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White Paper: Definition and Purpose

Updated on January 27, 2023Professionals

A white paper is a document that outlines an organization’s position on an issue and provides educational context to potential customers or stakeholders. White papers are designed to present persuasive research, detail a problem at hand, and provide a solution to an issue.

Here, we’ll cover what a white paper is, its purpose, the different types, and examples. Consider this your complete resource for white papers.

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What is a white paper?

A white paper is a persuasive document that is used in policy and B2B (business-to-business) marketing. In government, a white paper is an informative policy document to educate the public. This type of policy document is most commonly used in Canada, Australia, and the UK.

In B2B marketing, which we’ll focus on here, a white paper is a piece of long-form content similar to an ebook, often formatted as a report or guide. White papers may be about a business’s service, research, strategy, or compelling customer feedback. White papers are not advertisements; they are documents that contain useful information for an audience, regardless of whether the reader becomes a customer.

What is the purpose of a white paper?

A B2B white paper’s purpose is to help a reader decide on or understand a topic. It’s an in-depth problem-solving guide that positions a business or organization as an authoritative and persuasive voice on an issue, with a clear, well-researched solution.

Digital marketers use white papers to generate new leads, boost sales for the organization, and change the perception of the company. Most B2B white papers seek to position the organization presenting them as thought leaders or authority figures.

What are the different types of white papers?

There are four main types of white papers in B2B marketing. Any white paper can serve as a reference guide; some are designed to be persuasive, while others are more purely informative.


A backgrounder outlines the benefits of a technical or business offering. These are sometimes called technical white papers. They’re often used to supplement a product launch, persuade an audience in a business case, or support a technical evaluation. Backgrounders aim to inform.

Numbered list

Numbered lists are essentially long, in-depth listicles. They include tips, questions, or business information. List white papers are used to get attention with new or provocative information. They often feature persuasive copywriting.


A problem/solution white paper points out a nagging business problem and offers a new or improved solution. This type of white paper is meant to start a customer journey, inform stakeholders, or act as a persuasive document. Problem/solution white papers build trust and credibility.

Case study

A case study white paper showcases a real-world example of a customer’s experience with a product, service, or solution. It tells the story of a business customer, the customer’s challenge, and how the product helped them overcome it. Case studies usually include technical information and allow customers to envision themselves using the product in a way that will fit their needs.

What are the key elements of a white paper?

White papers act as a resource and should display research alongside authoritative positioning and narrative. Though they vary, each white paper usually includes these key elements:

  • Starts with an introduction or executive summary
  • Is used before a sale
  • Supplies facts
  • Includes narrative text
  • Is educational
  • May include some opinion

How is a white paper formatted?

Your white paper should:

  • Be more than five pages long
  • Use portrait orientation
  • Be formatted as a PDF file
  • Feature visualizations like charts, graphs, tables, or other graphics

White paper FAQs

What is a white paper?

A white paper is an in-depth informational document that addresses a business or political issue. White papers often feature a business’s service, research, strategy, or compelling customer feedback.

What is the purpose of a white paper?

A white paper in marketing is used to generate leads, position a business or organization as a thought leader, convey authority, and educate. In politics, a white paper is used to inform the public about a potential solution to a problem.

What are the different types of white papers?

There are four different types of white papers: backgrounders, numbered lists, problem/solutions, and case studies. A backgrounder outlines the benefits of a business offering, numbered lists are in-depth listicles, problem/solutions outline a solution to a problem in a persuasive manner, and case studies exemplify a real-world use case.

What are the key elements of a white paper?

White papers have 10 key elements. A white paper should be more than five pages long and formatted as a portrait PDF file. They feature narrative text, visualizations, and facts. Generally, a white paper starts with an introduction and ends with a summary. They are educational, used before a sale, and may include some opinion.

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