Close
How to write a white paper (old way vs new way)

How to write a white paper (old way vs new way)

White papers in marketing. Here’s what comes to mind; boring, old school, no one reads them, “do they even work anymore?”

The answer?

We’re not 100% sure. But, we’re ditching the old school, PDF-delivered white paper anyway. I’ll explain why below…

throw white papers

There are statistics by reputable companies showing that white papers are still a leading lead generation and content marketing strategy.

For example…

  • 76% of B2B buyers listed white papers as the material they were most likely to share with colleagues. – DemandGen Report
  • 37% of B2B marketers listed white papers as the most valuable type of inbound marketing content – Statistica

However, we’re skeptical about the long-term effectiveness of white papers being done the traditional way.

Here’s the consumer’s experience:

white paper landing page

Usually, getting access to a white paper requires filling out a long form that asks for way too much information upfront, and then downloading a text-heavy PDF. To top it off, they’re usually poorly designed and look boring as hell to read.

If you’ve requested a white paper recently, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.

Here’s the company’s experience:

google analytics report

Companies invest a ton of time and resources in creating a white paper full of insights, facts, reports that…

  • Many times, barely gets enough downloads to justify their investment in putting it together.
  • Doesn’t get many shares online because PDFs aren’t exactly sharable content
  • Doesn’t give them insight into whether people are reading their content all the way through or not
  • Doesn’t help them better understand their readers or drive leads to take the next step
  • Doesn’t always move the needle on metrics that help show ROI on the company’s investment

I don’t know about you, but to us, that sounds like a bad deal.

But of course, we don’t want to make a judgment based on our biases alone.

That’s why we did some research on the trends of human behavior and the behavior of online shoppers, and discovered a few revealing insights that might make you skeptical as well about the long-term effectiveness of traditional white papers.

  • “The average person loses concentration after 8 seconds” – Time magazine
  • “Ninety-one percent of buyers say they prefer on-demand interactive and visual content” – DemandGen Report
  • “Photos are liked twice as much as text posts and videos are shared 12X more than text-only status updates” – MarketingProfs
  • “Interactive content converts buyers 70% of the time compared to just 36% for passive content.” – Demand Metric Report by ION Interactive
  • “93% of study participants reported that interactive content was effective at educating a buyer audience, while only 70% of passive content users reported the same level of effectiveness” – Demand Metric Report
  • “Organizations that report using interactive content are far ahead in measuring content effectiveness compared to organizations using passive content” – Demand Metric Report

Statistics aside, there are three primary reasons we’ll be switching away from creating traditional, PDF delivered white papers to interactive white papers that are hosted online…

  • We can embed all sorts of rich media and widgets that help us create a better experience for consumers and learn more about our readers
  • We can track everything, such as views, clicks, opt-ins, progression through the content, and conversions on the actions we want readers to take.
  • “Would I read this if I were a consumer?” – When asking ourselves this question when engaging with other brands and downloading their white papers, the answer was almost always, no.

Being that we’re now in the age of short attention spans, video content filling up our feeds and interactive media, here’s the approach we’ll be using when creating our next white paper to make it engaging and not boring for modern audiences…

White papers, the old way:

  • Delivered via PDF
  • Not interactive
  • No tracking of views, consumption, and conversions
  • Can’t be easily shared
  • Uses ugly design or bad typography
  • Missing or has poor illustrations
  • Appears to be boring to a modern audience
  • Is losing its perceived value

White papers, the new way:

  • Hosted online
  • Interactive and collects insights on your readers
  • Tracks views, consumption, and conversions
  • Can be shared easily
  • Are well designed, with great typography
  • Uses visually appealing illustrations that support the content
  • Maintains the attention of a modern audience
  • Retains high-perceived value

Want to get a jump start on creating your first interactive white paper? Then, get our Interactive White Paper Template. It’s easy to customize and free to use!

Now, you can argue that white papers are supposed to be formal, serious, not interactive, and data-heavy in order to be credible, and that’s why most people consider them to be “boring.”

But, we disagree. They’re boring because people make them boring.

In a world with increasingly more distractions pulling at our attention, you can either ignore this trend and continue creating white papers the old, “traditional” way, or you can use a new way that might actually get people to read and engage with your white paper.

If you’re a marketer and the goal of your white paper is to persuade readers and potentially drive leads for your business, then we hope you would choose the latter 🙂

In this guide, you’ll learn how to write white papers that don’t bore the heck out of your readers, and that don’t leave you searching in the dark for stats you can show your team on how people have engaged with your content or the business impact your white paper is responsible for.

Instead, we’ll walk you through how to plan, write, create, and deliver high-quality white papers that…

  • People actually want to read
  • Are interactive and retain your reader’s attention
  • Track conversions and your reader’s engagement
  • Drive measurable results and leads for your business

So, if you’re ready to see how to create white papers that smash your business goals and help you become a better marketer, then let’s dive in…

Table of contents:

What is a white paper?

Nowadays, white papers are being used heavily in various industries. This has resulted in the term “white paper” being used loosely in business to describe lots of different types of long-form content containing multiple pages of organized information on a particular topic.

For example, many companies use the term white paper to describe ebooks, guides, reports, studies and more.

This can be a little confusing for marketers looking to create one for their business. So, for the sake of clarity, let’s define what a white paper actually is…

“A concise report that informs readers about a complex issue often used to convey an organization’s philosophy and persuade potential customers.”

According to Purdue University “Originally, the term white paper was used as shorthand to refer to an official government report, indicating that the document is authoritative and informative in nature. Writers typically use this genre when they argue a specific position or propose a solution to a problem, addressing the audience outside of their organization.”

They add “The purpose of a white paper is to advocate that a certain position is the best way to go or that a certain solution is best for a particular problem. When it is used for commercial purposes, it could influence the decision-making processes of current and prospective customers.”

Today, marketers at companies use white papers as persuasive reports to educate their audience about specific issues, and to explore or promote their solutions.

white paper example

Many companies require that you submit an email address and contact information in order to gain access to their white papers.

So, while white papers have become a popular tool for lead generation, here’s what they’re not…

A product pitch.

Many companies have diluted the value of white papers, by creating the expectation that readers will get a valuable, research-backed report that informs and persuades them based on facts and data. But, instead, the readers get a pitch for the company’s product disguised as an educational resource. This is a bit of a bait and switch.

If you want to create a more product-oriented resource for your audience, we recommend creating ebooks and guides, which can be a better format to use for that use case.

White paper examples (the old way vs the new way)

Now that we have a clearer understanding of what a white paper actually is, let’s take a look at some examples.

White papers, the old way:

As you can see, to get access to these old-school white papers, you’ll need to exchange your contact information for them.

white paper example page

Then, once you do, you’ll see a very plain, formal, and informative report similar to this one.

white paper example

Looks fun to read, right?

Ahem, maybe for robots or Google’s page crawling spiders if it were hosted online. But, not for most humans.

The old way of promoting, formatting and delivering white papers may work in some industries, but not in industries with more modern, attention-drained audiences.

Enter the new way of creating and delivering white papers…

White papers, the new way:


Did you know you can create an interactive white paper just like this using ConvertFlow? Click here to try out this interactive white paper and use this template for free.

White papers have been used in business for years, and even though the strategies and technology marketers use has evolved and changed, the way most companies format and deliver white papers hasn’t.

Some companies have attempted to make white papers cool and interactive by making them flashy and animated, like a slideshow presentation.

This style hasn’t been adopted by many marketers because 1) it’s cheesy 2) it devalues the content and their brand 3) did we already mention that it’s cheesy?

Here’s what is great about this new way of creating and delivering white papers that’s possible using ConvertFlow, the all-in-one platform for converting website visitors:

  • It’s hosted online
  • It delivers the content in an easily consumable, static format (no cheesy animations involved)
  • It can be interactive and can collect insights on your readers
  • It tracks views, progression, and conversions
  • It can be shared easily
  • It’s well designed, with great typography
  • It’s responsive, so it’ll look good on mobile devices and on desktop
  • People can actually enjoy reading your content
  • It can drive readers to take action

The interactive white paper template you can use deliver to your next white paper quickly

If you’d like to use this new way to create your next white paper, and make it interactive, trackable and engaging, then get a head start with this interactive white paper template we created.

white paper template

This template’s white paper format includes:

  • A landing page
  • An about page
  • A table of contents page
  • A title page
  • 3 content page templates (which you can duplicate to format and deliver your content)
  • A quote page
  • A CTA page

Click “See template” to view the fully interactive version of this template.

In the rest of this post, we’ll show you step-by-step how to create a white paper. Using the template shown above, you’ll be able to put all the advice in this post into practice.

Let’s get started.

How to write a white paper in 7 steps

Alright, so you’re going to be writing a white paper, huh? If you’re doing it the new way, this could actually be pretty exciting, and possibly some fun!

Now, if you know a lot about your industry, and want to share your perspective or are sharing a great solution to a problem your customers have, then you might have a lot to say… or you might be experiencing some writer’s block and feel stuck staring at a blank white sheet.

Today, that white sheet is probably in Google Docs or Dropbox, and you might be hoping its either going to fill its self or that the coffee you’re drinking will inspire a moment of genius, and nothing but pure brilliance flows from your finger tips.

At least, that’s what I hope for every time I take a sip of my flat white latte.

Anyhow, regardless of how you feel about writing your white paper, this next step is crucial.

Before you jump into writing, you’ve got some planning to do.

1. Define your goal

First, you need to define what’s the goal of your white paper.

Is it to persuade your readers? Is it to inform? Is it to generate leads for your products or services? Is it to build credibility? Is it to do all of the above?

set marketing goals

The goal of your white paper will determine the format, content, style, and design.

Once you’ve defined your goal, you’ll also want to plan an action readers take to help you measure whether you’re achieving your goal or not.

If your goal is to generate leads, then the action you might want readers to take is to submit a form online where they can either gain access to the white paper or learn more about your products through a demo, online training, etc.

2. Define your audience

Who are you writing for? Ideally, your company or organization already has a clear idea of who your ideal customers are and who your customer’s buyer personas are.

If not, then we highly recommend you check out this guide by HubSpot on how to create an ideal client profile.

customer buyer personas
MailChimp Buyer Personas

Once you know who you’re writing writer, you should list out how your target audience currently thinks about the topic of your white paper.

  • What are their problems and challenges?
  • What is their current understanding and level of awareness of the topic?
  • What solutions have they already tried?
  • Have they already tried solutions similar to yours in the past?
  • What are their concerns and objections to adopting your solution?
  • What are their motivations and end goals?

Knowing the answers to these questions are important so that in your writing, you can meet them where they are, and then guide them to thinking about your solution.

Also, when promoting your white paper, having this context gives you the ability to share benefits or insights with your audience that they’ll learn more about by reading your white paper.

Not only with this help inspire marketing collateral to promote your white paper, but it can also help overcome any doubt your readers have about whether your white paper is worth their attention or not.

3. Develop your outline

Creating an outline for your content is one of the best ways to create a productive workflow for writing your white paper and helps you make sure that every section you write is on topic and delivers value.

There are many ways to structure a white paper. If you’re looking for ideas, here’s 16 ways to structure your white paper by the White Paper Guy.

white paper outline

In most cases, here’s an example of a high-level white paper structure recommended by the team at Trew Marketing:

  • Introduction – Briefly define the topic of the white paper
  • Challenge – Describe the reader’s pain points
  • Overview – Tell what you will discuss in the paper and define key terms you will use
  • Body – Discuss the industry issue, technology, or product feature, including your solution or resolution to the challenge and related benefits; include quantifiable results that are expected, if applicable
  • Call-to-action – What you want your reader to do next; examples include watching a video, visiting specific areas of your website, or requesting a product demo

When putting together your white paper, we recommend going with a more simplified structure by including the challenge and overview sections in your introduction.

This will create a high-level outline with these three sections:

  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Call-to-action

To get you started quickly, here’s a white paper format example using the structure above.

white paper outline template

Click here to see and copy the Google Doc.

4. Research to support your points

Once you’ve outlined your content, next you’ll need to research your topics to support your white paper’s points with facts and data.

white paper research

While in some cases, data and reports you’re able to find with a few Google searches might suffice, if you really want to produce unique and valuable content, it’s best to do your own research to gain insights the industry hasn’t seen yet. Not only does this build credibility and establishes you and your company as an authoritative source, but it also makes it harder for your competitors to copy your content.

Here are a few ideas to help you do original research for your white paper:

  • Survey your audience
  • Collaborate with a company to survey their audience
  • Collaborate with companies that store or have access to unique data to gather reports
  • Interview leaders and subject matter experts in your industry
  • Follow industry news sources
  • Use Data.gov to browse the U.S. Government’s open data
  • Buy research reports from Forrester.com

An idea to keep in mind is that you don’t have to do all of the research by yourself. You can collaborate with companies and organizations that have access to the data, experts, and resources you need to gather interesting insights for your content. Many of them are more than happy to get involved if you’ll give them credit for the insights or reports.

5. Write your content

As mentioned earlier in this post, white papers are meant to be informative or persuasive reports to educate an audience about specific issues, and to explore or promote solutions to those issues.

While other content you might be creating such as blog posts, videos, and presentations might be more informal and conversational, white papers should be more formal and professional in tone.

You should also stick to one topic and explore it deeply, as well as use facts and data to back up your points.

Writing your title

While the content of your white paper might be excellent, ultimately what determines whether people even read it or not, is your title or headline.

The title is what sells your white paper. Not only will your title determine whether people read your content or not, but it will also determine whether your content ranks on search engines.

white paper title

Many marketers and teams can go round and round, spending large amounts of time to choose the right title.

That’s why we recommend doing the following…

  • Get started with a working title Here’s why… it isn’t the final version of your title. However, it’s specific enough to encapsulate the idea of your white paper and guides the creation of your content.
  • Stay accurate with your title The goal of your white paper shouldn’t be to get any and everyone to read it. You only want the people who are most qualified to become customers of your product or service. That’s why you should stay away from click-baity titles, and choose a title that sets expectations for your readers that you can actually fulfill.
  • Write a title that stands out to your audience To write a title that captures your audience’s attention and doesn’t get glanced over, you need to do the following; know who you’re writing for, introduce something new or give an existing topic a twist so that readers feel like they will learn something by reading your white paper, and finally, make sure your title is aligned with your reader’ goals and motivations.

Here are resources we recommend for diving deeper in writing titles:

Writing your introduction

Your reader might have bought into the idea of reading your white paper based on your headline or title, but what really closes the deal and gets readers to follow through with this decision is your introduction.

That’s because, we humans, buy with emotion and justify with logic.

As a person starts diving into your content, the first thing they’ll be thinking is “did I make the right decision to start reading this or is it a waste of my time and not relevant?”. This means they will be looking for insights or promises of what they’ll learn by reading your white paper that help them either justify to continue reading or disqualify your white paper.

That’s why your introduction needs to accomplish these four steps:

  1. Grab the reader’s attention
  2. Present the reason for the existence of your white paper
  3. Explain how your white paper will address the problem that your reader is interested in solving.
  4. Overcome doubts and objections a reader might have about your solution and reading your white paper

If you want to learn more about crafting compelling introductions, we recommend visiting these resources:

Writing your body content

Once your reader makes it past your intro, you’ll know you’ve got them hooked. Now, it’s time to deliver the goods and give the reader what they were promised.

In this section, you should deeply explain each of your white paper’s main points and sub points, and deliver on the promises of your title and introduction.

To make sure your time spent writing this section is productive and that you stay on track, you’ll want to follow your outline and expand on each key point of your white paper.

We recommend having 2-3 sub points for every key point of your content.

For example:

  1. Key point
    1. Sub point
    2. Sub point
    3. Sub point
  2. Key point
    1. Sub point
    2. Sub point
    3. Sub point
  3. Key point
    1. Sub point
    2. Sub point
    3. Sub point

As you explain each point, use the insights, facts, illustrations, and reports you discovered during your research. This will add credibility to your points, and provide more value to the reader. Make sure to give credit to your sources.

You can also include quotes from industry-recognized experts and leaders that help support your content. By doing this, you’ll have also created the opportunity for you to reach out to these experts and let them know you’ve quoted them. Give them a free copy, and if they find your white paper adds value to the industry, they may even share your white paper with their audience or organizations they work with.

Crafting your call-to-action

If you’re creating content to generate leads and customers for your business, then you’ll always want to include a strong call to action. Otherwise, you may have great content, but you’ll struggle to attribute any of the results and growth your business experiences to it.

white paper call to action

Also, from a reader’s perspective, they’ll feel like they were left hanging without a clear action step to take next.

When crafting your call to action, make sure it aligns with the primary marketing or sales goal you set out to achieve with your white paper.

If your goal is to generate leads, then make sure your call to action offers something of value in exchange for the reader’s contact information. This could be a free demo, a free consultation, another valuable content piece, a product trial, etc.

demo cta for white paper
Source: Neon CRM

If your goal is to drive revenue or upsell existing customers, you can craft a call to action that promotes a special offer for your product or service. If you want this call to action to drive results faster, create urgency and scarcity for your offer by limiting the amount of time or the number of customers it will be available for.

special offer cta
Source: dealersunited.com

If you and your team want to be able to measure how your white paper’s call to action is performing, use a tool like ConvertFlow to create, host and deliver your white paper.

Or you can use UTM parameters in the link of your white paper’s call to action that your team will use to track and report on in a reporting tool like Google Analytics.

6. Edit. Then edit some more

Chances are that your first draft won’t be as good as you’d like it to be. You might find misspellings, sections that could be communicated better or more clearly, and lots of other issues. The good news is that editing your writing can take your whiter paper’s content from good to great.

Grammarly
Source: Grammarly

When editing your white paper, here a few things you’ll want to check for…

  • Grammar
  • Spelling
  • Punctuation
  • Wordiness
  • Inconsistent writing style
  • Unclear sentence structures
  • Overused words
  • Infective vocabulary
  • Inappropriate tone or formality level
  • Plagiarism

You’ll also want to make sure all your sources are cited and that you’ve given credit where credit is due.

Luckily for you, there are several great tools online that help you edit your writing faster.

Here are two of our favorites:

7. Design your white paper

Your white paper’s design can significantly increase how your reader perceives the value of your content and can improve their experience of reading it.

White paper design
Source: Dribbble

By using great design to illustrate points and deliver your content, you can take a once considered “boring” topic, and make it much more interesting for your readers.

Here some of our white paper design tips:

  • Use great typography
  • Use your brand’s colors
  • Use illustrations that clearly communicate your points
  • Consider breaking up your content into two columns
  • Have a table of contents page
  • Have a page header that includes your logo
  • Have a footer that includes a small CTA or link to your website

If you have a designer, your final product will be much better or closer to your vision if you invest the time in giving them clear directions on how you would like to illustrate points. As well, if you’d like your white paper to match the look and feel of your brand, then share your brand’s style guide with your designer.

If you haven’t created a style guide yet for your company, here are some resources that can help.

8. Make your white paper interactive and trackable

If you want to make the most of your white paper, you should make it interactive and trackable.


By using ConvertFlow’s visual builder, you can layout the content of your white paper, gate it behind a landing page that collects leads, and can track how far your readers progress through your content.

Here are some other benefits to using ConvertFlow to deliver your white paper:

  • It’s hosted online, delivered quickly through our global CDN
  • It delivers the content in an easily consumable format (no cheesy animations involved)
  • It can be interactive and can collect insights on your readers
  • It tracks views, progression, and conversions
  • It can be shared easily and have share buttons throughout your content
  • It’s well designed, with great typography
  • It’s responsive, so it’ll look good on mobile devices and on desktop
  • People can actually enjoy reading your content
  • It can drive readers to take action

Plus, you can also make it interactive by embedding videos, quizzes, surveys, and any other kind of content or widgets you can embed.

Again, if you want to get a head start, here’s an interactive white paper template you can use deliver your next white paper quickly…

This template’s white paper format includes:

  • A landing page
  • An about page
  • A table of contents page
  • A title page
  • 3 content page templates (which you can duplicate to format and deliver your content)
  • A quote page
  • A CTA page

Click “See template” to view the fully interactive version of this template.

Ready to start writing your white paper?

So there you go, we’ve done our best to guide you through the steps you need to follow to write an effective white paper that’s interactive and is a joy to read. After reading this article, we hope you feel ready and confident about getting started.

To make your work easier, we also hope you find the template we shared useful. If you have any questions, drop a line in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Close