White papers are reports or guides that aim to be a voice of authority on an issue or technology. Whether they’re directly helping the reader decide which specific product or technology to buy, or are more focused on providing general insights into a complex problem, a white paper needs to combine data, research, and opinion in a way that makes the company (or its product or service) the best choice.
Most white papers are used before a sale, are geared to be educational rather than sales-focused, and include an executive summary. They tend to be either printed or delivered as downloadable PDFs, take several weeks to create, and have a life span of 1-2 years before they need to be updated. They’re used by tech firms, equipment firms in medical or communications industries, scientific service firms, and consulting firms to explain their products and services.
In the fall of 2018 I worked on a large white paper project for Adobe. I was one of several writers creating white papers for a large event. My topic was XDM, a formal specification developed by Adobe for use in their Experience Cloud set of products and services. I worked with two engineers to develop an outline and write multiple drafts of the white paper. I ended up moving the entire document from Word to Google Docs the final weekend before it was due so that I and one of the engineers could work live as a team tightening up some of the key paragraphs. Although I’d heard some of the buzzwords before I started the project, this specific technology was at a whole new level for me. I spent a lot of time on GitHub, searching Google, and buried in forums figuring out how this specification could be explained to C-level executives without making their brains explode the way mine nearly did during the first week on the project.
Here are some screenshots from the finished white paper.