When companies or non-profit organizations want to promote solutions, products or services, they write white papers. These sales and marketing documents are created to persuade customers or clients to learn more about a product, service or offering. 

But what makes a white paper different from other marketing materials? When should businesses or non-profits use white papers?

What is a White Paper?

White papers are research-based documents that present a problem and a solution. The purpose of these papers is to educate the audience about an issue and promote a product or service as a solution to that problem.

White papers should not be mistaken for product pitches. Their goal is to inform and persuade using facts and evidence. 

Along with being persuasive and research-based, white papers are generally:

  • Lengthy – at least 5-6 pages
  • Educational in nature
  • Used prior to a sale, not after

Typically, white papers contain an executive summary or introduction as well as narrative text.

Types of White Papers

There are three main types of white papers:

Numbered Lists

Numbered lists are one the most popular types of white papers. As the name suggests, these papers are centered on a numbered list of points related to an issue. Their lure is that they’re easy to read and informative.

Typically, these white papers have titles that begin with a number. The number indicates that the information will be presented in easily digestible chunks. 

The numbered list format makes this type of white paper easy to write. Audiences love these papers because they’re quick and easy to read. They can also be repurposed into other types of content. 

That said, these types of papers are considered less credible due to their brief and superficial nature. 


Backgrounder white papers are the oldest type of white paper, and their purpose is to explain new or complicated technologies to technical audiences.

These papers are sometimes referred to as a “product briefing” or “evaluator’s guide.” 

Backgrounders explain the primary features and functions of products or services in much greater detail compared to a brochure or web copy.

This type of white paper is also easy to write and research. However, they’re not great for generating leads. They’re primarily used to support product launches and technical evaluations.


The problem/solution white paper is the most persuasive. They’re sometimes called executive briefings, special reports or market overviews.

These papers use facts and logic to persuade audiences that a particular product or service is the best solution to a problem. 

The modern definition of a white paper is, essentially, the problem/solution type. Along with educating readers, these white papers can help generate leads and shape the opinions of the media. 

When to Use White Papers

White papers have many advantages, but when should a business use them? White papers can be used to:

  • Establish the business’s credibility. White papers are research-based and present facts, which can make a company and its offerings more credible. 
  • Improve user engagement: White papers contain valuable information that audiences want to know. Offering them can increase engagement with a brand. 
  • Generate leads and sales: When written properly, white papers can be persuasive without being too “salesy.” They can be highly effective at generating leads and sales.

White papers have been used in sales and marketing for decades because they work. Finding ways to incorporate them into your marketing strategy can help generate more sales and leads.