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White Paper Style Guide

white paper is a research-based report which offers a focused description of a complex topic and presents the point of view of the author or body represented by the author.  The purpose of a white paper is to give readers understanding of an issue, which in turn helps them solve a problem or make a decision.

The term originated in Britain, where it refers to a type of government issued document. In a business context, the purpose of white papers has evolved to an aspect of marketing and is often used to persuade.

Key Characteristics of White Papers

White paper experts including Gordon Graham have identified these key characteristics for a white paper:

  • A document containing narrative text
  • At least 5-6 pages long
  • Oriented in portrait format (landscape format tends to be for B2B e-books)
  • Educational, practical and useful, not a sales pitch
  • Used before a sale, not after a sale
  • Provides facts, not just opinion
  • Includes an introduction or executive summary

If a document has all these characteristics, it’s probably a white paper

from "That White Paper Guy"

Purpose of White Papers

"The purpose of a white paper is to promote a certain product, service, technology or methodology, and to influence current and prospective customers' decisions. Many white papers are designed for B2B (business to business) marketing purposes, such as between a manufacturer and a wholesaler, or between a wholesaler and a retailer. The white paper is used to inform and persuade the other company that a certain offering (such as a product or technology) is superior for solving a particular business problem or addressing a certain challenge."

from Investopedia
Read more: White Paper

Countervailing View

"A whitepaper is a persuasive, authoritative, in-depth report on a specific topic that presents a problem and provides a solution.

Marketers create whitepapers to educate their audience about a particular issue or explain and promote a particular methodology. They're advanced problem-solving guides. Typically, whitepapers require at least an email address for download (usually they require information more than that), making them great for capturing leads."

A whitepaper is NOT:

"A product pitch.
Although Investopedia, [see above],defines a whitepaper as 'an informational document issued by a company to promote or highlight the features of a solution, product, or service', be warned that overtly shilling your own stuff could turn off your readers. The goal of a whitepaper is to inform and persuade based on facts and evidence, not tell the world why your product is the best and they need to buy it now."

from Hubspot