Skip to content
vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream to represent the 3 flavours of white papers

How to create a white paper mashup

What if you need a white paper that’s more than just one flavor?

As you know, I believe there are three main “flavors” of white papers.

photo of 3 scoops of ice cream

Vanilla: A backgrounder zooms in on a certain product or service. Ideal for prospects doing a technical evaluation near end of the sales funnel.

Chocolate: A problem/solution zooms out to show an industry-wide problem and how to solve it. Ideal for generating leads at the beginning of the funnel.

Strawberry: A numbered list (aka “listicle”) shows a set of points, questions, or tips about some issue. Ideal for nurturing prospects through the middle of the funnel.

What if one flavor can’t do all that you need?

The backgrounder (vanilla) and problem-solution (chocolate) tend to be heavier white papers to read. What if you want to lighten them up?

Fortunately, the numbered list (strawberry) goes well with either flavor.

photo of strawberry + chocolate ice cream scoops

A numbered list + problem/solution

Chocolate and strawberry: it’s a time-honored, satisfying treat.

Try this mashup to reach prospects at both the top and middle of the sales funnel.

This is a good choice when you don’t have the time, money, or attention to do two separate white papers to achieve both goals.

In fact, I tend to write this type of white paper more often than any other.

An actual sample

Check out Three Critical Challenges on any ARRA Construction Project.

This white paper explains three common pain points that companies were experiencing with U.S. stimulus projects after the financial meltdown in 2008.

The list format is quick and easy to read.

cover page of white paper as a numbered list + problem/solution

The rest of the paper discusses the drawbacks of every other solution. Finally, it describes the ideal solution.

This catches the attention of target readers, and helps them understand the source of their difficulties with these projects.

Then it proposes a solution they may not have considered: a new category of software called an “online collaboration platform” for engineering project management.

What to include in this kind of mashup

At the front, include a cover and perhaps a contents and copyright page. These items signify that the white paper is more ambitious than a pure numbered list. Numbered-list white papers tend not to include this front matter.

At the start, include a brief executive summary where you “tell them what you’re going to tell them.”

Then, sketch in the industry-wide problem and the drawbacks of the existing solutions, structured as a numbered list.

For example, you could list:

  • A number of pain points caused by the problem
  • A set of hidden dangers (“gotchas”) that every buyer must avoid

Answer those problems by introducing the better solution and the benefits enjoyed by buyers who chose this route. Then, you can follow up with a set of questions buyers should ask every vendor.

You’ll want to be sure to include some third-party sources to build credibility, either as footnotes or endnotes.

At the end, always include some brief conclusions to “tell them what you told them” along with your call to action, and the standard boilerplate about the company.

For best results, leave any product mentions until late in the main body. And don’t go into any particular features of your offering. Those belong in a backgrounder, not a problem/solution.

photo of strawberry ice cream scoop photo of vanilla ice cream scoop

A numbered list + backgrounder

There’s nothing like strawberry to add a little zing to plain old vanilla.

Try this combo to lighten up and extend the reach of a backgrounder, or to spread FUD on competing offerings.

Or use this mashup when you can’t spare the time, money, or attention to do two separate white papers.

An actual sample

Check out: EFM Evaluation Guide: 20 Must-Have Capabilities for a True Enterprise Feedback Management System.

white paper cover for a numbered list + backgrounder

This white paper lists a set of desirable features for a certain genre of software.

It includes a checklist to confirm that the sponsor has the most capable offering on the market, and to cast doubt on every other product in that category.


What to include in this kind of mashup

At the front, include a cover and perhaps a contents and copyright page. These signify that the paper is somewhat more ambitious than a pure numbered list.

In the main body, make sure to include a brief introduction.

Then provide specific details about the features and benefits of your offering, structured as a numbered list.

For example, this type of mashup can be organized as:

  • A set of must-have features every buyer should check for
  • A list of the most advanced capabilities of all the products in your niche
  • A number of items you must not overlook
  • A group of questions to ask every vendor, along with your answers

At the end, include some brief conclusions, your call to action, and brief boilerplate about the company.

Leave out any sweeping analysis of industry-wide problems and the failings of competing products, except for brief mentions or short sidebars.

In this type of mashup, you likely won’t need any buyer’s guide, footnotes or endnotes, all of which can overwhelm this type of white paper with too much complexity.

Have you ever mixed white paper flavors? How did it work out? Please leave a comment below.

Want to hear whenever there’s a fresh article on this site? Subscribe here to stay in the know on long-form content. From time to time, we’ll also send you word about some great new resource or training. And you can unsubscribe any time.  

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.

If you liked this post...

White Paper World llogo new Oct 2023

White Paper World 40: April 25, 2024

Shun the TIONs: Part deux Guest tip: Excise the IZEs! Mini-review: The Elements of Technical...
placard reading Excise the IZEs!

Guest tip: Excise the IZEs!

The tendency to add IZE to nouns is an old story in English. The practice...
2 bowls of rice to show short verb + tion = puffed-up noun

Quick tip: Shun the TIONs!

2.5 minute read. 3.5 minute listen.  I see them all across the nation,...


  1. Inés on November 1, 2018 at 4:29 pm

    Awesome, as usual!

Leave a Comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.