White Paper Length: The Myth of the Two-Page White Paper

White Paper Length: The Myth of the Two-Page White Paper

Part 3 of a 4 part series on white papers – for more information on the subject please visit part 1, part 2, and part 4.

Is There Such a Thing as a Two-Page White Paper?

Is a two-page document the Loch Ness of white papers? Or is it an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp?

In our information-dense society, the trend to abbreviate the message can be seen everywhere: in Twitter’s 140-character tweets, Instagram’s “a picture is worth a thousand words” app, the popularity of listicles over well-reasoned articles, and emojis. No one wants their piece to be met with the dreaded comment “tl;dr” (too long; didn’t read). So in this sea of information, wouldn’t a compact, two-page white paper stand a better chance of holding the attention of its audience?

In a word, no.

Then What is the Optimal White Paper Length?

The goal of a white paper is to provide useful information to aid business or technical decision making for a defined audience. To achieve this, the paper needs to include some “beef.” There is also the matter of the expectations of the reader. When they see the term “white paper,” most readers are expecting to be informed about a topic, saving them the time to research and synthesize information from various sources. If you raise the expectation by calling the document a white paper but delivering only two pages, the reader may be disappointed (and move on to your competitors’ web sites). On the other hand, white papers that are excessively long challenge the attention span of the reader.

So where is the sweet spot of white paper length? We recommend about 8-10 pages, including summary, illustrations, and contact information. There are reasons to deviate from this guideline (such as a highly technical audience that demands even more information), but for most purposes, this is a reasonable white paper length. If you really want to publish a two-pager, call it a business brief or a solution brief or something like that. The key word here is “brief.”

Of course, there are many other important aspects to a white paper besides its length. Please read our other stories on white paper best practices in this blog.

What are your thoughts on white paper length? Have you published two-page white papers? Have they been successful? We welcome your feedback.

For the last 30 years, Hoffman Marketing Communications has created white papers, collateral, and more recently video and multimedia, on complex business issues and technologies.