“Good order is the foundation of all things.” – Edmund Burke

In public relations (PR), the white paper is the foundational document for many marketing communications tools. It is used to articulate, explain, promote or highlight the features of a solution, product, or service. But what is a white paper and how do you make one?

What is a White Paper?

According to Purdue University’s online writing lab, Purdue Owl, white papers were originally official government reports that indicated the authoritative and informative nature of documents. This text by Stanford Law School explains that the term, “white paper,” was created when government papers were color-coded to indicate distribution, with white meaning that it was designated for public access.

White papers argue a specific position, propose a solution to a problem, and address audiences outside of an organization. However, this type of document has become popular as a marketing tool for corporations to sell information and offer their products or services to consumers. Not unlike its original purpose, marketers use white papers to argue that their product or service is the best solution to a particular problem and explain how or why in order to sway the decision-making processes of current and prospective customers.

How do You Write a White Paper?

Writing a white paper requires some due diligence, proper research, and expert feedback. This article by HubSpot gives a more detailed step-by-step on this process, but the main steps are:

  • Identify your audience’s problems to generate demand for your product or service.
  • Conduct research to provide information that your audience cannot easily get elsewhere.
  • Write an outline to organize your thoughts and present clear objectives.
  • Get expert feedback from those you trust to verify information, catch typos and improve readability.

Some important things to keep in mind while writing a white paper are provided in this article by Foleon. In gist, you want to avoid making a white paper sound like a sales pitch. However, the article provides the caveat that you still want to keep it interesting by setting up the problem your audience is facing, providing a solution, and including success stories.

An especially key part of this process is doing adequate research that includes aggregating statistics and searching through scholarly works. You want to make sure that all your statistics and findings make sense to your audience. This means explaining in concrete terms how your product or service will alleviate or solve a specific problem.

Lastly, it is important to invest time in formatting and design to catch and maintain the reader’s attention. Properly designing your paper makes salient points stand out and helps your reader understand what they are reading. Using visuals like animations, images, videos, charts, and graphs can be especially effective.

Ways to Use White Papers in PR

A well-developed white paper provides a highly valuable foundation for creating other PR tools. This is because, once the white paper is completed and approved, the wealth of information it contains can be trusted and used to create all the marketing materials that follow, including news releases, media alerts, blog posts and thought leadership articles, as well as creatively rephrased sales materials such as promotional emails, brochures and pamphlets.

From Government Report to Marketing Foundation

What started as a way of designating government documents for distribution has become an essential tool for marketing. White papers highlight an audience’s problems, thus generating demand, and leverages them to offer your products or services as solutions. Doing proper research, creating an outline that presents clear objectives, having your paper edited for clarity, and investing in design and formatting are paramount to an effective white paper.

If you are still unclear on what a white paper should look like, this article by Thatwhitepaperguy.com provides a list of sample papers. However, if you find yourself requiring more professional aid in this endeavor, St. Conti Communications can help your organization develop white papers for use in marketing communications programs. Contact Donna St. Jean Conti, APR.

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