Characteristics of White Papers

  • Written for a well-educated lay audience, think NPR listener
  • Answers a funding agency’s need; describes a problem and solution
  • Helps sponsor to decide to invite/not invite/fund
  • May or may not receive a response or review; lead to a proposal/grant; considered confidential
  • Often it is used to find reviewers, find consultants, validate research or technology, impress board of directors/stakeholders, etc.
  • One-two pages in length; government policy white papers are typically much longer

The format of a white paper:

  • Optional cover page with overview/abstract
  • Small sections with clear headings
    • Introduction/background
      • What is the problem/question to be addressed and why is it important to sponsor and proposer
      • How does proposer know about the problem
    • Proposed solution to current situation/problem
      • Include several options with levels of complexity, sophistication, time, cost, risk, etc.
      • Use graphs, illustrations, sufficient detail to demonstrate that the proposer can handle this
      • Include preliminary data which demonstrates this solution can work
      • Case studies, comparisons, success stories
      • Describe risks and risk management, i.e., what if and alternatives
    • Future direction/long-term goals; clarify steps, timelines
      • What does this future world look-like, i.e., long-term benefits to sponsor, proposer, society, nation, and world
    • Recommendations/results/conclusions; prioritized proposed activities; review recommended solutions and provide rationale
    • Biosketch, CVs
    • References
    • Appendices, e.g., letters of support, highly-relevant journal article, etc.

Sample White Paper