When potential new freelance writers enter this field one of the first things they aspire to is getting to write white papers. The reason is quite simple – it is one of the most lucrative fields in what bears the name of content writing. So, very quickly they search for the answer to the question on how to write a white paper.
But, the road of white papers and lucrative writing deals is one of the harder ones they have to take if they opt to do content writing. The reasons for that are quite compelling. As one expert explains, “a white paper isn’t the same as a blog post or even writing an eBook.” Nor is it a case study or a journal article.
According to her definition, the white paper is an official report – or government report – which shares the company’s message and informs their potential customers about a complicated issue in an easy-to-read, but the highly formal format. It presents an issue or problem to help the reader understand the issue, and shares a solution to help readers make a decision. So, a white paper is to inform and educate.
As Foleon adds, white papers are a popular and powerful tool for content marketers. They can be used to position a company as a thought leader, to present useful and persuasive research and information about their products and services, and to generate leads.
Looking at those facts about white papers it is obvious why is such a coveted writing specialty. According to research by Demodia, in 2021 the “average” cost for a white paper is around $4,500. Writers with specific professional knowledge and experience more often charge from $5,500 to $7,000.
How to write a white paper – basic facts
Foleon (above) adds that “in the world of marketing, a white paper is a long-form piece of content, similar to an eBook. The difference between the two is that white papers tend to be more technical and in-depth. The facts and opinions expressed in white papers are often backed by original research or statistics that the publisher has aggregated from reliable sources. They often include charts, graphs, tables, and other ways of visualizing data.”
The original term white papers was first used in England and is often tied to the famous “Churchill White Paper,” commissioned by famous British prime minister Winston Churchill in 1922.
Currently, the term is in most cases connected to the so-called deep dive publications. Various businesses use them to communicate their organization’s philosophy on a topic, particularly in the so-called B2B sectors. With a white paper, they also try to make the case for the superiority of their product, or simply to present research findings related to their field.
So where’s the key with white papers? It is the depth of the research that should give them the authoritative tone and the assuredness of presenting such research.
White papers started out as a tool of governmental and other official institutions. But these days they have become a hot property among organizations engaged in content marketing. The reason for such widespread use of white papers is their versatility. On one hand, all white papers have certain elements in common. On the other, governmental institutions, NGOs, businesses of all shapes and sizes can use them as tools. And each of them can tailor content to their specific needs.
Types, purpose, and use of white papers
The versatility of white papers stresses the fact that there are numerous types of white papers. Foleon indicates two main types:
- The backgrounder, in which the benefits of their product, service, or methodology are explained in depth.
- A problem-solution white paper that walks the audience through the solution to a problem that is common in their industry or a certain field.
- “Other types of white papers simply present a summary of useful statistics and information about the state of a particular field or industry.”
According to Instructional Solutions, the purpose of white papers is to be a tool to attract readers to the company by offering top-quality industry knowledge. “A white paper is not a sales pitch. It sells the company by highlighting the internal expertise and valuable recommendations, not by bidding for business.”
So what should, in general, be a topic of a white paper? Three factors should play a role:
- Audience – The white paper must be written with a target reader in mind. The audience may be long-time customers familiar with the industry or new prospective buyers who are entirely new to the field (Instructional Solutions). The topic should reflect on the reader’s possible main questions. Topics that need further investigation and those that provide new information should be a priority.
- Expertise – White paper should highlight the expertise of a certain business. The document should provide a complete investigation including external research and internal knowledge.
- From a problem to a solution – White papers should identify and address a particular problem. The document may focus on issues such as common dilemmas, new trends, etc. The white paper must have a proposed solution or recommendation. This solution is based on a thorough examination of the problem and potential solutions.
Preparation and the difference from standard business reports
Choosing the right topic highlights the fact that the preparation and formatting are as important as the content and writing of a white paper. There, detailed and thorough research is a priority. Why?
Because white papers always focus on data and to get the right and precise data research has to be significant. The more sources there are in a white paper, the more confident will be its potential readers. In order to write a valuable document, all research materials must be from credible, reliable sources.
Reading other white papers presents a two-fold advantage. The author can gather useful information and at the same time determine the knowledge gaps and the opportunities to build on existing content.
Gathering sources and references requires that the writer needs to keeps track of them as well as the ideas that she/he will present in the content. To do that a mind mapping tool will come in quite handy. There, such a tool depends on the preference of the writer.
On the surface, a white paper seems to follow a standard format similar to a business report. But business reports place the main conclusion at the beginning of the document. A white paper, on the other hand, includes the conclusion at the end. The reason is that the end is where the reader receives the solution which is supported by the evidence in the document.
Formatting and content of a white paper
When guiding potential writers on how to write white papers, experts always stress the importance of its title.
Choosing the title of a white paper should be precise and accurate. Often, it is a good idea to leave that process at the end. One element that the author should always have in mind is the potential audience of the white paper.
Every white paper includes an abstract. The abstract offers the reader a brief overview of the white paper’s main points. It allows the reader to ensure they have found a document relevant to their needs. After reading, the reader should be able to know if they are in the right place.’ (Instructional Solutions)
What follows is the problem statement. “The problem statement specifies the issue the white paper will address. The problem needs to be defined and placed into a context to ensure it’s understood by the reader.”
The background section is where all that research comes into play. The problem statement specifies the issue the white paper will address. The problem needs to be defined and placed into a context to ensure it’s understood by the reader. Essentially, it depends on the reader and the problem.
The solution should turn on the figurative light that suddenly shines in the mind of the reader. Of course, it comes after the presentation of all the evidence and expertise of the author and the company he represents.
The conclusion follows and summarises all the major findings. It presents recommendations that primarily rely on the solution that was previously presented.
A white paper always includes references. These can be in the form of footnotes or endnotes. “It adds validity to the document. It also gives the reader content for further research. Depending on your industry, follow MLA or APA citation formats.”
Elements that need special attention
As Foleon (above) notes, like with all good writing, your intro should serve to captivate your audience, pique their curiosity, and entice them to read further. “The outro is equally important, especially if you’re using your white paper to market your products or services. You should avoid any self-promotion in the body of your white paper, but you can certainly mention your relevant product offerings and how to obtain them — perhaps using a compelling call-to-action — at the end.”
White papers do not have a purpose to be advertisements for a company, and you should avoid any overt promotion. Instead, they should provide plenty of useful information that will be valuable to readers even if they don’t become customers. Emphasizing value is the key to a great white paper that will get shared and widely read.
White papers serve to showcase the expertise of a company or brand in a given field. The readers should come away with useful knowledge and with the impression that the author is a reliable source of expert information. Generating this kind of reputation will lead to greater business success as buyers are more likely to purchase from companies they trust.
So it seems that it is a hard task to learn how to write a white paper. Selecting a good freelance writer that can provide a good service in writing white papers seems no less easy. One of the better methods of securing the services of a reliable freelance writer is to go through a list of available writing services.