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Tell the truth! Show your white paper sources

When you finish a white paper, what’s next?

If you’re like most writers, you send in your invoice, and then take the rest of the day off.

But haven’t you forgotten something?

What about sending your client all the sources you referenced in your white paper?

How about backing up all those claims in your argument with some solid evidence?

I believe this must become a standard practice for white papers to maintain their stature in B2B marketing. Here’s why.

Can you handle the truth?

In 2016, the U.S. went through a terribly divisive election. And in the UK, the Brexit referendum was equally contentious.

Many observers point out that campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic spewed out a continuous stream of exaggerations, fantasies, and old-fashioned lies.


collage of Trump vs Clinton from 2016 election

Some politicians go so far as to insist that the truth doesn’t matter any more. Something just has to “feel” true.

Or, as a writer for Esquire magazine put it:

There no longer is any line between information and disinformation, between empirical fact and magical thinking, between truth and Colbertian “truthiness.”

Truth does matter

But nothing is true just because it “feels” true.

After all, doesn’t it “feel like” the earth is flat? And doesn’t it “feel like” the sun goes around the earth?

But science proved thousands of years ago those feelings aren’t true.

By the same token, effective B2B marketing requires separating facts from feelings. And any false claim, once exposed, can sink a sale.. and ruin the reputation of a vendor.

I’ve never had a client ask me to fabricate sources. And I wouldn’t do it even if they did ask.

But in every workshop I give, someone asks if it’s okay to make up your sources. Guess what I tell them?



photo of hand turning over wooden block letters to change FAKE into FACT

Back to white papers

One reason white papers pay so well is because clients expect you to do your homework, to dig out authoritative sources and to quote them properly.

How can you prove that you really did that?

The best way is to turn over a set of your sources to your client with your draft.

Why should a writer spend extra time doing something your client never asked for? Or, if you are a client, why should you insist on this?

For all these reasons:

  1. The ability to easily spot-check sources adds quality to your white paper.
  2. Having sources on file enables your client to deliver them on request… even if the original webpage is taken down or moved to a different URL.
  3. This shows you’re a professional who’s diligent and confident.
  4. This elevates the level of discourse in your white paper, and in your industry, to rely more on evidence and less on hype.

Use a universal file format: PDF

Enough of the preamble, let’s get on to the how-to.

logo for adobe pdf

No client wants to deal with a hodge-podge of sources in all different file formats:

• Graphics
• PowerPoints
• Screen grabs
• Word
• etc.


Why not make it easy by delivering all your sources as PDFs?

PDF is a universal file format with a free reader for every platform.

Once you have a PDF, you’ll be able to access it for many years.

And as shown in the table, you can easily pull any type of source material into that file format.


SourceHow to save as PDF
Blog postNote exact URL or permalink, save as PDF
Book (printed)Scan source pages to PDF† or use Amazon "Peek Inside" and save screenshots of pages as PDF
E-bookUse ePub Converter (or similar)
Excel, Word or Powerpoint fileSave as PDF
Printed reportScan source pages to PDF†
WebpageSave as PDF or Print to PDF
Written notesScan notes to PDF†

†  If your scanner can’t create PDFs, use the free Windows utility iCopy from to turn your scanner into a photocopier

How to generate PDFs

Here are a couple more tips on how to create PDFs under MacOS or Windows.

From MacOS: Save as PDF or Print to PDF from any application.

From Windows: You can Print to PDF from any application if you own Adobe Acrobat—the paid version, not the free Acrobat Reader.

If you don’t have Acrobat, if you can see it on the web, you can save it as PDF.

Check out the online converter at Just copy in a URL, paste it into the converter, and wait a few seconds for your free PDF.

Numbering PDFs to match footnotes

After you have a complete set of PDFs, you don’t want to deliver them as a jumble. You can make each of your sources easier to find.

One simple way is to match each PDF filename to the right footnote.

I use the | character to separate the title from the publisher in the filename:

#–Title | publisher.pdf

This way, you can name the PDFs for footnotes 1 through 3 like this:

1–Can-You-Handle-the-Truth | CNN.pdf
2–The-scientific-method-still-counts | Economist.pdf
3–ACME-special-report-on-honesty | ACME.pdf

The takeaways

It’s not okay to make up “facts” for a white paper. Instead, you should do your own research. Then provide your client with a complete, organized set of sources.

Otherwise, how can you prove you did the research and quoted it properly?

I believe this is a best practice that all white paper writers should follow. This practice is good for readers, good for clients, and good for writers.

Once you get in the habit, this will become a familiar part of wrapping up every white paper project.


Do you provide sources to your white paper clients? Why or why not? 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. Wilton Blake on November 9, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    Excellent idea. I’ve been delivering sources as a jumbled set of PDFs or links to websites. But I really like the idea of delivering properly organized and named PDFs. I will do that from now on!

  2. Bob Bly on November 9, 2016 at 1:08 pm

    I think all this is overkill. Every fact cited in my copy — white papers, video sales letters, direct mail packages — is sourced in footnotes with URL links to the original material.

    • Gordon Graham on November 9, 2016 at 3:57 pm

      That’s a good start, Bob. But what if the web source gets taken down? That happens all the time as websites get reorganized. With no copy on file, the source is lost. That’s happened to me.

  3. John Cole on November 9, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    How does one apply this principle in the case of a study finding which is widely quoted in other sources, but whose original source, while referenced by those other sources, is impractical or impossible to obtain – a rare, out-of-print technical book or paper, for example, or a commercial research report whose cost exceeds the fee one has charged to write the white paper that will reference it?

  4. Neca on November 9, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    Gordon, I agree that providing source material is important. You made a point that there are often exaggerations, fantasies, and lies that must be checked. I would add it’s also important to check the context of a statement. I noticed your Rush Limbaugh quote, and having listened to him for years, know that quote was taken out of context and he was probably commenting about something or someone else. I’m not making a political argument, just saying that it’s also important to check the context to avoid causing a problem for a client.

    • Gordon Graham on November 19, 2016 at 6:33 am

      Thank you Neca, and I take your point. I removed that graphic about Limbaugh. I did hear him say virtually the same thing on the radio recently, but I couldn’t find the source for that. So out it goes.

  5. […] (Finished your white paper? Now send your client your list of sources.) […]

  6. […] As explained in this article, every declaration or claim in a white paper should be backed up by a pile of evidence. […]

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