How to Design a Business White Paper

A well designed white paper invites easy reading and comprehension with an appealing layout and crisp graphics and fonts. It draws readers in visually; then, the copy turns them into prospects or buyers. 

But when producing white papers, companies make one of two errors. They either:

Ignore design and publish a dry, academic-looking paper hurting business reader engagement


Obstruct the paper’s natural flow with too much formatting pizazz and disconnected visuals

White papers should generate leads, nurture prospects and build mind share. To do this, readers must stay engaged in the paper content and be enticed to read top to bottom. Maintaining this interest is hard; especially in an era of bite-sized content and brief attention spans.

By employing classic design principles, marketers can boost a paper’s usefulness and writers can ensure that their content delivers the intended impact.


Five Key White Paper Design Tips:

Add texture to your text. 

A writer’s last draft usually shows up to the designer as a dense body of left-aligned, block-formatted text. Some companies just slap a logo in the footer, add a cover page and publish.

The result is an intimidating wall of text. People are wired to want small, easy wins. If they perceive friction, their fear sensors push back.

Instead, visually break up your copy so readers see a smooth path to proceed. This will keep them engaged. They’ll think, “I’ll just read this short Executive Summary and see how I like it.”

But after that, they’ll have some momentum…and you have them hooked.

Design devices like adequate line spacing, bullets, sidebars, emphasized pull-quotes, and alignment variety work well. These create form hierarchy and add visual cues that transition a reader’s eye from top to bottom.

The copy kaleidoscope. 

Overdoing design screams amateur. Fair or not, a reader will judge the usefulness of your content by the quality of your design. If you are selling to software executives, for example, understand what aesthetics are popular in the industry. In this case, clean, modern design with white space and subtle color shades, may make sense.

Some basic rules of thumb here:

  • Rarely should you have over two colors of text on a page
  • Design elements should complement each other, not compete
  • Mixed graphic types, typefaces and styles (tables vs. pie charts, hand-sketched lettering vs. flat icons, conflicting fonts, etc) should be avoided.

Try two columns. 

Building a two-column layout keeps the page from growing messy or disorganized. With this grid layout, the paper is boosted with visual structure and rhythm. Some studies suggest that 60-70 characters per line is the optimal length for readability. This approach puts a paper inline with that recommendation.

Apply the same motif throughout. 

It is surprising how many papers lack basic consistency page to page. If you are using a blocked footer, or a color band down the side of the page, for example, make sure it is used throughout. Logo placement and other design elements should be predictable. The white paper is a cohesive piece of content, not a mashup of distinct pages.

Harness the appeal of “numbers.” 

White paper readers are drawn to hard, quantifiable facts. Emphasize numbers and important research metrics with design. This doesn’t just mean create numbered lists in the copy, but to create graphics or illustrations around key numbers.

Oversized dollar signs, stats, and figures cause readers to stop and examine. But be sure to use the same colors, blocks and line styles to group your numbers and help readers interpret what content belongs together.

Remember: together, design and excellent copy drive downloads.

Consider the above design elements to make the white paper reading experience pleasurable and strategic. Design should encourage engagement, draw readers to important data and drive top-to-bottom readership. Not only will it enhance the paper, but build the brand behind the paper. 

Also, if you want to hire a writer, be sure to reach out.