6 Steps for Creating a Stunning White Paper

By Daan Reijnders

When I started creating digital content in 2008, it was a monster job. My creative agency would spend days producing 1 publication. We’d pull in a whole team of designers, developers and marketers just to get a single publication over the finish line.

Like everyone in those days, we relied heavily on Flash to enhance content with animations and other design elements to make our pieces beautiful and interactive.

Today, however, things have changed. Flash is not compatible with our mobile-first, SEO-driven world. Marketing agencies don’t have days to spare — not to mention a ready staff of designers and developers — to devote to a single piece of content.

And yet, engaging content is becoming more important than ever for demand and lead generation.

Specifically, the white paper has become the workhorse of the digital marketing department. Prospects are often eager to share their personal information in exchange for an educational white paper that helps them do their jobs.

The problem is, even prospects who've given you their email address are likely to click away if what you deliver isn't visually stunning.

Because human brains process images 60,000 times faster than text, people naturally pay more attention to text on a screen when it’s accompanied by relevant visual content.


Your audience is bombarded with thousands of content-driven marketing messages every day. To grab attention amid that kind of competition, beautiful goes a long way.

So, where does this leave the T-shaped marketer — the one with a breadth of knowledge that includes content, but who lacks the depth of design and development experience?

Good news: With the right tool, you can make beautiful, interactive white papers that capture leads and guide your prospects deeper into your funnel through compelling calls to action, without the help of professional designers or developers.  

Start with a few basic design tenets, including:

1. Define your objectives.

There are several key questions you should answer before you start conceptualizing your white paper and gathering content.

What’s the goal for this publication? It might be anything from lead generation to customer nurturing to sales support. Either way, having a clear goal from the beginning will keep you on track.

Along with your goal, decide on some metrics beforehand so that you can measure the success of your content. Whether it's number of views you're aiming for, or the number leads that come in, set some targets for yourself in the beginning.

Speaking of leads, more and more people use fake information when filling out forms to access gated content. This can cost you hours when it comes to qualifying your leads. One tip, if your goal is lead generation, is to use social login through a LinkedIn integration to help you reach your targets. This ensures the contact info you receive is always accurate.

2. Define your editorial approach.

Next, determine your target audience and define your editorial approach. Do you have models you can hold up for the team to emulate — or avoid? Consider your style and tone of voice. They should both be consistent with your branding and be appropriate for type of content you are producing.

Defining your target audience will also help you make smart decisions about distribution. How will you get the finished product to the audience you want to reach so you can meet your goal? If you don’t have a mechanism to do that, this is something to focus on before you move on to content creation.

3. Think about design from the beginning.

You should start thinking about design from the moment you start pulling together the outline for your white paper copy — they should go hand-in-hand.


Perhaps a metaphor in your introduction will inspire a memorable visual theme, or a decision to build your white paper around five big ideas will dictate the layout and typography.

These are the kinds of choices you can make before copywriting begins and continue to refine throughout the drafting process.

Remember, great design cannot compensate for poor content. Instead, the look and feel of your white paper should amplify the meaning of its words. Together, copy and design should create a cohesive piece that retains the reader's attention and remains memorable long after they’ve read it.

4. Engage readers through personalization and multimedia.

With interactive white papers, depending on the information you gather from lead forms or connected social profiles, you should aim to personalize white papers as much as possible to speak directly to the reader.

Personalize your white paper by addressing them by name and highlighting different sections of your publication according to their industry, role or other available attributes. Solidify that personal connection through photography, graphics or video created specifically for the white paper.

5. Go easy on your reader's eyes.


Break up text heavy pages, leave room for white space and go easy on the reader’s eyes. Your font size should be 16 point or larger. I prefer 20 for easy reading on screen. You can also use images like charts and graphs to both strengthen your points and break your text up further.

6. Analyze, learn, adjust and repeat.

The beauty of interactive white papers (as opposed to simple PDFs) is that they give you the opportunity to analyze how readers interact with your content.

For example, if people typically read between 250 and 400 words per minute on screen, what can you learn from the amount of time readers spend on each of your pages? Are they reading or skimming? Which links do they open most? If the highest conversion point is at the end of your white paper, how can you boost results by repositioning it to a previous page?

These insights will help you to improve your white paper over time and provide you with valuable learnings for producing future publications. 


The internet is barrelling towards an age of content overload. That means if your white paper doesn't stand out, it's likely to miss out. Stunning visuals, personalization and interactive design elements will help to ensure your content gets the attention it deserves.


See some amazing examples of what interactive white papers look like.

Read about why you will never again publish a white paper as a PDF.

Learn how to create stunning white papers yourself with a free Instant Magazine trial.



Daan Reijnders is the Co-founder and CEO of Instant Magazine, a content management platform that amassed 1000+ clients all over the world in under 3 years. He's a digital marketing veteran with years of experience in managing both SaaS companies and creative agencies.



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