written by
Margo Ovsiienko

White Paper: What Is It & How To Write One [With Examples]

Content Marketing 9 min

Creating a white paper is a quick way to build your expert image, get a ton of shares and mentions of your company on other blogs and social media, and generate leads online.

But creating a white paper is a daunting process that often requires conducting additional research, interviewing experts, and involving specialists in writing and putting it together.

In this article, we will explain what makes an excellent white paper and how to create it stress-free.

What is a White Paper?

A white paper is a form of content that aims to position a brand as a thought leader in the industry and build trust among interested parties—potential buyers of its products or services.

White papers are usually backed with solid research and contain original findings on a specific subject. The subject covered in the white paper is often the one where the company or brand can show extensive expertise.

White papers are often written from either perspective:

  • Presenting a background of a subject and covering all related specifics and trends
  • Showing solutions to a specific problem and equipping the audience with the right tools to solve a particular issue.

White papers are widely used in B2B but are not limited to this domain. These days, any company or brand can benefit from creating a white paper.

There are at least two main benefits that white papers bring to any company using this type of content in their strategy— lead generation and brand building. So how can you create a white paper that helps reach these two goals? Let’s explore.

Tips on Writing a Good White Paper

White papers are not another guide compiled from information taken from Internet sources. Instead, a good white paper is original content that no one has ever covered.

That’s why writing a white paper is quite demanding and involves documented research and interviews with key players in the field.

Here are some tips to make working on creating and promoting a white paper more accessible for you.

1. Choose the right topic for a white paper

Your white paper topic shouldn’t be a random choice. Start by outlining the areas where you have the most expertise, researching how well those topics are covered, and looking for content gaps—your best content opportunity.

If no one has adequately covered a topic or subject within your area of expertise, this is a good place to start.

Ryan Carruthers, Content Marketing Manager at Together, says:

Our process for writing white papers is to compare our highest traffic and highest converting blogs. If these topics are driving a lot of awareness or even bringing in revenue, we should probably be developing thought leadership around it. We'll dig into these high value blogs and then consider the wider context they sit within. Then we'll dig a lot deeper into the topic as a white paper. For example, if we have a blog on employees who are thinking about their long term career goals and it generates a lot of traffic for us, perhaps it would make sense to put together a white paper on the trending skills or career trends for employees in a certain industry or demographic.

Apart from covering a content gap online, your topic should also meet the needs of your audience and be engaging.

2. Research your target reader

Before writing even a paragraph of your white paper, define your audience. Take some time to look at their demographics, motivations, objections, challenges, etc. Then, you can use the following template to do your persona homework.

buyer persona worksheet template
Persona research sheet - Source: Smartsheet

Putting yourself in your persona’s shoes will help you choose the right tone of voice for your white book and include relevant information for your target audience.

3. Structure your white paper and brainstorm contributors

When you have a rough idea about the topic and persona, it’s time to outline your guide and become more specific on the content of a white paper. Next, you can break it down into chapters, and once your overall structure is ready, proceed to the outline of each chapter.

You might want to consider what research you’d need for every chapter and whether you're going to involve your partners or other industry thought leaders in creating the white paper.

For example, you can choose to interview some experts both within your organization and outside of it. Next, you can quote them in the white paper and encourage the experts to distribute the white paper in their network.

4. Provide lots of value

When writing white papers, share unique findings or research to position yourself as an expert. Instead of rewriting what’s already available online, provide a different angle.

Adding interview transcripts with experts that share new information is critical. But you can also develop a methodology for independent research, collect data through surveys, and describe your findings.

Look at the subject from the perspective of solving a specific problem your users usually face and demonstrate possible solutions.

The process of writing a white paper should focus on taking your reader from point A to point B. At point A, users have some issues you want to help them solve. Then, by educating them on the subject and showing them how they can solve the problem, your users end up at point B.

5. Make your white paper engaging

Remember that your white paper is not a doctoral thesis, your audience expects easy-to-consume content. That’s why you have to follow these rules when creating your white paper.

  • Keep sentences short. Your audience can have a short attention span and will most likely read your white paper online. Long sentences can make it more challenging to consume content on the Internet.
  • Shorten your paragraphs. Your paragraphs shouldn’t be too long. Make sure they don’t exceed 3-4 passages.
  • Adjust the amount of jargon. Again, depending on who will read your white paper, they expect different content complexity levels and industry jargon.
  • Use some examples or case studies. Examples and case studies make it easy to understand the subject and make content more engaging.
  • Think over the visual format. It’s best to work with a professional graphic designer who can make your content shine. The visual content (images, infographics, tables, and illustrations) is also essential as it dramatically affects how we perceive information. For example, online insurance company PolicyMe uses eye-catching visuals and infographics to make their reports about finances more engaging.
visual elements of a white paper infographic
Graphics elements of a white paper

6. Proofread to avoid mistakes

Grammar or punctuation mistakes don’t contribute to creating a professional image. That’s why you must proofread your white paper content before sending it for design or distribution.

It’s best to work with an editor who can spot your mistakes and polish your content.

7. Create a landing page and opt-in form

You can’t just randomly link your white paper content on your blog or main page. It needs a dedicated place on your website where you can direct people. Create a landing page where you can build demand for your white paper and describe the benefits of downloading it.

You can gate your white paper and present it as ungated or semi-gated content.

For gated content, you have to create an opt-in form asking your readers to submit some of their details (such as email or phone number) to download the white paper. Then, you can generate leads and nurture them to become sales opportunities.

With ungated content, you don’t create any opt-in forms and make your white paper content available to a broader audience, but you don’t usually generate leads. This option is excellent for brand building, improving your search ranking, and getting your white paper shared online.

Semi-gated content is a good option as well. It involves making some parts of your white paper ungated and gating the rest of the content. Once readers reach the gated part of the content, you can trigger an opt-in form.

Here is why this approach works. Reading a few pages can help readers understand the value of your white paper. Then, once you ask them for contact details, they will experience much lower friction compared to the situation when they are asked for details in advance.

Read more: Content Marketing Toolkit to Bring in More Leads

7. Distribute your white paper

The distribution part is equally crucial as creating content. Not many people will find your white paper online without a proper distribution strategy. That’s why deciding on the distribution channels for the promotion is essential.

For example, you can involve your partners in posting about your white paper on their social media, giving it a boost with ads, or optimizing it better so it ranks higher in Google. Choose the promotion strategy that fits your business specifics the best.

Read more: Ebook distribution funnel template

White paper examples

With the growing popularity of content marketing, any business can benefit from creating and distributing white papers.

Use cases of white papers appear in different fields, from marketing to tech. Let’s look at a few examples of white papers across industries.

1. Netguru — Disruption Guide Fintech 2022

In their Fintech Guide, Netguru covers the main aspects of technology for the financial industry — trends, people, and companies that play a crucial role in this field.

white paper example
White paper example 1 - Netguru

Their white paper is based on interviews with thought leaders in the field, which adds to the resource’s credibility.

On their dedicated landing page, they show the white paper’s outline and bring up the images of internal and external experts that have contributed to this solid piece of research.

The white paper has been created to attract the interest of both startups and established companies that want to get familiar with the latest fintech trends. It is the audience Netguru aims to build trust with and eventually convert into sales opportunities.

2. 360Learning — 2022 US Learning and Development Career Path Guide

360Learning is a learning management system specializing in helping companies promote collaborative learning throughout their organizations.

white paper example
White paper example 2 - 360 Learning

Their white paper covers the career paths and salary reports for the US Learning and Development industry. This white paper is unique in that most of the content is ungated - meaning you don’t need to give your email address to access it.

3. Searchmetrics — US eCommerce Market Analysis

Searchmetrics researched the key eCommerce verticals to learn about the trends in search queries, paid traffic, and companies dominating search rankings.

white paper example
White paper example 3 - Searchmetrics

With their whitepaper, Searchmetrics is targeting SEO specialists and marketers.

The company emphasizes the benefits of downloading a whitepaper that decreases the friction of filling out the opt-in form for white paper download.

4. Upflow - 8 Tips to Get Paid on Time

white paper example
White paper example 4 - Upflow

Rather than getting too in-depth, Upflow chose to keep its guide digestible by providing just 8 methods businesses can use to get paid on time. To make it easy for users to convert, they only ask two questions on their form, but they do it in a really smart way.

The most important piece of information for Upflow to have about potential leads is what invoicing tool they use, so they simply and only ask that. No need to fill out country, company, or job title. This is a good technique for gated content. Figure out what the one piece of information you actually need to know about leads is, and then simply ask that.

Concluding thoughts on white papers

White papers are a great tool to build your thought leadership online. It helps position you as an expert and attracts the attention of the people you can help with your expertise.

But white papers don’t only educate; they also become an excellent lead-generation tool and bring you new clients. By following the tips we have covered, you can publish a white paper that your audience will find helpful and share it with their communities.

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