How to write a white paper

When companies shop for new, complex and expensive technology or services, they want valuable education, not blatant sales pitches, to help them make their choices. Create a solid foundation for your relationship with them. Give them a white paper.

These educational essays can offer explanations, analysis, advocacy, or a mix of the three. While white papers can be used in many industries, the information technology industry seems to use them most. That’s likely because white papers may arguably be the best tools available for explaining offerings that are new, complex and expensive.

To download a sample white paper, click here.

Sample structure

Here is a basic structure that you can use to organize a white paper

Title page

Associate your company brand with the ideas in the paper here. Include contact information for both media and sales prospects.

Executive summary

Offer a brief overview of the paper. Since it is a summary, many writers start with the body, write the conclusion and then draft a summary.

Body sections

White papers need be no longer than eight pages, but even at that length they can seem dense if you don’t break the main part into sections.

Conclusion/Summary

Recap the main points of your paper, then lead the reader to conclusions that those main points lead to. This is the one area of the white paper where readers tolerate a soft sales pitch.

Glossary

If you need to use words that your target audience might not understand, list definitions after the main body of the text.

Appendices

Few people have the patience to read long papers. If your paper surpasses ten pages, consider tightening its focus and either eliminating certain elements or moving them into appendices.

Tips

  • There are many different types of white papers. The structure you choose may differ from the one presented depending on the paper’s objectives.
  • Newspapers and magazines put text in columns to make feature articles easier to read. Consider doing the same for readers of your white paper.
  • Offer your white paper as a free download – in exchange for the ’downloader’s contact information and a quick explanation of the reasons why the person wants to read this paper.
  • If you want to draw comparisons, don’t just write more paragraphs. Break up the text with easy-to-understand tables, charts and other graphical elements.
  • Avoid the hard sell at all costs. Readers tire quickly of that, and they turn to white papers for less-biased information. Given that you’ve created your product to solve the issue you explore in the white paper, the hard sell should not be necessary.

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