The White Paper Outline Buffet: The Educational White Paper

Educational white paper outline

Part 1 in a continuing series of white paper outlines, each with a different structure and focus. Here, an outline for white papers that educate readers on new technologies.

If you’re writing a white paper for yourself, you can get away without writing an outline first, but if other people will approve the paper, you need a white paper outline. Period.

In other posts about white paper outlines, I’ve explained this. The outline is to your white paper project what blueprints are to a construction project: they demonstrate how you understand the objective of the project, and they act like a skeleton that you flesh out with content.

‘Nuff said.

It’s All in the Structure

Readers crave structure. It’s how they follow along. If they can’t figure out the structure in your paper, they think you’re rambling. Literary authors (and some sportswriters) can get away without structure, but don’t try it in marketing communications.

Also, focus on the structure that makes the most sense to your ideal readers – depending on what they’ve come to expect in a white paper – more so than on the structure that appeals most to you.

  • You want to inform and persuade, so your structure needs to support those goals.
  • Your readers want you to solve their business problem, not tell them how smart you are, so show them how you can solve it.

The structure in your white paper outline is an important part of this.

A White Paper for Educating

Suppose your product or service does something completely new (or does something old in a completely new way). The kind of thing that causes your prospects to ask, for example,

You mean I can make phone calls anywhere for free?

You mean I can have my DNA mapped?

You mean I can double the capacity of my hard drive?

You’ve got some educating to do, and your first white papers should follow the Background-Trends-Emerging outline:


Your title answers the reader’s first question: “Is this worth my attention?” Don’t spoil a good white paper with a lousy title; this kind of paper needs a title that grabs attention without straining credibility. Reinforce it with a good subtitle as well:

The Doctor is In…Your Phone – Testing and Transmitting Blood-Sugar Levels over Wireless

Starting the entire project with your title is not a bad idea, but don’t weld yourself to it, because the paper may evolve in a different direction.


Start with a couple of paragraphs on what the paper covers, to answer the reader’s second question: “What am I going to get out of this?”

Many marketing communications writers wait until the end of the project to do the summary, but I suggest sending a tentative one with the outline. It helps avoid misunderstandings about message and direction.

If you plan to discuss your own products in the paper – not the ideal course in an educational white paper – mention that in the summary instead of springing it on the reader on page 8.

Background and Problem

Sketch out a few bullets on how the business problem came to be. Write only about things you’ll need later in the paper, not about every conceivable market condition.

By the way, if you’re not careful, you’ll lose your readers in this section. They’re scanning to avoid things they already know and don’t care about, so sketch the background in a way that makes it easy for them.

Finally, phrase the problem in a way that meshes with your title:

IT managers are stuck in an Optimization Triangle, spreading scarce improvement-resources among business process, infrastructure and users.

If that’s the problem you want to emphasize, and if it doesn’t support your title, then change your title.

The problem statement, a pivotal point in the paper, is where you move toward conflict-driven business writing and depart from brochure copy.

Existing Products and Market Trends

Next, list 3-4 ways the industry usually deals with the problem, and the relative dis-/advantages of each:

  • More deep-water drilling
  • Cap-and-trade
  • Tax-based conservation incentives

Then, mention market trends that threaten to make these existing solutions obsolete in the long run:

  • Sooner or later, oil will run out.

This puts your readers on notice that they cannot afford to stand still. It’s another pivotal point in the paper.

Emerging Technology

Something new is on the landscape, though, and here you describe the technology behind your product.

Educating readers about a new category is not the same thing as telling readers about your products, so stay away from self-promotion. Outline a few bullets that describe how the new technology addresses the old problems better than the existing products do, while accommodating market trends.

If you really need to mention your product, couch it in terms that suggest, “We’ve seen this coming and here’s what we’re putting in place. It may not be ideal for every organization, but this is how we think the market is evolving.”

For More Information, Follow Us

Invite readers who have made it this far to follow you. That says, “We know that you may not buy from us (yet), but keep an eye on us for the day when you do.” The marketing writer who understands “following” is your biggest asset here.

Emphasize social ways for your readers to keep tabs on you: blog, Facebook, Twitter, discussion groups. Add your phone and URL for good measure, but remember that few people use an 800-number or a Website for serious following.

The result of this process is a white paper outline you can circulate. Your reviewers will be able to see the path down which you intend to take the readers of your educational white paper. Once you have their feedback, you can start on the draft.

Next: The Revolution White Paper: People-Process-Technology Outline

photo credit: justiNYC


Author: John White

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a content marketing writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Download his eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Content Marketing Writer.”