A prospective author is creating a white paper 1) to achieve a goal 2) by covering a topic 3) that persuades a target audience.

This article is trying to simplify the process and remove some of the confusion the prospective authors might have.

To be successful, a white paper should satisfy the following characteristics:

  • Understandability: the information presented in the white paper can be consumed logically by the targeted audience
  • Relevancy: the document should cover only the information that supports the topic, conveys the message of the author, and which can be consumed by the targeted audience
  • Reliability: the information should be commonly recognized by the target audience, or if new, it should be introduced with proper references; the knowledge that is being acquired through any form of experimentation (e.g., surveys), should be explained by respecting the understandability and relevancy characteristics
  • Logical consistency: the information used in any form of logical reasoning should be progressively introduced before inferring it

Before starting the white paper project

Like with any project, the author needs to define the scope of the white paper project. To assess the scope of the paper, the author would need to specify the following white paper attributes:

  1. Goal
  2. Topic
  3. Title
  4. Targeted audience
  5. Structure and constraints (delivery medium, format, styles, graphics, word count, etc.)
  6. Timeline

The first four attributes are paramount towards identifying all the other paper characteristics (e.g., forces at work, problem, problem recipient, guiding question, hypothetical answer, etc.).


The fifth attribute is also important, especially to understand the physical constraints of the paper.

The structure

These sections are meant to help to identify a logical flow of the paper.

The section titles might be altered by the author to fit the best the paper’s goal/purpose. However, the idea is that the logical flow associated with these sections should be retained in order to obtain a persuasive effect.

As a writing style, the white paper sections should have a generic essay pattern of introduction, body, and closing. So, the paper’s introduction section will have an introduction, and the paper’s closing section will have a closing too. For large sections, such as Knowledge and Understanding, the introduction and closing parts could be expanded to one or more paragraphs. However, in the shorter white paper sections such as Abstract, Executive Summary, and Introduction, the introduction and closing parts could be as short as a statement.

The goal of an abstract is to create awareness and to entice a prospective reader to go forward and read the whole white paper.

The abstract usually resides or is replicated outside of the white paper, as it would usually be used as advertising/promotional-oriented, in a promotional way, through emails, magazines, and websites.

A logical sequence of the abstract could use this logical flow:

  • This paper is considering the impact of these forces at work that is causing this problem
  • … for this problem recipient.
  • The paper seeks to answer this question, …
  • … and concludes to this answer.

The logical factors mentioned above are related to the logical findings that are supporting the concluded answer.

It is recommendable to write the abstract after the main body of the white paper is created, after the conclusion and recommendations are reached.

The abstract should not contain concepts and terms that are not expected to be known by the targeted audience, even if they are introduced and explained in detail in the main body of the white paper.


It is acceptable to create a transient less accurate abstract before the paper is developed if it serves as an early promotional teaser.

The goal of the executive summary is to provide enough information that enables potential readers (think executives) to acquire the conclusionary remarks without reading the whole paper. It’s really a summary of the white paper’s main body.

The content of the executive summary has a high-level flow that is similar to this one provided for the paper’s abstract:

  • This paper is considering the impact of these forces at work that is causing this problem
  • … for this problem recipient.
  • The paper seeks to answer this question, …
  • … and due to these logical factors, …
  • … it concludes to this answer.

Comparing with the paper’s abstract, the executive summary might actually dive in briefly into the logical reasoning that leads to the given conclusion.


The executive summary has a similar logical flow as the abstract, but the difference between the two is in the intent:

  • Abstract = paper advertisement
  • Executive Summary = very short version of the paper


Similarly, with the abstract, the executive summary should not contain concepts and terms that are not expected to be known by the targeted audience, even if they are introduced and explained in detail in the main body of the white paper.

Also, the executive summary should be written after the main body of the white paper is created, after a conclusionary answer and recommendations are identified.

The goal of this white paper introduction is to create an easy-reading description of the context and the problem at hand and to introduce the guiding question the author will answer throughout the rest of the paper. The guiding question could have supporting questions (questions that help to answer the guiding question).


The introduction and could have a high-level flow like this one:

  • These are the forces at work that are causing this problem
  • … for these problem recipients.
  • Related to this problem, the paper is going to explore and answer the following guiding question


Identifying the right guiding question is very important as it enables the authors to manage the content level, to keep the paper flowing logically, and to provide just enough information (narrow the scope of information to the relevant one).


As mentioned for the abstract and the executive summary, the white paper introduction should not contain concepts and terms that are not expected to be known by the targeted audience yet, even if they are introduced and explained later in the white paper.

The main goal of this section is to educate the targeted audience and present facts that are not part of the common knowledge, and which the author will use for providing an answer to the paper’s guiding question.


This section does not have a clear pattern like the introduction, abstract, and executive summary sections, and this could be confusing for the author. However, like a mini-essay, this section should have an introduction, body, and closing/conclusion.

In the introduction part, it is recommended to introduce the common knowledge, and how this is linked to answering the guiding question. On the conclusion side, the author would have to attempt answering the guiding question, and there are still gaps


Many authors will struggle in this section with questions such as: What should I write here? What should I keep out? How should I organize the information? It could be very confusing unless you are using the paper’s guiding question as a compass to find the right path towards the hypothetical answer.


Conduct knowledge research

The author will have to conduct some form of research for discovering relevant knowledge, usually based on existing published information (specialty magazines, academic papers, etc.). To be efficient during the knowledge research, the author should focus on articles that are addressing forces at work, problems, and known solutions similar or related to the topic of the white paper.


The author should use proper referencing practices for non-common knowledge introduced in this section.


Organizing the knowledge section

The author might have to create several subsections that are focusing on the relevant logical aspects relevant to the paper’s topic.


The best way for the author to organize this section is to build up the knowledge progressively and logically with the intent to “discover” the hypothetical answer, and this is the feeling the reader should have when reading the white paper.


Provide a conclusion to this section

Some papers will not find any knowledge gaps when completing this section, and the author will be able to go directly to a section of the analysis and reaching a conclusion.

However, after conducting the initial research, the knowledge mentioned and described in this section might still not be enough to support logical the hypothetical answer. If that is true, the author might want to conclude that more information is required to logically pursue the guiding question. This will help to introduce the results of a survey, or other forms of research (e.g. conducting interviews and preparing for quantitative or qualitative analysis) that covers the knowledge and logical gaps.


The questions below could help the author probing if this section is addressed correctly:

  • Did I introduce the knowledge that is not expected to be known by the targeted audience?
  • Did I try to provide an answer by using the relevant common and documented knowledge?
  • Did I identify knowledge and logical gaps, which require additional research while trying to provide an answer to the paper’s question?
  • Did I draw a conclusion at the end of the section that explains the existing knowledge and logical gaps, if any?
  • Did I justify in the sections’ conclusion what is next (research or analysis)?

If the author cannot provide an answer to the guiding question based on the common knowledge or the knowledge introduced in the “knowledge and understanding” section, then the author might need to launch a research project, usually tied to a survey, to fill up logical gaps.

For example:

  • A biologist, after studying the behavior of gorillas based on existing common knowledge, might conclude that special close-observation of gorilla behavior might be required, and looking for conducting a one year “live with gorillas” in the jungle to fill up the outstanding knowledge gaps. After observing their behavior, the researcher would fill up the existing gaps and move to the analysis phase.
  • A marketing researcher, after studying the social media as a market penetration vehicle, identifies that some correlations are missing from the common knowledge. The researcher designs a survey, collects data, then move into a statistical analysis to fill up the existing knowledge gap.


The questions below could help the author probing if this section is properly addressed:

  • Did I explain the intent of this research?
  • Did I explain how I conducted the research?
  • Did I summarize the relevant findings?

This is the section where all the relevant knowledge is brought together to make a logical inference to provide an answer to the paper’s guiding question.

This section should be systematic, using logical reasoning that is easy to follow by the targeted audience.

 The logical analysis should be conducted only with facts and knowledge that is documented in the Knowledge and Research sections. No new, unexpected facts are being allowed here.

 If the information gathered until this point is sufficient, especially if the paper goes through research that fails to reach its goal, it is totally acceptable to provide a description of the outstanding gaps that need to be chased and recommendations for further research.

The questions below could help the author probing if this section is addressed correctly:

  • Did I provide a logical answer to the paper’s guiding question?
  • Did I use in the logical analysis ONLY knowledge that was prior documented in the Knowledge and Research sections?
  • Did I use logical reasoning that the target audience can follow?
  • Is there any logical gap that is weak, or weakly described?

The conclusion is an elaborated take on the answer, how it relates to the existing problem, and provide further recommendations. As part of the recommendations, the author could provide one or more alternative solutions if the paper’s question was solution-oriented in the first place.


The questions below could help the author probing if this section is adequately addressed:

  • Did I summarize how I obtained the answer?
  • Did I highlight the answer?
  • Did I provide recommendations (or alternative solutions)?
  • Did I use logic and (answers/solutions) descriptions that the target audience can follow?



In this section, the reader could explore answers to common questions that most of the prospective white paper writers might have.

Establish the paper’s goal



A white paper is meant to achieve a goal, so the author should reflect upon various aspects that define it. Why am I writing the paper? What am I trying to get out of this paper? Am I trying to sell something? What is it, an idea, a product?

Examples of goals:

  • Establish the organization as a visionary player in IT Operations Management
  • Create product awareness to penetrate a market segment
  • Increase the visibility of your personal brand

The types of goals could be related to marketing, economic, sustainability, scientific/academic research, political, etc.

Define the paper’s topic



In each white paper, the author has to have a subject that is being developed. What am I trying to convey here? Am I trying to convince the audience of something? What am I trying to convince them about?

Examples of white paper topics:

  • Promote a scientific method or technology as a solution to a generic type of problem
  • Mitigating the tensions between innovation and organizational stability
  • Influence of DevOps towards organizational agility

Identify the paper’s forces at work, the problem that needs a resolution, and the  problem recipient



The author needs to set a scope, focusing the paper by establishing a meaningful context that helps to serve the paper’s goal and developing the paper’s topic.

To determine the context, we can think about the following causal pattern:

There are forces at work that cause a problem and impact a problem recipient.

Examples of:

  • Forces at work: Globalization, competition, weather, macroeconomics, fast innovation, education, etc.
  • Problems: Hypercompetition, resistance to change, adaptivity, lack of adoption, capability gaps, etc.
  • Problem recipients: A company, a country, a market segment, the world, industry, etc.

Alternativelly, the white paper could chase a positive aspect caused by the forces at work. If that’s the case, instead of a problem, you would have to define a benefit, and instead of a problem recepient, you would have a beneficiary.

After the identification and elaboration of the paper’s scope and context, the author should define a question that helps to keep the rest of the white paper logical and in scope.

Define the paper’s guiding question and hypothetical answer



Once the paper’s context is defined (forces-at-work/problem/problem-recipient), the author should define a guiding question and a hypothetical answer.

The guiding question frames the type of answer the white paper is looking to provide, given the problem that requires a corrective solution. For example:

  1. How can small insurance organizations stay relevant while hypercompetition is intensifying due to the disruptive rise of Insurtech?
  2. To what degree the adoption of intelligent ITSM products could decrease the resistance to change during the digital transformations?
  3. Why is the transition to a public cloud the best option for increasing organizational adaptivity?

The hypothetical answer is a short statement that drafts the answer to the guiding question, and which the author will develop in greater detail in the paper’s conclusion section:

  1. Insurance organizations need to become agile, fast reacting to macro environmental changes, and adopt Insurtech platforms.
  2. Not all the ITSM products are the same, and the ones that are enabling?
  3. Why is the transition to a public cloud the best option for increasing organizational adaptivity?

Having a guiding question is paramount for writing a persuasive white paper. The guiding question can serve as a “navigation compass” while writing the paper, helping to keep its content focused, logical, and relevant, by chasing progressively and logically the hypothetical answer.

While is rarely happening in a white paper, sometimes the conclusionary answer is not a decisive solution to a problem, but it could be evasive, a cautionary tale, or simply conclude that more research is being required.

When writing a dissertation, the initial hypothetical answer could change later if the thesis is progressively elaborated over a long period of time, as the research is being conducted could uncover unexpected knowledge through research. However, a white paper is usually written after the knowledge, information, and other facts (e.g., survey results), are collected, so the initial hypothetical answer is typically valid while writing the paper.

Practically, while reading, the audience should have the feeling that the author is continuously and progressively trying to build up logically to providing the hypothetical answer to the guiding question. This is what keeps the reader engaged and looking forward to finding out more. The “imaginary thread” between guiding question and the paper’s hypothetical answer is also helping the author, at any point while developing the paper, as a “testing tool”, to probe:

  • if what the contend being developed helps logically to reach the hypothetical answer to the guiding question
  • if there are outstanding logical gaps that still need to be covered to support the hypothetical answer

Specify the paper’s target audience



A target audience is necessary to be established before looking into any other aspects of the paper and should know the target audience’s knowledge-base by defining upfront their profile.

  1. the paper’s detail and knowledge level should be understandable by the target audience
  2. the white paper should omit to provide knowledge, concepts, and term definitions that the target audience is expected to know beforehand to avoid creating a superfluous and boring paper

For example, if the target audience is:

  • economists, the author might not want to provide a definition for recession or explain NPV
  • software developers, the author might not want to provide a definition for compiler or describe the software development lifecycle
  • project managers, the author might not want to provide a definition for critical path

Develop the target audience’s knowledge



Identify your target audience expected knowledge-ceiling when defining their profile. The author should educate the target audience as they should be able to understand the logical point the author is making in the persuasive white paper. So, the author should include in the paper sufficient information to fill up the gap between the target audience’s expected knowledge-ceiling and their knowledge-level required to understand the author’s reasoning towards the hypothetical answer.



For example:

  • If the audience is an IT Operations Manager, the author might want to provide some definition and knowledge related to the competitiveness advantage a company might gain by using DevOps practices, of course, if the paper is about the benefits of adopting DevOps.
  • If the audience is salespeople, the author might want to provide some marketing information about product adoption and marketing penetration aspects, assuming that the paper is trying to enroll the salespeople to contribute to market campaigns.
  • If the audience is developers, the author might want to provide knowledge about generic automation patterns, if the paper is about DevOps automation.

Focus on the gap between the paper’s guiding question and hypothetical answer



The paper should be logically and progressively developing its content, as in the end, the author is trying to convince the target audience that the hypothetical answer is appropriately fit for the paper’s guiding question.

When there are no gaps to be filled towards in logical reasoning, in other words, if there is enough information provided, so the targeted audience understands the logical points, then the paper is complete (excepting formatting and editing).

Explore the paper’s hypothetical question



If the paper’s guiding question is implying that a solution is being sought, then the paper should provide one.

Examples of questions that would require the author to provide a solution in the white paper:

  • How can organizations improve their ability to be early adopters of technological innovation?
  • What should organizations do to diminish organizational change-resistance while going through a digital transformation?
  • How can virus transmission be minimized until a vaccine is being developed?

Start the paragraph with a short introductory statement



The paragraph introductory statement is recommended to be around 10-15 words. The introductory statement could be declarative or a question, and it frames the logical reasoning of the paragraph. Writing in this style helps the reader to understand upfront what is the paragraph trying to convey and is a hook that entices her/him to read the rest of it. Moreover, similarly to the role of the paper’s guiding question, the introductory statement helps the author keeping the paragraph’s information sufficient, relevant, and logical.


Consider the following example where the first statement is short and serves as a local goal to the rest of the paragraph:


Many companies need to be very adaptive just to keep alive. The globalization phenomenon, the access to information due to the rise of the internet, and loose trading regulations put extreme pressure against every company entering this … market. The Economist shows that only 8% of … so on, so on, and so on. That is causing fast shifting requirements, which compounded with the risk of a new recession, it should make any company in this market segment to continuously assess and improve their capabilities and to outsource their IT management to specialized consulting companies.


For longer paragraphs, which might be required to make a more complex point, it could appropriate to terminate it with a short conclusion that’s echoing the first statement.

Follow the next section pattern: introduction – body – closing (conclusion)



When writing sections that are larger in content, for example when chasing a logical point, the author should try defining a local (section-level) guiding question and hypothetical answer. This local question/answer combination will help the author structure logically the section and ensure that the information and logic provided is sufficient and relevant.


In a white paper, document sections are still related to and supporting the paper’s guiding question, and even trying to reach the hypothetical answer to the paper’s guiding question. However, like in a game, by its design, the white paper is going to “fail”  section by section to reach the hypothetical answer, to the paper’s guiding question because of “logical or information gaps”, that “need to be chased” in the following section, until the white paper reaches the conclusion section.


Write a paper abstract



The paper’s abstract is attempting to entice the reader to move forward and read the whole white paper.

Create an executive summary




The executive summary provides the highlights of the paper, with enough information to enable potential readers (executives) to acquire the conclusionary remarks without reading the whole paper.


Obviously, it is recommended to create the executive summary after the main body of the paper is developed.


From a content standpoint, an executive summary should be a brief of the following information:

  1. Forces at work
  2. Problem
  3. Problem recipient
  4. Guiding question
  5. Highlights of relevant knowledge, and how it was obtained
  6. Conclusion


The author does not have to provide in the executive summary a detailed knowledge buildup and logical reasoning of how it came to the white paper’s conclusion. An executive-summary reader has to option to take the problem-conclusion at face value, or alternatively, they can read the paper to gain insights behind the logical reasoning behind it.

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