A web3 token or cryptocurrency white paper weaves together a project’s most important technical, financial, competitive, and commercial information. Yet founders often struggle at this step — even those with great ideas and promising software.
While organizing, writing, and editing isn’t easy, I’ve documented ways to simplify the token whitepaper (or lite paper) content-creation process.
Today, there are at least 3,001 published white papers for projects with traded tokens.
With so many existing project papers, standing out matters.
Read on and I’ll show you how –
Web3 Token White paper Project Planning Guide
In this free guide, you’ll learn:
- Why token white papers actually matter for web3 and crypto projects
- The 3 toughest challenges first-time white paper writers face (and how to plan for each!)
- The essential first step for white paper writing (Caution: don’t start without this)
- How to fast-track writing with my easy-to-follow “7 Elements to Get Going” template
- Tips for hiring a top white paper writer (if you want to outsource the project)
Do white papers really matter for my web3 or crypto project?
If you’re a successful crypto startup founder with friends at a16z, maybe not.
For everyone else, yes. Your white paper is critical to attracting and inspiring investors and users.
Think of it as a modern, all-in-one version of a pitch deck, business plan, and content marketing campaign.
What is a cryptocurrency project white paper?
White papers are informational documents rooted in government and academia. Originally, leaders or researchers crafted them to provide guidance on complex issues and technical products or services.
It makes sense then that Bitcoin inventor Satoshi Nakamoto first introduced bitcoin via a white paper in 2008. Vitalik Buterin later proposed Ethereum, a smart contract and decentralized application platform, in a 2014 white paper.
The innovations within these papers set the stage for a blockchain-based world comprising cryptocurrencies, NFTs, DAOs, decentralized finance, and more.
What is covered in a web 3 or crypto white paper?
White papers help designate web3 and cryptocurrency projects from traditional (web2 era) startups.
Instead of conventional business plans and pitch decks, many web3 companies also use white papers (or ‘lite papers’) to outline their plans for launching new tokens, ecosystems, and businesses.
Given that user involvement, ownership, and network effects are core to many web3 projects, white papers provide a useful way to outline project elements including addressable market, technology, and tokenomics. As well, they provide seasoned teams a way to introduce themselves — an important step in generating credibility.
These papers are published on company websites, shared with the media, made available to users, and shopped to investors.
Given the dynamic nature of markets, regulations, technology, hiring, and development, many teams publish their papers in interactive web form using a tool like GitBook.
A documentation platform like this supports asynchronous writing and editing — an efficiency must-have in a remote world. Say goodbye to chaotic version management.
The top 3 challenges for crypto white paper writers (+ how to overcome each).
As I profiled in 2017 during the ICO and token offering craze, drafting these white papers isn’t easy — even for really smart founders.
Below, I outline the three of the thorniest challenges writers first encounter:
Challenge 1: Writing relevant copy for 3 to 5 distinct audiences.
Consider the early bitcoin whitepaper. Everyone from anarchists and hardcore libertarians to cryptographers and Ph.D engineers gravitated to the technology — and all for different reasons.
The same holds true today.
A vision of a fairer, more secure internet attract some web3 advocates. Others are motivated by community. Some early adopters just love innovation — while others are opportunists, investors, technologists or gamers.
Telling a story for disparate audiences is challenging. Add in abstract or technological project elements and your content story challenges get exacerbated.
- Token buyers care about utility and evaluate the long-term potential for token use inside an ecosystem
- Users care about experience and community
- Gamers want entertainment and a sense of ownership
- Others may want to earn or simply be part of something new
Each of these audiences needs to connect with the story and various project elements within the white paper.
Cryptocurrency or token white paper writers cannot simply write about what they are most comfortable with (or excited about). For instance, highly technical project founders must not only wade into protocol discussions or the mechanics of an improved DEX.
Likewise, vision-oriented marketers cannot write only aspirational content to inspire user bases. Sophisticated investors and participants can sniff out underdeveloped roadmaps or weak technological understanding.
Quick solution tip: Before you write, jot down 3–5 things each target audience cares about most. Organize these by theme (e.g. — competitive or tokenomics) and map each to a section of your paper in the outline phase.
Challenge #2: Writing an actual story.
Some teams share the white paper writing load. Founding members will each craft a section, then copy and paste for publishing.
This is the Frankenstein dilemma.
White paper readability relies on consistency. It also relies on a single, understood thread that ties together the story experience.
Readability requires consistency and a single thread tying together the project story and experience.
Remember: your readers aren’t taking part because of words and figures — they onboard because of a vision for a future, compelling reality.
There is no way to optimize flow, complexity, rhythm, structure, and depth with a write-by-committee model.
What teams end up with is a wordy, inconsistent white paper. Some sections are highly visual, while others include extensive prose.
While collaboration is the heartbeat of web3, if mismanaged, it may squeeze the life out of a promising project.
One leader must take control of the writing and editorial experience.
Quick solution tip: Use “transitional phrases” to connect paper sections and keep the story thread going. It’s OK if these feel clunky at first. The important thing is to pull your reader on.
Here’s an example of how to connect two distinct paper sections (like “Token Utility” and “Platform Capabilities”, for example):
“As discussed, token utility remains in focus as we build our entertainment platform. However, we will not sacrifice user experience to chase value mechanics. The following product overview describes gamer benefits and how our platform facilitates better user experiences.
Challenge #3: Writing about everything you COULD do.
It takes discipline to limit the project discussion.
Writers think, “the more I include, the more credible we sound, and the more exciting the project will be.”
But there’s a reason the cliche less is more has staying power.
You must limit your discussion.
First, it adds believability. Investors know the difficulty of building anything — market unknowns, macro affects, overspending, regulatory shifts— there are many things that derail progress. Being laser-focused on one thing is a competitive advantage and lets your community know that you have conviction and aren’t just there to raise a bunch of money and then figure it out.
Further, when you jam-pack your roadmap, you multiply the pressure to execute.
Stakeholders expect you to deliver what you said, when you said it. There’s no breathing room.
You want space to pivot and time to deliver exceptionally well on one thing, instead of trying to push out half-baked project elements rapidly.
The original bitcoin white paper was 9 pages.
Do you really need 50?
Quick solution tip: Ask your target audience what matters most! For instance: Pretend you’re building a new P2E game platform. Show a potential user a list of five features and ask them what three excite them most. Highlight those. (You could include others on a simple roadmap, but don’t over describe or over promise.)
Getting Started: The ESSENTIAL first step for your web3 or crypto project white paper.
Every writer encounters a paralyzing moment staring at a blank screen and wondering, “how do I go from this to a published, polished, white paper?”
When I write white papers, I always start with a one page mini paper.
This one-pager becomes my “north star” and guides the rest of the paper writing.
Your one pager: Set a 30min timer — and don’t stop!
Your one pager answers five key questions —
- Why this, now?
- What will we build to enable the vision above?
- Why are we a better alternative to what exists?
- What core technology or functionality support this?
- Why are we the right team to build this?
You can think of this as your elevator pitch.
The paper also allows you to calibrate the story with your broader team. It is much easier to get everyone onboard and course correct your story early on. Don’t get 15 pages in and then try to reconcile multiple, new perspectives.
Set a 30 minute timer and just start writing.
Don’t edit or self-correct.
Just answer the above questions.
If you’re stumped, move on. When complete, you can cut/paste, highlight what matters, and organize the single page into a pseudo-outline. Drop in some sub-headings and clean up.
As the writer, you likely won’t have all the story. Follow up with the right subject matter expert to fill in the gaps you exposed in your outlining.
Quick solution tip: If you hire a writer (or ARE a hired writer) use the above questions in a preliminary interview call. The answers to these form building blocks for a more in-depth paper.
Plus, you’ll expose where project thinking is incomplete!
7 Key Elements to include in your project paper [+ template].
To maximize white paper performance, organize your message around fundamental topics, or “building blocks.”
These simplify the writing process and ensure that your stakeholders each retrieve content that matters most to them.
Look at the simplicity of the “Basic Attention Token (BAT)” white paper (See Figure 1 below).
The paper features intuitive organization and flows naturally from big picture vision casting to nuanced solution discussion.
(Side note: BAT raised $35 million in 30 seconds…how’s that for performance?)
Consider using the below building blocks like a template: write in the blanks, add data and visuals, connect each section with transitional phrasing— and…voilà, a white paper!
- Vision Statement: Describe the current market state and paint a better, future reality.
- Overview: Provide the 30,000 foot view of what you’re creating and why. If you’re stumped, start with this prompt: “The three things we’re trying to build and solve for include…”
- Project Elements/Breakdown: Describe what your product or service includes. If you’re creating a new e-commerce marketplace platform, describe the platform framework, user onboarding, engagement and retention mechanics, growth initiatives, etc.
- Key Technical Components: Following the illustrative marketplace example from above, describe how your software works and other critical platform capabilities like payment processing, blockchain-based transacting, a feedback mechanism, security protocols, and embedded advertising functionality. These should be robust enough to validate the project to technical investors or reviewers, but not so obscure that business stakeholders don’t understand why the element exists.
- Competition: Profile existing solutions and competitors (both legacy and competing web3 projects). Systematically describe the deficiencies and — don’t miss this — describe how your solution fills these gaps!
- Tokenomics and/or Monetization: One investment site defines tokenomics as “a term for all the factors that go into the value of a cryptocurrency.” These include classic economic factors like pricing, distribution, supply, utility, and circulation management (e.g. — minting or burning). Tokenomics should not only be a table of numbers. Describe how these factors, particularly token utility, will combine to generate future value.
- Roadmap: Layout a plan for building, launching, and improving your web3 project. As you create your roadmap, keep in mind: Don’t over-promise or add too much specificity to timelines. Alternatively, do not share so generically or in “tech speak” that stakeholders wonder if you actually possess a vision.
- Team: Resist the urge to just paste in some bios and publish the white paper. Your Team section should provide assurances that you have the right technical, operational, and business skill sets to execute your vision. If you have advisors or partners that genuinely contribute, include mentions here. When Kik raised $100 million in an ICO a few years ago, look at what elements the white paper writer included in the founder’s (brief) bio. Everything written purposefully established credibility and assured stakeholders: “We’ve been successful before and we’ll be successful again.”
Kik App — Founder Bio
Six Tips for Hiring a White Paper Writer.
Around 70% of project teams try to write in-house, often by committee.
The other 30% Google, “crypto white paper writer” and test their luck with job boards.
Each of these approaches has tradeoffs: Time, product/service awareness, writing quality, project management efficiency, and investment.
However, if you choose to recruit a professional white paper writer, apply these hiring tips to maximize your investment:
Pre-Interview Due Diligence –
- When you’ve identified a few candidates, carefully review how they describe themselves. Generalist content writers may be fine for some blog or newsletter projects — not a token white paper. Confirm their niche and expertise.
- Verify samples (obviously!)But don’t just read these casually. Look for both technical know-how (e.g. — writing cleanliness, polish, grammar, voice, metering) and storytelling capability. Does the project intrigue you? Would you invest? Or does the white paper read like a technical manual?
- Notice the questions a writer poses back to you. For the right writer, this type of project is a major undertaking. They’ll want to ensure a base level of partnership and availability from you or your team. Desperate writers just want the job. Proficient ones want success.
Essential Interview Questions –
- Ask: The writer to walk you through their process for going from idea to published paper. A 15–25 page white paper requires a systematic approach to development. Be wary if writers cannot articulate one.
- Ask: The writer how much and what type of content was available for previous projects. This helps leaders understand how much they need to provide to the writer during the discovery and prep phase. Sometimes, companies have lots of content (like existing Investor Decks or business plans) to repurpose or share. More likely, the writer will need to generate content from interviews, internal discovery, and secondary or primary research. The ability to cultivate this is the difference between a completed white paper and a stalled out draft.
- Ask: The writer to describe the usual project flow. Bring up questions like — If something goes wrong in this project, what will the likely issues be? How will you solve these? What 3–5 things must we have before starting this? What type of working relationship is optimal — and why? Seasoned writers have perspective on these.
Ready to write your white paper?
For web3 projects, white paper publishing is the de facto first step. While the effort is significant, it does not need to be scary. With planning, organization, and a step-by-step approach to content creation, you can publish a paper you’re proud of.
Follow the steps covered above and watch your project come to life.