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How to Develop Exciting White Papers

Four simple steps for solid reporting

by Wendy J. Meyeroff

First, let me provide a quick definition for folks who ask this question all the time: “What’s the difference between a case study and a white paper?”

Very simple. A case study is telling folks about how a certain project—in which you were involved--succeeded. So it could be about how your electronic medical records program saved a specific doctor’s practice or hospital. Or it could be about how your live entertainment series helped enhance the happiness of a nursing home’s residents.

A white paper is more of an overview containing research you’ve done on a specific issue. This usually seems less self-promotional, ‘cause you’re not conveying what you’ve accomplished. Rather you should be communicating overall insights like, “Top 10 Ways to Enhance SEO Success,” or “How AI Has Accelerated Small Business Sales.”

The only place your biz name comes into play in a white paper is being placed on the title cover and in a short bio at the back. The latter can start with something like “XYZ Company has been providing AI to nonprofits, small businesses, and companies in the healthcare industry since 1992.”

Note: When it comes to white papers, these materials of 2,000-8,000 words require solid research. They can’t just be written off the top of your head, the way you might be able to create shorter blogs.

I. Enhancing your expertise recognition

You’ll need to find statistics that explain why you’ve chosen your topic. Besides great resources like Entrepreneurs, Forbes, and the Wall St. Journal, check news from major universities—like Stanford, MIT, and Duke—including from departments like Health/Medical, Computer Sciences, Business & Economics.

Whatever you find, make sure your people can make it understandable. If you’re talking finances, people beyond CFOs need to understand it, just like non-techies need help understanding a tech advance.

II. Getting great quotes

Now you need your paper to offer interesting statements from leaders (besides your own) in the field you’re explaining. You have one of two options:

a) Find their quotes online—They might be in corporate materials, including blogs and annual reports. Or they might be in outside news reports.

Also check out resources like Cision and their PRNewswire—they create mailings of PR news alerts that help companies gain recognition. When you sign on you’ll see lots of quick news items that tell you who’s out there showing their expertise. You can read their blogs before you even sign on.

Wherever you find potential sources, you generally must copy and paste the quote you’d like to use into an email requesting permission. Make sure you tell the source where their quote will be going.

There is one permission exception: government quotes can almost always be lifted; there’ll be a notice on how to use before you download. Once your document is finalized, you should send an email to that agency, offering a link or attachment of your material.

b) Do interviews—This insures you have permission to use what folks say—though you of course must confirm that at the top of the interview. Make sure the interview is recorded, be it on your phone, a mini-recorder, or even online via a service like

III. Find illustrations

White papers all benefit from some type of illustrations. It could be one or more charts or tables, infographics, photos…there are all sorts of opportunities. Just like quotes, you must get illustration permissions. And also as with quotes, government sources generally allow easy use.

IV. Define a reviewing process

Is it all up to you to ensure that all the stats, quotes, tables, illustrations are correct and sourced properly? Or will you be sending this to other reviewers? Generally even my longer white papers have gone to only one contact and that person has total approval. Otherwise authors need to know when their contact will be running it through a more extensive, internal, review process.

Of course all these details should be worked out in some sort of assignment, be it a letter of agreement or more formal contract. Among other things, define a due date for the first draft, the number of turnarounds, and the actual date of publication.

Last but not least, state who owns that final edition. Usually the corporate provider, not any writer, has that ownership. That should include that the client—not any external writing resource—accepts responsibility for the final insights offered, especially if the original copy is later revised.###

Excited to write your first white paper for health, tech, or business (or you’d just like extra), and know you need help? Download this shorter one that I ghosted for a dietitian in two variations, one for health specialists and one for food buyers. Contact Wendy, who’s been writing these and other strong material in attention-getting storytelling mode for 20+ years…including collaborations with Merck, Apple, NIH, CBS, and Sears.

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