MSL Guide to Using White Papers

Ariel Katz
Feb 9, 2021

White Papers – A Valuable Source of Information

The term white paper is widely known and used in the scientific and medical community. Generally white papers are defined as:

“persuasive, authoritative, in-depth report on a specific topic that presents a problem and provides a solution.”

White papers are distinct from other content marketing materials: they are generated with the purpose of providing information based on facts, data, and evidence rather than overtly trying to convince the reader to buy or use a certain product. Though they do not make for the most exciting reading, white papers are crucial parts of every marketing strategy especially in industries whose products and services require a lot of information and background, such as the healthcare industry.

White Papers vs. Blogs vs. Scientific Papers

A question that may come to mind is why white papers are called white papers. The genesis of this term can be quickly explained: UK government agencies used to provide reports to Parliament to inform their decision making. Reports with blue covers were very long and comprehensive, open-ended reports had a green cover, and shorter reports that were focused on a single topic had white covers and gave rise to the term “white paper”.

White papers are distinct from other forms of marketing content and academic papers. Their detailed, informative, more heavily researched content, often written by experts, sets them apart from blogs, eBooks, brochures, and similar types of marketing collateral. However, they are not academic papers either. Unlike scientific papers, whose purpose it is to add to the body of scientific knowledge, a white paper is created for the purpose of moving a potential customer towards a purchase decision. However, this is done indirectly by using facts and knowledge. Still, white papers are marketing materials but given their heavy dose of data, they are the closest thing to a scientific paper among the marketing materials.

Uses of White Papers by Medical Science Liaisons

As such, white papers are valuable tools for Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) who are tasked with being the scientific partners for healthcare professionals and with communicating increasingly complex scientific information to a range of stakeholders in the healthcare industry.

White papers can be used by MSL in two main ways:

·    MSLs can use white papers to educate themselves. From learning about the latest developments and trends, to background information about novel therapeutic approaches, to regulatory strategies, overviews of new technology platforms, and gleaning insights in what the competition is doing, white papers are an excellent source of information. White papers have been prepared with the goal of educating the reader and meeting the high standards of its target audience, the scientific community.

White papers are therefore an excellent starting point for MSLs, who need to educate themselves on a new topic or method. The sources referenced in the white paper will provide a curated short list of some of the more pertinent scientific publications in the field. Finding a good white paper can provide a shortcut for getting up to speed on a topic, saving a lot of time and energy.

·    MSLs can use white papers generated by their companies as educational resources for their partners in the healthcare provider community. The respondents of the 2016 Content Preferences Survey Report put white papers on top of the list of content they rely on when making buying decisions and the content they are most likely to share with colleagues. While this report does not specifically focus on the healthcare industry, it clearly demonstrates the value that respondents are putting on receiving unbiased, trustworthy content that informs rather than tries to sell. If anything, the need for such factual and unbiased content is even bigger in an industry as diverse and complex as healthcare.

Courtesy of Demand Gen Report

Finding Relevant White Papers

White papers belong to the so-called “gray literature,” often scientific and technical information in print or electronic format, that is not available through the usual bibliographic sources such as databases or indexes. These materials are produced by organizations outside of the traditional commercial or academic publishing and distribution channels and include - in addition to white papers - materials such as working papers, committee reports, business documents, newsletters, conference proceedings among others.

White papers are therefore more difficult to find than standard publications. Google searches using relevant keywords or directly searching the websites of institutions or companies most likely to create the type of information one is looking for are good strategies. Industry news providers such as GenomeWeb, and Medical News sometimes have libraries of white papers available for download.

Though white papers can be hard to find, they are an excellent source of information for MSLs. Available white papers can inform their own work and company white papers are valuable tools for communicating scientific and clinical concepts to the healthcare provider community.