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Originally, the term white paper was used as shorthand to refer to an official government report, indicating that the document is authoritative and informative in nature. Writers typically use this genre when they argue a specific position or propose a solution to a problem, addressing the audience outside of their organization. Today, white papers have become popular marketing tools for corporations especially on the Internet since many potential customers search for information on the Web. Corporations use white papers to sell information or new products as solutions that would serve their customers' needs.
The Purpose of a White Paper
Typically, the purpose of a white paper is to advocate that a certain position is the best way to go or that a certain solution is best for a particular problem. When it is used for commercial purposes, it could influence the decision-making processes of current and prospective customers.
What Kind of Problems Do Readers Want to Solve?
The audience for a white paper can be the general public or multiple companies that seek solutions to their problems or needs. Typically, you will not know your audience personally, unlike when you write a recommendation report for your client. And yet, in order to persuade your audience, you need to focus on their needs. If you can address the problems that your readers want to solve, they will read your white paper for a solution. Otherwise, your white paper may not be read. It is important to emphasize your readers' interests rather than your interests, as shown in the example below:
Not: This white paper introduces ABC company's new freight service.
Instead: This white paper discusses how to choose a freight service company that best fits your needs.
"A white paper (sometimes referred to as a white book) is a report or guide that informs readers concisely about a complex issue and presents the issuing body's philosophy on the matter. It is meant to help readers understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision." (Wikipedia)
White papers are often written by government agencies, NGOs, or Think Tanks. White papers are a form of "gray literature."
Provides access to scholarship in the area of international affairs. Includes working papers from university research institutes, occasional papers series from NGOs, foundation-funded research projects, proceedings from conferences, case studies, books, journals, and policy briefs. Provides an interactive world atlas that links to country reports from the Economist Intelligence Unit. Updated monthly.
Covers worldwide public policy literature, international relations, and world politics through selective international sources including journal articles, books, government documents, statistical directories, grey literature, research reports, conference papers, web content, and more. ProQuest.
Provides full-text access to all reports from 1916 to the present prepared by the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress for members, committees, and staff of the U.S. Congress. Areas of research currently include American Law, Domestic Social Policy, Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade, Government and Finance, Knowledge Services, and Resources, Science and Industry. An important note to researchers: reports are subject to ongoing updates which are noted in issuance dates as distinguished from publication dates. The reports are searchable by index terms, keywords, title, authors, congressional source, witness, congress, and date.
This list represents a selection of think tanks and research institutes working on multiple policy issues. The descriptions provided here use the institutions' own language in their "about" pages and mission statements.
Index, abstracts and full-text of over 20,000 titles in the RAND archive dating back to 1946. Covers areas in energy, education, health, justice, the environment, and international and military affairs.
The RAND Corporation is a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to help make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous. RAND is nonprofit, nonpartisan, and committed to the public interest.