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What’s a good topic for a white paper?

I get that question a lot. One good answer is, “anything that’s hot right now.”

And that hot topic should refer to something that’s relatively new, relatively complex, and relatively expensive. 

This rule explains why in 2017-2018 I heard from four eight 13 16 24 58 prospects launching new cryptocurrencies, something like Bitcoin.

What made cryptocurrencies so hot in 2017?

Bitcoin exchange rate 2017

Mainly the steep rise in Bitcoin’s value, as shown in this chart. The mother of all cryptocurrencies was on an incredible upward sweep.

A similar cryptocurrency, Ether, moved in tandem, along with several others.

No wonder every media outlet from The Economist to The New York Times published stories on Bitcoin, most of them worrying that it’s a bubble.

Of course, it was a bubble.

Investing in Bitcoin has been described as a “neck-snapping roller coaster ride.”

In 2022, Bitcoin is trading around $40,000… more than shown in the chart, but still shy of its all-time high of $67,500.

As of early 2024, Bitcoin is back from its slump during the so-called “crypto-winter” and on the run again.

And naturally enough, cryptocurrencies are re-emerging as a hot trend in business, in politics, and and in white papers.

Targeting specific sectors

While Bitcoin is intended as a universal medium of exchange, most of the startups I heard from were targeting a specific sector.

In each case, the goal was to bring the benefits of cryptocurrencies to an entirely new field that has a big, nagging problem.

Here are five clear examples from the startups I heard from:

  • Advertising
  • Day-trading
  • Healthcare
  • Marijuana buying
  • Social media

In advertising, the problem is low engagement with video and online ads. TV advertisers especially have no reliable way to track response to their ads.

What if you could give consumers a way to jump right from a video ad to an online shopping website and even reward them for the click?

A cryptocurrency that paid consumers to watch ads could do that.

In day-trading, the problem is how to emulate the success of a few good traders.

What if you could find a way to encode the results of the best traders and even predict their future moves?

A cryptocurrency backed up by good AI could do that.

The healthcare system is straining from the huge number of aging Baby Boomers.

And many people fear that pensions, benefits, and retirement savings can’t keep up with the ever-growing costs.

What if you could find a way to pay for healthcare with a currency that gains in value instead of losing to inflation like our dollars?

A cryptocurrency could do that.

photo of marijuana bud

In marijuana—even in states where selling and buying it has been legalized—cannabis is still classed as a Schedule 1 illegal narcotic by the U.S. government.

Until that changes, any cannabis business can’t open a bank account, so they must deal in cash only.

This is impractical and unwieldy and makes any marijuana business a target for criminals.

A  cryptocurrency could solve that problem.

In social media, the problem is too many channels with contacts scattered all between them.

What if you could pull every channel into one app and reward people for downloading it?

A multi-channel chat app backed by a cryptocurrency could do that.

Many smart ways to use cryptocurrencies

As you can see, there are many smart ways to use a cryptocurrency for a defined set of customers in a new business ecosystem.

That’s pretty cool. Actually, it’s pretty hot.

Now consider my criteria when deciding if a company needs a white paper:

They must be selling something relatively new, relatively complex, and relatively expensive.

Two out of three is enough.


physical Bitcoins. Bitcoins are a hot topic for a white paper

Q1: Are cryptocurrencies relatively new?

Bitcoin was created in 2009, and Ether first went live in 2015.

So they’re not exactly new in calendar terms. But they are still new to most people.

Two surveys I saw showed that only about 1 in 4 people in the UK and even fewer in Canada had ever bought any Bitcoin.

So we can say, “sorta yes” to this question.

Q2: Is it relatively complex? 

The concept of the “blockchain” on which every cryptocurrency is built is certainly complex.

I’ve read the original Bitcoin white paper and a three more books about it, and I just barely get it.

A blockchain is an online ledger where every transaction must be verified by many other connected computers. That makes a well-designed blockchain close to invulnerable to tampering or hacking.

Here’s a TEDtalk from Don Tapscott that will give you a basic overview.

But you’ll probably want to watch a few more TEDTalks to get a little more knowledge.


graphic of blockchain

I predict that eventually, blockchains will just be an accepted layer of security baked into commonplace apps for online banking, e-commerce, the Internet of Things, and any other transaction that needs a “smart contract.”

But it will take R&D and many more white papers to get to that point.

So my answer here is, “yes, this is complicated.”

Any startup that uses a blockchain probably needs a white paper to define and explain it.

Q3: Is it relatively expensive? 

Investors hope someday they can look back and marvel at how little they paid to acquire their crypto-coins… compared to how much they’re worth today.

So maybe we should pass on this question.

Although I think we can agree that investing in any one cryptocurrency—out of the 700+ that now exist—is a “considered purchase.”

That’s the consumer equivalent of a complex sale, where you need lots of information to make a sound decision.

Anything that involves companies or individuals making a big investment requires a prospectus, a business plan, or a white paper. Or maybe all three.

Good topics for white papers? Check!

Cryptos and blockchains are hot topics that are all over the news. Plus they’re both relatively new and relatively complex.

In my book, that means all four-eight-13-16-24 58 of the ambitious projects I’ve heard about do need a good white paper.

In fact, I’ve worked with three-five-eight-12 14 companies so far on white papers about cryptocurrencies and blockchain.


Originally published 6 December 2017. Last updated 19 February 2024

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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 320+ white papers for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from tiny startups to 3M, Google, and Verizon. Wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 60+ 5-star ratings on Amazon. Won 16 awards from the Society for Technical Communication. Named AWAI 2019 Copywriter of the Year.

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  1. Sarah Greesonbach on December 7, 2017 at 10:30 am

    Data analytics are hot right now! Especially tying them to traditionally non-tech industries like HR, construction, and retail.

  2. Crystal on December 7, 2017 at 11:04 am

    I recently wrote a white paper on the use of blockchain technology to secure pharmaceutical supply chains. The problem was counterfeit drugs and the new Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) 2018 requirements for ‘track and trace’. New = check. Complex = check. Expensive = check.

  3. Jim on December 7, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    Graham, you’re right on the mark with this article.

    Blockchain technology, and all the spin-offs arising from it (of which cryptocurrencies are but one example) is a world-changer. The need for white papers to clarify the effectively limitless applications where blockchain technology will redefine how we live, is itself limitless.

    A good business to be in as a copywriter…

  4. Brian on October 3, 2018 at 2:52 pm


    Good article. I got your book, “White Papers For Dummies.” It has been a big help with conceptualizing my next white paper project, which will be my second white paper relating to blockchain tech and crypto.

    My freelance writing specialty is blockchain and cryptocurrency. I have written one crypto white paper and I’m beginning the next one as I said.

    I know this article is about 10 months old, but if you still have work for a writer like myself I’d be interested in hearing about it. My business email is included in the comment. Thanks.

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