How to write a White Paper

When you write for greatcontent, there's a good chance you will see orders from clients requiring you to create white papers for their businesses. These documents are becoming increasingly common as more companies seek to promote their expertise, and they demand specific writing skills that other texts do not.

So, before you put pen to paper, it's important to understand what these documents are and what they are not. That way, you can be in a great position to write the kind of fluent, well-informed, effective white papers that clients demand...

What is white paper writing?

Let's start with a quick definition: a white paper is an extended document (usually 5-15 pages) which describes a specific problem and offers a company’s expert solution to this issue in the form of a unique product or service.


However, white papers do vary. In the tech industry, they could be highly detailed analyses of network architecture challenges, for example. Marketers could write white papers about how to maximise Google AdSense revenues in their white papers, while catering suppliers might write in depth about treatments of utensils in theirs.


Whatever the subject matter, white papers aren't sales pitches. Instead, they promote the expertise of the companies or individuals behind them, providing information which prompts readers to engage with the publisher or share the document within their network.


How do White Papers differ from Ebooks?

So, white papers aren't sales pitches, and they certainly aren't Ebooks, either. For one thing, white papers are shorter than Ebooks, and they also tend to be written in a more technical, fact-based style. They are tightly focused on a single problem instead of dealing with general subjects, and they are usually written with a specific audience in mind -- often professionals in the field relating to the subject matter.


Ebooks don't have to be any of those things. Typically, they will be wider-ranging, offering guides about general subjects, while their content will be more straightforward and made to be accessible to the broadest possible audience.


Now we're a little clearer about the nature of white papers, let's try to tease out some of the things to remember when writing these important texts.


How to prepare for writing a white paper

The first step when writing a white paper is simple: research, research, have a cup of coffee, and then do a little more research. Bob Dylan once sang "I know my song well before I start singing", and that's something that all white paper writers should bear in mind.


Good white papers are full of data, but only relevant data. If they quote 100 statistics, the writer has probably considered 500 and picked the right stats for their argument. The deeper your research, the better your document will be, it's as simple as that.


Even if you know your field inside-out, you'll also come across other ways experts have tackled your white paper topic. You can learn from their explanations (and mistakes) and work out how to make your text even more useful to your audience.


So, to reiterate: researching your subject comes first -- and then you can move onto the structure.


What is the structure of a white paper?

One of the things that characterises white papers is that they (almost always) stick to a certain structure, which goes more or less as follows:


1. Introduction

All white papers need to be formally introduced. This isn't a long section -- a paragraph or so will do just fine. Use the intro to briefly outline the problem to be solved and why readers should continue to read. Promise value here without overselling what you have to offer.


2. Setting up the problem

The next section must explain what problem you are solving and why it matters in more detail. This has to be technically well-informed, but it also needs to resonate with readers' emotions. They need to feel like you have the answers to an issue that matters.


3. Provide an answer

The bulk of your white paper will provide a very clear solution to the problem laid out in the earlier sections. This will tend to involve a discussion of alternative solutions (for example, those offered by competitors) followed by an explanation of your solution. Avoid sales language here. Just explain your solution as clearly and comprehensively as possible.


4. The pay off

After the solution has been explained, follow up with an explanation of how it will benefit the readers. Back up any benefits with hard data, and avoid hyperbole such as "revolutionary advantages” or "seismic changes". Research-based data about the benefits of what you have to offer is all that's required.


5. Conclusion

At the end of the white paper, briefly sum up what you have written, reiterating the problem, the solution, and the benefits. This section needs to ensure that readers retain the information you have conveyed, so it's highly important. As with all elements of a white paper, stick to low-key, accurate language, but don't be afraid to add a call-to-action.


How long does a white paper need to be?

That depends. If you are presenting a complex subject, white papers can stretch to 25 or even 50 pages. But, mostly, they range between 5 and 15 pages. As a rule, they have to cover everything required to offer a solution -- so length is less important than content.


Mastering the white paper tone and style

Getting the white paper format right is just a first step -- if only writing were as easy as cramming X number of words into a structure! When turning your expertise into an effective white paper, you also need to find the right style and tone if you want to capture the attention of your readership.

For starters, strike a balance between technical language and accessibility. While white papers must be technically informative and accurate, they also have to be engaging and clearly written. Remember, you aren't writing a manual. You are trying to explain a complex issue in ways that your audience can understand.


Secondly, consistency is essential. Don't adopt a humorous tone in the intro then lapse into technical jargon for the body. As a brand or business, you should have a ‘voice’ which governs your external communications. Apply this uniformly throughout your white paper.


It's also vital to adopt a positive, problem-solving tone. From the start, readers need to know that you are providing them with a solution. Focus their attention on what you can do for them and how you can improve their lives. Reserve any negativity for the competition, but even then, make sure to take any counter-arguments seriously, and be fair when comparing your company's solution to others.


Focus on research, relevance, and expertise to create the perfect white paper

White papers are an excellent tool for communicating with B2B customers, positioning organisations as expert influences, and generating organic traffic for business websites -- so it's understandable that they are becoming popular with greatcontent's clients.


By now, you should have the confidence and knowledge to write a high-quality white paper if required. With proper research, the right structure, and the use of an appropriate style for your audience, you can produce texts that engage readers from start to finish.


However, before you begin, it's vital to remember that you can't cut corners. White papers demand a high level of quality and care -- which is precisely why clients have chosen our platform to create their documents.