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White Paper: How to Write It and What Is It For?

Posted by
Julia in Technical Writing on 3/30/20227 min read

woman in white pointing at document

Imagine a business with a complex product or, rather, a program, a system, or an idea which is hard to grasp at once. The target audience will need time to understand all the details, and it will take marketers quite long to persuade the potential clients to switch to a new product. A white paper is a solution that will ‘cut a long story short’: it will eliminate all the questions, which might arise on the clients’ part, and, at the same time, highlight the strengths of the product in question.

What Is White Paper?

A white paper can be published in the form of a report or guide that addresses a particular topic, for example, helps readers understand an issue, make a decision, or solve a problem. Still, this white paper definition does not make it clear what kind of document it is and what makes it different from guides, instructions, or technical specifications.

To better define a white paper, let’s have a closer look at the issue. While a guide, an instruction, or a specification cover all the possible features and technical parameters of a product not focusing on anything special, a white paper is developed to cover a very specific problem which is usually formulated in the title.

For example, it can be titled ‘How to Choose an Expensive Swiss Watch,’ and, formally, it is not an advertisement or a marketing material of any kind, as it does not mention any specific brand or push the reader to go to a certain boutique. Neither is it a guide nor a specification as it does not cover all the technical details. It just explains to the reader how to tell an authentic watch from a high-quality replica or a fake.

Actually, this is the question all potential buyers of luxury watches ask themselves quite often. This question makes them hesitate and take a long time before making a purchase. A white paper can help them find the necessary answers.

White Paper Purpose

Though a white paper is not positioned as a marketing tool, it is definitely in the arsenal of a marketer. Its difference from other marketing documents is formal as it focuses on facts and evidence, and not on why people should buy a car or a toaster.

Let’s have a look at another white paper example from the field of IT. Imagine that your product is an app for ordering and managing credit cards that looks like a platform integrating many credit companies and potential clients. The app has a client interface where all the cards owned by a person are displayed and can be managed. It also has a credit company interface which looks like a stock exchange where the companies can see requests from potential clients and make offers. As a result, the client gets a card at the best possible terms, and the company gets a new client.

However, the idea of the app might seem too complex for investors, banks, and clients. In this case, a white paper will be the best solution. It will explain how the app works and what its advantages for the stakeholders are. The document can be titled ‘Seven Steps to Launch Your Card on the Online Market’ or ‘How to Order a Card from Home,’ etc.

Anyway, the purpose of the white paper will be the same as any marketing tool, that is increasing the target audience, attracting new clients and investors, and, finally, making a profit.

White Paper vs. Research Paper

A white paper is a very special marketing tool without the standard marketing techniques. In the case of a white paper, there is no positioning on the market or comparison with competitors, which are characteristic of PR and advertising.

The same applies to the language. A white paper does not speak the language of advertising. You will never hear ‘We are number one on the market’ or anything of the kind. Instead, the white paper format provides the reader with an in-depth analysis of an issue or problem.

White papers imitate the language of research papers. Like on Discovery Channel, they mimic the behavior of other species. This makes white papers more competitive and increases their chances for survival (practice shows that most advertising handouts end up in the litter bin without being read).

However, the issues addressed in research papers are of more abstract nature. They rarely give answers to questions starting with ‘How to…?’ This is mostly because they are not aimed at marketing a product or making a profit.

team laughing

White Paper vs. Case Study

On the other hand, a white paper might look very close to a case study. It is true to the extent that a case study is a research method that includes a detailed examination of a study subject. However, there are some differences. A case study is always based on the personal experience of the writer or a ‘real case from life.’ Another feature is that it often implies some chronology or a ‘linear’ approach to writing. In other words, a case study is rather a story than a research article. It is often related to the first person and is based on life experience.

White Paper vs. Green Paper

You can come across this opposition in politics. In this field, a white paper means a project of some act or bill with a thorough analysis of its impact on politics and economics. It is almost a final version of the document issued to gauge public opinion.

A green paper describes the prehistory of the issue, its development, all the pros and cons, as well as the public discourse around it. The paper is usually published for internal use.

White Paper Structure

If a white paper is based on a research paper format, it usually includes a title page, table of contents, short executive summary, introduction, body with solutions, and a conclusion. It can also feature images, charts, and diagrams.

Another case is when the format of the white paper is based on a newspaper report. In this case, the white paper structure will be different. The text will be shorter and consist of the traditional headline, lead (a short paragraph under the headline containing the gist of the story), introduction, body text, and conclusion.

How to Write White Paper?

To write a really useful white paper, a technical writer should have a profound knowledge of the product, issue, or problem that has to be solved. Prior to starting writing, the author should ask him(her)self a question about how to create a white paper that will be a success. To answer this question, one should formulate the problem, and this problem should be reflected in the title as it is the most captivating and attractive element of any text. If the title is ‘eye-catching,’ the whole text will be read by the target audience. If it is not, the document will be discarded.

A table of contents is important if the document is long. It helps the reader navigate through the text and find the necessary information. A short summary will help the reader understand if this document is really what is needed.

The body text should contain a description of the solutions offered. If it is a guide on choosing an authentic wristwatch, the body text should describe all the features of the ‘right’ watch and methods of checking the authenticity.

ClickHelp provides lots of features that will help a technical writer or a whole team of authors to create a white paper that sells. ClickHelp authoring tool is based on structured authoring and single sourcing. It ensures the same format of texts and links the terminology used in the white paper with the terms from the previous texts making the whole document base unified and consistent. ClickHelp also ensures the distribution of roles between the writers allowing several authors to work on the same project without a negative impact on the overall style and formatting.

White Paper Example

On October 31, 2008, a person or group of people under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto published The Bitcoin White Paper on metzdowd.com's Cryptography Mailing List. The nine-page white paper described how the peer-to-peer payment system worked, which subsequently revolutionized the world of financial technology. The document, titled ‘Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System’, foresaw the need for a new payment system. The document was designed so as to describe the main features of the new ‘currency,’ such as the ability to make online transfers without having to use the banks as intermediaries. Other content described the original plan and protocol for Bitcoin, as well as the role of digital signatures and the ‘third party’ as a guarantor.

White Paper Distribution

The best way of distribution is directly to the stakeholders. This is due to the fact that the product or issue described are often of a complex nature, so people should be really interested in this field, otherwise they will just overlook the text.

team working

Conclusion

White paper can spawn a new business especially when there is a complex idea behind it. This idea has to be explained to the potential customers, and a white paper is the best solution for it as it will give the readers all the necessary information without the hype and buzz of the typical marketing documents.

Good luck with your technical writing!
ClickHelp Team
Author, host and deliver documentation across platforms and devices

 

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