It seems like everyone either wants to be an expert or thinks they already are. Don’t believe me? Just check out Twitter and see how many user’s bios proclaim them as an expert in some certain field, real or imaginary.
The technical way to become a real expert is to receive a terminal degree in a specific area. That being said, I’m writing my dissertation now and I am fully aware of how little you feel you know about your subject of expertise during this process. Of course, this probably is just a feeling, not reality, since I actually know more about my research topic than I ever have before in my life. But, I digress.
Another, less academic, way to become an expert is through professional experience in a certain area. This experience can be documented and shared through a white paper, establishing your expertise in a quasi-academic manner and helping develop your reputation as an expert on that topic.
What is a white paper?
A white paper is a position paper that outlines your or your organization’s position on an issue.
Why write them?
Aside from establishing your expertise on a specific topic, a white paper differentiates your position on an issue from others’.
What are they about?
A white paper can be about any debatable topic. The important thing is to know your audience and industry so you can determine the best, most current problem to address. Is there something happening in your industry that you want to establish your expertise on? Identify these types of issues, then decide what your audience is most likely to want/need to read.
Who are they for?
White papers are for audiences who are more educated on a topic, allowing for more advanced writing. White papers are intended for professionals who want to know more about an issue or understand an individual’s or organization’s position on an issue.
What is the structure?
A white paper contains citations, academic/professional sources and researched support for claims that are made. When writing a white paper, use sources your readers will find credible, including good data.
The typical structure of a white paper is:
- Introduction/summary – provide an overview of the topic and allow the reader to easily understand the main point.
- Background/problems – provide readers with general background information about the issue that will help them make a decision based on an understanding of the facts. This also his where you establish yourself as an expert on the topic.
- Solution/your side – propose your solution to the issue or explain your stance on the debate.
- Opposition/their side – present the opposition’s side of the issue, then refute it.
- Conclusion – reaffirm your own position and conclude in a way that allows the readers to understand what they know better as a result of having read the paper.
- References – always include a list of works cited at the end of your white paper.
White papers are anywhere from eight to 20 pages long, with a typical white paper falling at about 15 pages. The most important thing is to focus on providing value for your reader. When the value is gone, you should stop writing.
White papers are written in third person. They can use subheads to help break up text.
Of course, like any professional writing, you want to spell check and carefully proofread your white paper before it is distributed. They can be distributed in electronic or paper format.
White papers allow you to establish your expertise on a topic by designing a course of action and shaping future debate on that issue. Establishing your expertise benefits your professional brand by making you more sought after and desirable to work with. Writing white papers also adds another skill to your professional skill set.