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When you’re searching for white paper sources, any company can claim they’re the best.

But finding the evidence to prove that can be tough.

Doing research to turn up the right nuggets of proof gives your white paper more authority.

Strong evidence creates affinity with the reader, strengthens your claims, and proves that your white paper is more than one vendor’s opinion.

Throughout your research, my advice is to think like a lawyer… and not some polite lawyer in a tailored suit in an air-conditioned office.

No, you have to think like a mad-dog, street-fighting mongrel with red eyes and sharp teeth and no interest in a win-win.

closeup stack of paperwork

As you work, always picture the other side’s lawyer trying to chew up your evidence and spit it out.

If someone can ask, “Says who?” or “Oh yeah?” or “Prove it!” you’ve got a hole in your research that you better patch before it’s too late.

Building an open-and-shut case

When you think like a lawyer, you want to build a case so tight that no judge can question it and no jury can resist it. You need an argument so tight it leaves the other side gasping for air.

That means digging up a mountain of evidence.

That means grilling subject matter experts and executives from the company sponsoring the white paper.

That takes reading past the first screen of Google search results to see what else may be there.

And that can mean hiking over to the nearest city or college library to consult the reference librarians.

That can mean pulling up tough-to find journal articles, or locating a relevant association to contact for an expert witness.

(Finished your white paper? Now send your client your list of sources.)

Finding sources for a white paper

You may think you can use any source under the sun in a white paper, but that’s not strictly true.

Some sources are far better than others: more credible, more authoritative, and more persuasive.

The following table lists many sources you could draw on for a white paper—from analysts to Wikipedia—along with some brief notes on each source.


AnalystsYesAs long as they're credible
Associations YesAs long as they’re credible and established
Blogs BarelyUse only if you have no other sources
Books YesBest to use classics in the field or titles published after 2000
Consultants SometimesMake sure they’re impartial
ForumsNoNo credibility, usually anonymous
Go-to experts UsuallyMake sure they’re impartial
Government reportsYes Usually have high authority
Industry reportsUsuallyMake sure they’re factual
MagazinesYesBest published in the last five years
NewspapersUsually Stick to well-known papers, best published in the last two to three years
ProfessorsYesUsually have high authority
Sources inside the companyYes for background, No for quotingGood for background, but don’t quote them directly: they are clearly biased
Trade magazinesYesBest published in the last five years
WebsitesNot usuallyBe careful quoting from any website
White papers from other organizationsYesThe more recognized the organization, the better
White papers from other vendorsSometimes The more recognized the vendor, the better; but do not send prospects to your competition
White papers from the same companyNoNot convincing, and could create a circular argument
WikipediaNoWikipedia is a secondary source; use it to find primary sources


This article is a brief excerpt from White Papers for Dummies by Gordon Graham.

With dozens of tips and best practices for planning, producing, and promoting effective white papers, White Papers for Dummies is the most comprehensive guide to white papers every published.

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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 300 white papers on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, from household names like Google and Verizon to tiny startups with big ideas. Wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned more than 50 5-star ratings on Amazon. And named 2019 Copywriter of the Year by AWAI, the world's leading training organization for professional copywriters.

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1 Comment

  1. […] similar to how professors (and That White Paper Guy!) frown on papers that cite Wikipedia as a source. It’s a highly useful online reference, but it […]

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