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The White Paper to Create When You Need One Fast

by | Jun 13, 2022 | Collateral, White Papers, Trade Shows, Technology Marketing, Content Marketing | 0 comments

The White Paper to Create When You Need One Fast

What do you do when you need a new white paper in a hurry?

You might need some quick content to promote in your blog or newsletter, or a fresh handout for an upcoming trade show.

Maybe you need to cast doubt on a competitor’s hot new offering or meet a fast-approaching deadline on your publishing calendar.

With one simple solution, you can cover any of these needs quickly and easily. You may already have several already at hand, at least in a preliminary form.

The solution?

A numbered list white paper.

The Fastest, Easiest White Paper to Create

Of all the standard white paper types, numbered lists are the fastest and easiest to create.

Why? Typically, numbered lists are the shortest of the three white paper archetypes. But more importantly, they’re the least complicated.

Unlike a classic problem/solution, a numbered list white paper doesn’t have to make a water-tight case for your offering. Unlike a backgrounder, a numbered list doesn’t need a lot of technical detail. Best of all, since each point in your list is a stand-alone block, you don’t have to weave a continuous narrative, as you do for the other two forms.

A numbered list is simply a numbered set of related points on a given topic. You’ve seen plenty of them. They typically have titles like:

  • 5 Questions to Ask Before Purchasing Your Next Wiring Tester
  • 6 Things Wearable Device Designers Need to Know about Energy Storage
  • 7 Reasons You Should Move Your Network Security to the Cloud
  • 8 Things to Look for in Your Next ALM Suite

And as I mentioned before, you may already have several numbered lists on hand. They’re very popular as blog posts, newsletter content, and trade journal articles. By adding some additional third-party proof, citing sources, and dropping in a couple of examples, you can easily expand one of these articles into a full-fledged white paper.

The Most Versatile White Paper

The numbered list is also the most versatile type of white paper. They can be used effectively for grabbing attention, nurturing leads, and even casting doubt on competitors.

They’re great for gaining publicity for your company because they don’t require the serious tone of a problem/solution or backgrounder white paper. You can take a provocative stance on an issue (7 Things Hackers Know about Your Network That You Don’t), or even a tongue-in-cheek approach (5 Important Network Security Lessons You Should Have Learned in Third Grade). Whatever works best for the topic at hand.

“As your list is picked up, retweeted, and commented on, it can attract a lot of attention that your company never had before,” says Gordon Graham, author of White Papers for Dummies. “You can even use a sarcastic or comedic approach that pokes fun at some sacred cow or unchallenged belief in your market space.” 1

Numbered lists are also effective for lead nurturing. By promoting them in your blog, newsletter, and email marketing campaigns, you can keep your company top of mind with prospects, and remind them why they showed interest in your products or services in the first place. When a prospect is in the arduous process of evaluating vendors, an easily-digested numbered list may get more notice than a heavier white paper.

Finally, a provocative numbered list can be used strategically to cast doubt on your competitors’ claims. If you’re constantly going toe-to-toe with the same adversaries on your prospects’ shortlists, a numbered list white paper with a title like, “7 Common Network Security Apps that Do More Harm than Good,” can help you call attention to the shortcomings of your competitors’ offerings without attacking them by name.

The Most Popular, Easiest to Reuse White Paper

Why are numbered lists so effective in all these roles? Because business readers love them.

A numbered list promises useful information in easily-digested, bite-sized chunks. Busy decision-makers know from your title how many chunks there are, and they can scan the subtitles to see just which items are relevant to them. They know numbered lists are fast, efficient reads. And that makes them easy to promote.

Plus, numbered lists are easy to reuse. Remember what I said earlier about having some already on hand? Well, if you’ve created a new numbered list white paper from scratch, it’s even simpler to reverse the process. A trimmed-down version of your white paper can easily be re-purposed as a newsletter article or blog post, or placed in a trade pub. Trade editors and bloggers love numbered list articles because they get high readership.

When Not to Use a Numbered List White Paper

Even though numbered lists are highly versatile, there are two points in the sales process where they don’t work so well. At the very beginning. And at the very end.

At the beginning of the sales cycle, prospects usually know they have a problem, but they don’t yet fully understand that problem or their choices for solving it. A numbered list of loosely related points is not going to give them the thorough understanding they need. That’s why a classic problem/solution white paper tends to work better for lead generation.

At the end of the purchasing cycle, when prospects are evaluating competing solutions, they need highly detailed technical information. It’s hard to bring that type of information together in a concise numbered list. A backgrounder-type white paper works far better for closing sales.
Remember, the place the numbered list white paper really shines is in the middle of your sales funnel.

How to Create a Numbered List White Paper… Fast

So, how do you put together a numbered list white paper quickly, even if you’re not working from an existing article? Here’s a five-step process:

1. Choose a concept. Based on your target audience and your objective (get attention, nurture leads, cast doubt, etc.), this could be anything from a set of best practices to a list of hidden “gotchas.”

2. Compile a list of candidate points. Do some thinking. Bounce your concept off your team. Maybe hold a brainstorming session. Try to come up with a preliminary list of 15 to 20 points at the most. That’s far more than you’ll need for your finished white paper.

3. Research, review and trim your list. Now do some research on each candidate. Flesh out the strong points and drop the weaker ones. Trim your final list down to 5 to 9 items.

4. Craft the title and subtitle. Once you’ve finalized your list, you’ve got the “number” for your title. Simply attach that number to your concept and refine the wording to craft a title like the examples we’ve seen. Then, if your title doesn’t already cover it, add a subtitle like, “A special report for CSOs,” that positions your white paper for your specific audience.

5. Fill in the blanks. To finish, you just need to revise and polish each numbered point, add examples and illustrations, and craft a call to action. Be sure to cite third-party sources, just as you would in any other white paper.

Take-Away Points

1. When you need to publish a white paper right away, a numbered list is usually the format to choose.

2. The numbered list format is highly versatile. It can be used effectively to:

  • Grab attention
  • Nurture leads
  • Cast doubt on competitors

3. A numbered list is NOT the best choice for:

  • Generating leads
  • Closing sales

4. The following five-step process can help you create a numbered list white paper quickly:

  • Choose a concept
  • Compile a list of candidate points
  • Research, review, and trim your list
  • Craft the title and subtitle
  • Fill in the blanks

Next Steps…

Need help creating a new numbered list white paper to gain publicity for your company, nurture leads or cast a bit of doubt on the competition? Email CopyEngineer at


1 Graham, Gordon, White Papers for Dummies, John Wiley and Sons, 2013.

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