What Is a White Paper, and Why Does Your Business Need One?

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Even if you’re a newcomer in the business world, you’ve probably heard of white papers, but you may not have a clear idea of what they are and how they work. A white paper can be a fantastic way to compile and disseminate information about your company, products, and services, but before you tackle such an ambitious project, take a few minutes to get familiar with this format. 

A white paper: definition and purpose

At its core, a white paper is an educational document that addresses a specific topic, offering deep insight and analysis of a complicated issue and any potential solutions. It is often educational in nature and replete with statistics and data. While white papers are used frequently in business, their purpose is to spread valuable information about a company or its initiatives, so promotional language has no place here.

Historically, the term “white paper” was used by government entities to assess the public’s attitude to proposed legislation. Nowadays, white papers are commonly utilized in the corporate and business spheres to describe an existing issue for consumers, examine their needs, and present a way to solve the problem. White papers typically lack the appeal of advertisements and are predominantly factual. 

A white paper can be instrumental in the growth of your company. While not promotional in nature, it serves to spread information and, consequently, awareness about your brand, products, and services, leading to greater interest and a larger customer base. If you’re unsure where to start, contact our business writing experts

It may be difficult to distinguish between white papers and blog posts, particularly if you’re new to the world of business. While there are certain similarities and both are considered forms of marketing collateral, white papers differ from blog posts in a number of ways. Here are some of the key differences:

  • Function: Blog posts offer a more casual, engaging way to promote your brand and attract patrons. White papers, on the other hand, are used in a more formal manner to present factual information about your products and services—the goal is to provide truthful and accurate data, not shove your brand in the reader’s face.
  • Platform: A fresh blog post will complement previous posts you’ve published on your website or other platforms, while a white paper is a single, independent document that can be distributed on its own. 
  • Tone: Similar to the divergence in function, a blog post is usually less formal in tone, with considerable leeway for your unique voice to emerge. A white paper should be far more formal and professional-sounding—this helps establish objectivity and credibility. 
  • Word count: Since white papers are laden with research and factual information, they typically contain up to 5,000 words. By contrast, blog posts are much snappier and shorter, rarely exceeding 2,500 words—in fact, they’re often below 1,000 words. 

What purpose do white papers serve? In the world of business, they are used to promote a company’s products or services and attract new patrons, partners, and investors. Ideally, a white paper presents an objective and detailed exploration of a topic relevant to the company’s industry and offers specific methodology and solutions to address an existing issue. It should never feel like an advertisement, but it should, of course, paint your company in a favorable light, particularly as an important contributor to the solution.

White papers can benefit businesses by opening up a line of communication between them and the general public, thus allowing for increased connectivity and the potential to grow their customer numbers. White papers are also a superb way to spread detailed, fact-based information about issues a company is tackling, which can not only help consumers understand the problems and solutions but also boost the trustworthiness and credibility of the brand.

Types of white papers

There are three distinguishable types of white papers. 

  1. Numbered lists: These summarize the key features of a given product or service by condensing the primary attributes into a numbered list. The information about the product or service should be objective and factual, never slipping into marketing copy.
  1. Backgrounders: These focus on describing the technical properties of a given product or service. In this type of white paper, you must carefully consider your target audience—if the document is too technical, they won’t understand it, and if it’s oversimplified, they may not be able to derive much value from the information.
  1. Problem/solution papers: These address a specific problem for consumers and offer a solution. The solution, of course, should be related to the company’s products or services but must still be presented in an objective way.

Writing a white paper

An effective white paper is carefully researched, accessible to readers, and rich in insights that a Google search wouldn’t necessarily yield. The guide below breaks down the process of writing a white paper into five basic steps.

  1. Select your subject matter and conduct rigorous research. The research is particularly vital as it will allow you to not only better formulate your views on the topic but also back up your assertions with evidence. 
  1. Prepare an outline. This will help you finalize the structure of your white paper before developing the body. If you jump straight into writing, you may find yourself wasting significant amounts of time on revisions, which you could have avoided with a good outline.
  1. Craft an engaging introduction. The introduction is extremely important since it’s the first point of contact with your audience. It should hook readers and persuade them to keep going. If you botch the introduction, they may not read any further.
  1. Organize the layout to make your white paper as readable as possible. Using lists and incorporating images can enhance accessibility and comprehension. 
  1. Edit your white paper. Revise, refine, and polish. After a few rounds of self-editing, hand it over to a professional editor for a deep dive—they’ll be able to catch all sorts of errors you overlooked. 

Writing a white paper is a major undertaking, but the time and effort invested are more than worth it. With a white paper, not only can you attract new customers, but you can ensure that people receive high-quality, well-researched content that also happens to work in favor of your brand. If you have no experience writing white papers, reach out to our business writing specialists to get all the support you need! 

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