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I've heard the term "white paper" used in many situations. I've been asked before to write white papers on different subjects, though I've never successfully completed one. I've read many different white papers on differing subjects. It seems to me a white paper is really nothing more than a free form document written about a subject with the sole purpose of attempting to convince others of your way of view. Is this an accurate assessment?

To that end, I have several questions directly concerning white papers:

  • What elements should go into a white paper?
  • Is there any specific format, or is it mainly free form as I suggested?
  • Is there a customary length to a white paper (i.e.: what is considered too short/long)?

Note: I've read Outlining for white papers, but it doesn't answer my questions.

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    While I fully defend the right of anyone to downvote a Q/A, I would highly appreciate the understanding of why it was downvoted (twice, even). I'm more than happy to amend or even delete the question if I've committed some unknown (to me) faux pas here on Writing.SE. This question was asked in good faith and not without research on the subject. I know technical writing is not a well conversed subject here, but didn't think it was verboten. Please, help me to write a better question if there's something wrong with what I've posed. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Mar 13 at 13:17
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    I haven't downvoted but my guess is your question is too broad. Why that translates to downvotes instead of close votes, I don't know. It's a fine question, there's just too much of it. I suggest focusing on just one element. The definition might be a good place to start. You can make the other points additional questions if they aren't answered in the course of the first question. – Cyn says make Monica whole Mar 13 at 14:20
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    I think your question is fine, non-fiction questions are welcome here. Nor is it too broad, you are basically seeking guidance on writing a White Paper, which @Secesptus answered concisely below; thus it is not too broad. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Mar 13 at 14:58
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From Wikipedia:

A white paper is an authoritative report or guide that informs readers concisely about a complex issue and presents the issuing body's philosophy on the matter. It is meant to help readers understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.

Basically to write a "White Paper" you need to be an expert in the subject you are writing about. For example if you are the creator of a new technology or programming framework and discuss the advantages, disadvantages and design decisions it would be called a "White Paper".

The rest is up to the specific field and your preferences. That means you are correct in assuming that it's pretty much free form.

The length is not clearly defined. It should be as long as it needs to be to bring your points across, but the goal should be to be concise, so try not to be too much longer. The German Wikipedia states:

White Papers geben auf mindestens zwei Seiten einen Überblick über Vor- und Nachteile, Kosten und Einsparpotenzial einer bestimmten Problemlösung.

Which roughly translates to (emphasis and translation by me):

White Papers give an overview on at least two pages about advantages and disadvantages, costs and saving potentials of a certain solution to a problem.

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