How to Write a White Paper in 10 Steps ( Tips & Templates)

So how do white papers fit into lead generation efforts? They may act either as lead generation tools themselves or can be used to direct readers to other parts of a website that captures lead information.

White paper social login

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For example, you can use a white paper to share marketing statistics, compare different campaigns, present a complex analysis of an industry trend, or share an in-depth explanation of a specific process carried out by a team or company.

How is a White Paper Different From an eBook?

In many cases, you might find that the terms ‘white paper’ and ‘eBook’ are used interchangeably. However, there are a few differences between the two, and it’s important to know which one is best for your needs.

eBooks are electronic books that usually provide a general overview of a topic. They are more conversational in nature, and are normally directed at non-expert audiences who are new to a particular topic.

White papers, on the other hand, are targeted at more expert audiences who are already familiar with a topic and want to learn more about a particular aspect of it, such as a detailed analysis of a specific strategy. White papers are more factual, professional and research-based.

What is a white paper?

In the world of marketing, a white paper is a long-form piece of content, similar to an eBook. The difference between the two is that white papers tend to be more technical and in depth. The facts and opinions expressed in white papers are often backed by original research or statistics that the publisher has aggregated from reliable sources. They often include charts, graphs, tables, and other ways of visualizing data.

Today, the term is most commonly applied to “deep dive” style publications. Businesses — especially in the consulting, financial, or B2B sectors — use them to communicate their organization’s philosophy on a topic, make the case for the superiority of their product, or simply to present research findings related to their field.

Who uses white papers?

In the past, white papers were most often produced by governmental agencies, NGOs, think tanks, consultancies, and financial institutions that needed to present the findings of their ongoing research in a succinct format.

With the widespread growth and adoption of content marketing (the creation and distribution of non-promotional content intended to generate interest in a business and its offerings), white papers have become more common in other industries as well. Any organization that engages in content marketing can benefit from producing white papers.

White paper content marketing cartoon

Their popularity across industries is due to their versatility. While all white papers have certain elements in common, a B2B startup will use them differently than a large consultancy, and both will use them differently from a governmental organization.

Types of white papers

Other types of white papers simply present a summary of useful statistics and information about the state of a particular field or industry. An example of this would be the Content Marketing Benchmarks Budgets and Trends from the Content Marketing Institute.

Whatever type you produce, the contents of your white paper should serve to showcase your expertise in a given area. Your audience is searching for information, and will look for an authoritative source — a business they perceive as having in-depth knowledge of a subject.

The purpose of a white paper

White papers enable you to build trust with your audience. They show readers that you’re reliable, experienced, and adept in a given domain. When potential customers search for information to help them understand a problem or opportunity they’re facing, and you provide them with a quality white paper that helps, they’ll turn to you again in the future.

This perception of authority can also serve to boost sales in an organization. More than half the respondents to the Eccolo Media B2B Technology Content Survey reported having read a white paper before making a buying decision. Buyers prefer to purchase from vendors they trust and see as experts in their field.

Finally, white papers are extremely useful for lead generation. The Content Preferences Survey from DemandGen found that more than three-fourths of survey respondents were willing to exchange personal information for a white paper — more than for eBooks, case studies, analyst reports, podcasts, or infographics.

White paper examples

White paper example - CodinGame

What Developers Want – CodinGame

This unique one-pager presenting findings from the Developers at Work Survey demonstrates how a white paper should be done. The animated, interactive data charts show off just what’s possible with our embed feature.

White paper example - BDO GDPR

This well-produced special edition produced by BDO and creative agency Monte Media does an incredible job of turning a conventionally dull topic into a piece of content that’s engaging and comes to life.

White paper example - content-marketing-strategy

Building and Applying a Content Marketing Strategy – Foleon

Step 1: Understand your audience

“Write for pay scale, not demographics.” This is what Jimmy Daly, cofounder of Superpath , wrote in an Animalz article . Pay scales define how tactical or strategic the information needs to be to appeal to your target reader: Image source “The people at the top think differently than the people near the bottom. They don’t need information—that’s been commoditized. In general, the higher in the food chain a person is, the more strategic their thinking is,” the point continues. This means that your target reader needs different types of information within the same topic depending on whether they’re a leader or an implementer. Leaders need strategy and frameworks to think within, while implementers need hands-on tactics and directions. If you need more tips and questions to define your audience, check out the Marketing Persona chapter of CoSchedule’s Marketing Strategy guide .

Step 2: Create an outline

  1. Headline: Start with a working version that describes your topic; you can always polish it up later. CoSchedule’s Headline Studio can help!
  2. An executive summary: A placeholder for a short description of what your white paper is about. Add key points here so you can build your summary later.
  3. Introduction: What is the hook that will draw your readers to keep reading the white paper? What are the main pain points and topics you’ll cover?
  4. Section subheadings: Each section is a point that supports your overall argument or a step in the process you’re presenting. Their subheadings should clearly introduce them.
  5. Subheading content: List the subpoints you’re making in each section, and any supporting information that you came across in your research.
  6. Conclusion: Summarize your key takeaways. If it’s appropriate, you might consider adding a call-to-action here, too.

Step 3: Plan the format

Use this planning and outlining stage to also map out graphics, charts, sidebars, and one-pagers. You can do this with text boxes, tables, and page breaks in the Word document. This way, you’ll have placeholders in place of visuals you’ll add in the design stage later on. This will help you shape your writing based on the skeleton of your white paper’s final look. Additionally, use this step to adjust the appearance of your fonts and headers. In Microsoft Word, right-click the style you’re using, click Modify, and select different headings or paragraphs you want to update.

Designing Your White Paper

Step 1: Create the cover page

Your white paper’s cover page can be as simple as the one we’ve given you in the white paper template: But you can also work with your designer to build a version with brand colors or custom illustrations. Another option is using a tool like Venngage , which gives you ready-to-use white paper designs. You can pick a template that matches your white paper type and customize your colors and visuals:

Step 2: Design any necessary inline graphics

If you have the graphic design skills, build your own charts and graphs. Tools like Canva make this quite easy, especially with templates like those for infographics . If you have the option to work with a designer, here’s a simple template you can use to brief them on images you’d like to add to your white paper. GRAPHIC HEADLINE: [Include a brief header or title for your graphic] GRAPHIC COPY: [Include descriptive copy] GRAPHIC DATA: [Include statistics, numbers, percentages, metrics, and so forth] GRAPHIC NOTES: [Include other thoughts or image direction for your designer] That should be enough to give your designer an idea of what to create.

Step 3: Structure white paper in correct column layout

Your white paper might work perfectly in a single-column layout, but if it’s particularly long, you might want to consider a two- or three-column layout. Here’s what a three-column layout looks like in The state of content (mis)management white paper: If you have a designer in charge of visuals, let them know about your layout decision. And if you’re working from our template, work from the Layout tab to set up your columns:

Use these white paper examples to create a design that reflects your brand

Use these examples of white papers as springboards for your own unique and brand-appropriate designs. Knowing how to write a white paper that considers your audience every step of the way will help you develop the perfect response to their questions and make your designs accessible .

What is a white paper?

Green Marketing White Paper Examples

White papers are also research-based and widely considered to be a valuable resource. In fact, Equinet reports that a whopping 75% of B2B would share information about themselves and their company in exchange for a white paper.

Why should you create a white paper?

White papers can be extremely valuable documents to educate your stakeholders, clients, and top-of-funnel traffic—when the white papers are actually interesting. According to the Demand Gen 2018 Survey Report , 71% of B2B buyers used white papers in the last 12 months to research purchasing decisions.

How long is a white paper?

Typically, white papers are around 3 to 20 pages long. But some whitepapers can be longer. A white paper should be long enough to cover the concept or problem at hand. Since this usually includes case studies or new research, plus explanations and analyses, a good rule of thumb is writing white papers to provide enough evidence to back up your claims.

How to write a white paper that people will actually read?

If it doesn’t have an appealing design, your white paper probably isn’t going to work as well as you want it to. As with any type of content—from writing blog posts to making presentations to crafting ebooks —a lot of your white paper’s success comes down to the design.

Neon Digital Hiring Strategy White Paper Template

How to format a white paper with design in mind:

  1. Make sure your cover page immediately informs readers what your white paper is about.
  2. Summarize key takeaways at the start after writing your white papers.
  3. Don’t forget to think about your readers’ experience. Use clear page numbers to make it easier to scan your white paper.
  4. Visualize your data to make your white paper more engaging.
  5. Use consistent brand colors and fonts throughout your white paper format. This will make your design look more polished and professional.
  6. Use high-quality photos with a consistent style.
  7. Keep your target users in mind throughout the design process. If you’re using images of other people make sure they resemble your target users.
  8. Emphasize section headers in your whitepaper with icons.
  9. Break up walls of text with visuals like infographics and charts.
  10. Use a glossary to outline the specific topics you aim to address.
  11. Incorporate calls to action throughout your white paper design.
  12. Format your white paper to allow for plenty of white space. This will prevent your whitepaper design from looking cluttered.
  13. Switch up your page layouts to keep readers interested.

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Sara McGuire is the former Content Marketing Manager at Venngage. She believes that growth by content doesn’t require a big budget if you’re scrappy. Her writing has been published on Marketing Profs, HubSpot, and Content Marketing Institute. Follow her on Twitter @sara_mcguire


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