What is a White Paper?
The term white paper is used to refer to a document containing an essay of facts and logic and is meant to endorse or promote a certain product, service or philosophy. A white paper can also be described as a document of persuasion, describing problems and their solutions.
Background of White Paper
The earliest known official white paper in history dates back to 1922, when a formal viewpoint of the British government was published, known as the Churchill White Paper. The said document addressed the government’s standpoint on the conflict in Palestine. Interestingly, the term ‘white paper’ is a derivative of the word ‘white book’, which was earlier used to describe the published government policies on different matters.
Usage of White Paper by the Governments
White paper was also used by the governments to introduce their policies to the public before the process of legislation. It proved to be an effective means to evaluate the political impact of a decision upon the masses. In that regard, white paper may serve as a ‘tool of participatory democracy’, where it not only presents to the public its intent of government, but also invites feedback and opinions hence, rendering the government’s approach towards a matter more flexible and public friendly.
A good example of it is the United Kingdom’s 1966 defense white paper initiated under the leadership of the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The said review resulted in reducing the public spending on military ventures. The government eventually decided to give up British military occupation in various parts of the world and cancelled the purchasing of a few aircrafts of the military.
Goals of White Paper
Nowadays, white paper is being widely used in the business world and research. A white paper is written to achieve two primary goals.
- Doing publicity of tangible and intangibles and attracting prospects
- Sharing information related to business and technical know how
Types of White Paper
There could be many types of white paper but majorly, there are two categories of white paper from which sub categories emerge.
A white paper is written by various organizations to create an awareness of their products in the market so as to attract more customers as well as investors. A detailed review of the product is described in the white paper. However, the main focus is on letting the reader understand how the product is useful and how it will be the only solution to existing problems.
Technical and Industry Knowledge
A white paper displays information about an industry and the technicalities associated to it. It gives the reader an overall idea about the kind of industry, the market, competitors, general environment, technical parameters as well as the solutions the industry provides to benefiters.
Characteristics of a White Paper
A white paper is written with the objective of communicating the intended idea. The tone of the white paper must never be promotional; it must be written in an educational yet convincing manner. Not every paper is a white paper. Mentioned below are the characteristics which distinguish a white paper from the rest.
- A white paper must be written in a way so as to attract the right audience. It needs to be concise and exact. A white paper must not cover a broad spectrum. It must only cover a specific area that interests a specific group of audience.
- A good white paper engages the reader meaning making the reader to devote full attention to it. For that, the language of the white paper must be clear, simple and must not overuse phrases and jargons of the business industry. The subject mentioned in the paper should convince the reader to further explore it.
- In the context of marketing, white paper must not be considered as a sales pitch. The reader must not get the feeling of reading a sales brochure; he should find himself engaged in a magazine article where the problem is presented objectively and alternative ways of solving the problems are given in a rational manner. This way the reader gets involved in reading the white paper.
- The title of the white paper must be crafted carefully. The title must never look like the formal type the reader would find in a dry text book. Instead, it must be creative, appealing and meaningful so as to maximize the number of targeted prospects reading it.
- It is really important to write the white paper in the language of the reader. For instance, if the white paper is aimed at the customers, the tone must be convincing and must communicate why the product or service is the best for them. If the term paper is targeted at the business community, it must cater areas such as operational efficiency, solutions to improve financial performance, ways to gain competitive advantage. In case, the term paper is written for technical readers, the detailed comparison of functionality and features, architectural design, integration with the new and existing systems must be highlighted.
Contents of a White Paper
A white paper generally has seven elements namely
- A captivating title
- An abstract
- Possible Solutions and Details
- Business Benefits
- Summary or Conclusion
Common Mistakes in White Papers
It is assumed that white papers are like any other magazine articles which can be written casually in less time. In reality, white papers are much more important and demanding than the regular magazine or brochure wordings. They require more understanding and research on the subject area. If the white paper is written in a language which is not reader friendly then it loses its purpose.
If technical readers are being targeted, then the white paper must contain facts, figures, comparisons otherwise, the readers will not be able to scoop anything worth out of it. Unnecessary details also spoil the credibility of a white paper. The tone of a white paper must not be too informal or else the intended aim will be misinterpreted.