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How to Write a White Paper - Guide On Every Section

November 09, 2015 - Posted to Education

Content how to write a white paper x essays

Fixing a "no-experience-with-white-paper" situation

At some time you may need to write a white paper, and you may have no experience ever having written one. They are used in academic, marketing and business environments, and have specific purposes. Here you will find an explanation of all you need to know if you are ever tasked with producing a white paper.

A Requirements Definition

A white paper is a relatively short document that could almost be described as similar to a case study, except that it is shorter in nature and may be prepared on virtually any topic. Like a case study, a white paper must present a problem, provide research related to that problem, identify optional solutions, and then propose the best solution and convince others that it is the best solution. Perhaps students in schools of business and sociology will have a pretty good understanding of what is a white paper.

Topics for White Papers

Topics are widely varied because white papers are used in so many environments.

  • In a business environment, a white paper may have a security focus, if there are networked systems with data that must be protected, and current systems are not adequate.
  • In a government environment, a white paper may be produced by an IRS official that proposes an innovation strategy for streamlining the processing of refunds.
  • Content marketers often produce white papers that provide solutions for the problems and issues of their customers/potential customers
  • Students are often tasked with white papers to investigate a problem or issue in their content fields. A student of political science, for example, might produce a white paper proposing a solution to the current method of electing a President in the U.S.
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Steps for Writing a White Paper

  1. Identify the problem that your audience faces. You need to be able to state that problem in a phrase. For example, typical problems may be “increasing cyber security,” “streamlining tax refunds,” “workplace safety,” “finding the best mortgage loan,” “improving social media presence,” and so forth.
  2. Identify the level of expertise/understanding of your audience. A CEO may have no knowledge of technology at all, other than to know that s/he wants the best security system possible. Obviously, your white paper will not be filled with a lot of technological terminology. If, on the other hand, you are writing for the head of IT, whose level of expertise is much higher, you will be far more technical in your writing.
  3. Determine at least a general idea of how long your white paper will be. This will depend on how much background and background research you may need to provide as you discuss potential solutions. A good “rule of thumb” is that a white paper should be between 1-5 pages.
  4. Prepare an outline for your white paper, the body being the most important. Most white papers follow a standard format of introduction, body and conclusion.
  5. The introduction should present the problem, describing it as precisely as possible. You should be able to do this in a single paragraph.
  6. The next section should include the aspects of the problem your reading audience faces. If we continue with the issues of security of the IT systems of a company, a white paper would concern itself with all of the departments who must have secure systems – HR, confidential work product information (formulae, ingredients, manufacturing processes), client information, etc.
  7. Provide any background, including any research or data that you have available that addresses or relates to the problem. This might include the newest innovations in security technology.
  8. Provide a summary of the optional solutions that exist. And then describe the solution you are proposing in detail, pointing out its advantages.
  9. Describe how your solution will be implemented.
  10. Conclude with a brief summary of the problem and how your solution will solve it.

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Do's Don'ts

Do present your product or service as a solution to a current problem. If you provide cloud-based backup services, describe the problems of not having off-site backup and the solutions that you can provide.

Don’t ever use a white paper as a sales tool if you are in either brick and mortar or web-based business. You should not tout your product or service as being superior to your competitors’.

Do add pricing information if you are recommending an outside product to workplace colleagues or bosses.

Don’t add information about pricing or special packages if you are presenting your product/service as a solution.

Common Mistakes

 A big mistake that content marketers tend to make more than others is to turn a white paper into a tool for selling.

Also make sure to:

  • describe the problem and solution in terms that your audience can understand. You may have exceptional expertise but your audience will not. Gear language and style toward your audience.
  • use visuals when you can, especially if you are presenting research data.
  • remember it is the problem that your audience has, not you. You are the problem-solver.

Hopefully, this has helped you understand how to write a white paper. If you follow the steps carefully, you will have a document that meets all of the important criteria.

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