Though their name comes from their connection to government policy, white papers are a useful tool for businesses, nonprofits, researchers and others. Learn more about what a white paper is and check out some visual inspiration to get you started.
Once you’re ready to put your research or proposals into white paper form, Venngage has all the tools to help you. Add charts and graphs, apply your branding with just a few clicks, and design a professional white paper for your organization.
Click to jump ahead:
- What is a white paper?
- Why is it called white paper?
- How is a white paper different from a research paper?
- How long is a typical white paper?
- What is the format for a white paper?
- What sections should a white paper have?
- Why is it important to use visuals in a white paper?
- Marketing white paper examples
- HR white paper examples
- Government & political white paper examples
- Technology white paper examples
What is a white paper?
A white paper is an authoritative guide (or in other words, an in-depth report) designed to address a business problem and provide possible solutions.
They often have original research as their foundation, and they will typically take a strong position on what decisions need to be made to solve problems.
Often called whitepapers (with no space), white papers are widely used in government and policy-making, but they are also popular across many other fields, including coming into fashion in recent years as a marketing tool.
Typically backed up with lots of data and persuasive and factual evidence, quality white paper is used to address more complex concepts or problems, making it an essential part of a content marketing strategy.
White papers tend to be multiple pages, like in this example:
Why is it called white paper?
The term “white paper” is a holdover from a time when government documents bound in white were made for public release, and so they were literally white papers.
Researchers and experts in many other fields have since begun using the term for reports, studies and other analyses they release publicly.
That’s not to say all white papers are truly made for public consumption. Many companies use white papers as marketing materials to acquire potential customers. As white papers offer expert solutions to complex problems, they tend to be gated content—interested audience needs to provide contact information in a lead generation form before downloading the material.
How is a white paper different from a research paper?
Many white papers use academic research or data analytics to inform their thesis, but white papers and research papers aren’t the same. For one, not every white paper has a research foundation.
With a research paper, an academic or other interested party conducts research into a topic and presents their findings, often without making any suggestion when it comes to solving a problem.
White papers, on the other hand, generally focus on a particular problem and one or more possible solutions, ideally using facts and figures to support arguments, as in this example which addresses the illegal tobacco trade.
How long is a typical white paper?
There is no standard length for a white paper, but a good rule of thumb is to keep your white paper at least six pages due to the amount of research and data required to back up the proposed solution.
Plus, it’s always good to be mindful of your audience’s time when creating any type of content.
As white papers are meant to provide expertise or an improved solution to a problem, it targets a specific audience who’s willing to devote a good section of their time and attention to the content.
With a white paper, it’s unlikely the reader will simply stumble upon the content, meaning they are already interested in the topic and may be able to keep their attention focused on the white paper for as long as it takes.
So, while length isn’t as much of a concern for white papers as it is for, say, a blog post, it’s still best to make your white papers concise and to the point, while still providing all the necessary information.
What is the format for a white paper?
White papers can be formatted in any number of ways, but depending on your industry, you may want to consider formatting your white paper for printing on standard printers. In that case, it’s best to stick to a letter-sized page, whether in portrait (8.5×11) or landscape (11×8.5).
These documents also are best in the PDF file format; this is the easiest way both to share them online and to have them printed.
What sections should a white paper have?
Every industry and white paper topic is different, but in general, a white paper should have at least these sections:
- Executive summary: Bottom-line your content, hitting the highlights and key recommendations, as well as one or two of your most interesting facts or data points.
- Table of contents: Let people know what to expect.
- Content sections: This will vary depending on your individual white paper content. Many people choose to put all of their facts in one section and devote a section to each of their recommendations, but that may not work for all uses.
- Conclusion: Share the key takeaways you want to leave your audience with, which could include a call to action.
- Methodology: If your white paper uses data, be transparent about where it came from. If you conducted a study, detail your methodology; if you used outside information, provide links to the original sources.
Why is it important to use visuals in white papers?
Like other types of content, a white paper is simply a collection of words if there are no photos, graphics, charts or illustrations. And most people, no matter how interested they are in your topic, are unlikely to read page after page of text.
So using visuals in white papers is a good way to capture and hold the interest of your audience. They can also help illustrate key concepts or visualize important data points, which can make your information stickier in the minds of your readers.
Let’s take a look at some white paper examples and templates you can use to create your own white paper.
Marketing white paper examples
White papers have become very popular in the marketing industry, as many companies are increasingly finding that they are able to get their message out while serving as thought leaders in their space through the use of white papers—not to mention their role in helping companies generate leads.
Here are some examples and templates of marketing white papers that you can use for your content marketing strategy:
As this content marketing white paper illustrates, creating an engaging design doesn’t have to mean using a lot of bright colors or huge illustrations. The modern design here is appealing thanks to a restrained approach to content; it’s not too much, which allows the eye to move easily over the document.
Design Tip: Simply double click the photo and choose a new one from your image collection, or from our library of 3+ million stock photos:
A white paper format is ideal for certain types of marketing or brand content that might otherwise be too dry. In this case, a brand positioning document has been converted into a sleek, modern white paper.
Another example of a concise and to-the-point white paper, this template drives home the fact that it’s not necessary to overload the reader with information in order to make a point. Bring up the issue in a few paragraphs and then lay out your arguments clearly and simply.
Putting your expertise into white paper form automatically makes your organization appear to be a leader in the industry. This white paper template on social media can easily be promoted along with other marketing materials on, well, social media, or through email marketing to help acquire potential customers.
In some cases, a marketing white paper may need to include simple definitions. Particularly when it comes to digital marketing, SEO and other modern channels, there are only a handful of terms that are truly standard. If your white paper is in a niche or rapidly evolving industry, consider adding some baseline definitions, such as those on Page 3 of the example below.
One way to use visuals to your advantage when writing white papers is to pick one dominant brand color and use it all over the place, as this example does. This can be especially effective for new agencies and companies looking to establish a strong presence.
And apply your branding elements to your white paper design in one click:
HR white paper examples
HR, employment and related areas are also popular topics for white papers, both those designed to be distributed publicly and those that may be only for an industry-wide audience.
The success one company has with a new HR or employment policy or procedure would be of great interest to others in the industry, so the HR space is one area where a company can set itself apart with white paper production, like this one on employee engagement:
Organizations that have proof that their strategies work shouldn’t keep it a secret. Providing evidence of your success not only gives huge credibility to your white paper but also helps persuade potential customers that your strategy works. This HR white paper discusses strategies to boost employee productivity, and it lists the potential productivity gains from the recommendations on the first page.
Design Tip: If you don’t want to keep your white papers black-and-white, you can always add your brand colors, logos and fonts using My Brand Kit. Collaborate with your team members in real time as well to decide on the best white paper design:
HR policies are often the target of academic research into their effectiveness and their impact on the mental health of workers, as illustrated by this HR white paper example.
Government & political white paper examples
Of course, white papers are right at home in a political, governmental or advocacy organization, as a key purpose of this type of document is shifting public opinion.
Government or political white papers, by their nature, can be lightning rods for criticism from all sides. Be prepared for white papers in which you take a strong stand to be questioned by some and praised by others.
Though studies have shown that people often don’t change their minds even when presented with conflicting data, it’s still a good idea to include facts and figures to back up the recommendations you’re making, particularly in a political context.
Use a political, governmental or industrial white paper to raise awareness of issues that concern your organization. In this example, the authors were inspired to spread awareness of the environmental impact of construction projects.
A variation of a previous example in this section, this government policy white paper uses photography rather than iconography to help drive interest and make it memorable in the minds of readers.
Sustainability is a key initiative for any modern company, and white papers that address these topics can have a great deal of influence as policy-makers and voters continue to wrestle with the impact of climate change and what should be done about it.
Technology white paper examples
White papers are also becoming popular in the IT industry, both to share research findings and to make recommendations regarding cybersecurity and other common IT issues.
In the technology industry, white papers can be used as a marketing tool for companies that offer related services, though it’s best in a white paper to remain as neutral as possible to make your message spread far and wide.
On the same topic as the previous example, this white paper uses a more simplified design style and subdued color palette, which illustrates the range of design styles you can utilize with Venngage’s platform.
Technology white papers can also help people understand how new technology works. This is in fact a popular use of white papers in this field: as technical documents that provide information on a new invention or a particular product offering. So even though this example isn’t product-neutral, it approaches the innovative tech it’s explaining in a neutral way.
Become a thought leader and generate leads with a well-designed white paper
A white paper is an excellent way for any organization to share findings, make recommendations and build thought leadership in their industry. And with Venngage, they’re simple and easy to put together.
No design experience? No problem. Venngage’s easy-to-edit templates and drag-and-drop editor can help you design white papers in no time.