The purpose of a white paper is to solve a problem or present ideas and products that may help solve problems. Most popularly, white papers have become a tool used to introduce or explain innovations and products. Other white papers may present a topic, argue a specific position and establish setbacks with suggested solutions. Either way, every white paper should make two things clear: its audience and its approach.
Who is your audience?
To decide what problems your readers are facing, you must first decide who your readers are, then decide what types of solutions are most effective. That said, different types of people face different types of problems, or better yet, different types of people view problems differently.
For example, this white paper on the differences between open source CMS and SharePoint, could be targeted in two different ways. An IT person might be interested in a technical explanation, and a CEO might be interested in the business benefits of each web solution. Understand whose attention you want to grab, make the direction clear and stay consistent throughout the paper.
There are two different approaches you can take when writing a white paper. The first is focused on your self-promotion. These type of white papers have a clear agenda: to promote specific products or services that will ultimately benefit you. Your readers will most likely sense this self-promotion and grow suspicious of the paper’s intent. This type of writing is more appropriate for data sheets or product briefs.
If you want your customers to actually read the paper, you should try to gain their trust in the very beginning by establishing the white paper’s purpose. Make no mistake, it’s OK to touch upon certain products and services that might help solve a problem, as long as it’s done carefully and infrequently.
The second approach focuses on the interests of your readers. This type of white paper should center on a common concern or growing trend. And it should give solutions to potential setbacks or advice on how to optimize trends. The white paper “Rules of Engagement: Hospitals, Twitter and Potential Patients,” focuses on the growing Twitter trend and provides insight on how a specific industry might benefit from this movement. This paper clearly focuses on the interests of its readers—in this case, hospitals. And better yet, it has a clear target audience: hospital marketers.