What are white papers?

Subject: What are white papers?
From: Richard Lippincott <rlippinc -at- BEV -dot- ETN -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 9 Sep 1994 12:35:14 EDT

Subj: What are white papers?

Sue McCullough asked:

>I would appreciate any information you could give me on "white papers."

My experience with a "white paper" is that it is a semi-technical document,
but might be considered the "investigative journalism" side of technical
writing. (As an example, many many moons ago, NBC News occasionally ran an
investigative/documentary program they'd call "White Paper.")

The white paper would usually be assigned to me in the following way: "Rick,
we've found that our flapjack manufacturing department is taking twice as
many man-hours to build each flapjack as the corresponding department in our
Burbank division. We want you write a white paper on this, and recommend
an answer."

So, the white paper would contain the following element:

1) Statement of the problem
2) Data/investigation to compare & resolve the problem
3) A suggested solution.

Big difference from normal tech writing is in item #3, you're asked to form
an opinion and to state that opinion.

Length? 10-20 double-space pages. Who reads them? Managers. Tone? Formal is

Now the bad news. White papers are often "political" documents. Unlike a
procedural document which stands on its on accuracy, the conclusions of a
white paper can (and probably will) be changed to support political
structure/organizational reality in your company. "Say, Rick, we realized
that you said our flapjack division could cut costs if it adopted the same
methods as the Burbank division, but the union won't let us do that. Please
re-write the conclusion of your paper to say that we can't figure out what's
causing the difference, because we don't want to offend the shop stewards."

Good luck.

Rick Lippincott
I can send, but not receive at work. Address personal comments to:
rjlippincott -at- delphi -dot- com

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