The Idiot's Guide to White Paper Writing

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White paper? Huh? What’s THAT? For those of you who’ve never written a white paper, the cluelessness you experience will be overwhelming. But hey, that’s ok! Remember how absolutely clueless you felt when you first got started on your ABCs, how you struggled to remember what (a+b)^2 was?

What I’m trying to say is that cluelessness is no reason why you shouldn’t go ahead and do something! Learning something new is always fun and keeps you young J And that’s scientifically proved by the way.

So, here are a few things to keep in mind while tackling a white paper. Let’s begin at the beginning, at the point where you said “Huh?!?!”

What IS a white paper?

According to Wikipedia, “A white paper (or "whitepaper") is an authoritative report or guide that is often oriented toward a particular issue or problem. White papers are used to educate readers and help people make decisions, and are often requested and used in politics, policy, business, and technical fields. In commercial use, the term has also come to refer to documents used by businesses as a marketing or sales tool. Policy makers frequently request white papers from universities or academic personnel to inform policy developments with expert opinions or relevant research.”

So, we have two kinds of white papers—commercial and governmental. Since we’re talking about writing white papers for Ramco, let’s take a look at commercial white papers.

The objective of a commercial white paper is primarily as a marketing tool. But it is not merely a marketing tool. It is also a window for future or existing clients to learn about a new technology or product in a non-technical way. So, it is neither technical writing, nor pure marketing writing. It is a blend of both, and striking the right note is central to writing an engaging and persuasive white paper.

5 questions you should ask before you begin

1. What is my objective?

Every white paper has an implicit “call to action”. What is it that you want your reader to do? If you’re writing a commercial white paper, chances are that you don’t simply want to make him/her aware of a new technology or product that your company has launched, but that you want to gently persuade him/her that it is beneficial to adopt your solution/service/product. Please note the word ‘gently’. A good white paper should be subtle. There are more aggressive forms of marketing like advertisements, but a white paper compels by being persuasive and yet, objective.


2. Who is my target audience?

Knowing your reader and his/her world and mind, will help you craft a readable white paper. Often, in a bid to sound erudite, white papers are peppered with technical jargon and complex statements. However, for a non-technical client, nothing can be more frustrating! If you must use technical lingo, break it down to layman terms, explaining it concisely as you would to a child.

If your white paper is meant for a niche, technical crowd though, you can bypass the obvious explanations and present more compelling arguments that would act on their well-informed minds.

3. What issues will I address?

Ok, so you’ve chosen a ‘topic’, but a ‘topic’ is far too broad a term. For instance, the topic ‘Gender’ could have many specific issues that you could discuss. You could talk about gender equality in the contemporary world, gender inequalities faced by women in an office set-up, gender challenges faced by men in a changing world, gender issues faced by foreigners in India and so on.

To decide what your particular take on the topic is, jot down a few possible ‘sub-topics’ and select the one which you think you can handle most proficiently. You could also draft a skeleton structure of areas that your white paper will cover.

Tip: Some topics will have a lot of available resources—both primary and secondary. If you are not an authority on the topic that you’re writing about, go ahead with an easy-to-research topic. If, on the other hand, you are an authority on the subject, select issues that people have not hitherto talked about in that particular domain.

4. How can I add credibility to my paper?

A white paper which has the right amount of references, quotes, statistics, graphs, charts and illustrations will come across as being well-informed and objective. Substantiate your claims with objective, third-party research findings like statistical charts, graphs and so on. Use illustrations and charts to explain concepts, steps, description of processes etc. Expecting the reader to wend his/her way through chunks of text may be a little ambitious, even if you are an expert writer.

5. What are the components of a white paper?


The Abstract—This is a one-paragraph description of what the paper intends to address. Many writers imply or state the conclusion here, but we suggest that you refrain from doing so. Use the abstract to tell the reader what the purpose of your paper is. Often, customers read only the abstract and conclusion, so you need to provide sufficient “teaser” copy to lure them into reading the details.

The Executive Summary—Cover the background and state the problem in two to three paragraphs. For instance, if you are writing about cloud ERP, you may want to give brief information on what it is and why it has become popular. You could briefly touch upon the disadvantages of on-premise software and legacy applications and how it has necessitated the birth of cloud. Keep it simple and clear and avoid using jargon.

The Meat/Body—Touch upon various aspects that your white paper will address. Use interesting sub heads to address various issues, while ensuring that there is a good flow between the various points that you are addressing. For instance, if you are talking about a SaaS application for accounting processes, your body may address issues like “Challenges of Manual Processing,” “Benefits of Automation,” “How SaaS works” and so on. Then, you could move on to why your SaaS service is better when compared to other SaaS providers.

Conclusion— End with a one-paragraph summary of the entire paper and why your service/product is the best bet to solving the problem faced by the client.

Crafting a good white paper is an art, but thankfully, one that is easily acquired. All it needs is a little patience, good research skills and the right presentation. So, go ahead and write an award-winning white paper!

Contributed by Remya Abraham