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Guide to White Papers

A brief overview of white papers, basic formatting tips, and research resources.


white paper is a genre of persuasive paper which is sometimes referred to as a background report. Originally they were used government reports but now the genre has expanded to other fields such as communications and marketing. The genre can cover anything from policy and technical information to identifying a problem and its solution. 

Much of the information on this page can be found on Purdue Owl's section on White Papers (available under Helpful Links).

Finding White Papers

There are many different styles of white papers and they cover a variety of subjects. Often you can find them by including the term in your regular search (via OneSearch or Google Scholar). 

For example: "white paper" AND (cigarettes OR smoking) will bring up a number of white papers on cessation programs, nicotine addiction, alternatives such as e-cigarettes, and other white papers. 

If you are having trouble finding one on your particular topic, you may want to include the term "background report" in your search.

Writing a White Paper

When writing a white paper it is important you keep in mind the purpose, audience, and tone.

Often the person reading the white paper will be unfamiliar with the entity, problem, or solution explored in the paper. You must be persuasive, but avoid bias.  

Citations often include primary research such as quantitative and qualitative data and secondary research. 

Parts of a white paper typically include an introduction, problem statement and exploration, solution explanation, and conclusion. There may be additional parts in the form of visuals (charts, figures, etc.).

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