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Why a Good Title Makes a White Paper

Do titles really matter? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”

The title is your white paper’s absolute first impression. In it rests success or failure for the words that lie beyond, waiting for a reader. If the title does not encourage someone to read further, the ink that coats your white paper will never be seen.

Why Titles Matter

Everyone is busy and relevance matters. Relevant titles provide insight into your subject and capture the attention of your ideal readers. Below are some thoughts I gathered from well-respected authors on the importance of titles.

Peter Bowerman, author of The Well-Fed Writer, states, “The goal of writing anything is to have it be read. A little elementary? Perhaps, but judging by the lame titles people create, maybe it isn’t so elementary. A title is a lure. It’s the hook of any article, book or white paper. A good one will draw a reader in; a weak one will have that reader turn the page, move on to the next shelf and click the next link.”

John Moore, a marketing guru and author of the blog BrandAutopsy.com, who was also responsible for creating the branding for Whole Foods Market and Starbucks Coffee, says, “Capturing the attention of people is becoming much more difficult. This attention challenge pertains to white paper titles as much as it does to advertising.”

Robert W. Bly, author of numerous books on the art of writing, simply states, “A well-written title creates a desire to obtain and read the white paper.” In Bly’s book, The White Paper Marketing Handbook, he explains, “Whether prospects eagerly send for your white paper or pass it by is determined largely by the title.”

The title becomes even more important if your white paper will be posted in an online resource center, library or white paper directory, because the paper will be competing for attention along with tens, hundreds or thousands of other documents.

Important Title Crafting Tips

Bowerman’s most persuasive tip for writing titles involves making the title a promise, or a result the reader will achieve after reading the white paper. He explains, “This ‘promise’ idea harkens back to the old features and benefits discussion. A promise is a benefit, meaning it’s all about the readers and what’s important to them. It tells them why they should read the book, article or white paper.”

Bowerman adds that readers should immediately understand what your white paper is about, the title should be clever and effective, and you should consider performing a sanity-check of your title with a number of people.

Alternatively, Bly says that writers should hook into a dominant resonant emotion of readers. He explains that appealing to emotion is just as important as intellect and provides the following example of a successful ad he drafted, “Important news for every IT professional who has ever felt like telling an end user, ‘Go to hell!’” In his book, The White Paper Marketing Handbook, Bly also references the “3 U’s” formula for crafting titles. It states that a good title should be ultra-specific, unique and useful to your ideal readers.

Moore adds that titles should respect the reader’s intellect, “For example, mid-level marketers at Fortune 500 companies will immediately know what the acronyms CPM and CRM stand for. There is no need to write Cost Per Thousand or Customer Relationship Marketing in the title.” Moore also mentioned that titles can introduce new terms that are self-explanatory. For example, marketing professionals may not understand the term “conversational capital,” but might be intrigued by a title such as, “Building Strong Brands Using Conversational Capital.”


If a title is the bait, then the subtitle is the hook and line that will draw the reader into your document. “If a good title captures a reader’s attention, then an appropriate subtitle will captivate readers and cause them to spend a few extra moments with the paper,” states Moore.

Subtitles have many advantages. Bly explains one, “A straightforward, descriptive subtitle allows you to use a title that may be dramatic, but not as clear or descriptive.” When you use a descriptive subtitle, you can get more creative with your headline. For example, “Forever Lost: Why Employees Steal Company Property” enables the use of a simple and attention-getting title.

Bowerman states, “Subtitles reinforce, clarify and elaborate on the title, filling in more blanks for the reader.” For example, “Curtailing the Piracy Epidemic: A Case for Hardware Security Keys” accomplishes two objectives. First, it addresses businesses that are losing money due to software piracy and second, it addresses the solution in the subtitle.

Now get down to drafting your killer title. If you need help, be sure to visit the WhitePaperSource Forum – http://www.whitepapersource.com/forum, where you can post your ideas for feedback from some of the world’s leading white paper experts.

About the author: Michael Stelzner is the founder of WhitePaperSource, the author of more than 80 white papers and the author of the popular “How To Write a White Paper.” Michael will be speaking about white papers at the Society for Technical Communication’s national convention in Las Vegas on May 9, 2006 (for details, visit http://www.stc.org/53rdConf/)

DISCUSSION: Discuss this topic at the WhitePaperSource forum.

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