6 Ingredients of a Winning White Paper

Shane Hall


November 6, 2018 (Updated: January 23, 2024)

A winning white paper - what you need to know

White papers make the right impression for highly professional, business-to-business (B2B) marketers. However, they have more rules and pitfalls than a more casual content form, such as e-books. If you’re new to making white papers or have been less than thrilled with past attempts, take a look at our six tips on how to make your next white paper shine.

Make Engaging Content

Many people mistakenly think that a white paper is identical to a college research paper or study, but this is a grave misunderstanding. While you do need plenty of facts and information to deliver your points, your readers are still human beings who can get bored or tired. If your content is dry and not organized and written in an interesting way, you can bet that most people won’t get through to the end. They’ll put it aside, thinking they’ll continue later, and then their busy life will make them forget entirely.

Keep the goal of engaging your readers in mind as you proceed, and you’ll sidestep any bad ideas that lead to a less-engaging final product. That said, being engaging is only the mindset you’ll need. These five other ingredients are the best ways to actually make an engaging white paper.

Back Up Facts

Always check your white paper several times to ensure that every concept is factually supported by evidence. You could state an opinion on your findings at the end, but the vast majority of a white paper should be cited information from credible sources. That means no conventional wisdom, fallacies, or old and outdated information. Assume that every single reader you get is going to look up all of your sources and statements because a good portion of them probably will.

Don’t Overthink It

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White paper writers often pack too many ideas together and end up with more than ten pages. Quantity is not ideal when creating white papers because the content within is already dense and complicated. You want to present a thorough, but brief lesson, and the best way to do this is to be choosy about your topic. A paper about how a certain type of e-commerce blog has been performing is specific and can be covered in five or ten pages, while one about all types of e-commerce blogs would be far too long if it went into substantial detail.

Beyond topics, brevity should also be applied to the writing style. Your white paper should be conversational, using plain language that doesn’t overcomplicate things with huge words or academic sentences. Give up on trying to impress your audience with how you say something, and focus instead of just saying what matters in a clear and relatable way.

Do Not Oversell

White papers aren’t advertisements for your products or services, and they shouldn’t be about your business in general. The purpose of a white paper is to answer questions, provide insights to complex problems, and otherwise help busy people with specific needs. The white paper, as a helpful piece of content, should earn you trust and respect which will, in turn, inspire readers to check out more content and consider buying from you. If you throw out a direct offer too soon, it could make people suspicious and cynical.

Recognize Customer Position

In most cases, white papers are placed early in a customer’s journey toward buying something, but that’s not always the right move. You should take into account whether your white paper is for newer prospects who have just found you, qualified leads who need an extra nudge before they buy, or people somewhere in between. In the case of fresh prospects, a white paper should have a general topic that doesn’t raise any eyebrows about being too sales oriented. It’s best to pick a topic that builds upon what you know your leads have already learned for an end-of-journey white paper.

For example, a B2B business that offers video creation services could have blog posts about how to make personal videos for customers. This gets people to subscribe to the blog and discover a lightbox advertising, a white paper about optimizing personal videos for substantially more customer retainment. First, customers understand what personal videos are and then see the true potential they offer for their own businesses. This is a sensible, smooth transition into a more specific topic, helping a customer see the value of buying from the business.

Use Professional Design

Remember the point of being engaging? That applies just as much to the visual presentation of the white paper as it does the writing. A great white paper uses images, doesn’t pack too much text onto each page, and is formatted in a book-like, readable fashion. You don’t want to fill it with colors and pictures so that it looks like a brochure (remember the name ‘white paper’) but have an impartial person look at what you have made to give you feedback.

Here are some other tips for design:

  • White space is your friend. Open up a welcoming, page-turner type novel and consider how much of the paper is not covered in text, and how much nicer it looks compared to something packed with letters.
  • Use page breaks to provide a clean order to your sections. If you would end up starting a new section at the bottom of a page, break it to the top of the next page instead. Study typesetting to help you understand all the ways that text on a page can be edited to look better.
  • Be professional, but creative with your images, and make sure they contribute to the point. Avoid stereotypical stock shots of attractive people in business suits. If applicable, data visualizations or custom illustrations are a great choice.

White papers can be an excellent resource that builds your brand, but that is only if they engage your readers’ attention and get them thinking. If you are looking for help regarding white paper ideas, writing, and other steps of the content chain, CopyPress is experienced at making this content form for various businesses. From a snappy SEO-friendly title to the perfect finishing sentence, our content creation experts will listen to your previous experiences and details regarding your business to craft a winning white paper.

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Shane Hall

CopyPress writer

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