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How White Papers Have Evolved

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Author: Gordon Graham

The term "white paper" arose early in the 20th century in Great Britain. It was used to distinguish shorter government briefs and position papers with white covers from longer reports and policy books with blue covers.

One of the earliest white papers on record is the so-called Churchill White Paper from 1922. A few months after this was published, Britain apparently backtracked and broke all the promises in this document. Just like today, not all white papers speak the truth!

White papers were often used in science and medicine during WWII, the 1950s and the 60s. With the rise of the PC in the 1980s, white papers started to become extremely popular in the IT industry. And in the 90s, the Web provided an inexpensive distribution channel that sparked today's ongoing explosion of white papers.

Where are white papers today?

One thing's for sure: The number of white papers is growing exponentially. In the summer of 2001, a Google search for the phrase "white papers" yielded 1.4 million hits. Nine years later, the same phrase yielded 19.6 million hits.

The Web is awash in documents called "white papers." And these have been become a standard part of the marketing toolkit in some sectors. That's because truly effective white papers are highly read and passed on from person to person. They have a major impact on buying decisions for billions of dollars worth of products and services every year.

Yet this label is applied indiscriminately to many documents that are not "classic" white papers. Too many are nothing but thinly veiled sales pitches. For this reason, the term "white paper" is becoming devalued. It may be better to find a more specific name for some documents, such as:

-Executive briefing
-Research report
-ROI calculator
-Special report
-Technology backgrounder

What are today's hot white paper topics?

The hot topics for white papers tend to follow industry trends. So when a lot of people are talking about a certain technology, you can be sure a lot of white papers are being written about it.

The white paper syndicates want you to know what's hot, so they make it easy to get an instant snapshot of their most popular white paper downloads. Here are three easy ways to check on popular topics:

1. Go to and notice the list of Top Requested Categories.

2. Go to and notice the similar list of Popular Topics. Then click Most Popular Reports, to see the 50 most downloaded white papers for the day.

3. Go to and see the tab for "Most Popular."

Where are white papers going in the future?

For the near future, white papers will continue to be very popular with marketers and prospects. Over the longer term, many new formats for delivering information are being explored.

For the kind of content usually included in a white paper, these new formats include presentations, audio (podcasts) and video (recorded webinars or vlogs). Other mediums on the horizon include 3D immersive experiences and virtual trade shows. These white papers of the future will require more complex production methods and distribution platforms, but will offer a more engaging experience for audiences.

About the author: "That white paper guy" is Gordon Graham an award-winning writer with 30 years of experience. For lots more tips on how to write a white paper, visit

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