By Roger C. Parker
Design plays an important role in the success of your white papers. Design pre-sells the importance of your words. Before prospects begin reading your white paper, they judge its value by its appearance and your attention to detail.
Here are six frequently encountered white paper design and formatting mistakes to avoid when creating white papers for yourself or your clients.
1. Hard-to-read text
Reading is based on “visual pattern recognition.” Readers don’t “sound out” each word they encounter. Rather, they scan groups of words and translate shapes into meaning. Anything that slows down this process undermines your white paper. Implications:
* Use serif typefaces for body copy. Each character’s serifs, or finishing strokes, contribute to improved word recognition and guide your reader’s eyes from word to word.
* Add extra line spacing. “Automatic,” or default, line spacing is a compromise and rarely the right choice. Extra line spacing improves text recognition and guides your reader’s eyes from left to right.
* Avoid long lines of text. Long lines of text are tiring because they require several left-to-right eye jumps.
2. Lack of visual guidance
At the outset, there are no such things as “readers,” there are only “skimmers.” Prospects initially give each page of your white paper just a passing glance. Your job is to convert skimmers into readers.
If you squint your eyes and look at a white paper, what do you see? If all you see are pages containing areas of gray, your white paper may not attract the readership it deserves.
Cure: divide your white paper’s text into manageable bite-sized chunks, and introduce each chunk (or idea) with an easily noticed subhead. Each subhead “sells” the importance of the following paragraphs. Add impact to subheads by:
* Keeping subheads as short as possible. Use keywords instead of sentences.
* Choosing a contrasting typeface. When using serif typefaces, like Times New Roman, for body copy, choose a sans serif typeface, (i.e., “without serifs”), like Arial, for subheads.
* Adding the right emphasis. Set subheads in bold. Italicized subheads often don’t stand out enough.
* Adding white space above your subheads. This emphasizes the start of a new idea.
3. Disorganized pages
Disorganized pages project a “disorganized mind at work” image. Pages appear disorganized when there is no obvious structure at work. This occurs when text and graphics appear haphazardly placed on the page.
Text wraps, for example, are a dead giveaway to a white paper’s amateur origins. Text wraps appear when graphics or pull-quotes (quotations set in a larger type size), appear within text columns, reducing line lengths. This interferes with the reader’s rhythmic eye movements across the page.
Cure: use a two-column format and limit graphics and short text elements to the left of the body copy.
4. Lack of attention to detail
Tiny mistakes can devalue the importance of your white paper’s content. Typical mistakes, and their cures, include:
* Never add two spaces between sentences. Use your software’s Edit, Replace command to replace every occurrence of two spaces with a single space.
* Avoid unwanted line breaks. Avoid splitting names, dates, and locations across two lines. Use your software program’s non-breaking space command to keep names, dates, and locations together on one line.
* Reduce paragraph spacing. Never press the Enter key twice after a paragraph. This adds too much space. Cure: create a text style that automatically inserts space equal to one and one-half lines of text between paragraphs.
5. Inconsistent formatting
Inconsistent text formatting can undermine your white paper’s intended professional image and credibility. Readers will notice even subtle differences in headline, subhead, and caption typeface, type size, and line spacing, and wonder “Who’s in charge?” or “Did anyone really care?” Cure: Instead of manually formatting each text element, use text styles. Styles save time and result in consistent formatting.
Avoid overusing color, which can interfere with your message and waste your prospect’s ink. Reserve color for occasions when it definitely contributes to your message. Use a limited color palette—or selection of colors—which relates to your—or your client’s—existing visual identity. A single spot of color on a page is more powerful than color used to brighten, or “decorate,” a page.