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What is a White Paper?

More and more, I’m seeing jobs pop up for clients looking for white papers. But what is a white paper? Why do clients want them? And, most importantly, how do you write them?

A white paper can be relatively short, at just a few pages, or extremely long, containing many chapters. While governments and organizations use white papers regularly, when a client requests a white paper, it is typically to use as a marketing tool. White papers become a way for them to sell products or services.

Think of a white paper as a report, so it is more official than a guide or ebook. It argues a specific position, and for businesses, that usually means using a specific product, service, or technique. White papers are opinionated to be sure, but should stay away from subjective opinions as much as possible and instead be rooted in facts.

For example, let’s say you are approached by a client who wants a white paper to promote their new social media services. Rather than writing a pure sales piece explaining the features they can provide, your white paper should focus on the “why” - what proof do you have that these services are best and how can they help the reader? A white paper should always attempt to solve a problem for the reader.

You can - and should - charge more money for a white paper (per page) than you do for an article. Why? Because even if you know a lot about the topic, a white paper requires as much research as possible. You need to support your argument with studies, academic research, polls, and other forms of proof - and if none exists, that might me conducting your own research or working with a client to gather the statistics you need to write a valid white paper.

Want more information on white papers? Here are some great resources:

  • White Paper: Purpose and Audience from Purdue OWL
  • How to Write a White Paper: A White Paper on White Papers from Michael Stelzner
  • White Paper Best Practices for B2B Public Relations from B2B Bliss

Got a favorite white paper resource? Leave a comment below with the link!


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