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show people on your white paper cover

Quick Tip: Show people on your white paper covers

The cover of any white paper is extremely valuable real estate.

Don’t waste this space by showing nothing but text.

That approach went out in the 1990s.

Here are three old-fashioned examples.


Symantec SaaS white paper cover

white paper cover Steltor now Oracle  white paper cover text only


What’s wrong with these covers? Well, many things:

  • They’re not engaging
  • They’re not visual, except for the splats of color
  • They’re unreadable shrunk down as thumbnails
  • They don’t say anything about the content inside

All in all, I believe these covers just aren’t earning their keep.

So how about a graphic cover?

Well, that’s better than text-only… but not much.

For any kind of software or service, nothing says “vaporware” more than a dreamy graphic.

Consider these three graphic covers.


white paper cover graphic  white paper cover graphiccover of LEDGIT ICO white paper


Sure, at thumbnail size they look better than text.

But do they say anything about what’s inside the white paper? Could they all be swapped around without making any difference?

To make your cover work, use a stock photo

And not a “smug shot” that shows impossibly good-looking people celebrating with a group handshake.

Find a stock photo that conveys a real person using the real product in a real-world setting.

Check out the covers of these white papers I worked on for different software products.


white paper cover EHR Analytics  white paper cover photo  white paper cover photo


These show real-looking people using real devices in real locations: a PC in an office, a laptop in the field, and a smartphone in a store.

These three people are personas: representatives of ideal users of the software.

So you tell me, looking at these assorted covers, which ones do you think work best?

Which papers would you more likely download and open?


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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 300+ 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 50+ 5-star ratings on Amazon. Won 16 awards from the Society for Technical Communication. And named AWAI 2019 Copywriter of the Year.

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