How to Format a White Paper for Design Success

White Paper Format Tips

The best pieces of content marry great writing and topical authority with great design, but many brands get tripped up somewhere in the process. Should you have a writer push out copy first and then hand things off to a whitepaper designer? Or should you have a designer create a template and then let your copywriter populate it with a new topic each time?

Neither. The best pieces of content result from early collaboration between a writer and a designer, not a handoff where design may be an afterthought, and certainly not an instance where compelling copy is forced into a template that might not have been created for it.

This doesn’t have to be as time-intensive as it sounds, though. If a copywriter makes a few conscious choices while producing a new white paper, it can have a profound impact on the project’s design success. We call this kind of white paper format plan writing with design in mind, and coaching your writer to be aware of the following things can be a big help. 

Use structure to clarify your message

Big blocks of paragraphs can be tough on designers and not always be the best way to indicate which ideas belong with one another or which might be sub-headings of a larger point the writer is trying to make. To avoid this, it’s helpful to structure a document kind of like an outline, going the extra mile to convey clear organization and informational hierarchy to your designer, and by extension, your reader.

An easy way to do this is to use headings and subheadings to convey topical clusters, kind of like you’d do with H1s and H2s if you were writing a blog post. Simple things like indents can help to indicate clusters of points where the use of lists might be repetitive. When your designer receives a word document with this kind of organization, it’ll be much easier for them to use heading styles, indents and icons to further clarify informational hierarchy to the reader in your final white paper format.

Highlight What Matters Most

In a perfect world, writers and designers would share the same depth of knowledge about every topic they collaborate on. But white papers, by their nature, often showcase specialized knowledge, and it’s important to remember that a designer, who likely works across multiple industries, might not share your depth of industry knowledge.

With this in mind, you’ll want to be sure to alert your designer to the information you’d really like to stand out for your reader. Try conveying this by using highlights in your document to show key takeaways or adding a note to the document in your word processor. The result will be more relevant call-outs, pull quotes and stats that convey your point even to busy readers who might ultimately skim through sections of your white paper.

Back Up Your Points With Engaging Stats & Graphs

Stats and graphs are extremely helpful when conveying data to your reader, but they also do a lot visually to make your white paper feel authoritative and information-rich. Designers love using them to break up text and convey complex topics more simply.

During your research, if you come across graphs from authoritative sources which back up the points you’re making, include them in your document. Many designers will want to to recreate the graph in your company’s colors to reinforce your brand and improve the flow of your white paper. Similarly, if you have a raw data set you’d like to showcase or a single figure that works well as a standalone stat, include it in your document or place a link to a spreadsheet where you’d envision the graphic will be used.

Include Quotes From Industry Experts

Like stats and graphs, adding expert quotes improve the authoritative look and feel of your document. Aside from being a great form of social proof, they’re extremely practical content for white paper designers and serve as good-looking way to break up text, include a photo of the person being quoted or otherwise add some visual substance to your white paper. 

Organize Content Chunks Into Short Lists

Breaking a concept down into a list is an easy way for the reader to digest and remember it, but they also share the benefit of being visually pleasing in a white paper design and provide a great opportunity for a designer to use on-brand iconography. 

On the contrary, lists can be a designer’s nightmare if they are too long. They can spill over onto multiple pages, making them confusing for the reader to follow, or look awkward if the listed items are drastically different in length. Keeping lists to a maximum of 4-6 items will decrease the likelihood that they’ll be difficult to keep together in the final design. When writing, consider that short lists which include a snippet of clarifying copy work best in white paper format.

Note CTA Placement

When you’re focusing on writing your content, the overall purpose of your white paper can start to get lost. Make sure you keep your final goal in mind: moving leads through your funnel and converting new customers. Note where you’d like CTAs placed in the white paper and be sure to provide your designer the full text of your CTAs. 

To go the extra mile, include the landing page you’d like your CTA linked to and consider that tracking links work well when placed in white papers. Generate unique UTMs for your links so that you’ll always be able to attribute a lead’s action to your content and better judge its value.

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