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Quick tip: 3 steps to a stronger title [with example]

The title is the single most important line in your white paper.

A good title gets your paper noticed. A poor title gets it ignored.

That’s why much of the success of a white paper depends on your title.

But many writers struggle with titles. So here’s a step-by-step process that makes writing your title as simple as 1-2-3.

The key is to break your title into three parts, and always include each one:

  1. A main title that touches on the topic in a lively way
  2. A short label for your document
  3. A subtitle that states exactly who the paper is for

Step 1: Write the main title

This part really needs to pop. You want to come up with something memorable or provocative that will stand out in a list.

That way, more readers will click on your title to open or download your paper.

Your main title will depend on which flavor of white paper you’re doing.


scoop of strawberry ice cream

For a numbered list, your title pretty much writes itself.

Always start with a number: “7 proven tips on…”

And use a numeral, don’t spell out the number. A numeral pushes your numbered list to the top.

scoop of chocolate ice cream

For a problem/solution, you have several choices.

You can highlight the problem:
Are your telecom costs out of control?

Or you can describe the benefits of a solution:
Enhance patient safety and reduce costs by fighting SSIs.

Or you can do both at once: “Three critical issues with Modernized E-file (MeF) forms, and how to solve them with an online hub.”

scoop of vanilla ice creamFor a backgrounder, name the product and the features covered by your paper:
Iron-clad security in the Scan-o-matic 3000.”

This is the only flavor of white paper where you want to mention a product name in the title.


Step 2: Write the label

For this part, you need to be careful. You should only call your piece a “white paper” if your audience sees white papers often.

In some sectors, a white paper sounds foreign or academic or like too much work to read. If so, use a friendlier label like “guide” or “briefing” or “special report.”

Step 3: Write the subtitle

Go back to your audience analysis. You did an audience analysis, correct?

The brief description you came up with then fits right in here.

For a quick recap, this includes some demographics about the target reader, a description of their company, and the main worry they’re dealing with.

Then you put all three parts together for a strong result.

redheaded writer at work

Let’s try writing a white paper title

Say you’re writing a white paper for a company like Shopify. One new vertical they’re trying to target is bridal shop owners.

Up until now, a wedding dress was always considered a consumer purchase that required personalized attention and on-site fittings.

But today’s brides are used to buying clothes, shoes, and cosmetics online. Why not their wedding dress too?

Your company has noticed Amazon starting to muscle its way into wedding dresses. But they have a plan: a simple way to help bridal shops set up a website.

That way shops can show off wedding dresses and invite brides in for a viewing, something Amazon simply can’t offer.

Now they just need a white paper to launch the new service.

How to write the three parts of this title

The main title: The problem is the threat of a big e-commerce site stealing sales from local bridal shops. That’s clear and simple.

So for the main title, we can trigger the fear of any small bridal shop owner with a rhetorical question:

  • “Will any customers come to my shop any more?”
  • “Will my sales drop off a cliff?”
  • Or maybe we bring it all down to one person’s decision: “Where will she buy her wedding dress?”

The label: In our example, bridal shop owners don’t see many white papers.

So we can give our document my favorite label: “a special report.”

The subtitle: In the subtitle, tell it like it is.

As for our audience, we don’t care if they’re men or women, young or old. Any owner of a bridal shop could be worried about Amazon.

So our subtitle can just state this directly. There’s no need for puns or cleverness here. Busy business people don’t have much patience for those.

Here’s how all three parts come together

1: Main titleWhere will she buy her wedding dress?
2: Short labelA special report
3: Subtitlefor bridal shop owners worried about Amazon stealing your sales
Mockup cover for white paper with title: Where will she buy her wedding dress?

A cover showing this white paper title

On the cover, ask your designer to use the main title at the top in big type.

And to run the label on the same line as the subtitle in smaller type.

Have them find a stock photo that sums up the problem at a glance.

If they can’t find one, they can generate one with AI or even take their own photo.

What do you think? Isn’t that a punchy title and a good cover?

If you were a bridal shop owner, wouldn’t you grab that to read?

The next step is to circulate this working title—with a mock cover, if you like—and see if anyone on your team can make it even stronger.


For more handy tips, subscribe to 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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