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
- Show that the vendor understands customer problems;
- Describe the vendor's technology; and
- Explain why that technology is the customer's best choice
among available products.
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:
- Tell them what you're going to tell them.
- Tell them.
- Tell them what you told them.
Here's a fairly standard outline for a technical white
- Abstract -- A one-paragraph description of what the
paper is about. Do not state the conclusion here; simply tell the
reader what the purpose of the paper is. Customers frequently
read only the abstract and conclusion of white papers, so provide
material that gives them a good reason to read the
- The Problem -- Two-to-three paragraphs covering the
problem and a little background. Be straightforward and succinct.
Avoid obfuscatory language, or what one white paper author calls
- Understanding The Product's Design -- How the product
works in general. While this is not the place to describe how the
product solves the problem, the section is oriented so that the
reader will be able to understand the product's application to
the problem. This and the following section are the meat of the
- How the Product Solves the Problem -- How the
application of the product solves the problem. Provide evidence
of how the product solves the problem, and why it is the best
- Conclusion -- A one-paragraph summary of why the
product is the best solution to the problem.
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.
- White Paper Source
- Writing White Papers
- Writing White Papers
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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