White paper mistakes are the things some organizations do that hurt the effectiveness and credibility of the white papers they produce. It’s true that nobody is perfect, but the fewer white paper mistakes you make when developing your white paper, the more compelling and credible it will be.

White paper mistakes include typos

When your white paper includes typos and misspellings, they suggest your company is careless and imprecise. You may think of typos as inevitable and unimportant, but it’s important to remember that humans react to visual impressions, and no matter how kind or talented you may be, the impression typos present is that you don’t care about accuracy and are sloppy. You probably don’t want prospective customers to see your organization that way. I always consider typos to be the written equivalent of showing up to a meeting with a big glob of mustard on your shirt or food residue around your mouth.

Promotional tones are white paper mistakes

The goal of your white paper may be to promote your company’s approach, but white papers are not brochures or advertisements and shouldn’t carry the promotional tones you might use in those materials. Instead, white papers should be serious, straightforward, and based on facts. Avoid the kind of hype and blatant sales messages that may be appropriate in other channels.

Overdoing design can be a mistake

Again, a white paper isn’t an ad or a brochure. Companies and graphic designers who are accustomed to creating fancy, colorful documents may try to do the same with white papers, but that can be counterproductive. Many of the audiences that white papers target — such as engineers, CFOs, and CEOs — tend to distrust materials that appear to be more “salesy” than informative. Most effective white papers are simply set up to look like trade magazine articles with fewer pictures. It’s okay to include photographs if they add value to your message but attaching stock images of happy people in meetings will make your paper appear to be fake.

Poor organization is a serious mistake

As serious, straightforward documents, white papers should be well-organized. They’re typically between 1500 and 5000 words in length, which typically works out to 6 to 20 printed pages. That can be a lot for a reader to absorb, so taking a logical approach and breaking your message down into sections will increase the likelihood that readers pick up on what’s important. It’s also a good idea to use subheadings and bold lead-ins throughout the white paper to guide readers to the sections that are most important to them. It’s true they may not read every word, but they’ll pay attention to the parts that matter most.

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