What is a white paper?

​There are a lot of romantic ideas floating around out there about white papers.

Which I find hilarious.

Businesses think that white papers are these magic wands that make people open their wallets.

Copywriters think that white papers are “fancy content,” and they’ll live the dream of the 4-hour workweek if only they specialized in white papers.

I’m going to burst your bubble — but I promise it’ll be worth it.

White papers are not magic in and of themselves.

Just calling a piece of content a “white paper” doesn’t make it an effective asset.

Specializing in writing white papers won’t make you rich.



White papers are incredibly powerful sales tools, when done right.

And if your white paper does its job and helps the company sell more of their products and services, your value goes through the roof.

The trick is doing them right.

And too many businesses and copywriters are doing them wrong.

The 2 Mistakes People Make With White Papers

I see two huge mistakes being made by copywriters and the businesses who hire them:

  1. The white paper reads like a product brochure.
  2. The white paper reads like a user manual.

There’s a foundational problem, here.

It seems that many people don’t know what a white paper is — much less how to write one effectively.

In fact, many people call any marketing document that’s a little on the dry and serious side a “white paper.”

Let’s clear that up right now.

A white paper is standalone sales and marketing content that doesn’t feel like it’s selling.

When done right, white papers educate and persuade buyers in a relatively non-salesy way — though they do typically have a call-to-action at the end.

In addition, white papers position the company as an expert in their field — and can even position the company or its executive author as a thought leader.

Effective white papers are engaging and have value independent of the product or service they sell. They hook the reader, excite them, and move them to read the entire thing. They change the reader’s life in some (even small) way.

White papers are not technical documentation, and they should not be written as such.

While they seem to work best in markets with longer sales cycles and for businesses with more complex or technical offerings (think technology, finance and healthcare), the effectiveness of white papers is not limited to those spaces.

So … how is a white paper different from an e-book?

Good question.

I go into depth about that topic here.

The line is extremely blurry, and there are exceptions to every single rule — as you’ll see in that blog post — but overall you can say that white papers are more serious in tone and tend to include more data than an e-book.

Ultimately, though, what it boils down to is the expectations of the audience + the job you need the content to do.

If you’re selling data analytics to IT services companies, a white paper will probably go over better with your target customers than an e-book would.

The White Paper Course is coming!

I hope that helps clear up some of the mystery around white papers.

If you’ve been on my email list for the last couple of months, you know I’m creating a course on how to write white papers.

It’s nitty-gritty with details of my process, and real-world examples of the concepts in action.

Whereas so much of the course content I’ve created up to now has been geared toward helping copywriters level-up in their careers, this course is super practical. It required me to take a good, hard look at my processes and put them into repeatable steps — which was a really fun exercise. (What?! I’m a systems nerd.)

I’ll be posting more information here about the course as I’m getting ready to launch it over the next few weeks. So stay tuned! And if you’re not on my email list yet — get on it! I share things there that I don’t share anywhere else.


Featured Download: The 4 Content Objectives

4 content objectives crop

Create content with a purpose, and watch engagement skyrocket.

This nifty infographic guide takes you through the 4 core content objectives, and illustrates how and why readers respond to each. Download it for free!

Your privacy is important to me. I'll never share or sell your information. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit