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white paper

Contributor(s): Tom D. Smith

A white paper is an article that states an organization's position or philosophy about a social, political, or other subject, or a not-too-detailed technical explanation of an architecture, framework, or product technology. Typically, a white paper explains the results, conclusions, or construction resulting from some organized committee or research collaboration or design and development effort.

Several versions of Webster's indicate that the term arose within the past few decades in England to distinguish short government reports from longer, more detailed ones that were bound in blue covers and referred to as "blue books" (not to be confused with the blue books used when taking college exams). A shorter government publication providing a report or position about something was bound in the same white paper as the text - hence, "a white paper."

In information technology, a white paper is often a paper written by a lead product designer to explain the philosophy and operation of a product in a marketplace or technology context. Many if not most Web sites for software products include a white paper in addition to a frequently-asked questions (FAQ) page and more detailed product specifications.

In government, a white paper is often a policy or position paper. The U.S. Government's June, 1998 policy statement on the Management of Internet Names and Addresses (known generally as "The White Paper") is an example of great interest to many Internet users.

This was last updated in September 2005

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