White Paper: Purpose and Audience
What is a White Paper?
Originally, the term white paper was used as shorthand to refer to an official government report, indicating that the document is authoritative and informative in nature. Writers typically use this genre when they argue a specific position or propose a solution to a problem, addressing the audience outside of their organization. Today, white papers have become popular marketing tools for corporations especially on the Internet since many potential customers search for information on the Web. Corporations use white papers to sell information or new products as solutions that would serve their customers' needs.
The Purpose of a White Paper
Typically, the purpose of a white paper is to advocate that a certain position is the best way to go or that a certain solution is best for a particular problem. When it is used for commercial purposes, it could influence the decision-making processes of current and prospective customers.
What Kind of Problems Do Readers Want to Solve?
The audience for a white paper can be the general public or multiple companies that seek solutions to their problems or needs. Typically, you will not know your audience personally, unlike when you write a recommendation report for your client. And yet, in order to persuade your audience, you need to focus on their needs. If you can address the problems that your readers want to solve, they will read your white paper for a solution. Otherwise, your white paper may not be read. It is important to emphasize your readers' interests rather than your interests, as shown in the example below:
White Paper: Organization and Other Tips
A white paper typically starts with a big picture and leads readers to the proposed solution. Make the headings clear and specific so that busy readers can scan the white paper effectively. The following are general guidelines on organizing a white paper.
Introduction / Summary
It is a good idea to provide a summary at the beginning of the paper in order to have busy readers quickly grasp the main point.
Background / Problems
A white paper needs to provide readers with general background information of a particular issue in order to help them make their decision based on the understanding of facts. Show them enough evidence that you are an expert on the subject. Point out problems from your readers' perspective. Make sure that you do not digress from the main subject; do not pose problems for which you cannot provide solutions.
After explaining the background and problems, propose your solution.
If you write a white paper for a commercial purpose, mention your products/services last to ensure that your readers read the whole paper. If you advertise before convincing your readers of the truths of your argument, they are more likely to be turned off.
Write a conclusion in order to wrap up the white paper and enhance your readers' understanding.
Put the works cited at the end of your white paper. Do not forget to put the information of hyperlinked sources for the reader who prints out your white paper.
Other Tips: Visuals and Examples
Visuals and examples deepen the reader's understanding and make the white paper more appealing and persuasive. Because many white papers are published online and thus read on screen, it is important that the visuals are appealing to the reader who browses the Internet. Graphics (charts, graphs, diagrams, and tables) increase readability, if used properly. Also consider using case studies and examples in addition to theoretical concepts and models.
Learn More from Reading White Papers
White papers abound on the Internet. Find some using a search engine such as Google. Type in "white paper" and a topic that interests you. You can add "pdf" to your search because many white papers are published in PDF format. Learn the strengths and weaknesses of those white papers to help improve your own white paper.
White Papers PowerPoint Presentation
The PowerPoint deck in this resource discusses the basics of writing White Papers and can be used for classroom instruction or self-study.