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When I first started writing white papers more than 20 years ago, I looked all over for an FAQ.

big question mark for FAQ about white papers

 

But I couldn't find one, so I decided to write it myself.

I hope these Q&As help anyone just getting started in white papers.

Or anyone who wants to understand them better.


White Paper FAQ topics

Click any topic to see related questions and answers.

White paper definitions
White papers and other documents
White paper readers
White paper sponsors
White paper writers
White papers past, present, and future

 


White paper definitions

White papers and other documents

White paper readers

White paper sponsors

White paper writers

White papers past, present, and future

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What exactly is a white paper?

Ask any 10 people this question, and you'll likely get 12 different answers.

Here is the best short definition I've ever found, after years of looking:

A white paper is a persuasive essay that uses facts and logic to promote a certain product, service, or viewpoint.

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Beyond that, I've heard a white paper described as:

•  A manifesto on how to solve a certain problem
•  A "bait-piece"
•  
The glue that holds a campaign together
•  An information widget
•  
A way to freeze-dry your ideas
•  That rare document that is all things to all people

 

Clearly, none of these exotic definitions do the trick.

For some better clues, look at the content and format of these documents:

The content of a white paper provides useful information for business people seeking to understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.

The format of a white paper is somewhere between a technical manual and a glossy brochure... between a dry-as-dust academic paper and a colorful annual report.

Some good models are respected magazines/websites like Scientific American or The Economist. Like the best white papers, these publications explain scientific and financial information in a visually appealing way.

The Economist magazine as an example of clear technical information

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Are there any industry standards for these documents?

In a word, no.

Everything from a two-page flyer to a 100-page book has been called a white paper.

There are even "video white papers." This seems like an oxymoron. How can a video be a paper?

But there are no fixed rules to define a white paper, and no one to enforce them if there were.

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If there are no standards, aren't there at least some conventions?

Well, perhaps.

That White Paper Guy aka Gordon Graham has identified these key characteristics for a white paper:

  • A document containing narrative text
  • At least 5-6 pages long
  • Oriented in portrait format (landscape tends to be for B2B e-books)
  • Educational, practical, and useful, not a sales pitch
  • Used before a sale, not after a sale
  • Provides facts, not just opinion
  • Includes an introduction or executive summary

If a document has all these characteristics, it's probably a white paper.

To elaborate, the main body of a "typical" white paper is 6 to 8 pages long, shorter than in past years. With front matter and back matter, the total length is usually 10 to 12 pages.

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What different types of white papers exist?

White papers come in many different types, with no universal system for labeling them precisely.

Given this, the majority of white papers fall into one of these three types:

1. A backgrounder describes the technical features and benefits of a product or service

2. A numbered list provides a light and lively set of points or concerns about some topic

3. A problem/solution recommends a new, improved solution for a nagging business or technical problem

About 15 years ago, That White Paper Guy proposed that these three types could be remembered as different flavors of ice cream.

Backgrounder = vanilla: old-fashioned and predictable

Numbered list = strawberry: light and lively

Problem/solution = chocolate: deep, rich and long-lasting

scoop of vanilla ice creamscoop of strawberry ice creamscoop of chocolate ice cream

You can combine two of these flavors in two ways:

  • Numbered list + backgrounder (strawberry + vanilla)
  • Numbered list + problem/solution (strawberry + chocolate)

This yields five main flavors of white papers in all.

You can't effectively combine all three flavors to make a sort of Neapolitan flavor. This is because a problem/solution and backgrounder have such different viewpoints.

— A problem/solution is like looking at the wide view of a whole industry with a telescope.— A backgrounder is like zooming in on one specific product with a microscope.

It's difficult to combine both perspectives in the same piece.

For more on these three flavors and how to use them effectively, see the free infographic.

Beyond these, many other terms are commonly used to describe white papers:

  • Competitive review
  • Evaluator's guide
  • Executive briefing
  • Market overview
  • Position paper
  • Product briefing
  • Special report

But all these descriptive terms fit under one or another of the three main types, so these terms are not as helpful.

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When is each type of white paper most useful?

Each type is best for delivering information to prospects at a certain point in their customer journey, as shown below.

For shorthand, "offering" means any product, service, technology, or methodology described in the white paper.

For the three main flavors of white papers:

1. Backgrounder: Best for prospects evaluating a shortlist of offerings near the end of the customer journey; also best to support a product launch for journalists, analysts, and channel partners

2. Numbered list: Best to nurture prospects in the middle of the customer journey with a light and lively roundup of points about some topic; also good for spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) about competitors

3. Problem/solution white paper: Best to draw in new prospects at the start of the customer journey as they research a nagging business or technical problem

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What's NOT a white paper?

Remember that there are no "rules" or universal standards for what makes a white paper... and that means many people use this label very carelessly.

By my definition, a white paper is intended to help a business person understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.

There are many other types of useful information, but I don't consider them white papers.

For example, marketing guru Perry Marshall names 40+ documents that he considers to be white papers, including:

the letter X on a blank white paper

  • Application guide
  • Cheatsheet
  • Installation guide
  • Manual (?!)
  • Optimizer
  • Pocket guide
  • Troubleshooting guide
  • Tutorial

 

But notice how many of these are actually documentation used after a purchase when installing, learning, or troubleshooting a system.

Those may be useful, but they're not white papers.

To my thinking, a white paper is strictly a pre-sales document used before a purchase. It's not documentation or support, it's sales and marketing.

For a longer discussion, see my article "When is a white paper NOT a white paper."

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White papers and blog posts: What's the difference?

White papers and blog posts are usually quite simple to tell apart.

White papers are usually PDF downloads of 3,000 to 5,000 words.

A good white paper is based on established facts and logical arguments, like a well-researched article in an industry journal.

A white paper generally takes 4 to 6 weeks of intense effort by a group of people. That's why an effective white paper can be used for a year or two.

Blog posts are usually much shorter webpages of 600 to 1,800 words. A blog post can often be written in a couple of hours.

A blog post can be sheer opinion, or even a rant, more like a letter to the editor. That's why there are so many blogs: Anyone can shoot off their mouth in a blog.

That's why most blog posts are relevant for only a few months.

In a way, blog posts are a good place to test out your ideas, as they come together. You can gather comments and feedback, and see how your audience connects with your ideas.

Then you can solidify and back up your ideas in a white paper where you can pour more time and effort into the research, writing, design, and promotion.

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White papers and brochures: What's the difference?

White papers and brochures are almost complete opposites.

Brochures are sales documents intended to create interest and desire.

Today brochures are most often used in B2C for major purchases like cars, trucks, and boats.

They use the techniques of copywriting and advertising. They tend to push "emotional buttons" such as fear, greed, envy, or vanity.

Brochures are generally designed to be scanned: colorful, flashy, and filled with short snippets of text.

White papers, on the other hand, are persuasive essays about a certain product, service, technology, or methodology.

White papers are most often used in B2B for offerings that are relatively new, complex, or expensive.

They use the techniques of rhetoric and plain English. They tend to appeal more to logic through irrefutable facts, iron-clad logic, impeccable statistics, and quotes from industry opinion-makers.

White papers are generally designed to be read. They contain lots of text and some graphics, but not a lot of flash.

Some companies simply reformat a brochure and call the result a "white paper." This is a waste of effort. Most readers become irritated when they see a vendor doing this.

Some marketers who should know better urge vendors to make white papers as flashy as brochures. This is not correct.

A white paper should be much more dignified, substantial, and informative than a brochure. Making it look like a sales piece is the kiss of death for a white paper.

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White papers and case studies: What's the difference?

White papers sometimes mention case studies for evidence of a vendor's claims. But the two are quite different.

Case studies are extended testimonials on how a product or service helped someone in the real world. They are typically between 500 and 1,500 words long, written in a journalistic style with many quotes from the actual customer.

The classic format for a case study is Before/After, Then/Now, Problem/Solution:

Before we had this terrible problem, then we found this fantastic product, and After we started using it, everything was sweetness and light.

White papers, on the other hand, are persuasive essays about a certain product, service, technology or methodology.

They are generally 3,000 words or more, written in a somewhat academic style, with no direct quotes from the vendor. A white paper may be told in the Problem/Solution format, but rarely in the Before/After format.

White papers tend to be used earlier in the sales cycle, to help prospects visualize a possible solution to a nagging problem.

Case studies tend to be used later in the sales cycle to reassure a prospect that other buyers benefited from the same approach they are considering.

For a longer discussion, see my article "What's the diff between a white paper and a case study?"

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White papers and e-books: What's the difference?

Remember, we're not talking about an electronic version of a commercial book to be read on an e-reader or smartphone.

We're talking abut e-books used in B2B content marketing.

That type of e-book and a white paper can be hard to tell apart. You can often call the same document a white paper or an e-book.

A B2B e-book can be just about any length on just about any topic.

Many e-books look more like slide decks than text-driven documents. In fact, some say e-books are just prettied-up white papers turned on their sides.

In any case, here are some scenarios when an e-book might work better than a white paper:

1: Your audience is prone to distraction

They may be young or very mobile. An e-book may sound like fun while a white paper sounds like work.

2: Many competitors publish white papers

If you’re trying to break through the noise of competing white papers, an e-book might sound different enough to be engaging.

You may be able to gain more traction by presenting the same content as an e-book instead of a white paper.

3: No one in your industry publishes white papers

In some industries, white papers are not often seen.

In that case, your document may work better if you call it something else, perhaps a "special report" or "briefing."

Just remember: The goal is the same.

An ideal e-book—just like an ideal white paper—will help your target audience understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.

If your content does that, you can call it an e-book, a white paper, or whatever… and your audience will still thank you for it.

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White papers and press releases: What's the difference?

Press releases are short, factual announcements of interest to a certain audience. This format has existed for perhaps 100 years.

Until recently, press releases were used to influence media "gatekeepers" and gain publicity for their sponsor. The most effective press releases were recycled by journalists into printed articles.

Today, press releases are available to anyone on the Web, without the need for any gatekeeper.

A contemporary press release must be highly factual. In fact, there are rules about what a public company can say in a press release.

White papers, on the other hand, are persuasive essays about a certain product, service, technology, or methodology.

White papers have also existed for 100 years, although the format evolved quickly since the year 2000.

While a white paper is sponsored by a company—the same as a press release —white papers are generally much longer than press releases, with more room to present facts and develop arguments.

White papers are sometimes packaged with press releases as a "press kit." And they are sometimes republished in trade magazines as articles.

On the Web, white papers are available to almost everyone. There are no special legal rules on what a company can say in a white paper.

But it's best to take a journalistic approach, backing up every assertion with statistics, facts, and quotes from respected sources.

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Who reads white papers?

White papers are read by almost any B2B executive who is thinking about buying a relatively new, relatively complex, or relatively high-priced product or service for their business.

White paper readers play a number of different roles in business, such as:

  • Corporate executives (decision-makers)
  • Finance executives (financial recommenders)
  • IT managers and staff (technical recommenders)
  • Line-of-business managers (managers)
  • User representatives (users)
  • In-house supporters of the purchase ("champions")

In larger companies, all these people may sit together on a selection committee that makes a collective decision.

In smaller firms, some people may wear several of these hats and meet informally to discuss any big purchases.

White papers are especially well-read by IT managers.

One survey showed that they read a median of 30 white papers a year, with some reading more than 50 a year... that's one a week!

As well, business people routinely pass good white papers up and down the chain of command, both to their managers and their staff.photo of many hands in the air

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Why do people read white papers?

White paper readers are seeking useful information to help them understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.

This often involves learning about the business benefits or technical details of a product or service they are considering buying.

A survey of IT managers by Forbes.com and Bitpipe (now TechTarget) showed that they read white papers to accomplish these goals:

  • Stay on top of new trends (76%)
  • Get information about products and vendors (69%)
  • Compare products (50%)
  • Help justify buying decisions (42%)
  • Develop a shortlist of qualified vendors (33%).

White papers used to be aimed strictly at IT professionals.

Today, many less technical people are involved in B2B buying decisions.

These people are seeking plain-language explanations with clear business benefits, backed up by convincing facts and arguments.

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When do people read white papers?

People tend to read white papers when they are:

  • Dreaming of a way around a pressing problem
  • Wondering if anything could solve their problem
  • Looking for something to satisfy their wish-list
  • Researching a possible purchase
  • Drawing up a shortlist of qualified vendors

Executives at the IT portal KnowledgeStorm (now TechTarget) encourage clients to think of a technology sale in four phases.

1. Vision: A business person is imagining how to solve a problem. At that point, a high-level white paper focused on business benefits can help them visualize the possibilities of a certain offering.

2. Planning: A prospect is trying to map a set of functional requirements to a certain product. That's when a more detailed, technical white paper can help them understand how a given solution would work in their environment.

3. Evaluation: A prospect is actively looking at a set of products from a shortlist of vendors. The need for white papers has pretty much passed.

An Evaluator's Guide for a complex product might be helpful at this point. But more often, prospects want the reassurance of seeing case studies from other customers.

4. Acquisition: A customer is actually purchasing and installing a product. They may need added information to help them do so, but it's more accurate to call this "documentation" rather than a white paper.

After all, the white paper has already played its role and the sale has already been made. Everything from this point on is after-sales support.

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How do people read white papers?

Almost everyone working today has more to read, more to remember, and more to do than they can possibly get to.

For example, one study showed that the typical manager has more than 50 hours of work sitting on their desk at any point.

They're not exactly waiting for yet another document to add to the pile?!

Several studies show that nearly everyone (90%) reads white papers on-screen, not on paper. And most white papers are read on desktop screens, not mobile phones.

White papers are occasionally printed for sales calls, press kits, and trade shows.

And some people read them on paper during their commutes by subway or train.

No one reads white papers for fun; they read them for work.

So people who read white papers don't read the same way they might read a novel, paying attention to every sentence.

Instead, they tend to skim, scan and skip... especially if they're reading off the screen. Don't you?

This means that white papers must be carefully written and designed for business readers with limited time and attention. A wall of gray text is not likely to engage today's white paper reader.

White papers need to use visual breakers like sidebars, callouts, headings, lines, boxes, bullets, and graphics to direct the attention of scanners and skimmers.

These visuals need to point out the key messages of the document in a way that's easy for today's busy readers to follow.

book cover for Crafting White Paper 2.0

 

Good news: There's a whole book devoted to this subject.

Jonathan Kantor wrote an excellent guide called Crafting White Paper 2.0: Designing Information for Today's Time and Attention Challenged Business Reader.

Here is my mini-review of this book.

 

Here's where to find more details or order your own copy. Highly recommended.

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Who publishes white papers?

White papers abound in the technology sector, where they are commonly used to explain software and hardware products.

But there's no reason why white papers can't be written about many other B2B offerings.

Any B2B vendor selling anything relatively new, relatively complex, or relatively expensive could likely benefit from a white paper.

This includes companies in sectors like these:

  • Computer peripherals
  • Consulting firms with new methods
  • Medical devices or diagnostic equipment
  • Technical or scientific services
  • Test or communication equipment
  • Training firms with innovative approaches

This adds up to perhaps half a million potential vendors in the English-speaking world that could benefit from white papers.

Vendors of any relatively familiar, simple, and inexpensive consumer products don't often publish white papers, since there is little need for them in B2C marketing.

After all, most consumers don't want to read a 10-page document before they buy something.

There may be exceptions—such as energy, investments, and healthcare—where consumers may have to make considered purchases.

For a longer discussion, see my article "Who needs a white paper?"

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Why do companies produce white papers?

B2B vendors publish white papers for many reasons:

  • To generate leads
  • To support a new product launch
  • To educate analysts, bloggers, and journalists
  • To educate their own sales force and channel partners
  • To nurture prospects through a complex B2B sale
  • To win in a technical evaluation against competitors
  • To redefine a marketing space
  • To stake out a position as a leader in their space

On a strategic level, white papers fit into the widespread trend of "content marketing."

Content marketing is based on the belief that skeptical prospects are hungry for a vendor who will serve as a trusted advisor, not just a peddler of their wares.

A white paper can serve this purpose remarkably well.

Remember, a good white paper is more than just background about a product.

The most effective white papers provide useful information to help a business reader understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.

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Where do white papers fit in the sales cycle?

The longer the sales cycle—aka customer journey—the more likely white papers are part of it.

White papers are used in the sales cycle, before the prospect makes a purchase.

Different types of white papers work best at different points in the sales cycle:

  • To attract fresh prospects at the start of the process (generating leads), the problem/solution or chocolate format works best
  • To engage prospects through the middle of the process (nurturing prospects), the numbered list or strawberry flavor works best
  • To encourage a purchase decision near the end of the process (support a technical evaluation), the backgrounder or vanilla flavor works best

After making a purchase, the buyer has little need for white papers.

At this point, the customer may need documentation, training, and technical support. They generally do not need any more white papers until an updated product is available, and they must decide whether to upgrade.

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Which type of white paper should your firm create?

If you are creating a white paper, but aren't sure which flavor is best, you can narrow down the list with three straightforward questions.

1: What is the purpose of this paper?

  • Generate leads
  • Attract attention
  • Nurture prospects through a complex sale
  • Cast FUD on competitors
  • Influence a selection committee

The best flavors to generate leads at the start of the customer journey are a problem/solution or a numbered list + problem/solution.

In general, the best flavor to attract attention, cast Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) on competitors, or nurture a prospect through a complex sale is a numbered list.

The best flavor to influence a selection committee near the end of the customer journey is a backgrounder.

2: When will this white paper be used?

Early in the sales cycle, your white paper can be more high-level and general.

Later on, your white paper should be more detailed and specific.

3: Who is the audience? What do they want?

IT people generally want to see technical details. They will tolerate longer papers with modest production values. In fact, a slick and colorful format tends to make them suspicious.

Executives want to see bottom-line benefits summed up in a page or two. They want to hear about lower costs, higher sales, richer profits, or better customer service. Executives expect polished production, with clear graphics they can understand at a glance.

Managers want to hear about streamlined workflow and labor savings. They are keen to see how a new system would affect their area and their people.

User reps want to hear about ease-of-use, training, and support. They can be more or less technical, but they will likely be detail-oriented. Users are not often a significant audience for white papers. But if a user rep is involved in a selection committee, you need to address their concerns at some point.

A mixed audience or selection committee may want to hear everything touched on above. In this case, you may need several white papers, each with a different flavor and each with content geared to a somewhat different audience.

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How much does a white paper cost?

There are several costs related to producing a white paper:

  • Research, writing, and editing
  • Illustration and design
  • Translation, if applicable
  • Printing, if applicable
  • Promotion.

Each of these costs can be outsourced, or handled in-house.

photo of hand holding many $20 bills

In 2013, extensive research for my book White Papers For Dummies showed that the average fee for a text-only white paper was $4,200.

Most B2B marketers in medium-sized firms count on spending $5,000 to $7,000 for the text, and another $1,500 for design and graphics.

Translating and promoting are further costs.

And there are "soft costs" for the time it takes subject matter experts to answer questions and e-mails and to review drafts.

 

All this to say, a white paper is a significant project in any marketing budget. Trying to do a white paper on a shoestring budget of $1,000 or $2,000 will not likely yield good results.

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How long does a white paper take?

After working on 306 white papers, in my experience it takes 6 to 8 weeks to get from the first interview to an approved white paper draft.

And it can take longer if people travel a lot or take their time with reviews.

Illustration and design take an additional week or two.

Any translations, if required, take more time.

And then the promotions begin and run for many weeks or months.

The good news is that a vendor can often continue to use the same white paper for years. This long life helps to achieve a very positive return on the investment in a white paper.

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How do you promote a white paper?

Simply writing a good white paper is not enough. Tucking it away on a website is not enough.

To earn an acceptable ROI, a vendor must actively promote a white paper in many ways.

The most popular ways to promote a white paper include:

  • Post it to numerous websites
  • Feature it prominently on home pages
  • Send e-mails about it
  • Mention it in e-mail sig lines
  • Tweet about it on Twitter
  • Extract ideas and create blog posts from them
  • Create a press release about it
  • Mention it in newsletters, e-zines and blogs
  • Give it to prospects on sales calls
  • Give it to prospects at trade shows
  • Pay a third-party service to syndicate it

In fact, the best way to promote a white paper is to handle it as a mini-product launch.

Do everything you would do to launch a new product, and your white paper will be on the road to success.

The more effort you invest in promoting a white paper, the more likely it will succeed.

See my article on the 18 must-do tactics to promote any white paper.

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What kind of companies need white papers?

Remember, a white paper is a pre-sales document intended to attract prospects or explain an offering.

Any B2B vendor selling anything relatively new, relatively complex, or relatively expensive could likely benefit from a white paper.

This includes companies in sectors like:

  • Computer hardware and peripherals
  • Consulting firms with new methods
  • Enterprise software
  • Medical devices or diagnostic equipment
  • Technical or scientific services
  • Test or communication equipment
  • Training firms with innovative approaches

This adds up to perhaps half a million potential vendors in the English-speaking world that could benefit from white papers.

Vendors of any relatively familiar, simple, and inexpensive consumer products don't often publish white papers, since there is little need for them in B2C.

After all, most consumers don't want to read a 10-page document before they buy something.

There may be exceptions—especially in energy, investments, and healthcare—where consumers may have to make considered purchases.

For a longer discussion, see my article "Who needs a white paper?"

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How hard is it to write a white paper?

Writing your very first white paper for a company you don't know well, in an industry you've never written about, can be quite a challenge.

Writing your fifth white paper for a long-term client in an industry you know is not so hard.

Most writers feel that the first white paper they ever wrote was quite difficult.

And many writers who have done fewer than 10 white papers still find these tough.

If you understand the material and work well with others, writing a white paper can be smooth and enjoyable.

If not... quite the reverse.

All in all, writing a white paper is no harder than writing a major magazine article or blog post of several thousand words.

But if you've never done that before, it may be very difficult indeed.

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How long does it take to write a white paper?

According to the White Paper Writer Industry Report which surveyed 600+ writers in 2007, the typical white paper takes between 24 and 50 hours to complete.

That means one to two weeks full-time should be enough to complete a white paper... if everything else falls into place.

Like any B2B writing project, you must allow time for interviews, research, outlining, drafting, and perhaps coming up with diagrams.

A client will expect a few progress reports. And you will need to incorporate their comments into your drafts.

photo of hands of a clock

If you manage the process well, writing a white paper can be smooth and efficient.

If not, it can turn into a never-ending project that drags on and on and on...

The more experience a white paper writer has, the faster they work.

 

 

And freelancers tend to produce faster than in-house or non-professional writers, probably for the simple reason that writing is their business, and time is money.

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How much can you charge to write one?

In 2013, extensive research for my book White Papers For Dummies showed that the average fee for a text-only white paper was $4,200.

Most B2B marketers expect to pay between $5,000 and $7,000 for an experienced white paper writer.

Obviously, if you have specialized knowledge about a certain niche, you can charge more than a generalist who will need more time and ask more questions.

And the more white papers you have written, the more you can generally charge.

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What main problems do white paper writers encounter?

Among other problems, white paper writers report difficulties with:

  • Time management
  • Lack of clear feedback
  • Changes in direction
  • Getting approvals

As well, an inexperienced designer can destroy the readability of an otherwise strong white paper.

Successful white paper writers sooner or later devise ways to deal with these issues.

The most effective strategy is to head off these problems before they happen, by planning and managing a white paper to yield the best possible results.

Here are some quick tips:

1. Round up approvals from all stakeholders early on.

2. Submit short deliverables for discussion, like a creative brief or a one-page outline, before you start writing a 10-page document.

3. Get your client or company to make a tangible commitment to complete a white paper.

For example, freelance writers should get a partial payment in advance; in-house writers can get an okay to forego other duties writing the document.

4. Work closely with the designer and make sure they understand the white paper format.

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How can you learn more about white papers?

You're in the right place; this White Paper FAQ is an excellent place to start.

This website provides 100+ articles on every aspect of writing white papers. You're welcome to explore them all.

And of course, you can always buy my book, White Papers For Dummies. I crammed 15 years' worth of tips and tactics into it. You can see what reviewers are saying about it here or check out the book at Amazon here.

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Where do you find clients?

We get this question all the time.

While there’s no quick answer, here are some pointers that might help:

  • Take stock of every area you’ve written about over the years
  • Then generalize that knowledge into the vertical markets it touches and the horizontal business functions it involves
  • Create a persona of your ideal client
  • Expect to spend 40 hours a week either writing or working on your marketing
  • Use the phone, not e-mail or social media to contact prospects
  • Approach prospects with a give, not an ask
  • Keep a swipe file of cool examples to inspire you
  • Be passionate about what you do

Other things you should do are to build a web presence, at the very least an effective LinkedIn profile.

And create a “buzz piece”—a white paper of your own to attract leads.

Then, once you start writing white papers, publish good samples and testimonials on your website.

Some final tips: Pick three marketing tactics you can carry out every week. Use a mix of inbound and outbound tactics.

Even if you're introverted, choose at least one outbound tactic. You don't have to do everything. Just keep doing whatever works for you.

For more on this topic, see these articles:

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Where did white papers come from?

This term "white paper" arose late in the 19th century in Great Britain.

It was used to distinguish shorter government briefings and position papers with white covers from longer reports and policy books with blue covers.

I have located white papers from the UK dating back to the late 1890s. I am still searching for the earliest one on file in the UK government archives.

photo of Winston ChurchillAn early example that many people point to is the so-called Churchill White Paper from 1922. See more background.

A few months after this was published, Britain apparently broke every promise in it.

Just like today, not all white papers speak the truth?!

White papers were often used in science and medicine during WWII, the 1950s, and the 1960s.

 

With the rise of the PC in the 1980s, white papers started to become extremely popular in the IT industry.

And in the 1990s, the Web provided an inexpensive distribution channel that sparked the explosion of white papers over the past 20 years.

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Where are white papers today?

One thing's for sure: The number of white papers is growing exponentially.

In 2002, I ran a Google search for the phrase "white papers" that yielded 2.8 million hits.

A decade later, in 2012, the same search got 39.5 million hits—14 times as many.

The Web is awash in documents called "white papers."

And in many sectors, these have become a standard part of the marketing toolkit.

That's because truly effective white papers are read by B2B decision-makers and passed on from person to person.

White papers have a major impact on buying decisions for billions of dollars worth of products and services every year.

Yet this label is applied indiscriminately to many documents that are nothing but thinly veiled sales pitches.

For this reason, the term "white paper" is becoming devalued.

It may be better to find a more specific name for some audiences, such as:

  • Executive briefing
  • Guide
  • Handbook
  • Research report
  • ROI calculator
  • Special report
  • Technology backgrounder

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Where are white papers going in the future?

In the near future, white papers will continue to be very popular with marketers and prospects.

Over the longer term, many new formats for delivering information are being explored.

For the kind of content usually included in a white paper, these new formats include:

  • Audio podcasts
  • Explainer videos
  • Microsites
  • Recorded webinars

Others mediums on the horizon include 3D immersive experiences and virtual trade shows.

Although these formats can offer a more engaging experience for certain audiences, they require higher budgets and different production methods.

And it's not useful to call these "white papers" since they are not delivered as text on paper.

Those who call some other medium a "white paper" are likely trying to trade off the popularity and impact of these documents.

For a longer discussion, see my article "When is a white paper NOT a white paper?"

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If you have any questions about white papers that aren't answered here, or you find an answer that isn't clear, please e-mail Gordon at That WhitePaperGuy.com

I'll get right on it! 

last updated: 28 May 2021