How to Write White Papers — a Crash Course for Newbies

By Mitt Ray

A white paper is a cross between a magazine article and a corporate brochure. Most clients want to read the educational magazine article part of the white paper to find out the solutions to their problems — but the persuasive brochure part of the white paper does its job too, and convinces the readers to buy the product or use the service.

This unique feature of the white paper — to educate and sell — makes it one of the most powerful marketing tools. This is the reason why clients are ready to pay $3000-$10,000 for a 6-14 page white paper.

How to gain some experience writing white papers

If you know how to write articles or marketing materials, you should be able to learn how to write white papers with a little effort and practice. The first thing you need to do is read all you can about writing white papers from books, blogs, articles, etc. Also study some well-written white papers. More and more companies are posting white papers online to build their authority — download a few and give them a read.

Now start writing…

After you learn how to write white papers, you can start practicing your skill on a hypothetical or real company. Choose a business-to-business company, as this type of business tends to commission more white papers. They usually have complicated offerings and need to convince business owners to buy their product or service.

Or create a white paper to sell your writing, about how businesses benefit from using freelance writers. Post it on your site as a free download for prospects.

Sharpen your skills by writing as many white papers as you can. Once you feel that you’re ready, start looking for white paper jobs.

Best ways to get your first white writing paper job

  1. Let your existing clients know what white papers are, how they work and why their business needs one. Show them the sample white papers you’ve created. If you can convince them that they need a white paper, you will be on your way.
  2. Look for business owners who are getting articles or brochures written. Explain what a white paper is and why it’s better than a regular article or brochure. Propose possible white paper topics that would be appropriate to their business. Hopefully you will be able to entice them into asking you to write one.
  3. Write one for less. If it’s your first white paper job, then it doesn’t matter if you charge less. Maybe you will not earn enough for all the effort you put in, but you will get a sample that will help you land lucrative jobs.

Once you have a few samples in your portfolio, you can look for better jobs. The best thing is to advertise your services as a white paper writer through your website, cold calling, and other marketing methods. It’s important that you target B2B companies, as they need white papers. Look for companies that are involved in fields like technology (cloud computing, CRM, content management, IT healthcare), or finance (insurance, banks, re-insurance).

Why and how did I get into writing white papers?

I always liked writing in detail, and when I write articles or marketing material I always have to edit it and make it short and concise. Then I found out about white papers, where you can write everything in great detail.

I did some research and realized white papers exactly suited my style of writing — describing a problem and providing a solution to it in a detailed manner. This is the reason why I started writing in this field.

I read books, white papers, blogs and guides. I asked experts for advice, and after receiving it I started writing white papers. Once I finished writing, I’d send it to some experts who gave me their feedback and helped me improve my skills. Once the people who helped me and I felt I was ready, I looked for work.

I convinced a few of my clients to hire me to write a white paper, and I worked on my portfolio. After I built the portfolio, getting freelance white paper work had become extremely easy for me.

Got questions about writing white papers? Just ask in the comments below.

Mitt Ray is a copywriter. He specializes in writing and marketing white papers. He runs imittcopy which provides copywriting and white paper writing & marketing services. Mitt regularly posts tips on writing and marketing white papers on his White Paper Blog.  He is also the author of “Understand and Write White Papers“, a white paper on how to write white papers.



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46 comments on “How to Write White Papers — a Crash Course for Newbies
  1. Dharmik Shah says:

    Dear Carol

    Can you help me with who in the company should one approach for offering whitepaper writing services ?

    Thanks !

    • Carol Tice says:

      Dharmik, at least at first, the best way to get whitepaper gigs is to approach existing clients who might use them. You’ll already have a contact. Unless you have extensive experience in this niche, it’s hard to simply pitch this service. These are high-ticket, complex projects, and it’s doubtful you’re going to get them, going in cold, especially if you have no white paper experience.

      But if you want to try, I’d usually start with the marketing manager.

  2. Praveen says:

    Thanks Carol, for your comments.
    I am a developer and I wish to write papers on the day to day complex technical tasks that we handle.
    My primary concern is for references. I would like to list the references in my paper but I am not sure if I have to take the approval of the articles I refereed to.
    Please let me know.

    Thanks.

  3. Praveen says:

    I am very interested in writing technical papers but I do not have any experience in this context. For the same, I have couple of question in writing technical papers. Can you please suggest or guide me to the right contact?

    1. When I include the references in my paper, Do I need to have an approval from the author of a published article?
    2. How do I get my paper included in any other citations?
    3. Any template that I can use?

    Thanks,
    Praveen

    • Carol Tice says:

      Most technical writers are former coders or engineers, Praveen. If you don’t have that background, it’ll be difficult to write at this level of complexity. What you’re describing sounds more like writing a college paper than writing for a business, for pay. Most white papers a company puts out, they’re not focused on getting citations of it in another paper — they’re looking to get it widely shared with prospective leads.

  4. Dharmik Shah says:

    Can anyone suggest some more resources to learn the art of writing white papers ? Thanks !

  5. Nadia McDonald says:

    I was writing from I knew myself. I had no idea that there was a thing existed called
    WHITE PAPER WRITING. I read the above caption, but I need a more detailed description how to effectively master this art of white paper writing. What kind of topics should a newbie look for to write about? Furthermore, what is their niche?

  6. Catherine says:

    Thanks Mitt for such a great article. I didn’t know that white paper is a high paying writing gig until I read your article.
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  7. Angela Weber says:

    Wow! As a newbie freelancer there is still so much I have to learn – luckily I love learning, so this is definitely my calling. 🙂

    Thanks Mitt for explaining what a white page is – I’ve flirted with Copywriting and through that flirtation the word “white paper” is one I’ve heard bandied about, but before today I had only a vague idea of what one was.

    I subscribed to your blog because it looks like it has a ton of useful info for me.

    One question I have about writing white papers – I love researching and I’ve been told my writing tends to be more technical than creative (wasn’t really a compliment) But perhaps it may make me well suited to technical writing?

    That isn’t my question though – my question is about interviewing people. This is something I would struggle with – is this absolutely vital to excellent white paper writing, and is it possible to do all your interviewing through email?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Angela, emails are not interviews. That’s a common confusion these days. Email is email. An interview is someone speaking to you, in person or on the phone.

      I have to honestly say I think the ability to do interviews is quite essential for white papers, case studies, articles, and lots of other types of writing work. It’s a skill you can learn though — and I’ve done a couple tips articles including this 7 Stress-Busting Interview Tips.

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  9. Mitt Ray says:

    Hi Alice – I have to agree with what Carol says here. White papers are supposed to be un- salesy. Most of the white paper is actually useful content which will help the reader solve the problem. Only a fraction of the white paper (maybe just 3/4th of a page) is salesy and lets the reader know that the company provides a service and can help them solve their problems.

    And I love writing white papers. When I research the company, the market and the product I learn a lot of new things. This really excites me. They are my favorite kind of marketing material. – Mitt
    Mitt Ray recently posted…How to Write Awesome Tweets That WorkMy Profile

  10. Alice says:

    Hey Mitt.
    Before reading your article I didn’t even know what a white paper was, but the concept is quite interesting. Since your goal will be to both sell and give information, it must be tedious to find exactly the right balance between giving information and selling.
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    • Carol Tice says:

      Don’t know about Mitt, but I find white papers a lot of fun! I like doing big projects with a lot of research. And I don’t find it hard to balance the info and selling. In most white papers there isn’t much selling. It’s simply the company presenting their authority voice on a topic related to their industry, which builds their rep and makes you more likely to trust and hire them. So it’s fairly un-salesy.

      For me they’re very journalistic…I’m just reporting facts about how their product worked for clients, or the impact of their philanthropy on recipients, or whatever.

  11. I became a whitepaper writer by accident! Since then I have been writing many. The problem is finding clients who would want these (and what is the correct price?). I think marketing is the way to go, shall definitely adopt the approach you suggested!
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  12. Robin says:

    I know a lot of newbies and I am looking forward to share this to them…For sure they will like this and they will learn a lot as well..
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  13. I like your blog curently we are looking for a part time article writer would you be interested? Custom CRM Development

  14. This post was very interesting to me. I have always considered writing white papers. In the high-tech industry, a white paper is often where technical writing meets marketing. Many times someone will write a white paper describing a new technology and then say why their product is the best (or only) way to implement it. As a matter of fact this discussion just came up at my work. I am a technical writer at a software company and one of the programmers just asked me what a white paper was. I have been looking to branch out into other types of writing and eventually become a freelancer. Writing white papers seems like a good fit for me.
    David
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  15. Rekaya says:

    I enjoyed reading your post. Very helpful. Thank you.

  16. Thanks Mitt!

    I always was curious about this. Well written and straightforward. Just another option to consider! Thanks.
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  17. Dan says:

    Great post, as per usual for posts on this site — Carol and guests alike. I’ve been hearing a lot about white papers and have always wondered just what they are and how I can learn more about them, so this was perfect. Well done.
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  18. My full time job has been asking me to write a white paper for our company. Watch the magic as my two worlds make out. WoOt! 😉
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  19. John Soares says:

    Mitt, thanks for this very informative post.

    Question: do you concentrate on writing white papers in just a few B2B fields with which you are already familiar, or do you target all fields and just learn what you need to about an unfamiliar industry as you’re completing an assignment?
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    • Carol Tice says:

      I’ll be interested to see Mitt’s answer on this, but personally the white papers I’ve done were all on topics where I learned it from scratch — things like computer recycling programs, and city-union relations. You just interview people and get an education, do research, learn your subject.

      Hmm…well I guess most of them were — just realized I’m doing one now on business finance methods, which I do already know a lot about. But I guess I don’t think it’s important as much as the research and interview skills, and the ability to organize a lot of material — organization is key in white papers so that they scan well and are easy to follow through 10 pages or more.

      I had written long features of like 3,000 words or so before, which I think is a big help. White papers are another long form, essentially.

    • Mitt Ray says:

      Hi John – Thank you for your comment.

      Just like Carol I have written many white papers on subjects I didn’t know much about initially. You might not know much at first, but once you do your initial research through reading and then more through interviews, you actually learn a lot.

      You actually write better white papers when you are new to the field because you will do everything to find out more about it so that you can understand it better. You normally go through the basics, the history, all the latest research and views of experts and when you write it down you can include all that you have learnt. This will help you create an easy to read white paper even the layman can understand. – Mitt
      Mitt Ray recently posted…How to Launch New White Papers?My Profile

      • Carol Tice says:

        Mitt brings up a great point — often, a company wants to reach new prospects who are ordinary people, not tech experts or anything. So if you’re not a tech expert either, you come to it with the same level of knowledge as the customer –which means you know what needs to be explained for an ordinary person to understand it.

        Often, that’s exactly what companies are looking for — just someone with strong writing, research and reporting skills who can help them translate their gobbledygook into something non-technical small business owners can read to understand why they need this product or service, in plain language.

    • John,
      I’ve written dozens of white papers mostly for enterprise software companies (or software consulting companies), and in almost all cases, I’ve been completely clueless about the subject matter. I wrote one recently titled “The Impact of Medical Loss Ratio Regulations on Sales Compensation Practices in the Insurance Industry”. Shoot me, right? But the truth is, if you can write, you can do it. You have to ask pointed questions of your client and make sure that you are armed with the technical material you need to generate good copy. And I’ve found that the learning curve is pretty swift. Mitt is right, the pay for White Papers is excellent.
      Ruth – Freelance Writing Blog recently posted…I Can’t Do Any Freelance Writing, Unless….My Profile

    • John Soares says:

      Thanks Mitt, Carol, and Ruth for sharing your perspective; your answers about being able to write a white paper on most anything were what I expected.

      It does seem that you’d get a white paper done faster if it’s in an area you already know a lot about.
      John Soares recently posted…My Review of Carol Tice’s Freelance Writers Den Membership SiteMy Profile