How to Write a Business White Paper

Guidelines for writing a business white paper.

Understand the Purpose of Your White Paper

white-paper-icons-1-communityWhite papers provide authoritative guidance to help people make informed decisions about solving problems. They present common issues then analyze multiple solutions in a straightforward manner. White papers often advocate one particular solution above all others. Business white papers commonly promote commercial products and services.

Define the Problem

white-paper-icons-2-problemWhite papers—including business white papers—should identify one or more specific issues, then clarify any complex problems. Examples of specific problems might include Loss of Tourism in Your Region, Using Social Networking to Encourage Change, Security Vulnerabilities of Hosted Email, Mobility Benefits of Online Storage, or Rush Hour Traffic Accidents Near Public Schools. Any ordinary or unusual difficulty can engender a white paper. Restricting your white paper to specific issues helps you focus on meaningful solutions and places boundaries on the research required to prepare a noteworthy report.

Research the Problem and the Solutions

white-paper-icons-3-solutionsA relevant white paper results from thoughtful research about specified dilemmas and their possible resolutions. To economize your time, determine how deep and wide you need to research to obtain applicable information. Off-the-cuff input from a single subject matter expert is almost never adequate. Adequate research typically requires interviewing multiple subject matter experts and reviewing existing documents, including competitive materials from various points of view. Presenting multiple approaches to your selected problem—and giving credit to other viewpoints—helps add credibility to your white paper. When determining where to stop your research, always error on the side of excessive data. This helps support the level of expertise you need to establish subject matter mastery.

Outline Your Content

white-paper-icons-4-the-solutionMake sure you outline your content before writing your white paper. Your outline should present one or more issues followed by various solutions and your argument—if applicable—for any preferred solution, plus your summary. Add supporting examples in your outline to strengthen your point of view. While an outline supplies you with a plan to follow for writing your rough draft, it is not a map. Instead, it is a guide to help make sure you cover all points in a logical sequence. You can always alter your outline as you write.

Write Your White Paper

elements-of-styleQuickly write your rough draft. Select and condense from your research materials. Remember to respect the time of your audience by sticking to the point. Continually ask yourself the “So what?” question about each statement. This helps keep your content focused by excluding everything except the content relevant to your topic. Also, make sure you support any authoritative statements with three examples. Keep your writing succinct. Consume, digest and assimilate The Elements of Style by Strunk and White to help develop economy of words. None surpass it for teaching and practicing the principles of select-and-condense brevity.

Edit and Revise Your White Paper

white-paper-icons-5-deploy-solutionEditing and revising are difficult but necessary for any type of writing and publishing. Editing checks for factual accuracy, grammar errors, logic flaws and misspelled words. It verifies the sensible presentation of information. While you can edit a white paper yourself you should also ask others for their input, including some from your intended audience. Think of editing as a game for selecting and condensing your content and making it easier to read.

Should You Do It Yourself?

pencil-and-pad-dyi-white-paperWrite it or hire it? There is no easy answer to this question. Writing is like the practice of law, automobile maintenance and computer programming. While amateurs can practice the art, for serious work they usually receive better results by hiring a professional. A writer knows how to research, organize, write, edit and revise almost any topic. For a fee, some may also teach you the process. If you hire a writer, look for one with oceans of research and writing experience on various topics. Experienced writers bring fresh views unmatched by subject matter experts who often make too many assumptions about the knowledge of their audience. If you hire, hire a writing specialist.

Also see How to Write for the Web.