This Is the Basis for Every Successful White Paper

This Is the Basis for Every Successful White Paper

August 25, 2022 | By Laurie Garrison | No Comments

While much of the current trend in writing involves short-form copy, such as emails and social media posts, there is still a huge demand for long-form copy, including white papers.

However, unlike long-form sales letters, white papers are not written in a sales tone. Instead, they are matter-of-fact pieces that provide facts and research on a particular topic.

These projects — which are sometimes called special reports — typically run more than 3,500 words and can take up to two months to research, conduct interviews, write, have designed, and be approved.

While white papers can be classified as a more challenging type of writing, the upside is the fee, which can be between $2,000 and $10,000 per project.


The Importance of Solid Research

A successful white paper must present a strong solution to a problem. This solution must be based on solid evidence that will reinforce every claim made.

The key to uncovering that evidence and writing a successful white paper is research. However, the results of the research will only be as good as the sources used to reveal the information needed to write the report.

There are basically three types of research that should be conducted for a white paper:

  • Background information provided by the company — this could include information on the company itself, the company’s purpose, and on the specific product you’re writing about. These sources could be other white papers (for background), brochures, case studies, sell sheets, PowerPoint presentations, press releases, videos, and other marketing or technical material.
  • Expert interviews — In addition to interviewing subject matter experts (SME) from the company, you may want to interview independent third-party SMEs who may be able to provide you with more objective information.
  • Web research — this involves resources that are separate from the information found on the company’s website.


Good Sources for Research

The results you’ll get from your web research are completely dependent upon what sources you’re using. You want to find sources that are considered expert and offer independent, non-biased information.

Among these sources are:

  • Academic reports — ideally, these should be peer-reviewed
  • Government research and statistics
  • Industry analysts — check if your client subscribes to any analyst’s research service
  • Industry associations
  • Books on the topic, technology, or industry
  • Reports on the topic, technology, or industry
  • Industry periodicals or trade journals — the more recent the better, but no more than five years old
  • Industry newspapers — within two to three years
  • Professors
  • Subject matter experts (SME) — people identified by your client or through your research. You can also find SMEs through a service like Help a Reporter Out — HARO ( — with the client’s permission
  • White papers from other vendors — while you don’t want to copy the information from other company’s white papers, they can provide you with information or background that may be helpful as you write your white paper

Depending on the topic of your white paper, periodicals that are five years old may not be relevant. For example, in the IT or SaaS space, technology from five years ago may already be obsolete.

Sources you want to avoid include:

  • Anonymous forums
  • Random blog posts or websites
  • Wikipedia (however, Wikipedia may point you to expert sources)


Conducting Interviews

Conducting interviews with subject matter experts will be a key component of your research process. To make the best use of your and your SME’s time and to get the most out of the interview, follow these tips:

  • Limit the number of SMEs you interview. You should be able to get the information you need with one to two interviews. If the client wants more, make sure it’s because the SMEs have specialized information that’s different from the other SMEs on your schedule.
  • Try to limit the interview to one SME at a time (no more than two on the same call). This will help limit cross talk and repetitive answers.
  • It may be helpful to have your client’s rep on the call to keep the interview on track.
  • Record the interview. This will enable you to stay engaged in the process and ask follow-up questions as you won’t have to worry about taking notes. However, be sure to get the SME’s permission first.
  • Schedule 30-60 minutes for each interview. Often, you can get the information you need within 45 minutes, but with the inevitable small talk at the beginning of the call, it’s better to schedule a 60-minute time slot so you don’t go over the SME’s time limit and have to cut the interview short.
  • Conduct some research before scheduling an interview. You need to have a basis of knowledge so you know what questions to ask.
  • Prepare your questions in advance and send them to the SME prior to the interview so they have a chance to think about their answers.
  • If the SME gets off-track, gently remind them of the purpose of the interview to bring the conversation back to the focus of the white paper.


Using Your Research to Write a Successful White Paper

Once you’ve completed your research and interviews, it’s time to organize the information to make it easier to use. You may want to print out the documents so you can highlight the key portions, particularly if you have PDFs.

  • Read each document and highlight the key information you may use. This could include stats, results, quotes, etc.
  • Create a code for each section you highlight. For example, each page could be numbered and each highlighted section given a letter. So you may have “D1P1a” for document one, page one, item a; “D2P3a” for document two, page three, item a,” etc. The first highlighted item on each page is “a.”
  • Using the outline you created to write the white paper, assign each highlighted item to a section in the outline. So, for example, under proof, you may list “D1P1a” and D2P3a,” etc.

Once that task is complete, you’ll have the elements you need to write your first draft.


While writing a white paper may be more challenging than other projects, once you’ve completed the research, you’ll be well on your way to crafting a white paper your clients will be pleased to use.

About the Author


Laurie Garrison

Laurie Garrison specializes in writing awards entries in multiple industries, as well and sales and marketing content for the sports industry. For 14 years, she was the managing editor of 84 issues of “Athletics Administration” magazine. Visit

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