The web lets publishers create a wide variety of products more affordably than ever. That is good news, but it carries a downside: we aren’t experts in creating every digital product. The term “white paper” means a lot of things to a lot of different people. When you hear white paper, you may think of a free marketing report. Or, you might think of a paid medical report. The tips that we’ll run through below can apply to either/or when it comes to white paper design.
White Paper Design: Choosing Fonts and Text
Roger C. Parker is an expert on white paper design, he’s even written a white paper on it, called White Paper Design that Sells. Some of the golden tips we found most valuable to those of us designing white papers, had to do specifically with text.
Avoid Text Wraps – “Text wraps occur when graphics are placed in text columns, where they reduce the line length of adjacent text. Text wraps interfere with rhythmic reading, because readers have to adjust their left-to-right eye rhythmic movements.”
Choose an Easy-to-Read Typeface – “Start by choosing a serif typeface, like Times New Roman or Garamond, for the body copy of your white paper. Serif typefaces are significantly easier to read than sans-serif designs like Arial or Helvetica.”
Create an Obvious Visual Hierarchy – “Create a visual hierarchy by using contrasting typeface designs. Try combining sans serif typefaces for headlines…with serif typefaces for body copy. The noticeable differences in typeface design will help your prospects immediately recognize each element of white paper architecture.”
White Paper Design: Choosing a Length
White papers, whether paid or free, could be as many as 60–80 pages in length. Others are much shorter. The best white paper format is long enough to be in-depth and credible on a single topic, like heart disease, or enterprise mobility, while remaining much shorter than a book.
To that point, white paper design consists mostly of text with some imagery added in to illustrate certain points. They’re meant to inform more than entertain, and the focus tends to be on the words being presented.
They are also highly research-driven. They rely on industry data, or the results of internal studies to present each point. This is one of the reasons why white papers are shorter than most bookstore books or even their sometimes more casual eBook counterparts — no fluff, all facts.
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White paper Design: Choosing a Size
Even before the web, white papers were typically printed out on 8″x 11″ paper, which is why we still recommend designing them as such. If your white papers are being sold or given away on the web as a download, it makes even more sense that you’d design for someone’s home or office printer.
White paper Design: Choosing a Topic
In his book Writing White Papers, Michael A. Stelzner says to focus your lens and come to the table with a specific topic in mind. Will you be writing about a broad subject or a narrow one? We recommend doing your keyword research to find out what people are looking for. From there, you can choose a topic that you know people want.
But before you can do this, Stelzner asks, “Are you fishing for whales or guppies? Identify your ideal reader with precision. Pinpoint the intended reader’s industry, job title, age and general disposition. Keep the reader in mind as you write the white paper.” To which we say, keyword research will help here, too. When you’re doing an overview of that keyword research, ask yourself, “Is this someone who would buy my product?” If not, choose one that is searched for by your ideal buyer.
Furthermore, what’s your goal? Will you be selling the white paper, or giving it away? Is your goal to inform the reader, or create a controversy? How technical will the white paper be? Decide the theme of your white paper before you begin writing.