There are several types of white papers companies may use as part of their marketing communications efforts. While the potential types of white papers are limited only by the creativity of those who develop them, most will fall into one of the following four categories.
1. Types of white papers for background information
Some white papers are designed to provide background information about an issue or a challenge. Their primary purpose is to educate the reader about the issue or challenge so they can make more informed decisions. An example might be comparing the advantages of shipping by truck with those of shipping by rail, so a decision-maker is better able to evaluate which is the right choice for their company.
2. White papers for problems and solutions
My favorite type of white paper is about solving problems. It typically begins by describing a common problem the audience faces — whether that’s machinery that’s breaking down too often because of contamination issues or erosion tearing the topsoil from newly built slopes. Then it examines the solutions available for that problem. With the machinery, it might involve a different type of lubrication or changes to the maintenance schedule. With the erosion issue, it might involve woven mats of organic materials that help plantings become rooted more quickly so they’re better able to withstand water.
3. White papers about processes
White papers are also an excellent way to explain and explore processes, from the many steps in bringing produce from a farm field to a restaurant table, to the thinking professionals like architects bring to design and construction of buildings. A well-written white paper can bring these processes alive for people who need to know about how these things work, such as lawmakers who are considering legislation about affecting those processes.
4. White papers presenting collections of information
This is a sensible white paper approach when you have many bits of information or advice that would be helpful to readers, but none of those bits warrants a full-length white paper of its own. These are often presented as numbered documents with titles such as “20 simple ways to improve your fleet maintenance program.” Readers are often attracted to this type of white paper because it’s easy to read and generally simplifies otherwise complex topics.