5 January 2021

White Paper Design Elements, Best Practices and Tips

No one will read a dense 20-page white paper with no headings, charts or images—no matter how valuable and engaging the content is. So make sure you also prioritize great white paper design when publishing your next white paper. 

Find out what you need to keep top of mind for your white paper design so that your audience stays engaged and reads the whole thing. In this post, we’ll cover the following topics:

White paper design: what is it?

White paper design is the art of creating white papers that are visually engaging and easy to navigate. A well-designed white paper uses graphic design and organizational principles to guide readers’ attention and help them process complex information. 

Each aspect of white paper design plays a crucial role in determining a document’s readability. The following elements all have a significant impact on a reader’s experience with your white paper:

  • table of contents
  • structure and hierarchy of text
  • layout of the text on the page
  • typography and color palette
  • use of imagery
  • any accessibility features

Why is a good white paper design so important?

Much like any other type of long-form content, good white paper design practices can make your asset significantly more reader-friendly.

Imagine you opened a white paper, only to find it was poorly formatted and included few visual elements. Perhaps each page was extremely busy, leaving your eye darting around the page, trying to identify the most important elements. Would you be willing to read the entire document—especially if you had no clue what any given page would discuss?

Now, let’s contrast that hypothetical white paper design example with one that includes relevant graphics, plenty of white space, clear headings and a table of contents. Even if both documents offer similar insights, this white paper design is much more inviting. It sets your expectations in advance and even allows you to skip to a relevant section if you like.

The importance of good white paper design cannot be overstated. It is the difference between capturing your audience’s attention versus forcing them to struggle through the pages. Remember that white papers are meant to build your company’s reputation; poor white paper designs leave a poor impression. 

8 white paper design elements you need to include

A high-quality white paper is most successful when its text and design work well together. To that end, white paper designs should always include the following 8 elements to make white papers more engaging and easier to navigate.

1. Table of contents

The table of contents sets readers’ expectations and allows them to quickly locate specific sections or topics of interest. It streamlines the reading experience and helps readers navigate through the document to find the information they need.

2. Introduction

The introduction sets the stage for your white paper, providing readers with an overview of what to expect and why the topic is relevant to them. It should be concise yet compelling, grabbing the reader’s attention and clearly outlining the white paper’s purpose and scope. An engaging introduction establishes credibility and builds anticipation for the content that follows.

3. Headings

Clear and informative headings are key to guiding readers through your white paper and breaking up large blocks of text. Descriptive headings help readers understand the structure of your document. They also improve readability by allowing readers to quickly scan the document and locate the information most relevant to them.

Remember that not all headings are created equal. Your headings should offer a clear sense of what each section covers. They should also strike a balance between offering a meaningful description while still being skimmable.

4. Graphics

Relevant graphics, such as charts, graphs and illustrations, can help readers visualize data and concepts, ultimately aiding comprehension. When used strategically, graphics add depth and context to the main content. Graphics also offer readers’ eyes a brief break and the visual variety can help refocus readers’ attention.

5. Sidebars

Sidebars present an opportunity to highlight key points, additional insights or related resources without interrupting the main content. Like graphics, they offer readers a change in focus, which can help to maintain engagement. When used effectively, sidebars can enrich the reader’s experience and reinforce your white paper’s main points.

6. Conclusion

The conclusion serves as the final takeaway for readers, summarizing key insights and reinforcing the main message. It should provide closure and leave readers with a clear understanding of the implications of the information presented. A well-crafted conclusion ensures that readers come away from the white paper with a sense of satisfaction and understanding.

7. References

White papers are typically built upon a company’s insights and research, but citations help to develop readers’ trust and reinforce the idea that the company is up-to-date on industry trends. 

All references should be properly documented so that readers can verify the presented information. References can either be shared on each relevant page or in a dedicated section at the end of your white paper.

8. White space

White space reduces visual clutter, making it key to improving user experience and readability. Incorporating ample white space throughout your entire white paper creates a sense of balance and harmony, making the document more inviting and easier to navigate.

5 white paper design best practices (plus extra tips)

Whether you’re modifying a design template or creating a white paper design from scratch, it’s a good idea to stick to the following best practices:

5 white paper design best practices

1. Create a visually appealing cover 

Even though your B2B SaaS white paper is digital, an eye-catching cover page is essential to getting your audience’s attention. The cover page is your reader’s first impression of your content, and a compelling white paper design entices them to dive deeper. 

Make sure your graphics and text are on-brand and engaging—and that they work together to give readers a strong sense of what they’ll learn. If your audience can’t tell what your paper is about and why it will benefit them, they’re less likely to take the time to read it. Hook your readers right from the start with an interesting cover that clearly conveys your message. 

2. Make your white paper design easy to navigate

Most readers are strapped for time, so they’ll go directly to the section of your white paper that applies to their pain point or the business decisions they need to make. Including a clearly labeled, clickable table of contents at the beginning of your white paper allows readers to easily navigate to the most relevant sections. 

Throughout your white paper, use different fonts, colors and sizes of headings to clearly differentiate between sections. These visual guide posts keep readers engaged and moving forward through the content. 

Page numbers should stand out and be easy to find. You want people to reference your white paper while making decisions. Allowing them to share information easily will increase the likelihood of finding and disseminating key information. 

3. Use high quality photos

Find non-generic, high-resolution photos to sprinkle throughout your white paper design. Use pictures that show faces and resemble the people you want to read your B2B SaaS white paper. If you’re targeting C-suite executives, for example, find photos that showcase business meetings. Your images should reflect your industry, as well as appeal to potential customers. 

If you can, incorporate photos of your product into your white paper design. Product photos reinforce how and why people use your product. In addition, screenshots of digital products give your audience a sneak peek at what they can expect. 

4. Create visual elements to make information memorable

Make use of highlighting and callout boxes to bring attention to the most important parts of your white paper, so that even those readers who are just skimming the document will understand the main ideas and what steps to take next. For a series of important points, you can create icons specific to your white paper design as a way to flag things a reader should pay attention to. 

Another way to bring each page to life is by using background images and colors, which create interest and provide continuity throughout your B2B SaaS white paper. 

Since the eye is drawn to images and graphics before text, it’s a good idea to complement or replace written statistics with graphs and charts that will grab your audience’s attention. An infographic is also a great way to break up large blocks of text and dense statistics. These visual cues make it easier to remember the information in your white paper.  

5. Use calls to action strategically throughout your white paper

Give your audience opportunities to engage further with your business by providing calls to action (CTAs) in relevant places in your B2B SaaS white paper. For example, any time you present your product as a solution to a problem, consider including a CTA to encourage the reader to find out more, get on a mailing list, schedule a demo or talk to a sales rep.

At the end of your white paper, include a boilerplate about your company, as well as a strong CTA to get in touch with. You can also use the opportunity to pitch your company in a more overt way than you would within the body of the white paper. 

Extra white paper design tips

When you begin to plan your white paper design:

  • Keep your audience in mind: your design should always be informed by your audience’s preferences (37% of B2B buyers find that content marketing assets are “not always informative or entertaining” and we want to avoid this)

  • Incorporate your branding: by adding your branding to your white paper design, you reinforce the idea that your company is responsible for the insights it contains

When you format the body text:

  • Use large font and a highly readable typeface: decorative fonts may be used for headings and accents, but your white paper’s main text should be large and easy to read to minimize reader strain

  • Stick with a single-column layout: it can be difficult to read a multi-column PDF on a mobile device. While it is easy to assume that white papers will only be read on larger screens, 59% of web traffic comes from mobile devices, making it wise to optimize for mobile just in case

  • Look for stray single lines at the top or bottom of a page: make sure that any paragraphs that are split across multiple pages include at least two lines on each page, as single lines can look awkward

  • Turn off auto-hyphenation: avoid auto-hyphenation features, as they can add hyphens in unnatural places 

When you format the document as a whole:

  • Break up long blocks of text: use graphics, sidebars and other standalone side elements (such as emphasized quotes) to break up your main text

  • Add plenty of white space: incorporate white space whenever possible to prevent your white paper from feeling too cluttered or overwhelming

  • Use high-contrast text colors: ensure that all text contrasts its background, as this makes the text more readable and reduces eye strain

  • Highlight key metrics and quotes: infographics and standalone side elements should be used to emphasize key information, especially since they stand out more than body text when readers skim through the document

  • Ensure that all formatting is consistent: check that each type of text (for example, plain text, headings, quotes, etc.) are formatted consistently throughout the whole document

  • Test that your layout is compatible with accessibility tools, including document readers: accessible white paper designs ensure that everyone can read your white paper

4 steps to a knock-out white paper design

Your white paper design should be at the forefront of your mind from the moment you begin to plan your white paper—long before the first word is typed. 

In this section, we’ll walk you through the process of creating a white paper design, from topic development to creating the layout. For an in-depth look at white paper creation, you can also check out our comprehensive guide on how to write a white paper.

4 steps to a knock-out white paper design

1. Choose and develop your white paper topic

To begin, carefully select and develop your white paper topic with your audience in mind. Consider how the topic will benefit your readers and what insights you can offer to address their needs or challenges. 

Conduct thorough research to learn more about your topic. As you research, you may find that your topic evolves slightly—this is completely okay. The important thing is to gather as many details which will aid your audience and help you to develop your arguments.

While you develop your topic, make note of any points that may be especially helpful to readers. This information will be useful when you later develop your white paper’s standalone design elements.

2. Outline your white paper

Your white paper’s outline is where the design process truly begins to take shape. 

First, you’ll need to determine which sections to include. We highly recommend adding all of the sections discussed above in “8 white paper design elements you need to include”. However, some white papers may need additional sections. For example, if your white paper is based on original research, you may need to include a methodology section.

As you outline, keep your target audience in mind. Remember, the white paper should support their needs. Avoid skimming over topics that your audience may not be familiar with. Similarly, make note of any points that may require repetition or extra focus to understand. Later, you can add more design elements in those spots to reinforce points and catch readers’ attention.

3. Write your white paper’s text

With your outline in place, proceed to write the text of your white paper. Keep your audience at the forefront of your mind, focusing on what they need to know and how you can guide their understanding. 

As you write, certain quotes or metrics may jump out as especially important. If so, add them to your list of potential opportunities to incorporate standalone design elements.

4. Design your white paper

Once the text of your white paper is complete, it’s time to focus on the white paper design. Review the text to identify any opportunities to incorporate graphics, charts or standalone quotes you may have missed earlier. Then, play around with incorporating these elements into each section that you identified so far. Your final design may not include every single element, but it is nevertheless helpful to see how they might fit together.

As you continue to edit your design, follow the guidelines outlined in the “White paper design best practices” section earlier. Also, pay particular attention to areas with dense blocks of text, considering how you can add visual elements to improve readability and engagement. Your final product should ultimately be well-balanced, offering the reader’s eye a dynamic layout with opportunities to rest.

Top 5 white paper design services

Need help with a white paper design? You have a couple of options.

You can find plenty of white paper design examples and white paper templates online. Many of the templates even offer drag-and-drop functionality, making them extremely user-friendly. In other words, you don’t need to worry about your graphic design skills holding you back. 

You can also hire a company that offers a white paper design service. Below, we’ve outlined 5 options. 

Chittlesoft

Chittlesoft offers a white paper design service

Chittlesoft is a content writing and design agency. It specializes in the IT industry, so its team is familiar with creating layouts that convey technical information without overwhelming readers.

Services offered:

Layout and design

  • White papers
  • Infographics
  • Videos
  • Websites
  • Emails
  • Logos
  • Slide decks

Writing

  • White papers
  • Web copy
  • Blog posts
  • Emails
  • Newsletters
  • Social media posts and captions
  • Video scripts

Quick facts:

Pricing: available upon request

Form + Function Agency

Form + Function Agency offers a white paper design service

Form + Function Agency is an SEO and design agency that specializes in the tech and healthcare industries. It offers a wide range of services and can even help develop your brand identity alongside your white paper design if needed.

Services offered:

Design

  • White papers
  • eBooks
  • Web design
  • UX
  • Brand identity

SEO

  • Keyword research
  • Copywriting
  • Website refresh
  • Site audit
  • Link building

Quick facts:

Pricing: available upon request

X-Verity

X-Verity offers a white paper design service

X-Verity is a design agency. It offers several white paper design packages, so you can pick the option that best suits your needs.

Services offered:

Design and layout

  • White papers
  • Infographics
  • Logos
  • Flyers and brochures
  • Business cards
  • UI/UX
  • Web design

Quick facts:

Pricing: $120-290 for a white paper design

Brafton

Brafton offers a white paper design service

Brafton is a content marketing agency that offers extensive content marketing and strategy services. The agency both writes and designs white papers.

Services offered:

Content marketing

  • White paper writing and design
  • Infographics
  • eBooks
  • Blog posts
  • Video production

Strategy

  • SEO
  • Social media
  • YouTube
  • Email marketing
  • PPC advertisements

Quick facts:

  • Company size: 83 employees
  • Headquarters: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  • Notable clients: Webex, Rosterfy, ViewSonic

Pricing: available upon request

Infobrandz

Infobrandz offers a white paper design service

Infobrandz is a graphic design agency. Its white paper design page showcases a wide range of white paper design examples, making it easier to determine if the agency is a good fit.

Services offered:

Design and layout

  • White papers
  • Infographics
  • eBooks
  • Display banners
  • Videos
  • Slide decks

Quick facts:

Pricing: available upon request

Strong white paper designs make a big difference

It takes a lot of work to create a good white paper design, but your design efforts can make a big impact. High-quality designs engage readers, help to develop your brand’s reputation and reinforce the insights that your white paper presents. By incorporating white paper design best practices into your white paper, you are ultimately left with a stronger final product. 

Need help writing your next white paper?

We’re up for the task! Our content writers are experts in writing B2B SaaS white papers. Check out our white paper writing services for more information.

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Emily Amos

As the founder of Uplift Content, Emily leads her team in creating done-for-you case studies, ebooks and blog posts for high-growth SaaS companies like ClickUp, Calendly and WalkMe. Connect with Emily on Linkedin

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