What is a White Paper (and How Do You Write One)?

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If you’re here because you’re confused about white papers, welcome to the club. White papers often have even expert marketers saying, “Wait—what is a white paper again?”

That’s because every business doesn’t need a white paper. You don’t need your favorite coffee shop asking you to download their white paper in return for opting into their weekly newsletter next time you check out.

You want your delicious bean juice… not an in-depth analysis of what you need to know about the future of the coffee industry. ☕

But… you may be interested in Klayvio publishing a white paper on the future of email newsletters based on trends they’re seeing through their email clients.

Think your business needs to write a white paper? Let’s go over what a white paper is and how to write one.

What is a White Paper?

A white paper is a piece of content written by your business as a report on a specific topic within your industry. If you’re thinking, “Who wants to read a report?” let’s explain why white papers exist.

What you’re reading right now is an article. It’s made to be published on a blog and it’s written to be enjoyable to read. The goal of this article is to explain what a white paper is—without you feeling like you’re knee-deep in statistics and technical language.

A white paper uses statistics and technical language to explain a topic related to a business’s industry. If we were to write a white paper on white papers, it would be much more formal than this article, it would have heavy statistics that prove why white papers matter to businesses, and it wouldn’t be afraid to use a lot of technical jargon.

Companies want to write white papers when they’re looking to showcase a problem that their business can solve. For example, in 2007, Facebook could have written a white paper on how advertisers aren’t getting the conversions they used to through traditional TV advertising and why that makes Facebook’s new advertising platform a viable solution for advertisers in the new age of social media. (Facebook launched their ad platform in 2007… what feels like a lifetime ago).

The point of Facebook’s hypothetical white paper would have been to prove to advertisers that traditional tv advertising wasn’t where they wanted to spend their ad dollars, Facebook was. They would have backed up their point with serious statistics, graphs, charts, and lots of snazzy business lingo.

So why do businesses write white papers?

  • They show in-depth industry expertise
  • They can be used as a lead magnet
  • They can be used internally by your marketing and sales teams

Now that we’ve narrowed down what a white paper is, let’s dive into how to write one.

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How to Write a White Paper

If you’re getting ready to write a white paper—buckle up. You want to spend a hefty amount of time writing an in-depth paper that shows how your business is a thought leader in its industry. While it’s definitely a bigger task to get a white paper written, just like anything else, if we break it down into steps it’s really not so bad. 😅

Step #1: Choose your topic

Choosing your white paper’s topic starts with the action you want the reader to take after they’ve read it. In Facebook’s case, they would have wanted their readers to feel much more motivated to shift some of their ad budgets from TV advertising to social media advertising.

Note: Let’s be clear here—your white paper shouldn’t be manipulating people into thinking something that isn’t true. A great white paper uses statistics and lots of research to prove its case. If Facebook had written a white paper like the one we’ve talked about, they would have shown how many hours people were spending on social media per week in comparison to TV. That would have shown that Facebook is a great place to advertise, not manipulated readers into thinking something that wasn’t true.

Step #2: Do your research

With your topic in hand, it’s time to find the statistics and other authoritative pieces of content that will build out your white paper. Open up Google Docs or your favorite note-taking app and start pulling statistics and case studies that prove your point. Make sure to save the links so you can link out to those sources in your paper (remember, you want this to be data-driven and proven, not made up or pulled from thin air).

Step #3: Write!

Alright, time to get to writing. 🤓 Remember, your white paper is supposed to be very in-depth, so you want it to be long. Aim for it to be around 10 pages long (or longer depending on your industry). You’ll also be adding in graphs, charts, and images, so keep that in mind while writing and aiming for a certain page count.

Step #4: Make it pretty

The last step in writing your own white paper is to make it pretty with the graphs, charts, and images we mentioned above. These “extras” are meant to support the point you’re making, as well as make it easier to understand. You’ll also want to add in a Table of Contents to help make it easier for the reader to navigate your white paper.

See, writing a white paper isn’t so bad right?

If your customers would be interested in a white paper, use these 4 steps to whip one up so you can use it as a lead magnet, to show your thought leadership, or to internally for your sales and marketing teams.

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