A white paper
is an authoritative report or guide that often addresses problems and how to solve them. White papers are used to educate readers and help people make decisions. They are used in politics and business. They can also be a government report outlining policy.
Government white papers
In the Commonwealth of Nations
, "white paper" is an informal name for a parliamentary paper enunciating government policy; in the United Kingdom
these are mostly issued as "Command papers
". White papers are issued by the government and lay out policy, or proposed action, on a topic of current concern. Although a white paper may on occasion be a consultation as to the details of new legislation, it does signify a clear intention on the part of a government to pass new law. By contrast, green papers
, which are issued much more frequently, are more open ended. These green papers, also known as consultation documents
, may merely propose a strategy to be implemented in the details of other legislation or they may set out proposals on which the government wishes to obtain public views and opinion.
White papers published by the European Commission are documents containing proposals for European Union action in a specific area. They sometimes follow a green paper released to launch a public consultation process.
For examples see the following:
- Churchill White Paper, 1922, United Kingdom)
- White Paper of 1939 calling for the creation of a unified Palestinian state and a limited Jewish immigration and ability to purchase land.
- White Paper on Full Employment, 1945, Commonwealth of Australia
- White Paper on Defence, 1964, led to the unification/creation of the modern Canadian Forces
- 1966 Defence White Paper, cancelled new British aircraft carriers and the BAC TSR-2 aircraft
- In Place of Strife, 1969
- 1969 White Paper, 1969 (cancelled in 1971), to abolish the Indian Act in Canada and recognize First Nations as the same as other minorities in Canada, rather than a distinct group
Commercial white papers
Since the early 1990s, the term "white paper" has also come to refer to documents used by businesses as a marketing or sales tool. For example, many white papers today reveal the benefits of particular technologies
These types of white papers are almost always marketing communications documents designed to promote a specific company's solutions or products. As a marketing tool, it is important to note that these papers will always highlight information favorable to the company authorizing or sponsoring the paper. Such white papers are often used to generate sales leads, establish thought leadership, make a business case, or to educate customers.
There are three primary types of commercial white papers:
1. Business-benefits: Focuses on making a business case to executives
2. Technical: Helps influencers (like engineers) to understand how a concept or technology works
3. Hybrid: Combines high-level business focus and technical details into a single paper
- Stelzner, Michael (2007). Writing White Papers: How to capture readers and keep them engaged. Poway, California: WhitePaperSource Publishing.