Designing Your White Paper: A Comprehensive Guide


Published: February 27, 2020 (Updated: March 24, 2020)

In this article… 


White papers are valuable tools for companies to share the worth of their service or product with customers. Your white paper should deliver excellent and useful content to the reader, but the white paper’s presentation should help capture their attention. Use this guide to learn all about white papers and how to design your own. 

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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 facing customers. It is persuasive and research-based, often used as part of an inbound marketing strategy. White papers help the reader understand a problem or make a decision. These documents present the company’s philosophy to customers and establish authority and expertise on a particular problem and solution. 

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 their paper into manageable sections. While the specifics of the sections may differ based on industry, here is a common list of 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. 
  • 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. 
  • References: Include all the references and sources you used in your research. 

The names of the sections in your white paper may differ by industry, but the content will be similar. 

How to Write a White Paper

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

1. Set a Purpose

Before you begin any research or writing, set goals for the white paper. Do you hope to create new leads? Are you establishing a new market? Determine the value you hope to earn from the white paper as your first step.

2. Select a Topic

Choose a topic for your white paper that responds to a pain point suffered by your customers. Make sure there is enough information on the topic to necessitate an in-depth white paper. 

3. Research

Conduct research using dependable sources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics for demographic information or Forrester for marketing industry research. Search for reliable and accurate data in your industry through any standard industry data sources. 

4. Choose a Title

The title of your article should be clear enough that the reader knows what you will cover in the white paper but is still intriguing so it entices the reader to click and read the full text.

5. Format and Outline

Before you write, select the format you want to use and make an outline. There are many formats available for white papers, often differing by topic and industry. Look at white papers published by peer companies and competitors to see what you should include. You can find many templates online organized by style and industry. 

6. Identify the Problem Statement

Begin the actual writing with the problem statement. Here, you identify the issue your customers are facing and explain why it is a problem. Be clear and use data to support your claims. 

7. Write the Background

Describe your research and what you learned about the problem to arrive at your solution (the product or service your company offers). This will probably be the longest section of your white paper and should also include data and research. 

8. Explain the Solution

Give the solution to the problem. Remember, this is not a traditional sales pitch, so recognize that your product or service is just one of many available, though you can explain why your solution is ideal. 

9. Write the Conclusion

Conclude your white paper by neatly summarizing the problem, findings, and solutions available to the customer. Your summary should be brief and highlight the main takeaways. 

10. Establish the Abstract

While the abstract is one of the first sections of the paper, wait to write it until the bulk of the white paper is complete. This way, you can quickly and easily pull the main points and create a succinct executive summary. Unlike the conclusion, the abstract focuses on the aim of the paper rather than the content. 

11. Include References

Cite any sources you used in your white paper. 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 your paper. 

12. Create Infographics

Infographics are well designed, colorful illustrations of data points. Infographics can include traditional data illustrations like charts and graphs, but they often use other visuals to explain data. Use infographics throughout your white paper to add interest for the reader.

13. Add Design Elements

Include design elements like borders, fonts, and colors to keep your white paper cohesive and professional in its design. Use your company’s logo, fonts, and color scheme to help you select a design for your white paper. 

14. Create a Cover Page

Present your white paper to readers with an eye-catching cover page. The design elements you use elsewhere in the white paper should begin on the cover, so use consistent fonts and colors. Some companies prefer the title with a large picture, while others like the abstract to appear on the cover page. 

15. Enlist Outbound Marketing

Once your white paper is complete with the necessary writing, edits, formatting, and design, begin marketing the white paper. Post on your company’s blog and social media channels. Send it to clients and work with your marketing department to find other ways to spread awareness. 

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 making a sale. They share characteristics like images, colors, and graphics with advertisements like brochures, but the depth of the writing and the research involved sets white papers apart.  

White papers are lengthy documents, ranging anywhere between five pages 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 the process 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 myriad ways. Often, businesses will use their company branding on their white paper to tie its design cohesively to other company publications.

Here are some example white paper pages to show how to design and format white papers in different ways to meet different 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 devoting the full page to an image. 

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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White Paper Sections

White papers can have very different structures, elements, and sections depending on factors like industry and the goals of the white paper. Previously, we discussed some of the most common sections in a white paper. Here are a few other sections you might include to improve your white paper:

  • Business benefits: Often, writers mention the business benefits provided by the company’s product or service in the solutions section of the white paper, but sometimes, it is helpful to list and expand on the benefits of your product or service explicitly for the reader. 
  • Summary: Some white papers, often lengthy ones, include a summary page at the end that concisely collects the key takeaways of the white paper. 
  • Call to action: If you are using your white paper specifically as a sales tool rather than a general informational text, include a call to action. Make sure the reader knows exactly what they need to do next to enlist your help in achieving their goals with your product or service. 
  • 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. 
  • Introduction: Some white papers benefit from including a formal introduction in which you describe the objectives of the paper. 
  • 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. 

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 links to it on your social media pages and make it obvious 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 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 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 into words to keep a consistent right alignment. Assess the look of the page and manually add hyphens if needed.


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