Mastering the White Paper Format: A Step-by-Step Guide 📝

  • Writing
Contra Tips
· 7 min read

White papers are a valuable tool in content marketing. Demonstrate your business's expertise with solid research and the proper white paper format.

Is your business smart? White papers are the way to prove it.

Content marketing is an excellent way to provide value to consumers and assert your brand as a thought leader. Although you’ll need concise messaging and attention-grabbing advertisements to attract potential customers, thoughtful and data-driven content will show them you know your stuff.

That’s where a white paper can help. To get you started, we’ll explain the definition of a white paper, common white paper formats, and how to create one of your own.

What is a white paper? 🤔

A white paper is a document issued by an organization that’s meant to inform the reader about a topic while laying out the authoring group’s position or solution. Although initially a government practice, white papers have become a common form of business-to-business (B2B) communication and a beneficial element in content marketing strategy.

In contrast to flashy advertising copy and social media posts, white papers focus on long-form, deep-dive content presented in a formal voice. They often argue for a company’s philosophy or the benefits of its service — backed by extensive original research and literature review — but don’t necessarily make a direct sales pitch. They require a skilled writer who can clearly and concisely articulate complex information.

Why are white papers important? 🙌

White papers are an invaluable piece of B2B marketing you can distribute across LinkedIn and your owned media channels. They establish an organization’s authority on a relevant subject and lay out the objective benefits of the company’s approach. Publishing white papers raises brand awareness, positioning an organization as a thought leader that takes its mission seriously. White papers build trust by demonstrating a commitment to evidence-based solutions.

While traditional advertising is typically aimed at consumers, white papers are often meant to entice other businesses with subject matter expertise. They may also provide a resource for journalists and researchers to learn more about your business.

Consider this white paper example: A company offering project management software may release a white paper laying out an argument for its application’s structure, including data and expert opinions that support its ability to increase productivity. The attractive graphics and brief testimonials on the company’s website may initially attract business leaders, but the white paper’s in-depth info is required to seal the deal for discerning clients.

Types of white papers 🗂️

White papers can serve various functions, each requiring thoughtful decisions about content and format. There are three overarching types; the one you choose will depend on your white paper’s topic.

Backgrounder 🦄

This type of white paper focuses on explaining the benefits of your business’s product, service, or approach within the larger context of the industry. It often accompanies the launch of a new product or initiative. A backgrounder should synthesize and simplify complex research to make its case.

Problem/solution 🧩

This document uses data to define a pervasive issue in your industry and lay out an actionable solution (ideally, one you provide). A problem/solution white paper is especially helpful if your business is solving a problem consumers and other companies don’t know they have. However, it requires a substantial and convincing body of evidence.

Numbered list 📋

This white paper format is the most succinct and digestible. It provides a list of statistics or tips which don’t necessarily form an overarching argument. Such fact sheets provide simple reference material for readers that gives them the necessary context to understand the value of your business.

How to format a white paper 🏗️

White papers follow a predictable format that makes them easy to comprehend. The standardized structure lends them authority as an informative document rather than a punchy and creative advertisement.

Here is a basic white paper outline:

  1. Title page: A good title serves two functions. It grabs the reader’s attention and clearly describes the paper’s subject. The page should have clear branding to associate it with your organization.
  2. Introduction and problem statement: The introduction should include an abstract, which gives an overview of the information to come, so readers know if they will find the white paper helpful. This is also where you should define the problem you are addressing and give the proper context. Finish your intro with a table of contents that lists the various subheadings.
  3. Background info: It’s time to present your evidence. This section comprises your research methodology, findings, and analysis. It should provide all the necessary data and case studies to support your solution.
  4. Solution: This is the big reveal. Tie your background info into this section to convince readers your solution makes sense. Give a clear explanation of how your solution is implemented.
  5. Conclusion: This mirrors the introduction — once again summarizing the information but adding your solution and actionable steps to achieve it. You may include a call to action in this section, but avoid diving into a sales pitch.
  6. References: Like an academic article, a white paper must cite its sources. Give clear attribution to the studies and institutes you pulled your facts from. This increases your credibility and protects you from accusations of plagiarism.

How to write a white paper: Dos and don’ts 🚨

A white paper is distinct from other marketing materials. It retains an air of objectivity and avoids pitching directly to readers. Follow these guidelines to ensure your white paper achieves the desired effect:

Carefully choose your topic 🧐

Carefully selecting your white paper topic is essential if you want it to have a significant impact. Consider the audience you’re trying to reach, their level of expertise, and their areas of interest. Then, compare that to the subjects your organization is qualified and capable of addressing. Try to find a specific topic that suits both parties (bonus points if it’s not well-covered). Crucially, it should relate directly to a solution your company can provide.

Don’t make it a sales pitch 🙅

An essential factor in any white paper is objectivity. If you’re pushing a product or using sales-focused language, you’re showing readers you can’t be impartial. This might require you to outsource the writing to an independent ghostwriter who can tone down your brand voice.

Another facet of building trust is acknowledging your biases. Trying to pass off your paper as an academic resource is dishonest. Instead, make it clear that you are writing as an involved party with a stake in the issue.

Design with your audience in mind 🧑‍🎨

A white paper should carry a formal tone to preserve its authority, but that doesn’t mean it must be plain or boring (or even white). Fonts, infographics, and a branded color palette will engage readers and associate your business with the paper’s proposals. Design choices should be conservative but appealing.

Consider your target audience when making design choices. A white paper intended for academics should feature a more serious look than one targeted at laypeople.

Don’t write too much 🤐

Although a white paper should be thorough and detailed, it should also prioritize readability. There is no one-size-fits-all word count, but most white papers are several thousand words at most. Similarly, paragraphs should be longer than punchy ad copy without becoming page-long walls of text. If you’re struggling to keep it concise, it’s a good sign that you should save some info and insights for another in-depth report.

Find a writer for your white papers on Contra ✍️

A white paper can boost your credibility and elevate your brand — but not without a skilled writer. Fortunately, Contra is a freelance hiring platform full of independent writers who can help your brand stand out. Our service is commission-free, guaranteeing each Independent can offer competitive rates.

If you’re a freelance writer seeking opportunities, our platform can set you up with ideal clients and get you paid. Check out our blog — The Contrarian — for more helpful tips, such as our list of inspiring websites for authors.

What Is a Niche Market? Examples and Definition 🎯

Identifying a niche is vital for a successful business. Our niche market examples and definitions will help you find an audience.
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