White Paper

What Is a White Paper?

A white paper, also written as "whitepaper", is an informational document usually issued by a company or not-for-profit organization to promote or highlight the features of a solution, product, or service that it offers or plans to offer. White papers are also used as a method of presenting government policies and legislation and gauging public reaction.

Key Takeaways

  • The purpose of a white paper is to promote a certain product, service, technology, or methodology, and to influence current and prospective customers' or investors' decisions.
  • While brochures and other marketing materials might be flashy and include obvious sales pitches, a white paper is intended to provide persuasive and factual/technical evidence that a particular offering is a superior method of solving a problem or challenge.
  • In general, white papers are at least 2,500 words in length and are typically written in an academic style.

The Basics of a White Paper

White papers are often written as sales and marketing documents to entice or persuade potential customers to learn more about or purchase a particular product, service, technology, or methodology. They are designed to be used as a marketing tool before a sale, and not as a user manual or other technical document developed to provide support to the user after making a purchase.

Many white papers are designed for business-to-business (B2B) marketing purposes, such as between a manufacturer and a wholesaler, or between a wholesaler and a retailer. The white paper is used to inform and persuade the other company that a certain offering, such as a product or technology, is superior for solving a particular business problem or addressing a certain challenge.

Within B2B marketing, there are three main types of white papers: backgrounders, which explain the technical features of a particular offering; numbered lists, which highlight tips or points regarding an offering; and problem/solution white papers, which introduce an improved solution to a common business or technical challenge.

White papers differ from other marketing materials, such as brochures. While brochures and other materials might be flashy and include obvious sales pitches, a white paper is intended to provide persuasive and factual evidence that a particular offering is a superior method of approaching or solving a problem or challenge. In general, white papers are at least 2,500 words in length and are written in a more academic style.

White papers may also be technical documents elaborating on a new invention or product offering.

Examples of White Papers

The following titles are all white papers for Microsoft Azure:

  • Azure Onboarding Guide for IT Organizations
  • Mesh and hub-and-spoke networks on Azure
  • Backup and recovery overview for Azure users
  • Backup and recovery overview for users new to Azure
  • Cloud Skills and Organization Influence

All of these documents, publicly available on Microsoft’s website, focus on aspects of the Microsoft Azure suite of cloud services. In contrast with brochures, these white papers don’t have a clear sales pitch. Instead, they dig into relevant topics, such as cloud security, hybrid clouds, and the economic benefits of adopting cloud computing.

Through reading these white papers, potential customers could come to better understand the rationale for using Azure in the context of the larger cloud computing ecosystem.

Cryptocurrencies have also been known to publish white papers. During the cryptocurrency craze of the 2010s, crypto companies and initial coin offerings (ICOs) frequently issued white papers to entice users and "investors" to their projects.

Many of these projects proved either flawed or fraudulent, though there were some exceptions. Bitcoin famously launched a few months after the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto issued its famous white paper online in October 2008.