White paper graphics can provide a powerful addition to your white paper, as long as you’re choosing the right types of graphics to educate and inform your reader. Organizations typically develop white papers to convince readers that their product, service, or strategy is the best approach for a particular need, and carefully selected graphics can amplify the messages they want to convey while making it easier for readers to understand.

White paper graphics begin with design thinking

When designing white papers and identifying opportunities for white paper graphics, it’s important to begin by reminding yourself and your team about the nature of white papers and the roles they play. Companies and designers who are accustomed to developing ads, brochures, and other promotional materials often mistakenly believe that white papers should also be colorful and fancy to catch the readers’ eyes. Unfortunately, that approach is usually counterproductive, as it makes the white papers appear to be hype-filled advertising materials instead of trustworthy sources of information.

White paper graphics should reflect seriousness

White papers are intended to be serious, non-promotional documents. That’s important, because many of the audiences white papers target — such as engineers, CFOs, and CEOs — distrust materials that are more “salesy” than informative. It’s why savvy graphic designers typically make their white papers resemble trade magazine articles. Some may think that’s boring, but copying that type of format actually makes the information appear to be more credible.

White paper graphics can enhance navigation

Navigation is the term given to visual cues such as subheadings and bold lead-ins at the start of paragraphs, and also to visuals used to lead or break up sections. These devices offer insight into or a summary of what follows. Because they have a different appearance than the body text, readers’ eyes are drawn to them. If your subheadings summarize the key messages and sales points, for each audience, that audience will notice them.

Using photos in white papers

We’ve all heard that one photo says more than 1,000 words, and that’s even more true in a society that gets most if its information from screens small and large. Good, professional-quality photographs can make your white paper more understandable. Suppose your company is an auto parts manufacturer that also makes lawnmower sparkplugs. To encourage sparkplug sales, you could develop a white paper explaining how to perform a basic engine tune-up, using photos with step-by-step instructions. One thing you shouldn’t use: those tired stock photos featuring oddly happy, terrifyingly alert people in business meetings.

Using drawings in white papers

Sometimes, the best way to support your message is by including drawings. For example, your company may make a part that offers greater longevity than your competitors’ parts, so you develop drawings that point to the key features and why they result in better performance. Or you may choose to use a cutaway diagram so you can better illustrate key features and benefits.

Using tables and charts in white papers

If your information is heavy on statistics and other data, visually simplify it for your readers by turning it into charts and graphs. Often, a simple chart or graph can be more effective at explaining a concept than an entire paragraph of text. Tables can be an excellent tool when you have long lists of information you want to share, or when you want to make a head-to-head comparison between what you offer and that of your competitor(s).

Finally, keep everything readable

If the people who are likely to read your white paper are over age 45, be sure your design will be readable. There’s usually no need to go with something as horsey as 14-point text, but think twice before going with anything smaller than 10-point. In most typefaces, 11-point body text works just fine. Another way to enhance readability is to increase the leading (spacing) between lines of text. Using leading that’s at least 25 percent more than type size (for example, 11-on-14) can do wonders.

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