white papers can be described as a problem-solving guide. However, they are designed to function as a pre-sale marketing document, rather than a post-sale user guide.

White Paper: Detailed Summary

The term ‘white paper’ is believed to originate from the United Kingdom, with the British government using white papers as policy documents, explaining a particular political stance or solution before new legislation is introduced. This is a practice which continues to this day, with the publishing of a new white paper intending to set out the government’s stance, while encouraging an exchange of information and inviting other insights.

Nevertheless, since the 1990s, the term has been more commonly associated with marketing literature produced by businesses. White papers are particularly common in business-to-business (B2B) marketing in the UK and elsewhere, although they are used by many other companies too, and serve to put forward a business’ case and persuade readers of the value of a particular solution. In addition, a key aim of most white papers is to generate sales leads.

For this reason, white papers are often published to coincide with the release of a new product or the launch of a new service. They tend to have a very serious tone and are quite dense in factual information, meaning they are less flashy and obviously promotional than literature like brochures, leaflets, or website product descriptions.

Benefits of white papers over other marketing literature include the ability to go into greater depth and the ability to establish the publishing body or author as a thought leader within their particular industry or area of expertise. White papers are also an example of content marketing and can serve to increase the visibility of the company or website that has produced the paper in search engine results pages.

White papers are often read by those with some existing knowledge of the type of product, service, legislation or process being promoted, or the topic being described. As a result, they are more technical than other forms of content marketing, such as blog posts or ebooks, and readers expect information to be backed by solid research, with accurate references. A glossary may be provided to cater to those who are less familiar with the topic.

Within the corporate world, white papers are most commonly shared online, where they are often published as PDF files. In many cases, before they are able to download and read the document, users are asked to provide contact information. This technique has emerged as a very effective way of generating sales leads, because the act of downloading the document shows an existing interest in the topic at hand.

Types of White Paper

It is generally accepted that there are four main types of white paper, which each type presenting information in a different way and serving a slightly different purpose. With that being said, it is worth noting that different white paper types can occasionally be combined together, in order to serve multiple functions or present a more robust case. The four main types of white paper are as follows:

Government White Paper – Published in order to present government policy preferences, while also inviting opinions and scrutiny from other politicians and the general public. A government white paper will clearly set out the government’s stance, but can be considered something of a consultation, rather than a firm commitment.

Backgrounder White Paper – A commercial white paper, published by a business in order to outline the technical features of a particular business offering. These documents will usually focus on the benefits of a product, service or process and will supplement its launch or introduction into the marketplace.

Problem/Solution White Paper – This type of white paper outlines a common business problem or challenge, before presenting a proposed solution, usually in the form of a company’s products or services. Problem/solution papers are very effective at helping to establish authors as thought leaders within their field.

Numbered List White Paper – An informal type of white paper, which highlights a set of questions, tips or points. Numbered list papers are especially good at introducing new or controversial insights, or attracting attention. They can be used within other white papers or on their own and can also disseminate negative views about competitors.

Structure or Layout

Most white papers follow a fairly similar structure and layout, and the focus is on presenting accurate research and a compelling argument, rather than a flashy design. Papers typically start with a title page, followed by a brief summary section. Then, they either outline a problem or business issue and present the solution, or outline the technical features of a new product or service, highlighting its key benefits along the way.

White papers often end with a conclusion, followed by information about the publishing body or business and the paper’s author(s). A typical white paper is published online, usually as a PDF document which is made available for download, although hard copies can be made. They are almost always text-heavy documents, presented in a portrait layout. A list of any external sources used during the research is usually provided, adding to the paper’s credibility.

Although they can vary in length, it is usually recommended that a white paper is at least six pages long, with 2,500 words often cited as a good minimum length. The majority of white papers will exceed this, but they should usually be kept to less than 50 pages. In addition to an academic style of writing, graphs and charts are often used as evidence and a glossary may be added in order to make the content more accessible.

Conclusion

A white paper is an informative document, which is usually published with the intention of outlining particular stance and persuading readers to adopt the same viewpoint. They may explain a particular problem, describe a possible solution and/or summarise the benefits of a business offering. While the term originates from government policy papers, which are still used, it now more commonly refers to marketing material published by businesses.

In comparison to other types of promotional literature, white papers tend to have a more academic style and focus on presenting high-quality research and factual information. Most white papers are offered as online downloads, although they can be published in physical form. In addition to serving as a piece of content marketing, this type of document has the added benefit of helping to establish a particular business or author as an expert in their field.

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