What Is a White Paper? Types, Purpose, and How To Write One

White Paper

Investopedia / Michela Buttignol

What Is a White Paper?

A white paper is an informational document issued by a company or not-for-profit organization to promote or highlight the features of a solution, product, or service that it offers or plans to offer.

White papers are also used as a method of presenting government policies and legislation and gauging public opinion.

Key Takeaways

  • A white paper promotes a certain product, service, or methodology to influence current and prospective customer or investor decisions.
  • Three main types of white papers include backgrounders, numbered lists, and problem/solution white papers.
  • A white paper provides persuasive and factual evidence that a particular offering is a superior product or method of solving a problem.
  • White papers are commonly designed for business-to-business marketing purposes between a manufacturer and a wholesaler, or between a wholesaler and a retailer. 

Purpose of a White Paper

White papers are sales and marketing documents used to entice or persuade potential customers to learn more about a particular product, service, technology, or methodology.

White papers are commonly designed for business-to-business (B2B) marketing purposes between a manufacturer and a wholesaler, or between a wholesaler and a retailer. It can provide an in-depth report or guide about a specific product or topic and is meant to educate its readers.

The facts presented in white papers are often backed by research and statistics from reliable sources and can include charts, graphs, tables, and other ways of visualizing data. A white paper can communicate an organization’s philosophy or present research findings related to an industry.

Types of White Papers

A startup, large corporation, or government agency will use white papers differently. There are three main types of white papers, including backgrounders, numbered lists, and problem/solution white papers.

Backgrounders detail the technical features of a new product or service. Designed to simplify complicated technical information, they are used to:

•Support a technical evaluation

•Launch a product

•Promote a product or industry leader

Numbered lists highlight the key takeaways of a new product or service, and are often formatted with headings and bullet points such as the following familiar format:

•3 Questions to Ask

•5 Things You Need to Know

•10 Tips


Problem/solution papers identify specific problems faced by potential customers and suggest a data-driven argument about how a featured product or service provides a solution to:

•Generate new sales

•Educate salespeople on product characteristics

•Build industry interest.

How to Write a White Paper

White papers differ from other marketing materials, such as brochures. Brochures and traditional marketing materials might be flashy and obvious, but a white paper is intended to provide persuasive and factual evidence that solves a problem or challenge.

White papers are commonly at least 2,500 words in length and written in an academic style.

A white paper should provide well-researched information that is not found with a simple internet search and have a compelling narrative to keep the reader's attention. The author of a white paper should:

• Research and fully define the topic.

• Create an accurate outline of information.

• Write an attention-grabbing introduction.

• Format the paper for easy reading.

• Revise and proofread.

What Is an Example of a White Paper?

All of these documents, publicly available on Microsoft’s website, focus on aspects of the company's suite of cloud services. In contrast with brochures, these white papers don’t have a clear sales pitch. Instead, they dive into relevant topics, such as cloud security, hybrid clouds, and the economic benefits of adopting cloud computing.

  • An AI-First Infrastructure and Toolchain for Any Scale
  • Moving your Mission Critical Mainframe Data to Azure
  • Mesh and hub-and-spoke networks on Azure
  • Backup and recovery overview for Azure users
  • Backup and recovery overview for users new to Azure

How Have New Industries Used White Papers?

Cryptocurrencies have also been known to publish white papers during initial coin offerings (ICOs) and frequently issued white papers to entice users and "investors" to their projects.

Bitcoin famously launched a few months after the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto issued its famous white paper online in October 2008.

Why Is It Called a White Paper?

White Papers may have developed from the use of “Blue Papers” in 19th century Britain, where a Parliamentary report cover was blue. When a topic for the government was less serious, the blue cover was discarded and published with white covers. These reports were called White Papers. In the United States, the use of government white papers often means a background report or guidance on a specific issue.

The Bottom Line

A white paper is an informational document issued by a company, government agency, or not-for-profit organization to promote the features of a solution, product, or service that it offers or plans to offer. The facts presented in white papers are often backed by research and statistics from reliable sources and commonly written in one of three formats that include backgrounders, numbered lists, and problem/solution papers.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Copy Engineer. "The 3 Types of White Papers and When to Use Each One."

  2. Master Class. "How To Write a White Paper."

  3. Microsoft. "White Papers on the Cloud and Azure."

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