Do original research for a white paper

Business Benefits

Engage readers, build leads, and trigger conversions.


Refer to your target audience’s buyer persona to identify key demographics, psychographics, and technographics.

The goal of every white paper is to:

  • Create proprietary information, industry analyses, and industry recommendations that no one else has.
  • Establish your brand or company as a trusted authority around a relevant customer pain point or topic.
  • Offer something of value, so you can collect leads or trigger conversions.

To do the above, you need to know the type of data and trusted authorities that would give your white paper credence with your target audience. Refer to your buyer personas to understand your key audience’s:

  • Demographics, such as gender and average age.
  • Psychographics, including their pain points, their motivations, and their common emotions.
  • Technographics, such as where they get their information, and how they access that information.

Determine the type of sources that would appear authoritative and relevant to your target audience using the TARP acronym.

TARP stands for:

  • Timeliness: How quickly does your industry or this specific white paper topic change? How recent does a source need to be in order to be trusted? For example, a source from 2018 might be timely in a slow-moving field like healthcare, but would likely be too outdated for a white paper topic on social media trends.
  • Authority: What types of sources would your target audience give weight to? For example, a white paper aimed at medical students might use traditional doctors as sources, but a white paper aimed at homeopathic enthusiasts may find that using a traditional doctor as a source might actually create distrust in its target audience.
  • Relevance: This is more about placement within your white paper. Don’t treat every source the same. For example, a statistic from a government report may be relevant for the research lead-in to your white paper, but quotes from your own team’s executives may be more relevant in the application section of the white paper.
  • Proximity: How close would the target audience feel to your potential source? For example, a CFO at a Fortune 500 company may find the insights of another Fortune 500 CFO very applicable to their personal journey, but may not trust the insights of a CFO at a small family company.

Scan the white papers from competitors and others in your industry to see the type of research that’s already been done.

The purpose of this is twofold:

  • You don’t want to invest time and research into a white paper topic that’s already been well-covered by others.
  • You want to see the types of research, insights, and data these other white papers used to give you a clue to the type of research your audience expects.

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. If you notice that a popular white paper leans heavily on anecdotes from experts or from customer surveys, you’ll have a better understanding of what your audience likes to read and tends to trust.

Start your research by sourcing data, trends, analytics, and insights from reputable government and industry sources.

Dig into research from very well known, established reporting channels. This may include:

  • Reputable survey companies, such as Forrester and Gartner.
  • Government websites, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Small Business Administration, or any other agencies that oversee your industry or this specific topic.
  • Credible universities, nonprofits, and foundations, such as Harvard, Yale, or the Better Business Bureau.

A simple web search using the keywords [your white paper topic] + [an agency or foundation name] can get you started in the right direction to see if any of these authoritative sources have insights into your white paper topic.

Move from industry trends, data, and analytics, to data and trends from your target audience using surveys, customer service reports, and more.

Once you’ve established the general picture, use the proximity and timeliness aspects of TARP to show your audience that your white paper addresses their core needs, questions or pain points. This may include:

  • Doing a survey or study of your target audience.
  • Reviewing customer service reports from your own team to see what common trends or questions appear.
  • Checking your web analytics to see the types of common questions used before arriving at your website.
  • Scanning Google search trends to see what questions, pain points, or problems are common with your target audience.

Get expert insights from your own team that establishes you as an authority.

Now that you’ve conducted research on an industry-wide level, as well as plumbed the insights and questions of your own customers and audience, it’s time to provide expert analyses and insights from your own team. Key sources to consult with and interview include:

  • The company executives, department heads, and managers who oversee this specific topic or industry within your company, who can often provide high-level guidance, trend spotting, or similar overviews.
  • Your in-house experts, such as your marketing strategist or content lead, who can talk in expert terms about how to solve problems or look for solutions.
  • Your customer service team, who can often share customer stories or case studies about the white paper topic.

Sample question themes to help you get the right research, data, and advice out of your in-house experts include:

  • Who faces this problem?
  • Where does this commonly happen?
  • What are the benefits or the problems?

Follow up to their answers with clarifying questions that dig deeper and get to the true expertise your white paper readers want: What do you mean? Why? How does that work? Can you give me an example?

Always vet your research before incorporating it into your white paper.

Your white paper needs to present data and research accurately, or else all trust in your white paper is completely lost. Go beyond simple fact checking:

  • Ask your team to review the white paper for inconsistencies or things that don’t align with what they observe themselves.
  • Circle back to your experts if anything appears unclear or doesn’t align with other research that you come across.
  • Double-check all statistics, numbers, dates and other hard facts.
  • Review each citation to ensure you are not attributing an idea or a data point to the wrong source.