What to include in a white paper.
An executive summary.
White papers begin with a short encapsulation of the subject matter, known as an executive summary. This summary should always contain the key takeaways and main ideas of your white paper. This section should be entirely accessible to a non-technical audience.
Research that makes the case for your product or service.
White papers are persuasive, but they are not sales pitches. Even if a white paper is about the efficacy of a given product or service, it makes its case with research, useful information, and hard numbers rather than rhetoric or branding. It should read more like an educational or academic text than something from a marketing department, even if that’s who wrote it.
A good white paper presents data in the most optimal way possible for your business and addresses your customer’s potential pain points. Often it will call out third-party research or a case study that shows results that support your brand and help steer your customers when making buying decisions.
A professional yet accessible tone.
White papers walk a fine line between high-level business ideas and on-the-ground technical details. They should be accessible for business decision makers such as executives or department heads who might have a good high-level understanding of the technical side of their business, but who may not be familiar with every bit of technical minutiae.
You should also write them with a technical audience in mind. Decision makers like COOs or CTOs may very well have a technical background, and executives often look for input from technical experts before coming to a decision. Technical professionals will read your white paper, and it should be sufficiently detailed and fact-based for them to appreciate the content.
Clean and functional design.
White papers often incorporate photography, charts, and infographics. However, all of these elements should be included to inform, rather than to illustrate; white paper design should be clean and professional. Visual elements can greatly enhance a white paper’s understandability and persuasive power, but they should serve the same role as visual elements in an academic paper or technical article.
White papers should always be released as an easily accessible downloadable PDF. They can be created in many programs from word processing suites to design apps like Adobe InDesign. Format them like you would format a technical journal or periodical, rather than a blog post or other online asset. It can be helpful to follow a white paper template to ensure you meet this criteria.