White Paper Writing and How To Pick The Best Topic

Ed Pronley


May 30, 2022 (Updated: May 4, 2023)

glasses sitting on top of an open notebook

A white paper is an in-depth document written about a particular subject, and white paper writing is a task often shrouded in misconceptions and mystery. Though they make very strong pieces of content for your marketing campaign, they often take a lot of time and require a bit more knowledge and writing skills than a simple blog or research article. But that doesn’t mean they’re impossible to create. And it’s safe to say you already had that thought, which is why you’re here. That’s great, because, in this article, we discuss:

Who Uses White Papers?

Image via Unsplash by @windows

In the past, it was mostly government agencies, financial institutions, and research facilities that wrote and distributed white papers. These organizations mirrored academic journals in their white paper creation, and that’s generally where they remain to this day. The main difference is that all types of companies and brands now use white papers as an effective way to promote their business and inform their target audience. Though white papers are often most interesting to a business-to-business (B2B) audience, they can still be helpful in a business-to-consumer (B2C) audience as well.

That means that someone who runs an e-commerce site that sells shoes might find white papers to be just as useful as an investment firm looking to gain new clients. Really, anyone can use a white paper if they feel so inclined. But you have to keep in mind the value it brings to your audience. Without value, your white paper will serve no purpose to your readers and might actually do more harm than good. But finding a white paper topic worth your time isn’t always an easy feat.

It takes a lot of time, money, and other resources to find the right white paper subject and write about it. Even then, it might not resonate with your audience. Creating a great white paper takes a lot of research, editing, and knowledge of your current industry. At CopyPress, we can offer you all three. We have a large team of writers, editors, and quality assurance specialists who know how to write for any industry or niche.

During the white paper writing, we work with you to ensure the content and style of the white paper matches your brand’s tone and style. Schedule a call with us today to learn more about process and see if ours is the right partnership for you.

Difference Between White Papers and Other Written Content

Though companies use white papers in their content marketing strategy, they differ greatly from general blogs, articles, and eBooks. In fact, a lot of people assume white papers and eBooks are fairly interchangeable. But each serves a different purpose. White papers communicate an industry problem or challenge and provide a possible solution to them. Brands use this opportunity to relay their knowledge and expertise without mentioning or advertising their products or services.

eBooks, on the other hand, are a kind of in-depth blog or knowledge base article. They have a casual tone and play off of the writers’ own experiences versus cold, hard facts and sources. They also have the ability to mention any and all services or products the company has to offer. So what’s so special about using a white paper over an eBook, especially when you can’t use it to talk up your business?

Well, white papers show that your company knows the ins and outs of its industry. After all, wouldn’t you rather work with an investment firm that can prove it knows how to handle money and find the best investment opportunities? Though eBooks are great to build brand awareness, white papers help you build brand authority. And people know it. That’s why you want to make sure any piece of content you call a white paper isn’t anything else but. If someone clicks on your white paper and finds an eBook, you might turn them away.

Want to see a great example of an eBook? Check out CopyPress’s eBook on the content marketing pyramid. See how an eBook differs from a white paper and learn how each piece of content works together to form an excellent marketing strategy.

“CopyPress gives us the ability to work with more dealership groups. We are able to provide unique and fresh content for an ever growing customer base. We know that when we need an influx of content to keep our clients ahead of the game in the automotive landscape, CopyPress can handle these requests with ease.”

Kevin Doory

Director of SEO at Auto Revo

How To Create a White Paper

Here is a list of steps to help you create a compelling and engaging white paper:

1. Understand Its Structure and Information

The structure of your white paper will often vary, depending on what type of subject or topic you’re covering. But one common structure to start with includes:

  • Title page
  • Introduction (“problem statement”)
  • Background
  • Proposed solution
  • Conclusion
  • Citations

As you can see, the structure of a white paper feels very similar to an academic paper. And that’s not a far-off comparison. White papers take time to state a common industry problem or challenge and support the argument with strong research. The research that companies include also follows academic guidelines, in terms of what they deem a credible source. That means it’s helpful to avoid biased or un-credible sources, such as people from within your company, or un-vetted information from blogs and online articles.

Though, these academic guidelines are a little looser for white papers. The best thing to keep in mind when choosing your sources is to make sure they’re recent, credible, and impartial.

2. Define Your Audience

Knowing who your audience is before picking your white paper topic is important. It not only helps to pick the right topic for your paper, but it also helps to set the tone of your content. Is your audience likely to read a lot of academic papers and research? If so, they might prefer or even expect a similar tone and style when reading your white paper. Is your audience more familiar with casual written content? Then it might be better to include engaging images and more casual language in your final product.

Defining your audience also helps you uncover certain problems they might be experiencing. Once you define your audience, send out questionnaires, conduct surveys, and perform thorough research to find out what problems they’re trying to solve. Targeting one or even a few of these problems in your white paper can help attract readers to your content right away and motivate them to share it with others. It also helps show that you understand your audience and the challenges they face. This makes them feel seen and heard, which improves their satisfaction and loyalty to your brand.

Related: How To Find a Build a Relationship With Your Target Audience

3. Pick the Topic

Though your audience research can help you narrow down the topic of your white paper, you still need to ensure that you can talk about it at length. If there’s not enough research to back up the severity of the challenge, or there’s no viable solution backed by evidence, the white paper won’t provide much insight or benefit to its readers. That’s why it’s important to conduct thorough research and see how much information is available on the topics you want to write about. Start by looking at other white papers, journals, and reports on similar topics.

What do others have to say about the subject? Where did they get their sources? What solutions are they suggesting? Is your solution different? Can you improve their solution? See how you can take the topic and approach it in a different way. Let your audience see that you can provide quality, unique information they can’t find anywhere else.

4. Use Engaging Language

Though the most common comparison that people make for white papers is a thorough academic study, that doesn’t mean it has to be dry, plain, and boring like the world of academia. No offense, Harvard. Using engaging language can help make your white paper more readable and approachable to a wide range of audiences. But why stop there? Pairing engaging language with strong writing practices, like the use of storytelling and anecdotes, can help keep your readers engaged from beginning to end.

For example, let’s say you’re writing a white paper for the investment industry. You might address the issue that people often lose a lot of money on investments because they don’t do enough research or they don’t understand the market. Instead of listing a bunch of numbers and percentages, talk about an actual person who faced an investment hardship. Did they lose money? How did this problem affect them? How can others avoid this issue in the future? Get your readers emotionally invested with people and stories, and they won’t be able to put your white paper down.

Read more: How Storytelling Can Improve Your Content Marketing

Important Considerations for Your White Paper’s Style

Here are some additional things to consider when working on your white paper’s visual and written style:

Emphasize Value

Though white papers can be an effective content marketing tool, remember, you shouldn’t use them like normal blogs and articles. You don’t want to use the white paper to talk about your company’s services and products. You want to focus on the value your white paper gives your readers and demonstrate how your brand could give them the same type of value. Simply explain the problem, relate to your audience, and offer them a possible solution.

This helps in a few ways. One, it allows you to show your company’s expertise and authority in the industry. You thoroughly understand problems that other businesses might not. And two, it shows your readers that you care about them and their challenges more than you care about selling your products or services. Your business provides help first and worries about making the sale second.

White Paper Length

White papers generally have a considerable length to them, especially when compared to something like a blog, which typically sits in the 500 to 1000 words range. White papers are often a minimum of 3000 words, which could easily be 10-15 pages, depending on images and styling. But that’s what people expect when they download a white paper, something long, cohesive, and in-depth on the chosen topic.

In fact, some people might not even read a white paper in one session. They might read it in parts or use the document as a reference when they face the problem or challenge in question. That’s why it’s important to conduct thorough research and have the resources you need to develop a comprehensive, helpful, and engaging white paper for your intended audience.

Visuals and Design

Just like using engaging language and stories can help make the white paper more approachable, using visuals and designs can create an appealing document that attracts people’s attention. It also helps you represent your brand by using brand-specific colors, logos, and illustrations. Just because you’re not promoting your products and services, doesn’t mean you can’t tell people where the white paper is coming from. In fact, it’s highly encouraged. After all, it’s still a tool to market your business.

But as mentioned, even following every one of these tips, it’s possible that your white paper might not resonate with your audience. That not only can feel discouraging, but it can also be a pain, especially after you’ve sunk a ton of resources and time into its creation. That’s why it’s helpful to turn to experts for help. At CopyPress, we have a team of writers, editors, and quality assurance specialists who can not only help you pick the best white paper topic for your audience but craft the content with thorough research and excellent use of language.

We know the best ways to write compelling content that resonates with your readers and demonstrates your brand’s expertise. Schedule a call with us today to see how we can help you develop your white paper and boost your content marketing campaign.

Author Image - Ed Pronley
Ed Pronley

CopyPress writer

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