Designing Your White Paper: A Comprehensive Guide

Jill Conway


February 27, 2020 (Updated: June 19, 2023)

two examples of white papers on a desk with a cup of coffee and a laptop next to them

White papers are valuable tools for companies to share the worth of their service or product with customers. But they’re not like other pieces of written content, so their format and design can be a little tricky to get right. That’s why this guide is here to help you design a white paper and create compelling content that’s sure to generate leads for your business. In this article, we discuss:

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What Is a White Paper?

A white paper is a report usually created by a company or marketing agency about a complex problem its customers face. It is persuasive and research-based, often used as part of an inbound marketing strategy. White papers help the reader understand the problem and provide a possible solution. These documents present the company’s philosophy to customers and establish authority and expertise on a particular problem and solution.

The main difference between white papers and other types of content, like blogs and eBooks, is white papers don’t promote a company’s products or services directly. It’s meant to give readers a ton of helpful data and information without bogging down their reading with advertisements. Instead, companies use their knowledge and authority on the subject to entice readers to learn more about their businesses and what they have to offer.

Companies usually narrowly distribute white papers, often to leads who have already expressed an interest in the company’s product or services such as stakeholders, clients, and B2B buyers. White papers are sometimes available on a company’s website, but companies do not give them the same level of widespread marketing as traditional advertisements. Excellent white papers use a combination of data-rich writing, graphics, and design to capture the reader’s attention. Most white papers use headings and subheadings to divide the paper into manageable sections, while the specifics of the sections may differ based on industry.

What Are Some Common White Paper Sections?

White papers can have very different structures, elements, and sections depending on factors like the industry and the goals of the white paper. Here is a list of common white paper sections in order: 

  • Title: Grab the reader’s attention with a smart, snappy title.
  • Abstract: Explain the premise of the white paper in a brief executive summary.
  • Table of contents: A table of contents can be a helpful addition to a lengthy white paper. Your outline is a great tool to help you structure your table of contents. 
  • Problem statement: Describe the problem faced by customers. 
  • Background: Provide information and data related to solving the problem. 
  • Solution: Identify the solution (usually your product or service). 
  • Conclusion: Neatly finish the paper with a restatement of the key takeaways.
  • Summary: Some white papers, often lengthy ones, include a summary page at the end that concisely collects the key takeaways of the white paper. 
  • References: Include all the references and sources you used in your research. 
  • Methodology: If you conducted your own research for the white paper, include your methodology to add authority to the paper. Describe how you went about collecting your data and the accepted scientific process you used to evaluate that data.

How To Write a White Paper

Use these steps to help you write and design your company’s next white paper: 

1. Determine Your Goal

Before starting on your white paper, it’s important to understand the goal it’s trying to accomplish. Most often, businesses use white papers as a supplement to other forms of content marketing, including blogs and educational articles. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always prove to be the most helpful to the business’s marketing campaign. Instead, white papers are most effective when focused on finalizing sales by offering them to generated leads. Basically, if someone is interested in your business, but they need one final push, give them a white paper.

Now, this isn’t the only time that white papers are helpful, but it’s important to remember that, traditionally, white papers don’t talk very much about the products or services you offer. So, you generally want someone to know about your business and brand before they read your thorough, research-based content. That’s why white papers are most helpful at the end of the buyer’s journey. If you’re hoping to use white papers to generate leads or increase organic traffic, you might want to take a look at other forms of content writing for better results.

Read more: Types of Content Writing and How They Can Help Your Business

2. Pick Your Topic

When you choose a topic for your white paper, it’s important to pick one that responds to a pain point your customers are experiencing. For example, let’s say your customers are having trouble choosing the right content management system (CMS) for their small business. You might develop a white paper on the major functions each CMS should have and how to choose the right one. This shows people you understand their industry and you have the expertise that can help them with other problems or challenges through your products and services.

Read more: White Paper Writing and How To Pick the Best Topic

3. Research

When you conduct research, it’s important to use dependable and authoritative sources, like the Bureau of Labor Statistics or different academic papers. Though your brand’s own experience and knowledge are important to include in the white paper, it’s helpful to have data and facts to back up your thoughts. For example, in the case of picking the right CMS, try researching some of the most common problems businesses have with their content management. Then look at other challenges they might have that companies could solve with the right CMS.

The most important thing about conducting research is to check your bias at the door. If the facts don’t fit your original idea, then change your argument. For example, you might find that companies don’t actually need a CMS, instead, they could replace the CMS with an efficient workflow and get the same results. You can still write the white paper, but now you’re providing your customers with new information they might find even more useful.

4. Format and Outline

As you format and outline your white paper, it’s most helpful to focus on its three main sections:

  • The Problem Statement
  • The Background
  • The Solution

The problem statement is basically the white paper’s introduction. You’re telling people the exact parameters of the problem and that you’re here to offer an answer. This not only helps people feel like your brand understands them, but it immediately draws them in. If this is a real problem they’re experiencing, they’ll want to know more. The background is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the history of the problem, where it stems from, and how it affects different people and businesses.

For those who might not know about the problem, or who haven’t experienced it firsthand, this is where they’ll learn more about it and how it could affect them in the future. The background is also the section where you will probably use most of your research and data. Then, once you fully establish the problem and its history, you create the last section: the solution.

As you outline, do your best to space the facts out, so the paper doesn’t bombard your readers with all of your research in just a few paragraphs. It’s also helpful to make sure that your white paper has an engaging flow. You want to keep your reader’s attention from beginning to end. Start by outlining your white paper using bullet points. Then, once everything feels right, start filling in those bullet points with actual paragraphs.

5. Create the Paper’s Abstract

While the abstract is one of the first sections of the paper that people will read, it’s helpful to wait and write it until the bulk of the paper is complete. This way, you can quickly and easily pull the main points from your writing and create a succinct executive summary. The main focus of the abstract is to discuss the aim of the paper so your audience feels intrigued to read more. It also helps the white paper have more of an academic and professional feel compared to other forms of content, like eBooks.

6. Include References

At the end of the paper, it’s important to cite your research and sources. This shows your audience where you got your information and tells them that your brand is transparent. You can create a works cited page at the end of the white paper, or you can cite each source directly after the sourced material. Either is fine, but be sure to remain consistent throughout the content.

7. Add Design Elements

Just because a white paper is more academic than other content, doesn’t mean it has to look bland and boring. It’s important to include design elements, like borders, fonts, and colors to keep your white paper engaging to your target audience. It’s also important to use your company’s logo, fonts, and colors to ensure people always remember where the content came from, especially if they share it with coworkers and friends. If you’re not sure how to exactly structure your white paper, it’s okay to ask for help from a graphic designer or content marketing expert, like CopyPress.

Our expert team of content creators, project managers, and client success managers know how to develop and promote a wide range of written content, including white papers. With our experience and skills in the content marketing industry, we can help you design and develop a white paper that’s sure to turn your leads into sales. Schedule a strategy call with us and find out how we can boost your content marketing efforts.

What Makes a White Paper Stand Out?

White papers differ from other forms of advertising as providing information and education to readers is their primary goal rather than advertising a business’s products or services. They share characteristics like images, colors, and graphics with advertisements like brochures, but the depth of the writing and the research involved set white papers apart.

White papers are lengthy documents, ranging anywhere from five to 100+ pages. Many companies use creative designs to maintain the reader’s interest as they read the in-depth document. Some companies choose to do their own research and writing for white papers while others hire companies like CopyPress to handle creating whitepapers for them.

White Paper Styles, Formats, and Designs

White papers began as text-heavy government documents used to inform and educate policymakers. Today, we use white papers in many industries, including sales and marketing. The value of the design and overall look of white papers has increased over time, and now companies style and format white papers in a myriad of ways. Often, businesses will use their company branding on their white paper to tie their design cohesively to other company publications.

Here are a few examples of white paper pages to show how to design and format your content to meet your goals:

Cover Page

Here are some examples of cover pages. You’ll notice differences in layout, font, and color scheme to reflect the branding of the company:

“A Practical Guide to Improving Your Business’s Cash Flow” uses shades of green pulled directly from the company’s logo, seen in the upper left-hand corner. The white paper content begins on the bottom of the first page rather than making the entire first page a cover.

white paper example - FSW Funding

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“Determining the Right Influencer Type for Your Campaign” devotes the full cover page to an original illustration and the title.

white paper example - Determining the right Influencer Type for your campaign

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“How to Fire and Lay Off Employees” situates the title at the top of the page with a photo beneath it.

white paper example - How to Fire and Lay Off Employees

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“How to Create the Perfect Resume” uses repeated circles and partial circles throughout the cover page to reflect the company’s logo. The white paper content also begins on the cover page. 

white paper example - How to Create the Perfect Resume

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Headings, Subheadings, and Other Design Elements

Here are some examples of how to structure headings and subheadings to break up large blocks of text. Well-designed headings and subheadings make the text easier to read. 

Here, the writer divided the text into two columns with a key takeaway at the top and two headings, one in each column. 

white paper subhead example - Finding Cheaper Sources of Raw Materials

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This white paper uses columns, graphs, and italics to break up the text on the page. 

white paper example - client knowledge about content marketing

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Here, you can see headings and subheadings used with small graphics to draw the eye to the different text sections. 

white paper example - knowing your three types of influencers

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This white paper uses only one column, but several fonts, sizes, and colors to break up the text. The page also includes small graphics to separate the sections.

white paper example - be ready for the aftermath

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This white paper uses a large, central graphic with data, bullet points, headings, and subheadings to organize the content. 

white paper example - innovation and creativity

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You can use infographics as content, or they can support the content present in the traditional text. Here are a few examples of how to integrate infographics into your white paper. 

Here, you can see a large infographic showing an element of a cash flow best practice. The colors and fonts match the rest of the page. 

white paper example - factoring

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This page uses multiple small infographics to draw the eye to different parts of the page. 

white paper example - How Creatives and Freelancers View the Industry

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Here, you have an infographic acting as a checklist to help the reader quickly assess their understanding. 

white paper example - Step-by-Step Approach to Gauging Influencers

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This page’s infographics align directly with the subheadings next to the illustrations.

white paper example - Handling the Talk

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This page uses a traditional bar chart with the brand’s colors and other design elements to illustrate a key point from the page. 

white paper example - 60% of employees research candidates on social media

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Tips for Writing a White Paper

Use these tips to make your white paper stand out from the others in your industry:

  • Provide useful content: Put yourself in the customer’s mindset you are trying to reach. What problems do you face that your product or service solves? Make sure your white paper has value for the consumer. 
  • Inform instead of sell: A white paper is an informational document, not an advertisement. Focus on providing an educational experience for the reader rather than a sales pitch for your product or service. 
  • Be formal: Your white paper will be well-researched and filled with data. Take a formal tone with the writing style to match the academic nature of the paper. 
  • Use research: Show that your claims are true through research and data. Cite the sources used to support your findings. 
  • Make it pretty: Use colors, graphics, and infographics to break up the text on the page and to illustrate your data and findings. A well-designed white paper will keep the reader interested. 
  • Hook the reader: Create a catchy title for the paper that grabs your reader’s interest and entices them to learn about your solution. 
  • Include graphics: Use graphics like pie charts and t-graphs to illustrate data findings. Visuals help readers understand data better and they break up large chunks of text.
  • Market your white paper: After finishing and publishing your white paper, create a marketing plan. Post the link on your social media pages and include it on your website. Consider sending it to high-profile clients through email or a newsletter. 
  • Add an abstract: Include an abstract at the start of the paper so you can entice readers to learn more from your company directly even if they don’t read the entire white paper. 
  • Proofread and edit: Take the time to proofread and edit your white paper appropriately. Make sure the grammar is accurate, and the content is rich and necessary. 

Do’s and Don’ts for Designing Your White Paper

Your white paper’s design is just as valuable as its written content. Use these dos and don’ts to keep your white paper’s design on track:


Here are some great design tips to follow as you craft your white paper. Do: 

  • Optimize the cover page: Provide the reader with immediate information on the content of the white paper. 
  • Insert page numbers: Include page numbers that correspond with the table of contents and keep the reader focused on the document.
  • Use illustrations: Include images for the reader’s interest and to provide a visual context for the writing. 
  • Be consistent: Use consistent design elements throughout the white paper like fonts and colors. 
  • Divide and subdivide: Break up large text blocks with headers and sub-headers. Include graphics between paragraphs. 
  • Use infographics: Illustrate data points or valuable takeaways with creative infographics. 
  • Summarize with bullet points: After explaining a big idea, summarize the key takeaways with a series of illustrated bullet points. 
  • Highlight takeaways: Highlight Interesting quotes or valuable data in a separate text box or with other visual elements to grab the reader’s attention. 
  • Use symbolism in images: Consider the symbolism your images convey. For example, if you are writing about growing your business, consider using plant or flower imagery to symbolize growth subtly. 
  • Break up text with columns: For long sections of text, use columns, headings, and subheadings to keep the writing manageable and scannable. 
  • Vary your layout: Keep the elements of your layout consistent, but vary how they’re used to maintain reader interest and engagement. 
  • Make the text scannable: Readers should be able to identify the main takeaways of each page of the white paper quickly through the writer highlighting important takeaways and providing an enticing design. 


Avoid these white paper design pitfalls. Don’t: 

  • Use low-quality images: Select photos with low resolution or quality. Make sure the photos you include are professional and high resolution. 
  • Design it for you: Keep your key demographic in mind as you design your white paper. Make sure the images, colors, and fonts you select will appeal to them. 
  • Use random people: Reflect on the key demographic in pictures. If your white paper’s target market is women in their 40s, then use pictures featuring women in their 40s. 
  • Be scared of color: Even though the name is “white paper,” do not feel you have to keep the background white. Color or texture as the base of your white paper can draw the eye and create a professional, engaging white paper. 
  • Forget your branding: Keep your branding in mind at all times. Make sure all the design elements you use are consistent with your other promotional materials. 
  • Use huge chunks of text: Maintain readability with small chunks of text divided by headers, sub-headers, pictures, illustrations, and infographics. 
  • Be afraid of white spaces: Blank space draws the eye to the surrounding text. If you have an important highlight, leave empty space around it, so it stands out to readers. 
  • Use tiny font: Consider the primary demographic here. People over 30 respond better to larger fonts. Enlarge the text if it makes it easier for your readers to access. 
  • Divide sections by page: Watch your page breaks. If a header begins at the bottom of the page with the text separated on the next page, consider moving the header to the second page to keep the message clear and connected.
  • Use auto-hyphens: Some word-processing software does not apply hyphens to words to keep a consistent right alignment. Assess the look of the page and manually add hyphens if needed.

Author Image - Jill Conway
Jill Conway

CopyPress writer

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