Selling Research Reports and White Papers: The Best White Paper Format

Discover how to start selling research reports and white papers by following the example of these two publishers who are using them to increase revenue.

selling research reports

How would you like to expand your product line with something that’s based on content you already have, increases your credibility in your niche, offers your customers immediate gratification, and can be used as a member benefit in your web library?

It almost sounds too good to be true, but selling research reports and white papers delivers all that and more. This white paper format – sometimes also known as a special report, management report, research report, handbook or guidebook – offers the opportunity for publishers to write a white paper and go in-depth into a particular topic that’s of more interest to their audience than a two-page article would be in a magazine or newsletter. Buyers can read white papers digitally in an instant and/or download them, and if needed, publishers can keep the content gated to buyers only.


The key to selling research reports and white papers is coming up with a replicable white paper format

As we discussed in this post, “What is a white paper?,” there are key attributes of a common white paper or research report format:

  • PDF file format
  • 8½” x 11” paper size
  • 60–80 pages pages
  • 24,000 to 32,000 words
  • modestly designed with lots of white space
  • professional look and feel
  • generous use of subheads, sidebars and bulleted lists

Additionally, if you are selling research reports and have a web library, or plan to, then you’ll want to create HTML editions that you can include as member benefit. Financial Freedom Federation, publisher of Financial Freedom Magazine, offers a collection of 30+ Premium Reports, which members get access to when they join the all-access Financial Freedom Federation Gold Club. The premium reports are concise, topic-specific, and focused on the how-to and action-oriented investing advice needed to ensure your own financial freedom and security.

For PDF editions, you can get a usable white paper template from many sources, such as, or by downloading a free or inexpensive white paper from a competitor. You can also get free white paper templates at tidyform.

Using plenty of subheads, sidebars, and bulleted lists will make your white paper reader-friendly. Harvard Health Publications from Harvard Medical School includes “FastFacts” and a glossary in their white papers, which help inform as well as allow the reader to skim. If you’re in the business of selling research reports, making the content easy to digest is key.

Harvard gets the ideas for its white papers from readers of their other publications who request more information on certain topics, and from their editorial staff and Harvard Medical School faculty. While the program initially used the newsletter editorial staff to create the white papers, the white papers generate enough revenue to support their own dedicated staff. This staff also updates the white papers regularly, since health information can change rapidly.

Harvard uses multiple marketing channels to sell its white papers, including several million emails per month, social media to drive traffic, and third-party licensing offers. The last we heard many years ago, the most effective methods were inserts in their print newsletters and onsite landing pages, such as the page for The Sensitive Gut. These landing pages include a short sales letter and suggestions for related white papers. And when it comes to the inserts, people who have already paid a high price for a newsletter are already committed to Harvard’s products, and are easy to convert in selling an additional product at the lower price point of $24, $29 or $40 depending on whether the buyer chooses to download a copy, get a print copy, or get both.

Overall, Harvard currently has around 100 active titles, and having created some 125 or more over the years and retiring some as interest faded. They don’t appear to include these health reports with their Harvard Health Online all-access pass, though they do include 140 Health Decision guides, available only to subscribers for their monthly cost of $9.99 per month.

Writing your white papers

The successful white paper format includes a focused topic, such as hip replacement. Create a white paper outline of subtopics – perhaps causes, symptoms and treatment. Now you’re ready to create a table of contents, from which you can start writing. Don’t skip on the research! People are counting on you to provide in-depth information in about 60-80 pages, which is much more than the typical magazine or newsletter article, so you have to know your topic inside and out, and be able to back up your information with data points.

With practice, you’ll find that writing for the white paper format becomes easier. Usually you’ll find that one person on your editorial team will excel at this skill! And I believe it’s an important product line that can increase your revenues with only a modest increase in your editorial workload, at least until this product line really takes off.

Are you selling research reports and white papers? Do you have any tips to add? Let’s discuss in the comments.



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