A white paper is quite the buzzword amongst business developers and crypto enthusiasts these days.
But it gets deeper than ICOs and IPOs as most outsiders find it a bit difficult to differentiate a marketing whitepaper from a technical white paper.
The term “white paper” comes from a 100-year-old practice of government reporting in the UK. When government agencies provided data to Parliament to help them make decisions, they would offer three different types: Very long, comprehensive documents with a blue cover, open-ended reports with a green cover, and short, focused reports on a single topic with white covers.
The “short and focused reports” with white covers were a concise document with information to solve a particular problem This is now known in many industries as a “white paper.”
Today, marketing white papers are produced for sales purposes by for-profit companies, making them a marketing tool that can often be confused with a neutral technical white paper.
Whilе both publications hаvе thеir рurроѕе, it is imроrtаnt for the соnѕumеr tо knоw how thеу diffеr. It is also important for contractors and entrepreneurs to know when to hire a technical writer (as opposed to a general marketing copywriter).
Most writers and editors agree there are two main types of writing:
- writing to explain
- writing to persuade
A white paper bridges that gap. An effective white paper generally uses facts and logic to explain a certain industry problem, provide some tips or advice, or describe the inner workings of a product or service. You could say the very same thing about many books.
On the surface, marketing white papers and technical papers published in journals appear similar. They are both presented with an emphasis on narrative rather than design, so neither will have flashy artwork or photographs and statistics are presented in black and white tables or graphs. They are similar in length – from 6 to 12 pages, give or take.
Both will have citations, either as footnotes or endnotes, using current research from respected journals and thought leaders. Even the formatting will look similar, with section headings including a brief summary, background, analysis, and presentation of data. Looking behind the surface, however, reveal 3 important differences:
The Difference between a Marketing White paper and a Technical White paper
The goal of the white paper is to direct the reader towards making a specific decision. This type of document is a persuasive essay that uses facts and logic to promote a certain product, service, or viewpoint.
The author directs the reader to a specific conclusion using carefully-selected facts and logic, all with the desired result of portraying the product, service, or viewpoint in the best possible light.
In contrast, an academic paper will present the results of a study in order to contribute to the body of technical knowledge. That is to say, the author’s goal is to put forward data with analysis that add to the technical conversation, to help clarify a bigger picture, and hopefully encourage further research.
The author will build a logical framework with evidence from previous work while acknowledging opposing viewpoints or possible contradictions.
If the goal of the marketing white paper produced by a for-profit company is persuading the reader to reach a specific conclusion, then the desired result of that document is a sale by the company that sponsored it.
A technical white paper may not contain a sales pitch, but its carefully crafted message is intended to guide the reader to a specific decision: Investment in the product being described.
Fоr a technical whitе рареr, the goal is to add to the body of knowledge in a meaningful way. Evidence of the relevance of this contribution can be the citation of that work in future presentation and articles published in the same field.
Marketing white papers are written by a company’s in-house staff or by a freelance writer under contract. The writer meets with the marketing staff to discuss the information to be presented, to determine an angle, and set parameters on facts and messaging.
The author may have a background in the topic or product, but this is not required. Ultimately, the white paper reflects directly on the company that sponsors it, not directly to the author.
This anonymity could not be further from the authorship of scientific journal articles. For these documents, the authors are not only responsible for the narrative; they are also the lead investigators in the study, the experts analyzing data for their peers in the scientific world.
Their published work is inexorably tied to their names, their careers, and their professional legacy. Important publications will continue to be cited in future work, each citation listing their name and article.
Marketing white papers can be helpful.
For a potential customer considering a product, it can present a lot of information and statistics in a streamlined form, help the reader convince others about their support of a product, and identify practical ways to decide whether or not the product is a good match for one’s needs.
It’s important for readers to always keep in the back of their minds, however, that it is a marketing tool that may not present a complete picture.
In an academic hierarchy, the technical whitepaper will be considered superior, since they are unbiased and peer-reviewed. Ideally, a consumer will use both marketing white papers and technical research to make the best decision for their needs.
Get an expertly written whitepaper today.
Written by Demi Oye.
Connect with Demi on LinkedIn here