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For businesses, a proven way to improve authority and establish thought leadership in your niche is to publish insightful and valuable content. One of the best ways to do that is with a white paper.
In this article, we’ll walk you through a step-by-step tutorial on how to write a white paper. We’ve also included some great design tips for taking your white papers to the next level as well as advice on how to properly distribute and promote your white paper.
Want to skip the tutorial and get started? Use Visme to create a professional white paper in your browser using free templates, design tools and multiple download options.
A white paper is a document used by business professionals who want to share in-depth information about a specific topic.
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.
Here's an example of what a white paper looks like.
A white paper can be used for one or more of the following purposes:
Now, you might be wondering — how are white papers different from eBooks? Aren’t they both informational documents published by brands? True, but there’s a slight technical difference between the two.
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.
Now that you know what a white paper is and what it’s used for, let’s get into the step-by-step process of creating one for your own business.
Before you start creating your white paper or even looking at white paper examples for inspiration, you have to choose your white paper topic.
To choose a relevant and impactful topic, ask yourself:
Choose a topic that you know and understand well. White papers are expert documents, so make sure you have enough knowledge to share and sources or proof to back it up.
You also need to pick a topic that interests your audience. If your audience is not relevant or engaging for your readers, it might not bring you the results you hope to achieve.
Once you’ve chosen your topic, it’s time to collect information and data to create insightful content that delivers actual value.
You can use both internal and external sources to gather information for your white paper. The deeper you dive into your topic, the more unique and useful your content will be.
Here are several ways to conduct in-depth research for your white paper:
While researching the content for your white paper, keep a record of all the sources you use.
You can add these sources to your white paper in any of the following ways:
If you’re copying quotes and statements from thought leaders and experts in the field, be sure to mention them by name.
Apart from your regular research online or at the library, a great way to find reliable sources is to read journals and reports already published on the same topic.
Reading up on content that’s already published on your topic will inspire you to come up with unique angles. It will also help you pinpoint content gaps, which you can address in your white paper.
Create a folder of all the research material on your computer so you always have it on hand.
For a more personalized approach, conduct interviews with people that work within the realm of your topic. Connecting with top-level personalities might be difficult, but if you construct and deliver your angle convincingly, they might just answer your call (or email.)
To find the right people to talk to, use a tool like BuzzSumo. The trick is to find the people talking about the topic you’re writing about in the white paper.
Put down a list of names, and use outreach tools like Respona to get in touch with them via email. Conduct interviews in the format that they’re comfortable with, it might be on a Zoom call, a meeting over coffee or maybe a written questionnaire.
It’s in your best interest to share content that you’re sure about being reliable and true. Don’t skip this step, and fact-check the information you source in both previously published content and interviews you conduct.
There are plenty of online tools to help you fact-check your research — journalists and thought leaders use these tools regularly.
I mentioned above that a large part of choosing a topic and preparing the content for a white paper is to consider your audience.
But simply considering your audience is not enough — you have to go a step further and understand your audience on a deeper level. Ask yourself questions like:
You might need to do in-depth research to answer these questions. If your team has already done this work, that’s one step less for you. It’s helpful to create a visual user persona to get a snapshot of your audience’s needs and characteristics.
The idea is that you need to understand your audience well in order to make a connection. If your title interests them, they’ll start to read, but if the content isn’t up to par, you’ll lose the opportunity to make an impact.
Have your user persona on hand to stay in line with the intended messaging for that audience. Here’s a simple template for a user persona analysis if you don’t have one yet.
You’ve done the research and now you’re ready to write the content. But before you can tap into your inner storyteller, you must first create an outline. This outline will most likely set you up for a great Table of Contents in the final design.
Here’s a simple outline for a white paper as an example:
If you’re looking for a more detailed outline, check out this infographic that lists the most important sections to include in your white paper.
White papers are usually written in an uphill style with the conclusion at the end.
First, you lay out the playing field with the abstract, and then each section offers information that layers upon the one before it.
You can look at it like this:
In the end, a good white paper will give the reader an “Aha!” moment upon completion.
To create an outline for your white paper, work with document editing tools like Google Docs or Microsoft Word. Use high-level headings for the critical sections of your content, and then branch out into subheadings.
Jot down ideas and important points you need to cover under each section. These will be fueled by your internal and external research.
White papers are written in a standard document format. Think of a white paper more like a research paper and less of a report. The difference is that a report includes conclusions in the executive summary or introduction, while a white paper includes it at the very end.
Also, differing from an eBook, a white paper includes supporting data visualization apart from eye-catching imagery.
The first thing your readers will see of your white paper is the cover. Make it eye-catching, interesting and welcoming. Your title or headline takes center stage on your cover, so pay special attention to that part.
To craft an attention-grabbing title for your white paper, our friends at Gaebler.com offer some interesting tips:
Let’s take a look at the title below, “The Alarming Spread of Dengue - And What We Can Do To Keep Ourselves Safe.”
What’s enticing about it? First, the design choices for this cover helps with the attention-grabbing aspect. The word ‘Dengue’ is in all caps and the entirety of the title is over a red splatter that resembles blood. The background is an image of a mosquito with a dark overlay. Instantly, your attention is piqued. This is where ‘being clever’ helps create a great headline.
This title also includes a subtitle, further informing the reader why it’s important they read the white paper. To be clear and concise, don’t use any fluff words.
This title also uses the adjective ‘alarming’ as a support word that makes the title more interesting without sounding exaggerated. Their research will probably prove just how alarming the spread of dengue is, so this is a perfect word choice.
You won’t always have a title that can be designed like the example above. Your title might be something like “The Army’s Framework for Character Development”.
To make this title more enticing, there’s also a subtitle, “Integrating Character Development with Leadership Development.”
The title is clear and concise, and makes a promise with the subtitle. There is room for improvement for the cleverness aspect in this title, but it’s not necessary in some cases.
Knowing when to be clever depends on your audience and topic. This white paper, since it’s about the military, needs to keep a more serious tone.
As I mentioned above, white papers include the conclusion at the end, which means that you’ll have to welcome your readers with a different type of introduction at the beginning. The most common is a summary or abstract of what’s inside the white paper.
If you or the author is a thought leader in the field, then you should also include an author blurb alongside the introduction. The example below uses one page to cover both instances — the author blurb on the left and the introduction on the right.
Be concise and inviting when you write the introduction, be it a welcome note or an abstract. Don’t give too much away, but also make sure to point out the main factors. Include why you wrote the white paper and what you hope the reader will get out of it.
Now it’s time to format the content in your white paper properly. Inside each main section, use subheadings to break up the text so it’s easier to read.
The example below shows how the main topic page is divided into subtopics. This page could work as an opener for a more extended section, which will be separated into three subsections, mirroring the first page.
Using subheadings to break up content is vital for the reader. It helps with information retention and research purposes. Readers might want to highlight specific areas; subheadings will make it easier to find their notes later.
White papers are meant to be informative, full of value and well-researched. And there’s no better way to support your findings than with solid data.
Using verified facts, statistics, quotes and other data as evidence in your white paper can help your business establish authority in its niche. It’s also important for ensuring your white paper has a powerful impact on your audience.
Make sure you properly cite all the sources of the data you use in your paper. To cite your sources, use either annotation with footnotes, or annotations and a final section listing sources. The most important thing to consider when citing sources is that they’re fact-checked and relevant.
To make your data more engaging, you can use data visualization techniques such as charts, graphs, widgets, maps and more. More on this later.
This tip is more important than you think. A white paper is not a magazine editorial or a fiction novel, so avoid adding any fluffy language that simply fills up the page. Every paragraph must bring value in some way.
As I mentioned above, the content of a white paper takes the reader on a journey from a base problem or statement.
It leads them uphill with researched methodologies, solutions and data to a conclusion that makes the reader feel like they’ve learned something important.
Never skip the proofreading and editing stage. All the work you’ve put in with the research and writing can be ruined with a silly typo in a heading or a duplicated sentence.
Yes, everyone makes typos, but pros have proofreaders to make sure they don’t.
If you can’t do the proofreading and editing yourself — don’t worry, hardly anyone can — ask coworkers to help or consider hiring a professional. It’s worth it!
Your content is ready and it’s time to put it all together in a concise document format. The design of your white paper is more important than you’d think. If you design well, you can make even the most boring topic look interesting.
To design your white paper, choose the tool you’re most comfortable with. Most professional designers prefer using Adobe InDesign, but it can be difficult to use for beginners and non-designers.Pro-tip: If you want to create professional white papers without learning complex design software, use a drag-and-drop white paper builder like Visme. It’s fast, easy and works in your browser.
Regardless of the software you use, here are some design tips and best practices to help you enhance your white paper and make it more engaging.
Creating a white paper from scratch can be tricky, especially for beginners. You’d need to think of a design layout that fits your content, follows visual hierarchy principles and looks great.
Thankfully, there are dozens of white paper templates available online that you can simply customize according to your needs. You can find ready-made white paper templates that fit your topic or content requirements in Visme’s white paper template library.
Create an engaging white paper online quickly and easily by getting started with one of Visme’s professionally designed templates. Download as a PDF, publish online, share the white paper on social media and more. Find a white paper template that fits your brand.
It’s easy to customize the white paper templates in Visme. There are multiple pages of different kinds, including a table of contents page. Add, remove and duplicate pages with a single click.
You can also change text, colors, images, fonts and more. Or, take it a step further and add charts and graphs, embed videos, insert links and hover effects, add animated illustrations and icons, and more.
Just like your title, your white paper’s cover page is the first thing your audience will see. Make sure it’s worth it and compels them to read further.
The design of your cover page should be engaging, and it should support your title by giving it context. It should also establish the theme of your white paper.
Here’s an example of white paper cover page from a Visme template.
In the example above, the background photo and color scheme of the cover page establish the topic of the white paper. You can tell at first glance that it’s going to be about nature or the environment.
Look for ways to make your title more enticing, maybe by making the text bigger, a different color or as a section in a separate line.
When choosing a visual for your cover page, make sure it’s 100% relevant. It could be a photo with or without overlay, an illustration or a graphic design with icons, shapes and colors. If you’re not confident in your design skills, stick to what the template offers.
Last but not least, add your logo on the cover page of your white paper to turn it into a branded document. That way, it will help increase your brand awareness and recall when your white paper is shared among your audience.
The table of contents is the next page after the cover. It lays out the top-level headings in order, along with the page number where that section starts.
Most templates have around 6 or 7 headings; simply duplicate and extend each line item to add more. The final page numbers should be added at the end when you’re done formatting the content.
For digital white papers, add hyperlinks to the headings that will help readers navigate to the relevant page and make it easier for them to browse your document.
Don’t forget to add a link to your table of contents page on every page in case readers want to go back — a simple home icon in the corner would do.
Your white paper needs visuals. Adding imagery can not only make your white paper look more engaging, but it can also help keep your document on brand.
Every piece of imagery you select must have a purpose; if you’re adding visuals for decorative purposes, make sure they are relevant and support the content somehow.
If your company has corporate photography, use that instead. Using branded imagery helps with credibility and thought leadership status.
When you don’t have brand photos to use, select stock photos that fully embody your topic and don't distract from the research you’re presenting.
The white paper templates in Visme offer stock image placeholders to help guide your design. You can add photos by uploading from your own computer, or by tapping into Visme’s built-in library of free images, illustrations, icons, videos and more.
Other sources for visuals that we recommend include Freepik, Unsplash and Adobe Stock. You can also use data visualizations like charts, graphs, maps and infographics to add a visual touch to your white paper.
The typography on your white paper must be easy to read. The headlines, titles and subtitles must be more noticeable than body text. And this is where fonts come in — fonts are an important factor when creating a textual hierarchy for your content.
White papers are not the type of document for display or overly decorative fonts. Use classic document fonts like Lato, Garamond or Helvetica. Stick to one font style for the entire document — choose between serif or sans serif, and don’t mix them.
To differentiate the sections in your body text where you’re using the same font, you can play around with font sizes, add solid color blocks behind paragraphs and make footnotes smaller and italic.
The colors in your white paper must be balanced and harmonious throughout all the pages. Use color themes to change all the colors in a document with one click; it’s much faster than changing the color of every element one by one.
You can also turn your brand’s color palette into a one-click color theme in Visme, which will show up in the color themes tab in the editor. This technique will not only keep your white paper on brand, but all other projects created by your team.
We recommend keeping color theory and color psychology principles in mind when choosing colors for your white paper design. Using clashing colors can negatively impact your brand image, as well as make your white paper difficult to read.
With imagery to visually support your content, you’ll need data visualizations to support your research and analysis. Use different types of data visualizations depending on your needs. You can choose from:
No matter which type of data visualization you use, it has to look good. We believe in making data beautiful, and that’s easy with Visme.
Inside the graph maker, you can customize the chart’s appearance with colors, typography and positioning of legends so it matches the rest of your white paper design.
For example, here’s a page from a white paper template in Visme. Notice how the bar chart design blends in seamlessly with the rest of the content.
But data visualization is not only reserved for numerical data. You can also use infographics to visualize text-based information.
The infographic example above visualizes the effects of arsenic poisoning in humans using a large illustration of a skeleton, lines and icons in an anatomy-style layout.
Every visual project that your company or business creates should be branded, including your white paper. I mentioned above how to use brand colors for all the elements inside the white paper pages, but you should also consider the fonts, icons and other visuals.
If your brand has a set font pairing, use that. If your company has a set of custom icons, use those! You can easily upload your brand fonts, logo and assets to Visme and store them in your Brand Kit to use in any design project.
Apart from branding the visuals inside your white paper, also make sure that the content is on-brand.
A white paper’s purpose is to give your business credibility and good standing in your niche. If the way your content is portrayed doesn’t match your brand voice and tone, then it won’t have the impact you desire.
This is why proofreading and editing are essential, to make sure that every sentence and paragraph matches your brand voice.
Just like there’s a flow to the content in your white paper, you need to create a visual flow to ensure your imagery is balanced and attractive.
Visual balance and flow are achieved with good use of hierarchy principles. The most obvious is de-escalating the sizes of your headings, subheadings, body text and footnote.
Watch this video to get a quick overview on visual hierarchy principles:
Moreover, a photo shouldn’t overpower the text unless the image is what you want the reader to focus on. Also, data visualizations with legends too small to read are useless, so make sure they’re easy to understand and the surrounding context is relevant.
Additionally, body text in large chunks might be hard to read; to make it better, try using two columns instead.
Test your visual flow with co-workers or people in your team. Ask them for honest feedback about the way the pages feel to them. Are there any confusing formatting problems or things out of order? Fix those issues and you’re ready to share your white paper.
What good is a white paper if you’re not sharing it with your audience?
Offering your white paper in exchange for an email sign-up is just one of the ways you can use it for marketing purposes and for generating leads.
Here are some ideas for distributing and promoting your white paper.
The first step to distributing and promoting your white paper is to publish it. With Visme, you can do this a couple of ways; digitally or as a printable document.
Our favorite publishing and distribution format is digital. When you publish your white paper to the web, we’ll host it on the Visme servers and your readers will be able to read it online.
If you want to collect emails in exchange for distribution, simply add a sign-up form or create a password-protected entry. You can even add the option for viewers to download a PDF version of the white paper. You’ll find all these options in the sharing and privacy settings.
When you publish your white paper digitally, you can not only share it as a link, but you can also embed it onto your website. Doing this will keep readers on your site longer, and they’ll have a better opportunity of getting to know your brand.
Just like when you share a link, an embedded white paper can also have a sign-up form or password-protected entry.
If you want to go the classic route, simply download the white paper as a PDF and send it to your readers in an email or a zipped file. Even though this is the general way of sharing a white paper, it’s not the most impressive or memorable.
When you share a white paper digitally and give readers an option to download it, you cover all your bases and make an impact.
Promoting and sharing your white paper needs a launchpad from where it can be distributed. A dedicated landing page with a clear call-to-action is your best bet. Add a landing page to your website or with a tool like LeadPages or directly in your CMS.
Here’s an example of a white paper landing page from Meta:
With this strategy, the white paper can be used as a lead magnet to collect emails. A white paper is usually top of the funnel content, perfect for connecting with potential customers and clients. Using a white paper as a lead magnet is great for brand awareness and topic authority.Pro-tip: You can also create other types of lead magnets with Visme. Browse lead magnet templates for checklists, guides, worksheets, planners, courses and more.
Your white paper’s landing page can either have a CTA that directs readers to the digital version of your white paper, or the page on your website where you’ve embedded it.
If you prefer to offer it as a downloadable PDF, include the file in the thank-you message they see after they sign up on the form on the landing page.
Use visuals from inside your white paper to promote the content, and create iPad mockups with your cover page inside it. The landing page URL can also become your go-to for sharing on platforms like social media and paid online ads.
Sharing your white paper on social media is essential for your audience to learn about your document and the value they will gain from it.
Create social media graphics and relevant copy for each platform you’re active on. Use enticing and inviting language to convince people to download your white paper.
Design social media posts right in Visme using your Brand Kit and the visuals from your white paper. Try placing the cover page of your white paper into an iPad mockup, so people know that you’re promoting a digital reading product in your post.
Apart from posting and sharing on social media organically, consider running paid ads. This is where your copy and visuals need to be on point as you’re paying per click and you’ll want your ROI to be positive.
Create your ads with Visme easily. Try creating short videos with visual effects and enticing copy that will make people interested in clicking on your ad. A/B test some different styles of ads to find out what works better and then create more of those.
A white paper is great for generating leads, but you can also send it as a gift to your existing email list. Send the link to the digital version or the PDF file to everyone on your email list with a small blurb and invitation to read.
Include a summary and add more info than you would on a social media post. You don’t need them to sign up in exchange for the white paper; you just want them to open it and read it, so it’s okay if you reveal more of what’s inside.
When you have more than one white paper or e-book in your repertoire, consider creating a hub on your website where your audience can see all your offerings in one place. Lay it out as a gallery or list, linking each item to its relevant landing page.
Here's an example of a hub we created for our graphic design eBooks.
Share the URL of your hub in your social media posts, online ads or email newsletters. The more published content you have in the hub, the higher your authority in the niche.
Another technique to distribute your white paper is to run an outreach strategy. This practice involves reaching out to people in your niche who might want to share your white paper with their audience.
Have your outreach team contact influencers and other publications with the news about your new white paper. If you mentioned any thought leaders in the white paper, share it with them as well.
Invite them to read the white paper with your live link or PDF, and ask if they’ll share it with their own audience.
Above, I mentioned that you could send the white paper to your email list. Take it further and have your customer success team share the white paper in a more personalized manner with your most loyal customers or good prospects.
Additionally, include a CTA to the white paper landing page on relevant blog posts on your site. This can help grow your potential audience and strengthen your internal linking at the same time.
Using white papers as lead magnets, solving a problem or educating your audience is a great way to improve your marketing efforts while building authority in your niche.
You’ll collect leads which you can nurture into loyal customers who will be glad to share all the content you create.
Thanks for reading our comprehensive guide on how to write a white paper. Visit our blog for more articles on creating visual materials for your business.
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