TL;DR — A white paper helps you show expertise and solve problems for your audience. Know who you’re writing for and pick a topic that matters to them. Use research to back up your points. Make it look good and easy to read. And promote it through LinkedIn articles, email newsletters, social media, paid ads, and press releases. Get help with white paper writing from Column.
What is a white paper?
A B2B white paper, in its simplest form, is an informational document designed to educate and persuade readers about a specific topic.
You use a white paper to demonstrate your expertise, present a problem, and propose a solution.
It typically forms part of a content marketing strategy to build brand awareness and position you as an industry expert.
A white paper is not a sales pitch or a place for flashy marketing language.
It’s a place for thoughtful, well-researched, and detailed insights and knowledge.
Does your organization actually need a white paper?
White paper content creation can warrant a significant investment of time, resources, and expertise.
It’s essential to weigh the benefits against the costs.
If your organization is looking to establish itself as a thought leader in a specific industry or topic, here’s how a white paper can be invaluable:
- It can help you reach a target audience interested in in-depth, authoritative information.
- It can serve as a lead generation tool, attracting any potential customer seeking a solution to a specific problem.
If your target audience prefers other forms of content — like short articles, videos, or podcasts — then a white paper might not be the best fit.
When should you write a white paper?
The ideal time to write a white paper depends on various factors such as your marketing goals, industry trends, and customer needs.
Here are some scenarios when a white paper can be particularly effective:
- Product launch: If you’re launching a new product or service that requires some explanation or education.
- Industry changes: When there’s a significant change in your industry, like new regulations or emerging technologies.
- Customer needs: If you’ve identified a specific problem or need that your prospective customers have.
- Competitive edge: If you want to differentiate yourself from competitors.
White paper format: Top choices
White papers come in different flavors, each serving a specific purpose:
- Technical white paper: This type dives deep into the technical aspects of a product, service, or technology. It’s aimed at engineers, developers, and other technical professionals. It explains how something works, why it’s superior to other technologies, and how to implement it. Such technical writing may sometimes manifest as an academic white paper.
- Business benefits white paper: This type focuses on the business advantages of a product or service. It’s aimed at decision-makers like CEOs, managers, and other executives. It often uses case studies, data, and ROI calculations to make its case.
- Hybrid white paper: This type combines elements of both technical and business white papers. It offers a balanced view, providing technical details while also highlighting business benefits. This type is useful when you’re targeting a diverse audience that includes both technical and non-technical readers.
You might see other guides defining white paper examples like the ‘thought leadership white paper,’ ‘marketing white paper,’ ‘visionary white paper,’ or ‘market research white paper.’
This makes little sense. By definition, every white paper:
- Is thought leadership content marketing
- Sells the concept in a visionary way
- Incorporates market research
White paper length: Best practices
Q: How long should a white paper be?
A: As long as it should be, but typically 2,500 words and up.
The length of a white paper can vary widely depending on the topic, the audience, and the complexity of the subject matter.
Remember that a white paper’s primary goal is to provide in-depth, valuable information.
Here are some general guidelines on length:
- Technical white papers: These are often longer, ranging from 20 to 50 pages. They need to provide detailed technical information, specifications, and use-cases. The audience for these papers is usually technical experts who expect a deep dive into the subject.
- Business benefits white papers: These can be shorter, usually around 10 to 20 pages. They focus on presenting a problem and a solution, backed up by data and case studies. The audience here is decision-makers who need enough information to make business choices but don’t require extreme technical detail.
- Hybrid white papers: Since these papers serve a dual purpose, their length can vary widely. A good rule of thumb is to aim for a length that serves both the technical and business aspects adequately, which usually falls between 20 and 30 pages.
Regardless of the type, every white paper should be long enough to cover its topic comprehensively but concise enough to remain engaging.
If you can convey all the necessary information in 10 pages, there’s no need to stretch it out.
On the other hand, if you need 50 pages to do your topic justice, then don’t cut it short.
Remember, quality trumps quantity. Focus less on how many pages your white paper has, and more on how valuable those pages are to your readers.
White paper writing guidelines
Regardless of the type of white paper you’re writing, you’re essentially trying to answers the following questions:
- Who is the paper for?
- What is the problem?
- Where does this problem exist?
- When does it occur?
- Why is it important?
- What is the solution
- What should the reader do next?
These questions form the backbone of your white paper and guide the reader through your argument.
Choose a strong title
Your white paper title is the first thing people see, and it must do a lot of heavy lifting.
It needs to be compelling enough to draw readers in, while also being descriptive enough to tell them what the paper is about.
A weak or vague title can deter potential readers, no matter how groundbreaking the content may be.
Here’s how to craft a title that works:
- Be specific: If your white paper is about the economic benefits of renewable energy, say so. A title like “The Economic Upside of Renewable Energy” is far more compelling and informative than something generic like “Energy Matters.”
- Use plain language: Avoid jargon or industry-specific terms that could alienate some readers. Your title should be accessible to as many people as possible.
- Be concise: Long titles can be cumbersome and may lose reader interest. Aim for a title that gets the point across in as few words as possible, but without sacrificing clarity.
- Test it: Before finalizing your title, run it by a few people in your target audience. Their feedback can provide valuable insights into how your title may be received.
Example: If you’re writing about water scarcity, a strong title could be “The Global Water Crisis: An Urgent Call for Sustainable Management.”
This title is specific, uses plain language, addresses a widespread problem, and is short enough to be easily digestible.
Make your title strong, and you’ve won half the battle in capturing your reader’s attention.
Define the audience profile
It can be helpful to add an audience profile section (sometimes titled “Who is This White Paper For?”).
This helps define the intended readership of the white paper, guiding the content and tone of the document.
Describe the key characteristics of the intended readers, such as their professional roles, industry focus, level of expertise, or specific challenges or interests related to the white paper’s topic.
Example: “This white paper is intended for municipal water managers, environmental policymakers, and sustainability consultants seeking innovative water conservation solutions.”
Address a widespread problem
Your white paper should address a problem that resonates with a wide audience.
These should be challenges that have broader implications, increasing its impact and reach.
Use data and real-world examples to illustrate the scope of the problem.
Example: “Water scarcity is not just a local issue, but a global crisis that affects billions of people. From agriculture to industry to household use, the demand for water is outstripping supply, with serious consequences for economies, communities, and the environment.”
Reference extensive data
Data is the backbone of your white paper.
It’s what gives your arguments weight, credibility, rigor, and authority.
Extensive data shows the reader that your claims are based on empirical evidence, not just personal beliefs, opinions, or assumptions.
- Use relevant, reliable, and up-to-date data.
- Reference different data sources, such as research studies, surveys, or expert opinions.
- Present it in a clear and accessible way, using visuals like charts or graphs if necessary (more on this later).
Example: “According to a recent study by the World Water Council, over 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress, and that number is expected to double in the next decade. This data underscores the urgency of finding sustainable solutions to water scarcity.”
Incorporate a strong point of view
When crafting a white paper, you can’t sit on the fence.
You must present a strong point of view, taking a clear stance on the issue at hand.
A strong point of view shows the reader you have expertise in the subject matter and that you’ve thought deeply about the issue.
This doesn’t mean being overly aggressive or dogmatic, but rather presenting a well-reasoned argument that’s supported by solid evidence.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Be clear and assertive in your claims, but also fair and balanced.
- Acknowledge opposing views, but explain why your perspective is the most compelling.
- Use evidence, such as research findings or expert opinions, to support your claims.
Example: “While some argue that traditional energy sources are sufficient, the evidence clearly shows that renewable energy is not only more sustainable but also more cost-effective in the long run. The transition to renewable energy is not merely a trend but a necessary step towards a sustainable future.”
Provide possible solutions
As you write your white paper, consider different options, weigh their pros and cons, and explain why your solution is the best.
This adds depth and credibility to your argument.
- Present each solution in detail, explaining how it addresses the problem.
- Compare and contrast the solutions, using evidence to support your claims.
- Be fair and objective, but also clear in your conclusion.
Example: “While desalination offers a potential solution to water scarcity, it’s energy-intensive and costly. Rainwater harvesting, on the other hand, provides a more sustainable and cost-effective option. By collecting and storing rainwater, communities can supplement their water supply, reducing dependence on traditional sources.”
Include case studies
Case studies provide concrete evidence that supports your claims. They show the reader that your solution has been successfully implemented in the real world.
- Choose case studies that are relevant and representative of the problem and solution.
- Provide enough detail to illustrate the situation, but also be concise and focused.
- Use storytelling techniques to make the case studies engaging and memorable.
Example: “In a small farming community in Kenya, water scarcity was threatening livelihoods. By implementing a simple rainwater harvesting system, the community was able to increase water supply by 50%, improving agriculture and quality of life. This case study illustrates the potential impact of sustainable water solutions.”
End with a strong conclusion
The outro concisely wraps up the white paper’s main findings, insights, or conclusions.
It helps reinforce the key messages and leaves the reader with a clear understanding of the document’s significance.
Avoid introducing new information at this stage. Focus instead on synthesizing the content in a coherent and impactful way.
“This white paper has explored the urgent need for water conservation, presenting innovative solutions that can be implemented at the community level. We’ve discovered that:
1) Water scarcity affects over 2 billion people;
2) Rainwater harvesting is a viable solution; and
3) Collaboration between governments, industries, and communities is essential.
Together, these solutions provide a comprehensive approach to addressing water scarcity in diverse contexts.”
Include appropriate disclaimers
Disclaimers clarify the limitations of the data and the conditions under which the findings are valid.
Disclaimers show readers you’re being transparent and honest about your research. This helps build trust and credibility.
Clearly state any limitations or potential conflicts of interest that could affect the data’s interpretation or the white paper’s conclusions.
Example: “The data presented in this white paper is based on a survey of 1,000 respondents in the manufacturing sector. While the findings provide valuable insights, they may not be representative of other industries or regions.”
Add a call to action (CTA)
The CTA is where you encourage readers to take a specific action in the customer journey.
This can involve downloading a resource, signing up for a newsletter, or contacting your company for more information.
- Define clear and actionable next steps that guide the reader toward a desired outcome.
- Ensure that it’s a logical and relevant progression from the content of the white paper.
- Provide all necessary information or links to facilitate the action.
Example: “Ready to implement rainwater harvesting in your community? Download our step-by-step guide [linked] or contact our sustainability experts to get started today.”
Craft an executive summary
The executive summary serves as a condensed version of your white paper, providing readers with a quick overview of what to expect.
It’s often the first thing people read (but the last thing you write), so it needs to be compelling enough to hook them in while being informative enough to stand alone.
- Highlight the key point(s): Summarize the main problem, proposed solution, and key findings or recommendations of your white paper.
- Be concise but comprehensive: The executive summary should be short, usually about one page, but it should also be complete enough that someone could understand the essence of the white paper without reading the whole thing.
- Set the tone: Make sure it aligns with the overall style, whether that’s academic, business-oriented, or conversational.
Navigation and structure
Good navigation enhances the reader’s experience, making your white paper more accessible and engaging.
You want to help the reader to move around the document and find the information they’re looking for without getting lost or feeling overwhelmed.
Each section builds on the previous one to help the reader to follow the argument.
- Use clear headings and subheadings to delineate each section.
- Provide depth in each section without overwhelming the reader.
- Use transitions to create a smooth flow between sections.
Example: “After defining the problem of water scarcity (Section 2), we explore various solutions (Section 3), supported by extensive data (Section 4), and illustrated with real-world case studies (Section 5).”
Let’s look at some general guidelines for headings and links.
- Flesh out your initial white paper template by starting with an outline of the headings and subheadings you plan to use.
- Include a table of contents, and add hyperlinks if the white paper is in a digital format. You can do this in apps like Microsoft Word or Google Docs.
- Consider using breadcrumbs or other navigational aids to help the reader track their progress.
- Don’t be afraid to change your headings over time as you acquire new information.
Example: “See Section 3.2 for a detailed analysis of rainwater harvesting techniques, or refer to Appendix A for the full survey results.”
- Use internal links to connect related content, such as linking from a summary to a detailed explanation or from a statement to a supporting footnote.
- Ensure the links are functional, clearly marked, and lead to the correct destinations.
- Consider using a clickable table of contents or hyperlinked headings for ease of navigation.
Example: “For more details on rainwater harvesting techniques, refer to Section 3.2 [clickable link].”
- Use external links to direct readers to research studies, expert opinions, or official documents.
- Ensure that the links are functional and lead to the intended web pages.
- Include them in footnotes, references, or inline with the text.
Example: “According to a study by the World Water Council [linked], over 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress.”
Use links sparingly. Wherever possible, summarize whatever you’re linking to so that your target reader doesn’t have to click out of the white paper.
Writing and editing
Editing is a crucial aspect of the white paper writing process. This is where you check for grammar, style, and clarity.
Proper grammar is essential for clarity and professionalism. Errors in grammar can undermine the white paper’s credibility.
The style of writing should reflect the tone and purpose of the white paper. It should be consistent throughout the document.
Clarity ensures the target reader can easily understand the content without struggling with complex language or ambiguous statements.
The following tips may ease your writing and editing process:
- Choose a writing style that suits your audience and subject matter.
- Use clear and concise language, and only use jargon or overly complex terms if your target audience would get the references. For example, if you’re writing a white paper aimed at marketers, they might already know what ROAS and CAC are, but human resources teams might not.
- Avoid an overly formal or casual tone. For example, “This white paper provides a comprehensive analysis” may be more appropriate than “This report gives you the lowdown.”
- Maintain consistency in terms like “white paper” instead of switching between “white paper” and “whitepaper.”
- Review the document carefully for grammatical errors, including verb tense, subject-verb agreement, and punctuation.
- Consider using professional editing services if necessary.
Example: “Water scarcity affects billions of people” is clearer than “The issue of a lack of sufficient water resources is a global phenomenon impacting a significant proportion of the population.”
A poorly edited white paper can undermine your credibility and turn off readers, so take the time to get this right.
Visuals, such as graphs, tables, icons, and images, can greatly enhance a white paper.
Let’s explore a few visual elements you might want to incorporate:
- Graphs provide a visual representation of data, making complex information more accessible and engaging. Use graphs to illustrate key data points or trends. Ensure each graph is clear, labeled, and directly related to the content. Example: “Figure 1: Global Water Consumption Trends (2000-2020).”
- Tables organize data in a structured format, allowing the reader to easily compare and analyze information. Use tables to present data that requires side-by-side comparison. Ensure each table is well-formatted and include clear headings. Example: “Table 2: Comparison of Water Saving Technologies.”
- Icons can add visual interest and help highlight key points or sections. Use icons sparingly and ensure they are consistent in style and relevant to the content. Example: A water droplet icon can help highlight sections related to water conservation.
- Images can enhance the visual appeal of the white paper and provide additional context or illustration. Choose images that are relevant and high quality, and ensure they are properly captioned and cited. Example: “An image of a rainwater harvesting system in action (Source: Wikipedia).”
White paper design includes the cover image, colors, and fonts.
These should all be consistent with your brand and appealing to the reader.
The cover image is often the first visual element a reader encounters in a white paper.
It sets the tone and can create an immediate impression of the content’s theme and quality.
- Select a cover image that is visually appealing and relevant to the white paper topic.
- Ensure the image is of high resolution and professionally designed or edited.
Example: For a white paper on sustainable energy, a cover image featuring a wind turbine or solar panels could symbolize the topic effectively.
Colors can evoke emotions, highlight key points, and create a cohesive look that aligns with a brand or theme.
- Choose a color scheme consistent with the subject matter and intended white paper tone.
- Avoid overly bright or clashing colors that may distract from the content.
- Consider the psychological impact of colors, such as blue for trust or green for sustainability.
- Ensure your color scheme is accessible to all readers, including those with color vision deficiencies.
Example: A white paper on environmental conservation might employ shades of green and brown to represent nature and sustainability.
Fonts contribute to the readability and aesthetic appeal of your white paper.
They can reflect the tone and personality of the content and create a visual hierarchy that guides the reader’s eye.
Some best practices:
- Select fonts that are easy to read and appropriate for the content.
- Consider using different but complementary fonts for headings and body text to create contrast and interest.
- Avoid overly decorative or hard-to-read fonts that might detract from the document’s readability.
- Ensure consistency in font size and style throughout the document.
Example: A clean, sans-serif font like DM Sans for the body text, paired with a slightly more stylized but still readable serif font like Fraunces for headings, can create a balanced and professional look.
A well-designed white paper is more likely to be read and shared, and can help enhance your brand image.
Highlighting the authors of the white paper and their credentials demonstrates their expertise and qualifications. This gives readers confidence in the information presented.
Providing contact information for the authors allows readers to reach out with questions, feedback, or collaboration opportunities.
- Include the full names, titles, degrees, and affiliations of the authors.
- Highlight any specific expertise or experience relevant to the subject matter of the white paper.
- If multiple authors contributed, provide details for each, reflecting their respective roles or contributions.
- Include appropriate contact information for the authors, such as email addresses, phone numbers, or professional social media profiles.
Example: “Dr. Jane Smith, Ph.D. in Environmental Science, Lead Researcher at Water Conservation Institute, has over 15 years of experience in sustainable water management. For inquiries or further information, contact Dr. Jane Smith at email@example.com or connect on LinkedIn [linked profile].”
The company producing the white paper should also be clearly identified, with a brief profile and perhaps a mission statement included.
Include a concise overview of the company, highlighting key aspects such as its industry, size, areas of specialization, and reputation.
Example: “WaterTech Inc., a global leader in water conservation technologies. Our mission is to empower sustainable living through cutting-edge water conservation solutions. This white paper aligns with our commitment to educate and collaborate with communities seeking to reduce water waste and embrace sustainability.”
Copyright and usage rights
Copyright protects your intellectual property and ensures your work isn’t used without your permission.
Usage rights provide guidelines on allowed usage, such as sharing, quoting, or adapting the content, and any restrictions or conditions that apply.
- Include a clear copyright notice, typically at the beginning or end of the white paper. This notice should include the copyright symbol (©), the year of publication, and the name of the copyright holder.
- If applicable, include any registration information or reference to specific copyright laws or agreements.
- Clearly outline the usage rights associated with the white paper, specifying any limitations or requirements. This might include guidelines on attribution, commercial use, modifications, or distribution.
- Consider including a link to a more detailed usage policy or privacy statement if applicable.
Example: “© 2023 WaterTech Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this white paper may be reproduced or distributed without written permission. This white paper is for personal or educational use only. For commercial use or other permissions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Date and revision history
The date and revision history show the reader when the paper was created and if it has been updated or revised since then.
These dates contextualize the information presented, indicating when the research was conducted or the content finalized.
- Include the full date of creation, typically at the beginning or end of the white paper. Example: “Released on January 15, 2023.”
- Include a revision history section (usually a small table) that lists the dates and descriptions of any updates made to the white paper.
- Detail the nature of the changes, such as corrections, additions, or updates to specific sections or data. Example: “Revised on February 10, 2023 – Updated Section 3 with new data on water conservation techniques; Corrected typographical errors in Appendix B.”
The appendices of a white paper can include additional information, such as the methodology used in the research, audience profile, data samples, and internal documents.
The methodology appendix provides detailed information on the research or analytical methods used in the white paper.
It adds transparency and credibility by allowing readers to understand how the conclusions were reached (and how they can reproduce the results).
- Include a clear description of the research design, data collection, analysis techniques, and any tools or software used.
- Explain any assumptions, limitations, or specific considerations that influenced the methodology.
Example: “The water consumption data was collected from 50 cities worldwide, using a standardized survey method, and analyzed using regression analysis to identify trends.”
The data samples appendix provides examples or excerpts of the raw data or supplementary information used in the white paper.
This is especially important if you’re writing an academic paper, as it allows readers to explore the data in more detail or verify the analysis.
Here are some top tips:
- Include representative samples of the data, such as tables, charts, or excerpts from surveys or interviews.
- Provide context or explanations as needed to help readers understand the data.
Example: “Appendix C includes sample survey responses from residents in five cities, reflecting their attitudes and behaviors regarding water conservation.”
White paper distribution
It’s not enough to create a well-researched and well-written white paper.
You also need to ensure it reaches the right audience and achieves its goals.
Here are some assets and approaches to consider:
- Press release
- Blog posts
- White paper PDF
- Recap video
- LinkedIn articles
- Email newsletters
- Social media posts
- Paid ads
A press release can generate buzz and attract attention from publications and journalists interested in your topic.
Your press release should focus on what makes your white paper unique and why it matters.
- Craft a newsworthy angle: Is it unveiling groundbreaking research? Does it offer a revolutionary solution to a common problem?
- Include Key Information: Include the title of the white paper, its main findings or solutions, and quotes from key authors or experts involved.
- Link to the full document: This makes it easy for interested parties to find and read the full document.
- Distribute widely but wisely: Use a press release distribution service to send your release to relevant journalists and publications. But also consider directly reaching out to journalists who cover your industry or topic.
A blog post can introduce or summarize the white paper, reaching a wider audience and driving interest in the full document.
- Write a concise and engaging blog post that highlights the key findings or insights from the white paper.
- Include a link to the full document and use visuals or quotes to enhance appeal.
- Optimize the blog post for search engine visibility using the right keywords.
White paper PDF
Distributing a white paper PDF retains its formatting and design across different devices and platforms.
- Create a well-designed PDF version of the white paper, including interactive elements like clickable links or bookmarks.
- Optimize it for download by compressing it using a service like ilovepdf.
A recap video provides a visual and auditory summary of the white paper, catering to those who prefer multimedia content.
- Produce a short video that summarizes the main points of the white paper, using visuals, narration, or interviews. We typically use Descript to create video snippets and audiograms.
- Include a call to action directing viewers to the full document.
A LinkedIn article can reach a professional audience interested in your subject matter.
- Write an article that adapts or expands on content from the white paper, targeting it to your LinkedIn audience.
- Include links to the full document and encourage engagement through comments or shares.
- Tag any key authors or people mentioned in the white paper within the LinkedIn article.
An email newsletter can directly reach subscribers or targeted segments with personalized content related to the white paper.
- Craft an email that highlights the relevance and value of the white paper to the recipients.
- Include links, visuals, and a clear call to action to download or read the document.
- Track your open rate and email clickthrough rates to gauge engagement.
Social media posts
Social media posts (especially LinkedIn posts) can promote the white paper to a broad and diverse audience, leveraging different platforms and formats.
- Create engaging social media posts that tease or highlight content from the white paper.
- Use visuals, hashtags, and targeted messaging to reach specific audiences.
- Include links to the full document and encourage sharing and interaction.
Paid ads can amplify the reach of your white paper to a highly targeted audience. They tend to supplement your organic content strategy.
Unlike organic methods, paid ads can pinpoint specific demographics, making sure your white paper gets in front of the right eyes.
- Craft a short and sweet ad campaign. The ad should succinctly highlight the key problem your white paper solves and why it’s essential reading.
- Use eye-catching visuals. This could be a designed graphic with the author’s faces, a relevant graph, or a screenshot from the white paper.
- Include a clear call to action. Make it clear where to download the white paper or visit your website for more information.
- Track and measure ad performance. Look at click-through rates and conversions to understand your ROI and make data-driven decisions for future campaigns.
Creating these assets can help you promote your white paper across different platforms and reach a diverse audience.
Writing and designing a good white paper requires careful planning, research, writing, and design.
You’ll likely work with many people and teams, such as a freelance writer or editor, internal stakeholders, and external consultants.
But with the right approach and attention to detail, it can be a powerful tool for informing, persuading, and educating your audience.
If the process seems daunting and you need a white paper writer, consider our specialized white paper writing service.
When writing white papers, we bring expertise, research capabilities, and a keen understanding of your audience’s needs to the table.