How to Write a White Paper

White papers are a great way to establish yourself as an authority in your industry and consistently drive high-quality leads to your business. In this article, we’re going to go over the basics of white papers, the different types, what they’re used for, and tips on how to write a good one.

What is a white paper?

A white paper (less commonly known as a “white book”) is a document that provides concise information to readers about complex topics. White papers often present statistics about industry topics to help readers understand issues, and the data surrounding them so that they can make an informed decision on how to solve specific problems.

What is the purpose of a white paper?

In most cases, the purpose of a white paper is to advocate that a certain stance or solution to a problem is the best approach. White papers use data and studies to validate these stances and help users to make informed decisions to resolve these issues. White papers also help to drive leads for businesses. For example, a SaaS company may write a white paper surrounding the problem their SaaS solves such as managing large amounts of content. The idea here is that people will consider using their software after reading the white paper to solve the problem they’re troubled with. The same principle applies to an agency offering digital service, or any other product or service that solved an important problem.

Types of white papers

The majority of white papers are for business to business (B2B). There are three main types of white papers in B2B—backgrounders, numbered lists, and problem/solution white papers. Here’s the difference between each type.

1. The backgrounder

A backgrounder white paper provides an extensive discussion of the benefits of products or services. Backgrounders are usually aimed at B2B prospects that are near the bottom of a sales funnel, meaning they are already warm and closer to actually buying a product or service. It’s the last bit of convincing needed before they make a buying decision.

2. The numbered list

Numbered list white papers provide simple and easy tips on a certain issue for quick reading. It’s comparable to a listicle article that condenses resolutions to problems in a bite-size and skimmable format. While the information of a numbered list white paper may very well be detailed and technical, it is formatted in a way that’s easy to read quickly.

3. Problem/solution

A problem/solution white paper provides value by outlining a specific industry problem. This white paper will then discuss all the existing solutions, the pros, and cons of these solutions, and finally, an improved and original approach that is a superior solution to contemporary ones.

How to select a white paper topic

Choosing a topic for your white paper is important. No matter what type of white paper you’re writing, you should be aiming to provide a solution to a problem. So start with that. Who’s the ideal target audience you’re writing for? What problems are these people faced with that you can resolve? Be sure to get very specific about who it is you’re targeting. The more specific and detailed you can be the better.

Once you know exactly who it is you’re targeting and the problems they have, start looking at competitors. What type of white papers are your competitors creating? Which ones are getting the most attention and engagement? Lastly, can you think of improved solutions that your competitors are offering?

Once you’ve given thought to all the above, start to map everything out in a mind map or any other way that you can best visually all the information you have and narrow everything down to a single topic that you think will work best for your audience and business.

White paper format

White papers generally have a similar format to other business documents. They usually have a conclusion at the end of the document, they’re often in PDF format so that they can be downloaded as lead magnets, and usually have colorful graphics for data visualization and crisp high-quality images to capture attention.

The format of your white paper will change depending on the type of white paper you’re writing and other factors. There’s no rule, so don’t get too strung up on getting formatting “right”. Here’s a common white paper format that will work well.

Write a strong title

A strong title is important. Good titles are concise, enticing, and accurately describe what the reader will get from reading your paper. The title should get people excited that they’ll find solutions to their problems by reading the white paper. 

Avoid using “white paper” your title. You can if you want, but there are more compelling terms that are less dry and bland such as “special report” or an “industry study”. For example, you can refer to your white paper as “A Special Report for Content Marketers in the Finance Industry”

Abstract

The abstract is an opportunity for the reader to read a concise overview of the white paper’s main points. A good abstract is an overview of the issue at hand. Someone should be able to read the abstract and then describe to someone else what the white paper is about. But they shouldn’t know the answer to the solution just yet. Don’t reveal too much, but provide enough information and background to keep the reader interested.

Problem statement

The problem statement very concisely describes the main issue the white paper will address. Try to get this down to one clear sentence in an easy-to-understand way. After reading the problem statement and the abstract the reader should have a clear understanding of the topic at hand and the primary problem that’s going to be solved. 

Background

The background section provides needed context about the topic at hand, perhaps some history on the topic too. If you’re conducting original research for your white paper, then in this section, or following this section you’ll want to include a “methods” section after the background section, similar to a scientific paper where you outline the research methods used to gather your data.

Solution

The solution is what people have been waiting for. The solution is based on all of the preceding information where you’ve outlined an overview of the topic, the issue and problem at hand, perhaps other failed attempts at resolving the problem. Now is your chance to outline your specific solution to the problem using the data and research you’ve gathered.

Conclusion

After you’ve discussed the solution, it’s time to write a conclusion. This section summarizes the findings of the white paper, the implications of the solution, and recommendations based on the solution are provided (which could be a call to action for your offering).

References

All good white papers back up statements with statistics from primary sources. Include a reference list that allows readers to easily access the sources you’ve cited. This will add credibility to your document and help your readers out. How you cite is up to you, but usually, there is a trend within an industry you can follow, such as MLA or APA citation styles. There’s no right or wrong.

10 tips for writing a white paper

Writing a white paper isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. While there is no ‘ideal’ way to write a white paper, here are some tips that will help out!

  • Choose a topic people care about. The biggest mistake is to spend all of those grueling hours writing a white paper on a topic that people don’t actually care about and won’t engage with. Write about a topic and problem that people care about and need solutions for. 
  • Keep it professional. White papers aren’t conversational and opinionated, they’re data-driven, concise, and descriptive following a standard business writing style. This doesn’t mean it has to be bland and overly ‘academic’, but it should generally be written in a professional manner.
  • Write a strong introduction. Your introduction is only a small part of your white paper, but it’s incredibly important. The intro is the first thing people read after your title, and so it should engage the reader and pique their interest to read more.
  • Write first, edit later. This is entirely personal preference, but generally, it’s best to write your draft and worry about editing later. Outline your white paper into sections and then write a draft for each section. Once you’ve written a draft, then you can re-write and edit it.
  • Write an outline. Similar to writing a blog post, it helps to create an outline first. This not only includes the big subheadings such as “abstract” or “conclusion”, but smaller sub-sections within each main subheading. Writing an outline helps you stay on point and prevents you from going off tangent. 
  • Proofread. Once you’ve written your white paper, it’s time to go through and check for spelling, grammar, factual errors, and logical inconsistencies. You can hire a professional editor to do this as it’s generally better to have a fresh pair of eyes look over your work.
  • End with a CTA. Your white paper should be leading to a product or service that helps solve the problem your target audience is having. End with a strong call to action (CTA) so that you can turn readers into warm leads for what you’re offering.
  • Avoid being salesy. Your white paper isn’t a landing page. The vast majority of the focus of your white paper should be presenting engaging data-driven information, not sell, sell, sell. The call to action at the end will suffice for this purpose after you’ve provided value.
  • Design it well. A white paper is not just about the writing. Your white paper PDF should also be beautifully designed. Visualize the data of studies and use high-quality images to engage readers. Select a readable font, spacing, and font size. Ensure the layout of your white paper is organized and user-friendly.
  • Cite high-quality studies. There’s no “rule” in terms of how often you make citations, but understand that a more comprehensive and well-researched white paper will likely have more references. This undoubtedly increases the reader’s confidence in what you’re saying.

The bottom line

White papers are a great way to provide solutions to complex issues for your target audience. A high-quality white paper can send you high-quality leads for years. 

While white papers are effective, they shouldn’t exist in isolation. To get the most out of a white paper, it should exist in an ecosystem of content for your brand, including blog posts, email sequences, and landing pages. A white paper should be one part of your content marketing strategy.

You can always use our white paper writing services if you want a professional white paper done for you.

Don’t forget to share this article!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Related articles