White papers are a powerful tool that are commonly used today in the world of content marketing. However, a lot of confusion exists about what a white paper is, how it should be written, and what its overall purpose should be. This ultimate guide to white papers will teach you everything you need to know about adding this piece of content to your overall marketing strategy.
What is a White Paper?
At its core, a white paper is a long-form piece of content that closely resembles an eBook. The difference between the two is that white papers generally are more in-depth, informational, and include graphs, charts and pictures to further inform the reader. Typically they are issued by companies and used to promote and highlight the features of a product, service or solution.
Types of White Papers
There are a few different types of white papers you can write. While they all have similar goals, their audiences, amongst other things, may differ slightly.
Technology Benefits White Paper
These types of white papers are generally geared towards a more technically-savvy audience. Anyone reading a technology benefits white paper should already have a baseline understanding of the product and the problem it solves. At this point, they’d want to know whether it will be a good fit for their organizational needs.
Business Benefits White Paper
A business benefits white paper is aimed at the non-technical reader and is designed to introduce the offering, while explaining to customers how they can benefit from the product or service. While technology benefits white papers are normally positioned at the end of a sales cycle, a business benefits white paper will work anywhere along the customer’s buying journey.
Hybrid White Paper
Like its name suggests, the hybrid white paper combines both the technology and business white paper into one. It addresses the benefits to the business, while also providing a high-level of technical details and product information. It will meet the needs of most readers, but is not as targeted as one of the above styles.
What Makes a Good White Paper
White papers are one of the most effective ways to inform readers. However, this is only true if it is written well. Make sure to consider these tips when creating your next white paper.
White papers should be no fewer than six pages. This includes all graphs, charts, visuals and references. There is generally no upper limit for white papers. Highly technical subjects may warrant upwards of fifty pages to accommodate extra detail.
Readers should need to revisit your white paper multiple times in order to extract every bit of information within the piece. They are not meant to be quickly read through. Compared to an eBook, a white paper should be significantly more dense.
Typically, you should include a title page, table of contents and short executive summary (optional) within the white paper. It should also have an introduction, problem, solution and more. See “How to Write and Format a White Paper” section for more information on the standard structure of a white paper.
Style & Format
White papers are very professional and serious documents with outstanding design. They are generally only distributed online, so creating them as PDFs is the best format. Make sure to keep it in portrait orientation rather than landscape.
Mistakes to Avoid When Writing a White Paper
Now that you know what makes a good white paper, you should know common pitfalls writers make when writing them. If your white paper misses the mark, it will fail to engage the reader to take action and consider your product or offering as a viable solution to their problem. Avoid these writing mistakes when creating your white paper:
Unlike an eBook, your white paper must include charts, graphs and other illustrations to support the arguments you make within the piece. While the written content is certainly paramount, having a great design is just as important. Using relevant visuals will help tell a story and guide the reader towards the conclusion you’d like them to make. Without them, you risk destroying the readability of the white paper as a whole.
Lack of Research
White papers are supposed to be persuasive and informative. Without proper research, it's difficult to influence the reader to take any sort of action. The best white papers include statistics and information that are backed up by trustworthy sources, such as government reports, industry associations and academic studies.
Making it a Sales Pitch
When someone reads your white paper, they shouldn’t feel like they’re reading a 10-page sales pitch. The primary purpose of this piece of content should aim to educate readers and any soft sells should come secondary. Creating your white paper with too much of a sales focus could turn the reader off and cause them to tune out the information presented within the piece.
How to Write and Format a White Paper
- Introduction - The introduction, or abstract, should provide the reader with a brief overview of what the white paper will be covering. This will help the reader ensure they have found the document that is relevant to their needs.
- Problem Statement - The problem statement sets up the issue that the white paper will eventually address. It is also generally in line with the product/service being promoted. The statement must be stated clearly and defined in a context that is understood by the target audience.
- Information - This section gives a bit of background behind the problem and begins to lead the reader towards a solution. The information section also ties in the product/service and all of its features. If original research is completed for the white paper, it should be included here.
- Solution - The solution directly addresses the problem, given the information that was provided in the section above.
- Conclusion - The conclusion summarizes the white paper and may also include a list of key takeaways.
- References - If outside research was collected during the creation of the white paper, its sources should be listed here in MLA or APA format.
Writing a good white paper is not an easy task and can often take weeks or months in extreme cases. When written correctly, these documents are more influential than any blog post, podcast, or email marketing campaign you can create. Consider the above tips and tricks when creating your next white paper to ensure it is as engaging and compelling as possible for your target audience.