What Is a Whitepaper?
Unlike traditional marketing channels, white paper writing extends beyond persuasive techniques. Originating as official government reports and technical writing, these marketing tools have long since left the oval office and become solutions-based research to advocate for a product or service.
Whitepapers are well-researched fact-based advertisements on a specific topic. They are often considered gated content because they often require readers to sign up or fill out a form to access them. They are an essential part of a comprehensive content strategy.
Whitepapers may involve a deep dive into a company’s secret sauce, a thesis on the core tenets of the business or an evaluation of a given industry.
So, how do you craft an authoritative and persuasive marketing messaging strategy? We have you covered in this blog post.
What is a whitepaper, and what is its purpose?
When used in commercial settings, a whitepaper is an informational document shared by an organization for sales and marketing purposes. They’re often used in business-to-business (B2B content marketing) contexts.
While a whitepaper is geared toward marketing purposes, its primary goal is to inform a potential customer or target audience about something an organization wants to offer them, which can include:1
- Best practices
- Case study
- Thought leadership content
- Proposed solution to a problem
- Research results
Whitepapers are also commonly used to share findings after an organization has conducted original research in their industry. Essentially, a whitepaper presents an opportunity for your organization to share and display its expertise while establishing a sense of credibility with its readers.
A well-rounded white paper is able to balance subtly persuasive language (when appropriate) with factual evidence from reliable sources. In doing so, they establish the organization as an authoritative source.
Types of whitepapers
You have plenty of options when it comes to deciding how you want to organize a whitepaper. What’s most ideal for you will depend on the information you’re writing about and what your goal is.
The following frameworks are commonly used to write whitepapers for businesses and nonprofits:
- Technical or backgrounders – The backgrounder is arguably the most traditional type of whitepaper. The main goal is to explain a new or unfamiliar concept or technology to a particular audience—often one that has technical knowledge in the industry field. The paper may go further and outline the benefits of using said concept or technology.2
- Numbered lists – Numbered list whitepapers are appealing because they can break down concepts and processes into more easily digestible steps.
- Problems and solutions – A problem/solution whitepaper dissects a problem the intended audience faces, then uses persuasive elements supported by factual research to present them with solutions—ideally ones the organization can provide.
How to prepare a whitepaper
As you gear up to write your whitepaper, reading other whitepapers published within your industry will help you gain a sense of what consumers are looking for and how you can construct effective promotional and quality content.
Whitepapers often use an academic or authoritative tone that still aligns with your brand voice. For example, a company that sells outdoor gear with story-driven marketing campaigns would need to balance its narrative voice with an expert tone to formulate a successful and persuasive whitepaper that appeals to and informs its customer base.
To create a compelling whitepaper, heed the following:
- Research extensively – Essentially, white papers are research reports, with a persuasive twist. To maintain an authoritative tone, it’s critical to use reliable sources and cite them throughout. When looking for factual evidence to cite, try to go beyond what the customer would find on their own with a quick internet search. Instead, prioritize primary sources that provide first-hand knowledge of the topic you’re speaking to. If sources in your whitepaper are hyperlinked, be sure to include a list of them at the end of your paper for readers who might print out your report or read it offline.3
- Get visual – Make use of visual aids, like graphs or charts (when appropriate) to make the paper more visually appealing and more digestible for the audience. Graphics can improve the readability of your whitepaper and deepen the reader’s understanding of complex topics.4
- Prepare for the long haul – While the nature of the information you’re sharing will dictate your whitepaper’s length, most whitepapers fall between five and six pages, or just around 2,500 words.5
How to write a whitepaper
Once you’re ready to dive into the content, there are eight steps you’ll want to follow. Think of them as the yellow brick road of whitepapers.
Step 1: Identify the purpose and audience
Essentially, the purpose of a whitepaper is to influence the decision-making of prospective customers. To do that effectively, you’ll need to identify your audience and how to best appeal to their wants and needs.
To determine your scope, ask yourself questions like:
- What is the information that needs to be communicated?
- What problem does this product or service solve?
- What were the major findings in recent surveys/studies?
- Who is this being written for? What are their primary concerns and challenges? What’s appealing to them?
Honing on these specifics allows your business to speak directly to those most likely to be interested in—and benefit from—your product, service, or solution.
Step 2: Conduct your research
Once you’ve answered your “why’s” and your “who’s,” it’s time to take a deep dive into the research process and gather your “what’s”—also known as the material that will support your key arguments.
Identify your key sources—ideally primary ones—that support, expand upon, or provide vital background information pertaining to the topic of your whitepaper. This could include:
- Case studies
- Academic articles
Once you feel like you have enough information on your hands, you can also collect and build any relevant visual aids, like charts, graphs, or photos to supplement your research.
Step 3: Choose your framework and draft your outline
Once you know your purpose, audience and visual material, you can pick the whitepaper structure that’s the best fit for organizing your information.
Typically, you’ll want to include the following in the outline:
- Introduction – In the first section, you’ll provide a big-picture overview, or summary, of the topic and what you aim to explore.
- Background – The background will provide context for the topic you’re speaking to, identify a particular issue (if applicable) and provide evidence to support your findings or claims.
- Solution – Using well-conducted research, you’ll provide a solution to the problem that was introduced.
- Persuasion – For commercial organizations, an advertisement that aligns with your research will follow the solution proposition to inform the reader of a specific product, service, or value proposition.
- Conclusion – Provide one last summary of the information discussed to enhance your audience’s understanding.
- Sources – At the end of your whitepaper, you’ll cite your sources.
Step 4: Craft your introduction and conclusion
Plenty of how-to lists will place writing your introduction higher on this list, but hear us out—numerous changes can happen during the writing process, and introductions are often more effective, concise and informative when constructed around information that’s present within your whitepaper.
Once you know where your whitepaper’s path leads, you can then summarize your research, value propositions and product details in a final call-to-action. This must strike the perfect balance between persuasion and information to maintain the integrity of your document—a flashy endorsement can delegitimize the credibility of your whitepaper.
Step 5: Choose an eye-catching title
Once you know all your whitepaper’s contents, it’s time to pick a title that pulls readers in and helps them understand what they should expect to take away from reading it. It can also address the problem being discussed within the document.
Consider your brand voice and the key defining moments in your white paper as you look for title inspiration. Oftentimes, longer titles are most effective in grasping audience attention.
Step 6: Review, revise and repeat
As technical as it might be, writing a whitepaper is also a fluid and creative process. Once you’ve finished your first full draft, it’s beneficial to read through the whitepaper to ensure it serves its intended purpose and aligns with your brand voice.
While you revise, pay special attention to:
- Style and formatting
- Organization and flow
- Sources and visual aids
With each new read, you might find yourself bouncing back and forth between the steps above, and that’s okay—it’s part of the process. Once you’ve finished polishing your project, you can pass it on to other stakeholders for a final stamp of approval—or maybe just a few more tweaks.
Stakeholders can provide insight into certain aspects of your messaging and ensure it aligns with company values and expert knowledge.
Grow your marketing strategies with Power Digital
A whitepaper is a solutions-based document that promotes an organization’s offerings through in-depth research and persuasive voice. At Power Digital, we’re solutions-based, too.
Power Digital is a growth marketing firm and digital marketing agency that uses data-rich user insights to create a multi-channel marketing campaign that speaks to your company’s needs and brings brand awareness to your business.
- Purdue Online Writing Lab. White Paper: Organization and Other Tips. https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/subject_specific_writing/professional_technical_writing/white_papers/organization_and_other_tips.html
- Stanford University. Definitions of White papers, Briefing Books, Memos. http://law.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Definitions-of-White-Papers-Briefing-Books-Memos-2.pdf
- University of Massachusetts Lowell. White Paper Style Guide. https://libguides.uml.edu/whitepaper_style
- Investopedia. What Is a White Paper? https://www.investopedia.com/terms/w/whitepaper.asp
- Zapier. What is a whitepaper? And how to write one. https://zapier.com/blog/what-is-a-whitepaper/#definition
- Corporate Finance Institute. White Paper. https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/management/white-paper/
- Master Class. White Paper Guide: How to Write a White Paper. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/white-paper-guide#how-to-write-a-white-paper