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White Paper World 3: April 2022


  • Fresh content: Updated White Paper FAQ
  • This just in: NetLine’s 2022 State of B2B Content Consumption
  • This just in 2: 20 years of Googling “white papers”
  • Tools of the trade: An app to test white paper ideas
  • Great fails in readability: Covid test product insert
  • What I’m watching: Travelers on Netflix

Fresh content: Updated White Paper FAQ

When I first started writing white papers 25 years ago, I looked all over for an FAQ. When I couldn’t find any, I decided to write one myself.

big question mark for FAQ about white papers

Over the years, I’ve kept adding to it.

Today my White Paper FAQ is undoubtedly the biggest and most definitive FAQ on white papers.

Whether you’re a B2B marketer or writer, I hope it helps you understand white papers better.

I’ve just finished updating and expanding it to cover a grand total of 36 questions.


If you’ve never visited the White Paper FAQ, you can undoubtedly find the answers to a few things you’ve been wondering about.

You can see it here:


This just in: NetLine’s 2022 State of B2B Content Consumption

Netline 2022 B2B Content Consumption report
Just out in April, the sixth annual report from NetLine is a whopping 65 pages.

As you may know, NetLine is a B2B IT content syndication service owned by Informa PLC.

Based in London, Informa is a sprawling company that runs publications, sponsors events, and does research.

The same company now owns the Content Marketing Institute.

NetLine’s report is based on analyzing the 4.6 million B2B leads generated by its content in 2021.


Here are some nuggets I picked up from this report:

Webinars doubled in popularity in 2021: That’s no surprise when trade shows and in-person events were canceled left and right.

• E-books were downloaded 4.8 times more than white papers last year. NetLine advises marketers to “pivot away from white papers and focus exclusively on e-books for text-based content.” (page 53)

• IT pros much prefer “special reports” over any other format.

• “Guides” that walk through a topic step-by-step are also very popular.

The problem, as usual: The definitions of these formats remain nebulous.

So why call it a white paper?

Here’s an obvious conclusion that I’ve been suggesting for many years: Call your new B2B content an e-book, special report, or guide rather than a “white paper.”

But wait, there’s more! Prospects close to making a purchase prefer white papers over any other format.

In fact, NetLine developed the following table comparing different formats.

Netline 2022 content format with buyer intentions

Formats on the left are denser, while those on the right are lighter.

That means the prospects closer to buying look for richer content, while prospects further away from a decision choose lighter content.

And while e-books are popular, they fall midway down the list of lighter formats.

And that means fewer downloads of white papers by more serious buyers may generate more revenue than more downloads of other formats by less-serious buyers.

Interesting, huh?

Keep it brief and answer your reader’s questions

While we ponder that, here’s some choice advice from NetLine (page 9) on how to create effective content:

  • Simplify the complex without talking down to your audience.
  • Leverage the 7 Key Questions: Who, What, Why, When, Where, How, and How Much? in your titles.
  • Be thorough without being overbearing or verbose.
  • TL;DR needs to be the epicenter of your content strategy.

I concur, absolutely.

All these millions of data points just confirm this timeless advice about clear communication.

Use plain language. Don’t waste words. Answer your audience’s unspoken questions. Cut anything that doesn’t add to your message.

There’s lots more in this very substantial report. I’ll be looking for it every year from now on.

You can get your own copy of the NetLine report here:



Google hits on "white papers" 2002 2012 2022

This just in 2: 20 years of googling “white papers”

In 2002, I searched Google for “white papers” and got 2.8 million hits.

Of course, that didn’t mean there were 2.8 million actual white papers out there. But people had mentioned that phrase online that many times.

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

“Wow!” I said, “White papers are getting huge!”

Twenty years later in spring 2022, I ran the same search and nearly fell off my chair.

Now that search yields 782 million hits.

That’s almost 20 times the hits of a decade earlier… and an unbelievable 279 times what I got 20 years ago.

White papers have truly “arrived”

I think we can all agree on that.

White papers have gravitas, and a reputation for serious discussion that elevates them far above mere blog posts, case studies, or any other type of B2B content.

In some sectors, a company isn’t “real” until it has published a white paper.

You can get tossed off a vendor shortlist if you don’t have white papers.

For many B2B marketers, white papers are a standard part of the toolkit. When they work, they work beautifully.

White papers influence B2B buying decisions for many billions—maybe trillions—of dollars worth of products and services every year.

Yet too much popularity can have a downside

The “white paper” label can be applied to any document… including many that don’t live up to the name.

“Unfortunately, the term ‘white paper’ has been warped as marketers have injected brand-forward content vs. delivering real value,” says the NetLine report (page 53).

The last thing any B2B prospect looking at a white paper wants is a thinly veiled sales pitch.

I’ve said for years that the term “white paper” is being abused, watered down, and devalued.

For some audiences, it’s often better to use an alternate name, such as:

  • Executive briefing
  • Guide
  • Research report
  • Special report
  • Technology backgrounder

So we’re back to the finding from the NetLine research: Why not call your next white paper a “special report” or an “e-book” instead?


Brainstorm Buddy logo

Tools of the trade: An app to test white paper ideas

Can’t decide which idea for a white paper is the best?

Need some professional help picking a topic to engage your audience?

Now there’s an app for that.

Retired journalist (and math grad) Linda Formechelli just unveiled Brainstorm Buddy, an online service designed to help writers weigh ideas.

She calls it “the first automated content idea analyzer tool.”

Linda Formechelli creator of Brainstorm Buddy

Linda Formechelli, writer and
creator of Brainstorm Buddy

Brainstorm Buddy is easy and quick to use: Just type in your idea, answer a brief set of multiple-choice questions, and you get a rating out of 100.

If your idea doesn’t cut the mustard, you’ll see lots of tips on making it stronger.

Linda developed this concept based on 20 years of pitching articles to big magazines like Family Circle, Inc., and Wired.

When she realized most freelance writers have trouble coming up with strong ideas, she taught them her methods.

Later, Linda got involved in content marketing for companies like Best Buy, GE, Intel, and Qualtrics, and discovered that content writers have the same problem. 

So she built her process into an easy-to-use tool: Brainstorm Buddy.

I tried it, and I’m a big fan. The app instantly helped me hone a white paper idea from so-so to sharp as a tack.

I’ll be using Brainstorm Buddy to test out ideas for every white paper I write from now on.

Right now, Linda is offering an introductory price of $29 a year. Wow.

Even to weigh up ideas for a single white paper, that’s a bargain. To use it unlimited times over a whole year is a steal.

Check out Brainstorm Buddy here:

(Not an affiliate link, I just want to tell you about this cool new resource.) 


Great fails in readability: Covid test product insert

Covid came to my house this month, shortly after the schools made masks optional and let kids mix and mingle freely.

So we all got it: First one daughter, then my wife Angie, then the other daughter, and finally myself.

And we all had to test ourselves a few times, which brings me to my current topic.

The province of Ontario, where I live, reportedly bought 150+ million Covid test kits for a population of about 15 million.

The one I see most often is the BTNX Rapid Response. To buy it retail costs about $50 for 5 tests.

Fortunately, you can get a box free from grocery stores and pharmacies here.

I’m happy the government made these available. But I’m not impressed with the instructions.

BTNX Rapid Response test kit box

There’s a little card in each package for consumers. Aside from print so tiny only a Martian could read it, it has pictures that more or less explain the process.

Not so the “product insert” included. Check out the first sentence:

“The Rapid Response™ COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test Device is an in vitro immunochromatographic assay for the direct and qualitative detection of SARS–CoV–2 viral nucleoprotein antigens from nasal and nasopharyngeal secretions from individuals suspected of COVID-19 within six days of symptom onset and from individuals without symptoms or other epidemiological reasons to suspect COVID-19 infection, when tested twice over two (or three) days with at least 24 hours (and no more than 36 hours) between tests.”

That’s a 77-word sentence! When I ran Word’s readability checker on it, this sentence got the worst scores I’ve ever seen:

  • Flesch Reading Ease: 0
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 36.6

As you know, the Flesch Reading Ease is scored out of 100, where 100 = a book by Dr. Seuss. I shoot for 50 on any white paper.

A score of 0 is unbelievable.

The FK Grade Level shows how many years of schooling it takes for someone to readily understand this passage. I shoot for 10 on any white paper.

So 36.6 years of schooling is like getting three or four PhDs!

Sure, I can read that sentence over and over until I puzzle out what it means. But will most consumers put in that mindnumbing effort?

Of course not. That’s an inexcusable fail in readability.


Travelers recommended Netflix show preview

What I’m watching: Travelers on Netflix

Catching Covid meant 10 days of isolation for me.

That’s when I discovered a great show on Netflix called Travelers.

If you appreciate science fiction, time travel, transferring minds between bodies, and debates about AI vs. humans, I think you will like this show.

All three seasons scored at least 95% on RottenTomatoes. And nine out of nine critics liked it. I concur.

It’s tough to come up with any new twist on time travel. But Travelers does it by adding very well-rounded characters to the mix.

The pace is tight. The writing, acting, and production are all top-notch.

Here’s where to check out the pilot for Travelers.

By the way, Angie and I are fine now, and the kids are back at school.

I’d like to give special thanks to everyone who worked hard to create the vaccines and anti-viral pills against Covid.

And even the test kits I slammed earlier. They just forgot to test the instructions with their target audience, listen to their comments, and make revisions.


That’s all for this time

If you liked this e-newsletter, please forward it to a colleague who’s interested in white papers.

You can see all the previous issues here:

And if you have any questions about white papers, please send them to Gordon AT and I’ll do my best to answer… maybe in my next article!

Good luck with all your projects!

And if you get Covid this month, I hope you get through it okay.

Gordon Graham
That White Paper Guy


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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