Should You Kill the Term “White Paper”?

By Michael Stelzner

Does using the words “white paper” create a negative picture in your mind?

Is the term overused?

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of teaching a teleclass with Bob Bly, an author of more than 70 books on writing and marketing.

One student asked the question, “Does it always make sense to call a white paper a white paper?

This is a very good and important question. It spawns a number of other questions.

Bob’s answer was, “I don’t like using the term white paper.”

So here are my questions to you:

  • When should you “not” use the term white paper?
  • Does the label white paper carry any negative baggage?
  • Are there positives that can be gained from describing a document as a white paper?

Please chime in. Your thoughts matter.

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  • Carson

    A few days ago, I found a local ad agency’s site that was offering “orange papers” for free download. Their logo/color scheme was orange and they even made a point of mentioning something about how these documents were too interesting/exciting/hot/whatever to be regular ol’ white papers.

    I’m sure you weren’t just talking about changing color designations (ha), but I thought that was an interesting way to breathe a little life into a descriptor that’s too often wrongly perceived as being dry or boring.

    Personally, I think “white paper” is probably perfect for many settings, but that different terms might play better with other audiences.


  • Michael Stelzner

    Carson – Very interesting. I would love to see the link to that site. – Mike

  • Carson

    If you go through their “challenger quiz” and some other aspects of navigation, it will lead you to the opt-in for one or more of the “orange papers.” It also looks like there’s a link directly to them under “Learn.”


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