What Should a White Paper Contain?
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Do you have questions about what content is important to include in a white paper? That is perfectly understandable because this type of content has very specific requirements.
Understanding the characteristics of white papers will help you to better structure your report and select the most appropriate references.
What is a white paper?
Before detailing what content is important to include in a white paper, it is necessary to clarify its definition. Originally, white papers were official materials, i.e., published by governmental bodies. It is often said that the first white paper was presented by Winston Churchill in 1922.
The name refers to the color of the covers of these reports. In the British Parliament, a color system was used to classify the level of access to information. For example, Blue Books have certain restrictions on access, while White Books are public.
What are white papers used for?
Today, governmental bodies still use white papers to present their policy proposals prior to legislation. But the term white paper has undoubtedly become better known since it was also adopted by industry.
In this sense, it refers to a document or report that serves to explain a technical subject or topic in depth. They are authoritative publications, which can be leveraged as marketing or sales tools. Moreover, they are an excellent resource for generating leads.
White papers are often used as a guide to industry-specific problem solving. In these cases, they offer solidly supported arguments highlighting the benefits of a particular solution. However, they should not be overtly promotional, nor should they be confused with academic or research articles. Because of their particularities, it can be difficult to discern what content is important to include in a white paper and what should be avoided.
Content to include in a white paper
White papers are based on data derived from research or acquired from experience. In both cases, they are authoritative information with verifiable and reliable sources. They are not academic compendia but provide practical and actionable information.
Therefore, they should include a general description of the topic as well as specific data and explanations of the challenges and solutions. Reviewing the structure of this type of material will help us to explain what content is important to include in a white paper.
Although there is no strict rule about the sections they must contain, they generally follow an outline including:
- Problem statement
- Proposed solution or conclusion
In some white papers, the introduction is preceded by an executive summary. This consists of a brief description of the contents of the document. It is a short presentation that condenses the key points of the white paper which can also be included in the introduction.
The purpose of any introduction is to persuade the reader to continue reading the document. It must contain attractive elements. It includes the statement of the challenge but without developing it in detail, as a means to capture the reader’s attention. It gives the reader a clear notion of the topic to be analyzed in the body of the white paper.
It is also advisable to outline the consequences of this problem. The intention is to make the reader aware of the importance of learning more about the subject. Briefly explain the issues to be addressed and the benefits to be gained from reading your white paper. In other words, it states why the content of your white paper is important.
It is advisable to dedicate a specific section to concretely defining the challenge to be addressed. It should outline the situation precisely, indicating its scope or limits. This may be a geographical constraint, technical restrictions or minimum requirements.
Sometimes people feel frustrated after reading a white paper because the problem and its treatment does not correspond to their situation. All this means is that they were not the intended audience of the publication.
In a white paper, addressing the problem requires the most attention. Its definition is the starting point for the other sections of the document. Avoid creating false expectations or raising unspecific perspectives.
In the problem statement, it may be useful to refer to the background or weaknesses of current solutions. This will help you highlight your proposal.
Proposed solution or conclusion
This section provides answers to the readers’ questions. This is where the value of your white paper really becomes apparent. In this section you should detail all aspects of the subject.
This content requires the most work. You need to provide key facts and data to support the argument. You will need to support your publication with reliable figures and information, so extensive research in various sources is necessary.
The better documented the problem is, the more relevant the proposed solution will be. It will also demonstrate your mastery of the subject matter.
Devote the last paragraphs of the white paper to a conclusion. Summarize the main points in the document and emphasize the benefits of your proposal.
Some reports omit this section, but we believe it is important content to include in a white paper. It allows the reader to check the sources of the data and builds their confidence in you as a reliable business. In addition, it could be helpful because of the halo effect of relevant references.
What kind of information do you need to write a white paper?
White papers are not opinion pieces. These reports must be supported by facts and data that are properly verified. For this reason, there are certain types of content that are important to include here. Consider, for example, providing statistics, tables or graphs that further illustrate the problem.
If the content of your white paper is highly technical, include diagrams or images to facilitate understanding.
You can use your own research or information from solid external sources to gather this information. Official figures or those generated by industry leaders or trade associations are usually reliable. Nevertheless, be aware of the currency of the research. Outdated information, even from an authoritative source, will detract from the validity of your content.
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