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Whitepapers: Hot Mess or HODL? What Makes a Good Blockchain Whitepaper

hot mess or hodl: what makes a good blockchain whitepaper

There have been hundreds, maybe even thousands, blockchain-related whitepapers published since Satoshi’s famous paper in 2008. Although the term “whitepaper” has been used loosely in the blockchain space; for the purposes of this article, it is the term being used to describe a document giving background on a technical development that could create new products/services.

Recently, a lot of these Blockchain and increasingly A.I., IoT, and A.R./V.R. whitepapers are also associated with a token sale (aka ICO) where millions of dollars are sent from people who want to hold the token to the group issuing the token. There have been over 500 ICOs since 2016 with a cumulative value of over $10.7 billion.

The ease of access to be an “investor” of a blockchain project is fairly easy — if you know how to acquire other cryptocurrencies like ETH or BTC. This means that the type of people “investing” in these relatively high-risk whitepaper-supported projects is quite diverse. On the one hand, that’s the beautiful thing about blockchain, it has enabled everyone to be part of something; you don’t need to be an accredited investor to give a project with no history of success your money. On the other hand, investor education is critical to ensure that the average person can avoid being scammed out of their life-savings in the name of Blockchain, AI, or other emerging technology applications.

Although we, at ColliderX, evaluate technical research proposals and technical papers; some of the same criteria can be put towards whitepapers. One of the key differences between a whitepaper and a research publication is that a whitepaper isn’t intended to prove a theoretical scientific framework through formal research methods; however, a good whitepaper is generally expected to demonstrate evidence of solving a specific technical problem based on the application of scientific principles and creativity of the researcher(s).

At ColliderX, we generally evaluate whitepapers based on the following criteria: background, novelty, application, reflection, organization and ethics. Let’s break it all down. While we suggest you do extensive research on any project you are considering to support, here are the criteria to keep in mind:


Is the research problem well-defined? What is the context in which scientific methods, tools, and techniques need to be applied? Does the whitepaper demonstrate that the researcher understands the research area? Has the researcher done literature review? Why and how do the current approaches fall short in addressing the problem?


How does the whitepaper propose to address this problem through scientific methods, tools, and techniques in a way that’s different than all the other approaches which were previously tried? Is it an original and challenging application of the proposed techniques or can it be easily derived? Does it represent a creative leap in this context?


What trade-offs did the researchers make to apply a scientific method, tool or technique and why? Did the researchers apply their methodology correctly? What is the evidence to justify their claims and results of their exploration and experimentation?


Does the whitepaper explain the choice of methods, tools, and techniques which were applied to attain the results? In retrospect, what did the researcher(s) learn by solving the problem in their own unique way? What value does this whitepaper add to the broader scientific context?  


Is the scope of the problem sufficiently defined? Is the whitepaper well-organized? Does it demonstrate a logical application of key concepts to arrive at their conclusions?


Does the whitepaper gather data or apply algorithms in a transparent and respectful manner to derive data and insights in a way which preserves the rights of its participants, researchers, or associated third party firms, and adds value to society?  

In summary, a good whitepaper must demonstrate that a researcher has an adequate background to solve a challenging technical problem through the application of scientific principles in a novel way which reflects the integrity, quality, and value of applied research conducted in an ethical manner to add value to academia, industry, and society.


About the Authors

Mawadda Basir is the Executive Director of ColliderX, the world’s first open-source, crowdfunded and crowdsourced blockchain [+] R&D lab. Prior to joining ColliderX, Mawadda was a blockchain strategist and Chief of Staff at Deloitte’s blockchain lab, Rubix by Deloitte. In her free time, Mawadda acts as an advisor to other blockchain startups focusing on social impact. 

Rahul Raina is an Applied Computer Scientist at Microsoft Canada and serves as an R&D Advisor for ColliderX. The views expressed in this article reflect the personal opinion of the author in the context of applied research conducted at ColliderX. Furthermore, the views or opinions shared by the authors in this article do not represent the official policy, guidelines, advice or statement on behalf of Microsoft Canada or any other entity associated with Microsoft Corporation. 

ColliderX is the world’s first open-source, crowdsourced, and crowdfunded blockchain research and development hub. We pull in technical researchers from around the world to explore the fascinating industry problems. We are enabling open academic research to steward the development and commercialization of blockchain technology.


DISCLAIMER: This article is meant to outline a few items that should be considered when reading whitepapers. This is not to be taken as investment advice.



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