To design white papers, you need to consider their role. Often, companies and graphic designers try to make them fancy and colorful, but that can be counterproductive, as it makes them appear to be advertising materials.

Design white papers to be serious

A white paper is a serious, non-promotional document, and the most effective white papers are designed to reflect that. Plus, 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.

Design white papers like magazines

Most effective white papers are simply set up to look like trade magazine articles with fewer pictures. If your product or service lends itself to charts or graphs, they can strengthen your message. It’s okay to include photographs if they support and add value to your message, but simply adding those stock images of happy people in business meetings isn’t necessary. 

To make it easier for readers to navigate your white paper, break the sections into easy-to-read chunks. Use straightforward headlines and paragraph headings to guide readers to the information they need. You can use subheads and bold or underscored lead-ins to make it easy for people who are skimming through the white paper to find the information they’re after.

Some white papers include a short abstract at the beginning of the paper to summarize the key messages and conclusion. You can also place a list of other references and sources that the reader may find informative at the end of the paper.

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