There’s a reason why white papers are considered a marketing staple. When properly executed, white papers boost your authority, solve problems for your clients and stakeholders and act as powerful lead magnets.
But, what is a white paper exactly and how do you make one that will drive results? Even if you fill your white paper with compelling content, a lackluster design may still hold you back.
This guide will show you how to create a white paper that actually engages readers, impresses clients and snags sales leads, even if you’ve never designed one before.
White paper examples (click to jump ahead):
- Policy paper example
- Research paper layout
- Government white paper template
- HR white paper template
- Business white paper template
- Marketing white paper example
- White paper FAQ
Watch: How to Write a White Paper
1. Create an eye-catching white paper cover page
Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of an eye-catching cover page. Like the cover of a book, a captivating cover page will entice people to open it and read further.
At first glance, your readers should have an idea of what the white paper will contain. Use a photo that reflects the theme of your white paper, or create a visual using icons.
For example, the cover page for this cyber security white paper illustrates its topic—phishing scams—with a hook icon. Further, the cover introduces a circle motif which is used throughout the white paper, to give it a cohesive design.
Pro Tip: Apply your branding to your white paper using Venngage Brand Kit. You can apply your logos, color palettes and fonts in just one click!
2. Incorporate photos in your white paper layout which resemble your target users.
Take a look at this B2B white paper focused on employee engagement. The two men on the cover could easily be a manager speaking with one of his team members. Both look energized and engaged, indicating that the white paper will offer valuable insight to companies looking to invigorate their employees.
Similarly, this content marketing white paper depicts someone hard at work, tapping on their laptop while downing a cup of coffee. This image would resonate with almost any professional marketer you’re trying to reach in a B2B capacity.
Knowing how to write a white paper which speaks to your readers is important. For example, when selecting images for your white paper, look out for people who resemble your target users. This will help communicate that your white paper is actually relevant to the group you’re trying to reach.
Need help with creating personas for your target users? Read our user persona guide.
3. Use creative backgrounds for a trendy white paper design
A simple design trick to make your white paper more engaging is to use a creative background. You can opt for a simple background pattern design to add some visual impact to your white paper layout, or even try a trendy color gradient.
For example, take a look at how a color gradient background gives this content marketing white paper template wow-factor:
Here’s another white paper example which combines a color gradient background, simple pattern designs and modern geometry:
It’s so easy to experiment with white paper backgrounds, so don’t be shy about trying out different options! With Venngage, for example, you can change your white paper background with a single click.
Even if you don’t have any design experience, the right background image can instantly make your white paper look more polished and professional. This is a simple yet effective trick to keep up your sleeve, so you know how to write a white paper which impresses your readers.
4. Highlight key takeaways to summarize the information in your white paper template
White papers tend to pack a ton of information within their pages. But in reality, many people aren’t going to take the time to read the whole paper cover to cover.
Try highlighting a few key takeaways that will get them excited about reading your white paper. Or outline exactly what they will trade their time to learn about.
As you can see in this how to white paper example, there’s a whole section which highlights the key takeaways in the report. Because it’s right on the front page, it’s hard to miss, which is a nice touch.
5. Make your page numbers stand out so your white paper is easy to scan
When designing your white paper, it’s important to keep your readers in mind. Don’t just think about what they want to read, but how they want to read it.
Your white paper isn’t the latest instalment of Game of Thrones, so it’s unlikely that every reader is going to sit down and read it cover to cover as they would a novel. In fact, there’s a good chance they’re going to want to skip ahead to specific sections of your white paper which interest them.
Making your page numbers easy to read will be appreciated by your readers who are trying to locate a particular topic in your white paper.
You can make your page numbers pop by using a bold font or color block background. Alternatively, using decorative fonts for small accents like this will give your white paper a unique design edge.
Take a look at the page numbers in this policy white paper template:
This government healthcare policy white paper template has a simple format that’s easy to customize for any industry. Its straightforward table of contents and other design elements keeps the focus on the text.
6. Visualize data using charts and pictograms
A common problem marketers and consultants face when creating white paper is finding a way to make the data engaging and easy to understand. One simple solution is to visualize your data using a variety of different charts and pictograms.
The type of charts you use will depend on the type of data you’re visualizing. We have a guide to picking what types of charts to use that can help you there.
For example, you could use a line graph to show revenue growth over time. Or you could use pie charts to show parts of a whole, like in this policy white paper example:
Pictograms are also a creative and effective way to visualize statistical data. For example, take a look at how pictograms are used in this cybersecurity to show statistics about the yearly revenue of different businesses:
Don’t be afraid to mix it up. They say variety is the spice of life—the same can be said of white papers! This white paper design, for example, combines both bar graphs and pie charts.
7. Incorporate your branding into your white paper design
To grow your brand recognition, you need to have consistent branding across all of your marketing collateral. Be sure to incorporate your logo, brand color palettes and fonts into your white paper design.
Venngage’s Brand Kit makes it easy to save your logos, brand color palettes and brand fonts for later. Then, you can easily apply them to your designs in a single click.
Try thinking of creative opportunities to incorporate your branding. This white paper design, for instance, extends the use of its signature color beyond standard headers and icons. It actually applies a transparent color overlay to the images, adding an additional punch of color and reinforcing its brand palette in an unexpected way.
8. Use high-quality photos with a consistent style
Photos, icons, and illustrations can play an important role in how effectively our white paper communicate your information.
Don’t just use images for decoration. Instead, use photos to illustrate important concepts, to make information easier to understand, and to convey a mood. For example, this marketing white paper uses bright, colorful photos to engage and excite readers:
Venngage’s Unsplash integration makes it easy to find thousands of high-quality stock photos. Check out our guide to incorporating stock photos seamlessly into your design.
Pro Tip: Use Venngage’s image swap button to change the images in a template in just a click. Your images and icons will be replaced with a new image that is already formatted to the template.
9. Highlight featured quotes using a big font
This is a design trick you’ve probably seen used in magazines and news publications. Well guess what—it works great for white paper design as well! Pull particularly impactful and persuasive quotes and make them stand out from the rest of the text using big, bold font.
Not only will this draw readers’ eyes to the quotes, it also gives your page design more visual variation. For example, this company white paper uses bright orange font to help their featured quotes stand out.
10. Use icons to emphasize section headers in your white paper template
One of the primary goals of your white paper is to communicate information in an engaging way. But many businesses end up creating something that reads like a college textbook. No one wants to read that…just ask any college student.
TechSmith studied over 4,500 office workers and found that people absorb information 7% faster when they’re given text with accompanying images, versus just plain text. When designing your white paper, look for opportunities to make text easier to scan with visuals.
An easy way to bring attention to important points is to place an icon beside the text. For example, the government white paper below is rather text-heavy. But the icons help direct the eye to each section header and break up the text:
This marketing white paper layout uses icons to punctuate the headers and add a dash of personality to reinforce its fun and lively color palette.
Here’s another example of a white paper design where icons are used to visualize points and make information easier to find:
11. Use a neutral color scheme for a modern technology white paper design
Say you want to create a white paper to introduce new technology or explain tech-based solutions to problems. A white paper design with a sleek, modern and minimalistic design will likely appeal to techie people. Minimalistic designs are also one of this year’s biggest graphic design trends.
Pick a neutral background color like white or light grey. Then, pick visuals with similarly sleek color schemes. For example, this tech white paper example uses a cool and muted grey palette:
But a great way to add some visual interest to your white paper layout is to pick an accent color that you can use to make parts of your page pop. For example, this information technology white paper contrasts a neutral white background with cool corporate blue accents:
12. Use a visual motif that reflects your white paper topic
A visual motif is a is a visual element that is repeated throughout your design. When you’re designing a multi-page document like a white paper or a report, your pages should have a cohesive look and flow.
To pick a motif for your white paper design, think of some themes reflected in your white paper. Is your white paper about social media engagement? Then a motif of birds (“tweeting”) or speech bubbles could work. Is your white paper topic focused on establishing a sprint process? Then a race track motif could be work.
For example, this hiring strategies white paper has a leaf motif. Plants reflect the theme of growth associated with recruitment:
Or you can also use a simple shape motif throughout your white paper design. This approach is more subtle but can still lend to a cohesive and well-thought-out white paper design. For example, this simple white paper template uses a hexagon motif (it kind of makes you think of a bee hive, doesn’t it?).
13. Break up chunks of text with visuals
When you’re laying out your white paper pages, put your storytelling cap on. Think: what kind of flow do I want my report to have? Where can I use visuals to emphasize certain points? Where can I illustrate an idea?
A common mistake novice designers make is to cram too much text into a page, rather than breaking up the text and giving it space to breath.
Don’t hesitate to dedicate big chunks or your page–or the page in its entirety–to pictures. Images give the eyes a rest and help to reinforce information.
Visual headers are also a great way to break up expanses of text while still having the visuals serve a purpose (yay for purposeful design!). You can create your own illustrations using icons–they can make for some fun and quirky headers, like in this workplace tech white paper example:
14. Open your white paper with a boldly colored glossary
Like any design project, it’s important to start off on the right foot. You can do this by creating a glossary for your white paper. Think of it as a map that outlines exactly what your white paper will cover.
In this example, you can see that the designers used a bold color to bring attention to the glossary. This ensures that it will be seen by a reader, and actually used to navigate the content. If you make your white paper design engaging, a lot more people are going to want to read it.
Try using a full-page color fill (like in this white paper example) for your glossary. Otherwise, readers may miss it when quickly flipping through the pages.
15. Include tables and boxes to emphasize key points and takeaways
Visualizing information or data isn’t limited to just graphs added throughout your white paper. You can also section off important pieces of information using tables and boxes.
In the white paper examples below, the designers used a table to organize key points and takeaways from each main section:
Here’s another example of a white paper layout that uses a table to highlight some key statistics:
16. Include calls to action throughout your white paper
In a white paper, there are plenty of opportunities to offer your product or business as a solution to problems your target audience faces. That mean that there will also be ample opportunities to include calls to action (CTAs) throughout your white paper.
For example, if you mention a feature of your product, you can place a clickable CTA button beside it.
CTAs are a great way to move people through the sales pipeline, from your white paper to a landing page or blog post.
17. Vary the color, fonts, and styles of your headers
You can create a hierarchy by using a different font or color for your headers and sub-headers. This also helps give your page design more variety.
In this example, they use different fonts and colors for each level of header. This helps make the distinction between main and sub-headers more noticeable.
Your main design goal should be to create a white paper that’s engaging to readers and easy to navigate. When you are working with this much text, it’s important to make it easy to skim through.
18. Dedicate pages to particularly important points
The primary goal of your white paper should be to educate readers. But you also want to strike a balance between being informative and entertaining.
If there is a central point that you want readers to remember, you may want to dedicate an entire page to that one point and an accompanying image to help drive the message home.
Pages like this should be used sparingly. That being said, they can deliver some real impact to readers.
Take this white paper that dedicates a page to an evocative quote and photo:
19. Allow for plenty of white space on your pages
Unlike one-page reports where you have to fit a lot of information into a small space, white paper allow for more freedom to spread information out. That will allow you to create page designs with plenty of white space.
In the design world, white space is the empty space around design elements on the page. Leaving some room for your text and images to breathe will help your design look less cluttered.
Check out how this example uses plenty of white space on nearly every page. The result is an organized and modern white paper design.
20. Break chapters or sections into separate columns
Dividing your page into columns is a good way to organize your information and save space on the page. For example, in the white paper above, the Overview and the beginning of Chapter 1 are organized neatly into their own columns.
This makes it easy to jump from one point to the next, without getting lost.
21. Include a question on the front page
Speaking directly to your readers can really grab their attention. Asking a question can get them to want to actually read your white paper.
In this white paper example, a simple question to the reader introduces what the report will cover. The designers even bolded it so it was the first thing readers would see!
Now they could have just said “We are going to cover Topic X” on the cover. But that doesn’t place their white paper in the perspective of the person it’s meant to help–the reader.
On the other hand, when you address a common problem people in your niche face, that will pique their interest.
22. Vary your page layouts to keep readers engaged
When people look at the same thing over and over again, it can cause visual fatigue. Their eyes glaze over and their attention drifts.
Varying your page layout will help keep readers engaged by going against their expectation. When the eyes have something new to look at, it’s easier to stay engaged.
This white paper template uses a few different page layouts. One page may have a featured image, another a large quote, and the next only including written content. This white paper layout is fresh and interesting.
Use these white paper examples to create a design that reflects your brand
Use these white paper examples as springboards for your own unique and brand-appropriate designs. Knowing how to write a white paper which considers your audience every step of the way will not only help you develop the perfect response to their questions, but also guide your overall design to make it more engaging and accessible.
What is a white paper?
In the business world, a white paper is an in-depth informational report that explains a complex concept or provides a persuasive solution to a problem.
Unlike ebooks, which may address a broader scope of topics, white papers have a singular focus. They’re designed to solve a specific problem for readers, and build brand trust in the process.
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 should a white paper be?
Typically, white papers are around 3 to 20 pages long. But some white papers can be much 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 analysis, most white papers need at least 6 pages to provide enough evidence to back up their claims.
How do you create 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 presentations, to ebooks—a lot of your white paper’s success comes down to the design.
Take this eye-catching hiring strategy report; it uses dramatic images, colors, layouts and icons to elevate its content to another level.
How to write a white paper with design in mind:
- Make sure your cover page immediately informs readers what your white paper is about.
- Summarize key takeaways at the start of your white paper.
- Don’t forget to think about your readers’ experience. Use clear page numbers to make it easier to scan your white paper.
- Visualize your data to make your white paper more engaging.
- Use consistent brand colors and fonts throughout your white paper. This will make your white paper design look more polished and professional.
- Use high quality photos with a consistent style.
- 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.
- Emphasize section headers in your white paper with icons.
- Break up walls of text with visuals like infographics and charts.
- Use a glossary to outline the specific topics you address in your white paper.
- Incorporate calls to action throughout your white paper design.
- Allow for plenty of white space to prevent your white paper design from looking too cluttered.
- Switch up your page layouts to keep readers interested.
You might also be interested in some of these helpful design guides: