Summary: White papers

Subject: Summary: White papers
From: Barry House <bhouse -at- CREATIVE-HOUSE -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 17 Feb 1998 10:55:34 -0600

A few weeks ago I asked the list for a definition of the term 'white
paper.' Since then I've been asked for a summary of the replies I received,
so here goes.

A White Paper addresses an industry-standard problem (Web security,
multitier applications, datawarehousing ... what have you) by giving a
relatively high level overview of the topic, addressing some of the
potential solutions out there (these potential solutions are generally
competitors, whose solutions you then procede to poke holes in), and how
your product X solves the topic problem, and addresses the shortcomings of
the other solutions.

White Papers are generally addressed to the CEO or CIO audience - no nuts
and bolts, no code, but high level information. Outside the title page,
which can vary from company to company, the format of the thing is
generally like a journal article - text, headings, graphics as appropriate.

You could probably label them "reports." They tend to be studies,
summaries, descriptions of products, trends, or services; dubbing them
"white papers" gives them a professional cachet to distinguish them from
marketing materials or annual reports or technical reports.

Diagrams or charts are popular; footnotes show up occasionally.

The typical purpose of a white paper is to educate the target audience
about a specific subject and provide the organization's position on that
subject. Sometimes the purpose is to counter some popular myth or negative
hype, or to address some issue that company reps are getting questions
about, such as a new technology and if/how the organization plans to use it.

White papers are basically technical marketing documents. They normally
have more technical content and are more narrowly focused than, say,
brochures or advertisements.

Most descriptions of white papers indicated a page count of 10 to 20;
however, lengths ranging from two pages to 50 were also deemed acceptable.
Basically, the length of a white paper seems to be: How many pages do you
need to cover the subject in depth?

Here's a short list of links to white papers on the web:

Finally, several people cited Janice King's "Writing High-Tech Copy That
Sells" (ISBN 0-471-05846-7), which has a short section on white papers.

My sincere thanks to everyone who responded.

Barry House
The Creative House--Helping Businesses Communicate
P.O. Box 523
Pittsfield, IL 62363
217-285-2950 Fax

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