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What is a Whitepaper?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2016
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2016
    Conjecture Corporation
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A whitepaper or white paper is an informational publication which is designed to provide readers with a clear description of an issue and some potential solutions to said issue. The term was originally used to refer to government documents issued to make politicians and citizens aware of political issues and government policy, and was later adopted in the business community to describe certain types of marketing communications. The goal of a whitepaper is to provide people with clear information on a topic of interest.

In the business world, companies use whitepapers to market themselves and make people familiar with their products. For example, an engineering company might release a whitepaper to introduce people to a new product or procedure, outlining the situations for which the product was developed, and showing readers how the company's product can be used in those situations.

Some whitepapers have a more advertising-oriented standpoint which is designed to promote a particular company or product. Others are designed more generally to address industry issues, and may be used to share information. For example, a company which has developed a new material for making sinks which will resist stains might produce a whitepaper talking about sink stains and how they occur, and then introducing its product as a solution to this common problem, while a whitepaper for laboratory technicians discussing sink stains might offer several solutions to the problem, including various cleaning procedures.

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Whitepapers can be written by specialists in technical writing or marketing writing, depending on the topic of the paper and the goal of the publication. They can be published internally, as when an agency distributes a whitepaper to employees to familiarize them with issues specific to the agency, or publicly, in the case of documents used for marketing. The language can also be aimed at various demographics, ranging from scientists who are familiar with highly technical terms to more average consumers who simply want more information about a product.

Writing a whitepaper usually involves some extensive research into the fundamental problem or issue being addressed by the paper. This research can include explorations into various solutions which have been posited, including solutions used historically and solutions proposed by people working on the problem. The paper may also specifically address solutions which were tested and proved unworkable, to demonstrate that the problem had been fully explored, and it may contain arguments against particular solutions to explain why they are not being used or proposed.

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