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How to write a white paper title that sizzles

Which white paper would YOU sooner read:

how to write a white paper title

If you’re like most people, the title on the left makes your eyes glaze over…while the one on the right has a fighting chance to get your attention.

Here are 11 tips on putting together compelling titles for white papers.

Title tip #1: Understand the title is critical

Think about it: How do most prospective readers find your white paper?

Most likely they do a Google search, or visit a site like or or

In any case, what do they see?

A list of titles, with a snippet of text under each one. Your challenge is to compel prospects to pick your title out of the pack.

Title tip #2: Learn to spot tired titles

A boring title usually contains no active verbs and loads of lengthy buzzwords.

Worst of all, it sounds just like 100 other titles you’ve heard before.

It’s just too generic, too careful, too corporate-sounding, and too packed with SEO buzzwords.

Title tip #3: Consider using a number

This article could be called “11 tips on white paper titles.”

But remember: Some say David Letterman ruined the Top 10 list forever. Everyone knows he only had five or six good ones and the rest were filler.

So don’t be afraid to stop at fewer than 10… or to push it past 10, as we did here.

See this article for more on using the numbered list format (aka “listicle”).

Title tip #4: Take time to find a dynamic name

With so much at stake, don’t just grab the first title anyone suggests.

Play around with some variations of your first idea until you have the punchiest possible name.

Title tip #5: Stress the benefits for readers

Always tell your readers what your information can do for them.

What will they gain from investing their precious time to download and read it?

Title tip #6: Address prospects by job title

That would look like “6 Things Every CIO Must Know about Data Warehousing.”

That makes it harder for any CIO to pass by without pausing and wondering if they know all six things.

Maybe they should check out your white paper; they might learn something.

Title tip #7: Call it what it is

Not everything has to be called a white paper.

Perhaps you should call your document an executive overview, a technology backgrounder, an evaluator’s guide, a special report, or something else entirely.

You can slip this in as a subtitle:

“6 Things Every CIO Must Know about Data Warehousing: an Executive Overview.”

Title tip #8: Never mention a product name

Putting a product name in a white paper title makes it sound like a sales pitch. Period.

So if that’s what you’re writing, don’t try to pass if off as a white paper. Call it a “brochure” or a “product brief.”

And remember that a sales pitch is the last thing most white papers readers want.

The only exception to this rule is a backgrounder or vanilla. For that flavour, you can and should mention the product in the title.

Title tip #9: Knock a tired title down to a subtitle

What if your manager or client hands you a boring title that you must use?

One tactic is to come up with a better title, then knock down the original to the subtitle.

For example, say your manager wants to call a white paper:

Making On-Board Sensors More Effective through Information Infrastructures

What a yawn?!

Then you come up with an intriguing image: The cutesy little lap dog can become an effective watch dog.

Combining these two gives you:

From Lap Dog to Watch Dog: Making On-Board Sensors More Effective through Information Infrastructure

What an improvement… and now you’re both happy.

Title tip #10: Run possible titles past sample readers

After all, someone in your intended audience can judge better than you or I what works for them and their colleagues.

Don’t guess, test.

Title tip #11: Back up your title with lively content

A title is like a promise. Don’t tack a great title on a ho-hum document.

Use your lively title to motivate you to create an exceptionally interesting white paper.

You’ll be way ahead of the crowd when you do.


Want to see more quick tips? Get my free newsletter, White Paper World.

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. Dan on December 10, 2015 at 11:40 am

    Worst advice ever in 2015, coming into 2016. This would be relevant five, maybe three years ago. List-style articles/blog posts/documents/whatever are prevalent and considered the norm now. They make my eyes glaze over. In fact, not only when I see them my eyes glaze over, but I just think “the author can’t think of anything original to say” and then proceeds to list off things that have been “doing the rounds” on the internet.

  2. Gordon Graham on December 10, 2015 at 11:56 am

    Thanks for your opinion, Dan. I do agree that listicles can be over-used. But people click on them because they appeal to today’s time-pressured audiences who want a quick scan, not an in-depth essay. I still believe there’s nothing wrong with a numbered list or two in a library of white papers.

    • Perry on February 8, 2016 at 12:26 pm

      I agree with you Gordon. I love what you’ve written and contrary to what Dan said above, you offer good “food for thought”. I don’t have to use exactly what you offer, and probably shouldn’t. After all, I know my audience. But your piece (all your posts actually) have stimulated some great ideas I’m following through on that will be killer! Thanks for what you’re posting. Keep it up please Gordon!

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