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.
Nonetheless, within the context of governance, a white paper 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, 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.