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How to refresh a white paper

How long can a company use the same white paper?

As long as it works, really.

green forest leavesThere is no “best-before” date on a white paper, no set time when it must be withdrawn from circulation. If a white paper is still generating traffic and pulling leads… if it still addresses a problem that prospects are struggling with, why not keep distributing it?

For instance, I’ve written white papers that some clients are still using happily almost 10 years later.

But once a year, maybe in the spring, it’s a great idea to “refresh” every white paper the company published.

Here are four suggested steps for doing a quick refresh. This won’t take long, but it will extend the effective life span of any white paper.


Note: This article assumes the content of your white paper is still relevant, so it won’t require the attention of a professional writer. This minor “refresh” can then be handled by any careful marketing associate.

Step 1: Update cover and copyright dates

Don’t reissue an older white paper with a new title; this could annoy prospects who downloaded it earlier.

But if the cover says “Special Report 2014” change that to “Special Report, updated for 2015” or simply “Special Report 2015.”

And change “© 2014” to “© 2015” or perhaps “© 2014-2015.”

Step 2: Update all “retrieved on” dates

Consider the following footnote:

Jim Button, “10 Best Practices of Highly Successful Restaurants,” Restaurant Startup and Growth, retrieved April 15, 2014 from

Sometime in the spring of 2015, test the link to make sure the source document is still there.

If so, refresh the download date to something like “retrieved May 31, 2015.”

If the source document is no longer there, you have four choices:

  1. Leave the footnote as is, and live with it.
  2. Find the same document somewhere else and update the footnote.
  3. Drop that footnote and cut the quoted text.
    But if that undermines the effectiveness of your argument, try the next option.
  4. Look for a similar source and rewrite that text.

This fourth option is clearly the most work.

It’s better for you to discover and fix this kind of discrepancy, than for a reader to get frustrated clicking through to a source that isn’t there. When a prospect can’t find a source, they can often lose trust in the company behind the white paper.

Step 3: Update references to specific years

Any phrase that points to a specific year or number of years can easily go out of date. So you’re well advised to search and refresh all these phrases.

For example, with Word you can search for:

  • 20^#^#” to find any year from 2000 on
  • “19^#^#” to find any year in the 1900s
  • “year” to find any phrase such as “last year” or “the next three years”

Scrutinize the context for each date, and then update anything that makes the white paper sound stale.

Of course, you can’t rewrite history, but you can make your wording more precise.

For example, instead of “last year” write “2014.” Instead of “for the next three years” write “until 2018.”

Step 4: Update any customer stories

Over time, people come and go. Companies are sold and merged. Systems are replaced.

And on a positive note, clients sometimes collect more metrics on the benefits of the products they use.

So it can be worth making a quick call to any customer mentioned in a white paper to re-confirm their details. If necessary, add fresh statistics. Revise titles for anyone who’s moved on: Change “CIO” to “then-CIO.” And update company names: Change “EDS” to “EDS (now HP).”

In most cases, you can complete all four steps in less than an hour, then do text touchups to the PDF.

If you can, copyfit your updates into the same number of lines, so the whole layout doesn’t have to shift.

After that, you can consider the white paper “good to go” for another year.


What do you think? Have you ever refreshed a batch of white papers? Do you have any tips to share? Please leave your comments below.

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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 320+ white papers for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from tiny startups to 3M, Google, and Verizon. Wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 60+ 5-star ratings on Amazon. Won 16 awards from the Society for Technical Communication. Named AWAI 2019 Copywriter of the Year.

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  1. Darnell on March 6, 2019 at 11:13 am

    I have an organization requesting me to take new white paper content and paste on to a template that they used for a previous white paper. How much would you charge for a project like this?

    • That White Paper Guy on March 25, 2019 at 11:04 am

      Pasting new content into an existing template is a design job. Most designers use InDesign, so if the template is in that software, any good editorial designer can handle it. If the template is in Word, few professional designers will want to touch it. Depending on the length, your cost would likely be US$1,000 or more. of course, if you go on a site like UpWork, you can get people to work for much less… but you may not be very pleased with what they come up with.

  2. rikin on December 13, 2020 at 11:16 pm

    I have a client asking me to update content that was written in the whitepaper approx. 4 years ago. Lots has changed in the industry since then, namely the pandemic being one of them. How much should I charge for this refresh that will be 30 pages of updating + a couple of interviews?

    • Angie Gallop, Managing Editor at That White Paper Guy on December 14, 2020 at 1:48 pm

      We’ve often (too often!) made the mistake of thinking a white paper update won’t be as much work as creating a draft from scratch. It has *always* turned out to be just as much work.
      Treat the 4-year-old draft as a research source. It points you in the direction your client wants you to go but you need to do a new research job. Give the client a token discount to recognize that you aren’t starting *completely* from scratch but charge a price that is comparable to your full price.

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