How to Write a White Paper
by Michael Knowles

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A white paper in the high-tech industry is a technical document that describes how a technology or product solves a particular problem. It's a marketing document and a technical document, yet it doesn't go too far in either direction. A good white paper is informative and is designed to show off the advantages of a product or technology.

White papers are perhaps the most challenging type of technical document to write. They require a deep understanding both of a product's technology and of its application in solving a technical business problem. White papers are tuned specifically to:

One white paper author suggests thinking of your audience as investors, and that's not a bad way to approach writing the paper. An informal tone is best; use acronyms and abbreviations sparingly. Use plain English, no matter how much someone insists on using more technical language. The objective is to educate, inform, and convince, not to geekspeak or marketspeak the reader to death. That's not to say that the white paper isn't slanted -- it is, in the end, an opinion piece. But it also provides real information that the reader can use.

Remember the old training aphorism:

  1. Tell them what you're going to tell them.
  2. Tell them.
  3. Tell them what you told them.

Here's a fairly standard outline for a technical white paper:

There are many good examples of white papers available on the Internet. Do a search on the phrase "white paper" and read a few. Compare how they handle their subjects. By and large, the most useful white papers offer information at the same that they attempt to convince you of their product's worth.

It takes a few attempts to get the feel for writing a good white paper, but once you have it, you'll have acquired one of the most marketable technical writing skills in the business.

Helpful Sites:

White Paper Source
http://www.whitepapersource.com/

Writing White Papers
http://www.writingwhitepapers.com/book/g.php

Writing White Papers
http://www.studygs.net/workplace/wrtstr11.htm

Copyright © 2001 Michael Knowles
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.


Michael Knowles creates technical materials that help companies market and support their products and services. He also writes nonfiction, and poetry, publishes the weekly WriteThinking newsletter, and is working on the third draft of his first novel. He lives in North Carolina, with his wife, two sons, and six cats. And he laughs. A lot.

 

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