Answered By: Kate Anderson, Business Librarian
Last Updated: Jun 06, 2018     Views: 132

White Papers Defined:

Historically, the term white paper was used to refer to official government reports. Over time the purpose, audience, and format of white papers have changed in order to fit specific applications within various fields and disciplines. Therefore, depending on who you ask, white papers can be defined and used quite differently.

The typical purpose or intent of a white paper is first to educate and inform. Some white papers not only educate, but also promote a certain position or product, or propose a solution for a specific problem. Often, white papers are used by businesses to sell products or solutions to meet customer's needs. Therefore, the white paper audience is typically external - those outside of the organization. With this in mind, it is important to be mindful of your readers by using limited professional jargon and to write in an informative and persuasive tone. 


Writing a White Paper:

Start with the big picture or problem, and end with the solution or proposal. White papers are often 6-8 pages long, but they can be longer or shorter depending upon the topic.

Typical Sections:

  • Cover Letter (if any)
  • Introduction/Executive Summary
    • An introduction is helpful for busy readers. Summarize the main points in case the reader does not read the entire document.
  • Background information or explanation of problem:
    • Before providing solutions or proposals, the background information, facts, or problem(s) must be clearly defined. Define the problems from the reader's perspective.
  • Solution(s)
    • Remember, this is an opportunity to speak directly to your audience and recommend something they need. 
  • Advertisement (if any)
    • If written for commercial purpose, corporations may include a product advertisement in order to sell a specific product's attributes. Only advertise after providing the facts and detailing the need for solutions.
  • Conclusion
    • Convince and summarize in order to enhance the reader's understanding of the main points and proposal.
  • References (if any)


Consider creating and adding helpful images such as tables, graphs, and infographics to capture the reader's attention and assist visual learners. Make sure the images are necessary and directly relate to your topic and/or proposal.

White Paper Examples:

White Paper Support:

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