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How to plan a problem/solution white paper

A problem/solution white paper will generate more leads than any other flavor.

It will also last longer than any other type of white paper.

That’s because a problem/solution white paper describes an industry-wide problem that has never been properly solved.

Then it uses facts and logic to promote a new, recommended solution to that problem.

This provides useful content to help a reader understand the issues, solve the problem, and make a decision about what to do next.

And as long as anyone in the industry is still struggling with that problem, that white paper will remain relevant.

To plan a problem/solution, you must know these 7 items:

a question mark on a sheet of white paper
1. The audience
2. The purpose
3. The call to action
4. The industry problem
5. The drawbacks of all other solutions
6. How your new solution solves the problem better than ever 
7. A compelling title to engage your audience

Now let’s look a little closer at each of these items.



1. The audience

To help target your white paper, you’ll want to identify your ideal reader by:

  • Company type including size, sector, and region
  • Demographics such as education, age, and job title
  • Psychographics like experience, drives, and stress

For more on this topic, see Know your audience for a white paper.

2. The purpose

Do you want to generate leads? Educate prospects? Train your sales force? Build mindshare? Help close sales?

A single white paper can do a lot, but it can’t do everything.

Pick your top one or two priorities and stick to them.

3. The call to action at the end

What do you want your ideal reader to do after they read your white paper?

Do not simply send people to your home page to wander aimlessly.

Instead, send them to a specific landing page. Point them to a short presentation or demo. Invite them to take a survey or use an interactive calculator. Have them call a 1-800 number or request a free trial.

In general, the more specific the call to action, the more effective… and the easier it is to measure the results.

4. The industry problem

This is a large, acknowledged industry-wide problem that creates pain for your ideal reader.

In many cases, this turns out to be the problem your offering was originally created to solve.

A problem/solution white paper leads off with this problem to get your reader’s attention and prove that you understand their pain.

Then it elaborates on the negative consequences of this problem in detail.

For more, see How to frame your white paper around a nasty problem.

5. The drawbacks of all other solutions

What other approaches to this problem have been tried? Why are they lacking? Did some of these create new problems? Unintended consequences?

If you can’t think of any other approaches, consider all the other options your prospects have:

  • doing nothing
  • using a manual approach with paper or spreadsheets
  • finding some freeware or cheapo-cheapo app
  • putting together an in-house solution.

The most effective white papers show how inadequate each previous attempt to solve the problem has been.

For more, see Demolish the competition.

6. How your new solution solves the problem best

What new technology, methodology, or process does your white paper recommend to solve the problem?

This is the real educational content of your white paper… the “good news” that can overcome the nagging problem.

Remember, a problem/solution white paper should be educational, not a sales pitch.

So describe your solution in generic terms. And provide facts and arguments that prove the validity of your recommendation.

For more, see Recommend a generic solution.

7. A compelling title

A good title clearly conveys the contents of the document, who it’s aimed at and the benefits of reading it. You can use a main title and a subtitle for further precision.

Don’t mention any product or company name in the title of a problem/solution white paper. If you do, your prospects may assume your paper is a product backgrounder, and that’s not what they’re looking for at the moment.

For more, see How to write a white paper title.

Writing a problem/solution white paper can be challenging, especially if you don’t have a good plan to work from.

Spending a little time to discuss all these items will help engineer your white paper for success.

This also lessens the chances of any scrap and rework, which can drive up costs and slow down your project.


For more helpful articles like this, get my free newsletter, White Paper World.  


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. Louisa Jaffe on October 24, 2018 at 3:40 pm

    I love the seven planning items for writing a white paper.

    You might want to remove all the links to additional information because they all lead to a separate page that says, “This page does not exist”. That is very frustrating. Why put the link there only to put nothing in it.

    Otherwise, very helpful article. Louisa Jaffe

  2. Gordon Graham on October 27, 2018 at 12:41 pm

    Louisa: Thanks for telling us about those broken links. We’ve just fixed all the ones we could find.

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