What is a White Paper: Definition and Application

What is a White Paper?

Definitions of a White Paper

A white paper is a type of nonfiction literature or more appropriately, an authoritative report prepared by a government agency or a non-government entity to inform target readers about a complex issue and explain their position on the matter.

The term “white paper” originated with the government of the United Kingdom. The earliest known usage of the word was the Churchill White Paper of 1922. The governments of other countries such as Canada and the United States later adopted its usage.

It is essential a technical paper written by a subject-matter expert or an established source of authority. However, when compared to works in the scientific literature such as a working paper or a thesis and dissertation, this document does not qualify as an academic source or a research paper in general due to lack of scientific rigor.

Applications and Variations

Nonetheless, within the context of governance, this written document can either be a position paper or a policy paper written and published by a specific government office to raise awareness about a sociopolitical issue, evaluate a legal issue as part of a legal analysis, present the stance of the particular office, and invite opposing points to encourage discussion.

Business organizations have also used the term “white paper” for documents written and published for marketing and sales purposes. The contents of these documents are persuasive, often using established facts from research and logical arguments to build a case favoring the business or its products.

Specific marketing and sales practices such as content marketing, inbound marketing, lead generation, and stakeholder relationship also involve the writing and dissemination of white papers.

Of course, similar to government usage, nonprofit organizations, including think tanks and advocacy groups, have also rolled out white papers to create awareness about an issue, present arguments, persuade the target readers, and invite discussions.

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