What exactly is a White Paper


Quite often on this blog page we try to answer the questions which we’re most commonly asked at RDZ. This week we thought we’d mention something which we are hearing about (and being asked to provide) on a more regular basis, essentially a type of marketing document which more and more businesses are turning towards to grab the valuable attention of those they seek to impress – the White Paper.


The origins of the White Paper lie within the world of government where a plethora of information on a specific subject was brought together on a number of individual pieces of paper (obviously normally white coloured paper!).

Today’s White Paper

In this digital age the term White Paper has come to represent a document constructed around a topic, normally related to the industry / specialism of the author, to impart information to the reader on that particular subject. More than that, however, the document generally contains the author’s opinions, thought and perspective and shows them as being somewhat of an expert on the topic being discussed.

For most it is a tool used to encourage audience engagement; another way to reach out to the target market and prove to them that you are worthy of their attention (and ultimately their business). It positions you as an expert in the field you choose to cover, showing off another string to your bow, so to speak.


In terms of the format of a White Paper itself, there are no hard and fast rules. It is generally accepted that it should be around 1,000 words in length but anything between 800 and 2,000 words is common. More importantly – especially if the word count is closer to the 2,000 mark – it should be broken into smaller chunks of text, each having a sub heading to direct the reader as to which particular aspect is being discussed and where.

The style and tone of writing do also vary quite significantly from document to document but of greatest importance is the need to remain at least relatively professional. This is perhaps one of the few pieces of marketing which does not benefit from an injection of humour! White Papers are commonly started with a question and this can work particularly well if the piece, in its entirety, comes to some sort of solution.

Many authors like to include a testimonial or client references to reinforce credibility. Reference to a specific related project in which the author has been involved does support the suggestion of ‘specialism’ and will add more weight to the opinions being presented.

How can I tell if I’ve written a White Paper?

The terms most often associated with White Papers are ‘thought leadership’ and ‘opinion piece’ and it is good to keep these descriptions in mind when writing the content. If either of these terms could easily be applied to your finished document, then it is more than simply a Blog – not that there is anything wrong with the simple Blog of course…

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Rachel Hargrave

Rachel has over 30 years of local, regional, national and international communications experience and expertise across a wide variety of clients including FTSE 100 companies, SMEs, micro businesses and start-ups. She also has extensive charity, Not-For-Profit and Community Interest Company experience and happily offers clients working in these areas a 50% discount on all RDZ PR rates.

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