The White Paper Outline Buffet: The Why-We-Did-This White Paper

white paper and change in direction

Part 5 in a series of white paper outlines, each with a different structure and focus. Here, the outline for a Why-We-Did-This White Paper that rationalizes a big change in direction.

Think about a few pivotal moments:

  • Nixon goes to China
  • The Supreme Court rules that separate is not equal
  • AOL starts allowing unsolicited e-mail
  • Apple squeezes a telephone into the iPod
  • Google starts including paid advertising alongside search results

Those represent big changes in behavior – changes that many people welcomed and that left many people out in the cold. Behind all of those changes was an entire landscape of forces that brought them about.

Most organizations, wary of alienating the people left out in the cold, try to explain those forces and control potential damage to their reputation. They also want to keep losers in the fold.

The Why-We-Did-This white paper serves that purpose. It doesn’t always work, but it’s a good consolation prize.

If you need to build a Why-We-Did-This white paper to rationalize your company’s big changes, consider the Customers-Industry-Us white paper outline.

Title and Summary

You can refine your title and summary once you’ve finished the paper, but I recommend that you smith working versions early on and use them to guide you while you write. Couch them in weighty terms without sounding bombastic, for example:

Naturally, those affected adversely by your decision will look at the title and summary (and the entire paper) and grumble, “whattaloadabull,” which is their prerogative. If you write with them alone in mind, your paper will come off as defensive rationalization instead of the positive explanation you want to convey.


Describe, as clinically as possible, the forces behind your decision. Consider these two categories:

  • Opportunities Too Good to Pass Up
  • Threats Too Ominous to Ignore

Mind you, if you exaggerate, you’ll lose your ideal readers; nevertheless, stress the highly compelling elements in each category.

What this means for  customers/constituents

Everybody understands actions motivated by customer preference, so this is the first line of rationalization. You’re not hiding behind the things your buying public asked you to do, but they’re the ones who keep the industry afloat, so taking action in their interest is just common sense.

What this means for the industry

You’re not alone in the industry, of course, so here you explain what the forces mean for your entire industry: longer shelf life, less pollution, lower health care costs, better ROI.

Your point in this section is that yours is not the only organization in your field that is subject to these forces. Even if your big decision is unpopular, your competitors will probably soon follow suit.

How we are responding

Given the combination of the forces and your own peculiar advantages (technology, market access, friends in high places), you declare without apology or reservation

Why We Did This

with undertones of

What Else Could We Do?

You want to elicit from your ideal readers the response

Yes, well, in that case, the change makes sense.

Mention your new direction and how it will manifest itself in your products and services. But resist the temptation to use brochure-type language, which will only annoy readers.

Conclusion and Follow Us

Populate your conclusion with the big concepts you’ve floated throughout the paper, especially important terms. Restate the forces and the flow of your argument through customers, the industry and your own organization.

Be sure to invite readers to follow your blog, newsletter, video and podcasts. If you’ve done a good job rationalizing your change in direction, readers will want to keep an eye on you for more insight.

The result is a first-pass white paper outline you can circulate. Your reviewers will be able to see where you’re taking the readers of your Why-We-Did-This white paper. Once you have their feedback, you can start on the draft.

Next, the Transformation White Paper and the We-Rescued-Ourselves Outline

photo credit: USDI Bureau of Land Management CC3.0


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.”