Why Your Whitepapers Have Your Readers Seeing Red

I suppose you’re probably here because your boss charged you with writing a whitepaper.

“It’s a great opportunity,” he says.

“It will make our company look good,” he proclaims.

And he’s right.

Maybe it’s for a marketing campaign or maybe it’s not.

But let me tell you this.

Take it from your friendly neighborhood copywriter. I read countless whitepapers every week. It is my job to take your hard work and summarize it in a way that makes people want to read it.

But it’s a waste of your time and mine if that paper is not worth reading.

And there are a lot of whitepapers out there (believe me, I read so many of them) that people might download, glance at and never read. There’s no value in that. It doesn’t make the recipient of my well-crafted copy want to buy your product. And if there’s no value, then there is no reason to spend money on any sort of marketing tactic involving that whitepaper.

That’s right, I’m mad about it.  And if he knew, your boss would be too.

There are all these people with all of this worthwhile data and knowledge to share and it’s hidden behind bad design and bland writing.   

Which brings me to my biggest pet peeve.



There is a time and place for jargon and its place is actually in whitepapers. Industry-related jargon is something that is incredibly good for making someone feel included while immersing themselves in your research. But it shouldn’t be dripping from every line, oozing from every header. There is something off-putting, even sickening, about drinking in words filled with too much jargon. In many cases, you can get the exact same point across without using some sort of specialized word for it. So limit your use. It might be an ego boost for you. But while you get a little rush of pleasure every time you use one of these words, everyone else’s eyes are glazing over.

This is true no matter the industry. Jargon is not relatable, which is always what you want when you are addressing your peers. It also excludes people who might be interested in your paper, but do not necessarily speak the industry’s language.

Have a conversation

Going off that last point, it is important to speak in a language that your peers will understand. Try to imagine that you are speaking with a coworker in your department. You aren’t going to be using huge words, you are speaking conversationally.

Try to imagine explaining to your office mate what your article is about, then use those words (minus any profanity and slang). That’s what makes a whitepaper readable. No one cares how many big words you know or how prestigious your education was. They just want to absorb the knowledge you are trying to share. So forget all those SAT vocabulary words and stick to the basics. It’s fine to play with your words a little, in fact, that is definitely encouraged. But keep it conversational and you’ll see a lot more people actually reading your paper.


Play with words

On that same note, make your whitepapers fun. I know, I know, whitepapers and fun typically don’t end up in the same sentence. A lot of the people who write whitepapers don’t consider themselves writers, but it doesn’t take a background in writing to produce a decent one.

Use literary devices, play with prose (alliteration). All of those things they covered in your college English classes are there for a reason. Again, moderation is key. Occasional use of literary devices will liven up your writing, keeping your readers on their toes.

The industry that does this the best is marketing, for obvious reasons. These writers are often the authors of books, email copy and blogs.  They have already learned how to make their writing more approachable.

This isn’t the only path though.  I learned how to write well by reading. Read literature that already exists surrounding the report you are working. Figure out what is working, what you like reading most and what others like to read, then try that in your writing.



There is another issue with so many whitepapers. They’re so… white. You know how uncomfortable you feel in a sparsely furnished room with fluorescent lights and white walls? That’s sort of how your whitepaper of nothing but text makes a reader feel.

It looks boring and so they figure that it is boring. And then they don’t read it. That’s why some of the most engaging whitepapers out there are ones that include the use of *gasp* color and infographics.

Even if your writing is mediocre, quality graphics and use of color are much more likely to make people spend more time looking at your whitepaper. Change the sizes of fonts and pullout important bits of information from the main body text. Break up the wall of text.


 The Grossly Obvious Sales Pitch

Sometimes whitepapers are solely written for marketing purposes. And that’s fine, as long as it doesn’t actually read like that’s the only reason. I have a colleague who rails against many whitepapers, calling them nothing more than a “thinly veiled sales pitch.” He’s not wrong.

Even if your paper is supposed to be a sales pitch, make sure to make it more than just that. When you send just a sales pitch with a couple statistics floating around it, people can tell. If you’ve done the research, then you can do the whitepaper.


When it comes to whitepapers, their marketing value is only as good as the asset. If you produce a report that isn’t engaging, don’t expect it to work as a marketing tool. But produce a good one and expect to see value from it time and time again.



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[…] makes white papers, but not many create good whitepapers. I wrote a post about what makes a white paper bad and how to fix it. Whitepapers are a great chance to create content for those in the middle of your funnel. They are […]

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