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White Paper Standards: Why Your Business Needs Them

Every industry sets its own standards for optimal performance and productivity. This is not unusual. What is unusual though, is when an outsider to the industry dismisses the guidelines and re-defines the product or service to fit their own isolated vision!

Recently I wrote an article for entitled Does Size Matter? When a White Paper Is Not a White Paper. In the article, I rebuked HP (yes I did!) for writing a little one-page ad that they defiantly labelled  ‘white paper’!

What followed thereafter was an assortment of responses,  spearheaded by an incensed reader who thought I had no business questioning HP for writing whatever they want and calling it whatever they want!

Well I disagree.

I believe that every industry possesses the best knowledge and resources regarding its own trade. Industry experts are perfectly capable of determining the best criteria to carry out operations in their own fields.

It makes perfect sense that experts should provide guidelines or ‘best practices’ for the rest of us, so that we may have a clear understanding about the function and operation of their industry.

HP does not get a pass for re-defining a white paper. Indeed they discredit the white paper writing profession and add confusion to an already misunderstood document!

White paper industry standards are important because:

  • they promote consistency and familiarity of a white paper;
  • they allow for healthy competition when every writer applies the same rules;
  • they also limit competition when they weed out those writers who cannot maintain high standards;
  • they facilitate the creation of business-related advantages;
  • they lend credibility to the trade;
  • they eliminate confusion regarding the definition  and function of a white paper.

It is critical to continually raise the professional bar in our respective industries in order to gain the affinity and respect of those who interact with us.  Standards keep us focused on giving our best performance!

Jonathan Kantor, a leading white paper expert and author of  ‘Crafting White Paper 2.0’ has established a set of standards for writing white papers. Here they are.


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  1. Hi Patricia,

    Thanks for linking to my standards page. My hope is that someday there WILL be an accepted set of standards that constitutes a business white paper.

    Given the wide range of documents that carry the label, I think I have a long wait ahead of me.

    If you or anyone would like to suggest additions to this list, I’m open to suggestions.


    • Thanks for your feedback Jonathan. At the risk of sounding like the ‘devil’s advocate’, I see us heading to a point where there will be so much frustration about the lack of clarity surrounding white papers, that the market will finally accept a set of standards that will shed some light on this subject. In the meantime, I think you’ve done an outstanding job with your suggested standards and your book Crafting White Paper 2.0.

      I started a new discussion on our LinkedIn group board about this topic and invited other group members to share their suggestions. I’ll be posting a suggestion in the next day or two.

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