Someone recently asked whether whitepapers are not dead? Maybe, this is the natural end of whatever marketing touches.

What’s a whitepaper all about?
As a marketing tool, many companies publish whitepapers. They are given as takeaways (after filling out a form). Press releases are sent out to tell the world that a new whitepaper has just been published. They are supposed to bring in leads and sales (serious buyers), support new product launches, display thought leadership, or simply generate goodwill.

Traditionally, a whitepaper explores a problem situation from all perspectives, goes in-depth, and comes out with a reasoned solution or recommendation.

What typically forms a whitepaper subject?
Churchill wrote a whitepaper on Palestine. And there has been a whitepaper on the use of five words in contracts that can harm closure of construction projects – a whitepaper on why not to use those five words.

Usually complex issues form the ideal subject for whitepapers. That means the writer will begin with a broad topic, and then zero-in on a problem or issue worth solving.

For example, the schemes may look like this:

Cloud -> integration -> conventional approaches -> effective strategy -> using xyz platform
Country -> investment -> sector -> govt / changing tax scenario -> when to invest
Universe of tangled relations -> love -> silly misunderstandings -> how to avoid break up

Who can write a whitepaper?
Almost anyone who has any specific knowledge on a topic and has some new insights to offer. Much of content work today is outsourced, and so are whitepapers. Large agencies handle both research as well as writing, whereas some may offer editing and review services. Design too plays a role when whitepapers are intended as marketing tools.

Basic elements of a whitepaper
Since a whitepaper is a formal publication (like reports), and is supposed to be high in authority, adopt a formal structure. A typical whitepaper structure looks like this:

Cover page
Author/s bio
Abstract / Summary
Table of contents
Overview/history (optional)
Main body of whitepaper
About the company / call to action page (optional)

Titles should not be neither too generic (integrating the cloud), or too specific or salesy (‘the best platform to integrate the cloud’). Experiment with a two-part title, which begins with a generic expression, and then adds specific details in the second portion (for e.g., Lean manufacturing in auto sector: a counter-logical alternative to popular approaches).

Editing a whitepaper
Good editors look at both the structure and flow of information, and make every paragraph explore one main idea and connect it to the next. Subheadings also play a role in advancing the thoughts. Writers often miss out on adding necessary details, and gloss over assumptions that readers may not be aware of. An editor can reveal such gaps and flaws, and indicate where more information is needed.

The tone and style of whitepapers set them apart from other marketing material. The recommended approach is neutral, objective and formal. Casual expressions, digressions and irrelevant references are thus avoided. However, given that writers intend to express their original insights and solutions, a lighter, conversational style makes for authenticity and helps to build a rapport with the readers.


Whitepaper Guide:
Writing Whitepapers and How to write a whitepaper, Michael A Stelzner