Project 2: White Paper Project

During the White Paper Project, you will learn to identify ethical, controversial, or technological issues or problems relevant to a professional setting, to research and synthesize information, and to present that information in an objective fashion which calls your audience to action. Although this project involves some individual elements, the majority of the project is the result of collaboration.

A white paper is an informative and definitive overview of a well-focused topic. White papers typically include an "Executive Summary," "Background Information," "Key Issues" or "Key Developments," "Resource List," and a number of other sections, depending on the nature of the subject matter (a chronology, remaining challenges, future prospects, etc.)

Project Summary

  • Groups of 3-4 members will be asked to do web-based and library research and then to write an informative white paper addressing a contemporary issue regarding technology which may be ethical, controversial, or unresolved. For instance, you might examine p2p file sharing and copyright law, safety issues, identity theft, or a host of others.
  • This research will result in a visually sophisticated (well-designed) document of 1700-2100 words that presents findings to appropriate audience(s) and rhetorical situation(s). Ultimately, you will investigate the extent of a particular problem and evaluate measures that have been taken to solve that problem, addressed to the company which this problem concerns.
  • After producing the final draft of the white paper, groups will present their findings to the class in a brief and engaging oral presentation, complete with PowerPoint and handout(s).


Project Goals

This project emphasizes several important goals that all professional writers should bear in mind and that are consistent with those of the Professional Writing Program at Purdue. The White Paper Project emphasizes shaping research, writing, and design to very specific situations and purposes:

Writing in Context
Analyze professional cultures, social contexts, and audiences to determine how they shape the various purposes and forms of writing, such as persuasion, organizational communication, and public discourse.

Writing Process Develop and understand various strategies for planning, researching, drafting, revising, and editing documents that respond effectively and ethically to professional situations and audiences.

Learn and apply strategies for successful collaboration, such as working and communicating on-line with colleagues, setting and achieving project goals, and responding constructively to peers' work.

Research Understand and use various research methods to produce professional documents, including analyzing professional contexts, assessing and using information resources, and determining how various media and technologies affect and are affected by users and readers.

Technology Develop strategies for using and adapting various communication technologies to manage projects and produce informative and usable professional documents.

Document Design
Learn to argue with visual data, understanding and implementing various principles of format, layout, and design of professional documents that meet multiple user and reader needs.

Rhetorical Situation

The primary audience for your white paper consists of readers who are concerned in implementing solutions to the problem you are addressing - in other words, the company being affected by the problem. Though they are experts in their field, their awareness of the issue and their familiarity with the technology and policies needed to address the issue will vary. The purpose of the white paper is to identify a problem and provide objective information about the success and failures of current measure being taken to solve the problem.

Length and Format

The length of your white paper will depend somewhat on your choice of topics, but it should be within 1700-2100 words (formatting will vary based on the design employed by each group, but every white paper should be visually sophisticated.)

Your white paper should meet the following criteria:

  • Between 1700-2100 words in length
  • Include at least one graphic (with corresponding citation)
  • Professionally spiral-bound with a cardstock cover
  • Appropriate page numbers and headings
  • In-text citations for each item of supporting evidence
  • Contain the following elements:
    • Title page
    • Table of contents
    • Table of figures (if the document contains four or more figures)
    • Executive summary which
      • Is written for a specific audience
      • Presents the paper's highlights (no new information)
      • Identifies the issue or need leading to the report
      • Offers key facts, statistics, and findings (but doesn't get too detailed)
      • Includes a condensed conclusion (basically an overview statement)
      • Is concise (the above can be combined into the same sentences when need be, for instance)
    • Introduction
    • Background:
      • History of problem
      • Extent of problem
    • Discussion of current solutions - their successes and failures (discuss no more than three)
    • Conclusion
    • Works Cited (good databases to use for research are LexisNexis, Proquest, and CQ Researcher)



There will be both group and individual deliverables for this project.

Groups will be responsible for the following:

Group Deliverable 1: Proposal
Due Feb. 23

You will have the opportunity to review individual proposals on our course website and to discuss possibilities and form groups. Each group will turn in one hardcopy of a 250 word topic proposal, in the form of a memo. This memo will include information about the topic under consideration, the potential solutions to be examined, and possible resources. Follow the guidelines for memo writing outlined at Purdue's Owl and your text. You should also refer to the "Hints on Good Memo Headers." Remember that you are selling an idea -- this is a persuasive, not descriptive, document. This means presenting the problem or issue as worthy of consideration, and the information as relevant. Your audience is a company who is dealing with the issue you have chosen. You are explaining to the top level execs why they need to be concerned - they are aware of a problem, but you are providing details about its severity.

Group Deliverable 2: Draft of White Paper
Due March 25

Each group will be required to have minimum 2, maximum 5 hard copies of their white paper (must be printed before class) in class for peer review. Remember that a draft is a complete version. These do not have to be bound.

Group Deliverable 3: Final Draft of White Paper
Due March 30

Each group will be required to submit one hard copy of their white paper. In addition to the print copy, each group will email me a PDF version of their white paper.

Group Deliverable 4: Presentation
Due March 30

Each group will present their material to the class in a professional presentation. Presentations will run 10-12 minutes. They must include multimedia elements (such as the use of PowerPoint) and be accompanied by a handout (see guidelines). Each group member will be expected to take part in the presentation.  Consult Successful Presentation Guidelines as well.

Individuals within groups will be responsible for the following deliverables:

Individual Deliverable 1: Topic Proposal
Due Feb. 18

Each individual will post a 100-word project topic proposal related to one of the following areas to their blog by classtime Feb. 18:

  • Music downloads
  • Video downloads
  • Image downloads
  • MySpace
  • Facebook
  • Online role-playing games
  • Wikis (ie Wikipedia)
  • Chatrooms
  • Search engines (ie Google)
  • Internet censorship
  • E-Commerce
  • Ebay

The project topic will deal with a problem that arisen in any one of these areas. It can be a copyright problem, an industry problem, an artist problem, a privacy problem, an efficiency problem, an ethical problem... you name it. You are not expected to SOLVE the problem now, only identify one.

You will post a blog entitled: Topic Proposal: [statement of problem goes here]. For instance, if I were to choose music downloads, I could write Topic Proposal: Demo Versions of Artists' Songs Being Leaked Before Album Release. Then, I would write at least 100 words explaining why that's a problem in my blog. I'd mention musicians' frustrations at unfinished work being "out there," how it could hurt them - maybe give an example such as the leakage of Guns N' Roses' tracks from Chinese Democracy. By classtime Feb. 18, all the blogs will be posted on our site. In class, students will discuss their projects, respond to blogs and work out groups as directed for a final topic.

Individual Deliverable 2: Weekly Research & Work(b)logs
Updated at least once weekly, starting Feb. 18 and ending March 30

Each individual will be required to keep a blog which a) records his/her research and b) details his/her contributions to the project. Each student will be expected to have at least four blogs. Work(b)logs will be updated every week until the project concludes, with the exception of Spring Break.

Individual Deliverable 3: Peer Evaluation
Due March 30

An important component of your project is successful collaboration. Each member will reflect on his/her participation in the project and on the experience of working in a group by completing the
Peer Evaluation Form.


The White Paper Project breakdowns as follows:

Group Components

  •     Group Deliverable 1: Proposal: 10%
  •     Group Deliverable 2: White Paper Draft: 10%
  •     Group Deliverable 3: White Paper Final: 40%
  •     Group Deliverable 4: Presentation: 20%

Individual Components

  •     Individual Deliverable 1: Topic Proposal: 5%
  •     Individual Deliverable 2: Research & WorkBlog: 10%
  •     Individual Deliverable 3: Peer Evaluation: 5%

Grading Criteria

When I assign a grade to your project, I will pay particular attention to see whether your white paper is informative and accurate and that you avoid as much as possible arguing a particular position. You should strive for a balance of perspectives and accurate coverage of a focused topic. The point is not to advocate for a position or "pamphleteer," but to establish a foundation of knowledge about the subject that future students and researches will find useful. I will also weigh your feedback on the Collaborative Project Assessment form in assigning a grade for your participation in the project.

More White Paper Resources:

Sample White Paper About White Papers

Sample Plain White Paper

Several Sample White Papers