November 2000 - Effective Written
- Effective Writing Tips - e-mail and
- Writing Effective Proposals
- Internet Resources (books, articles,
the lighter side)
Effective written communication takes
time and skill since such a small portion of our communication is contained in the words themselves.
For business purposes, managers must
deliver their message clearly, succinctly and effectively if they want
to be successful. Poorly written messages create confusion or fail
to achieve their intended purpose.
How to write something depends on the
goal to be achieved. In this month's article, we cover several
types of written communication:
- E-mail messages
- Business letters
All of these have a few things in common to be effective.
Summary of the Tips
- Be clear about your goal and
Explain what you want the person receiving
it to do
Explain the benefits for responding as
- Establish credibility and
show respect for the reader
- Choose an appropriate
Each is explained in more detail.
Tip 1: Be clear about your goal and communicate it
First, you must know your goal in writing to someone. What are
you trying to achieve by the communication?
- Do you want someone to do something for you?
- Do you want them to take a specific action in response to your
- Do you want to pass along information where the receiving person
does not need to reply?
- Do you want to discuss a subject and exchange views with someone
State your goal clearly in your
Example: Writing to a stranger when you want them to do something for you.
Here's a bad example. We received this e-mail recently (we have not
corrected the spelling or changed the original punctuation):
Hi I 'm looking for some
information about managing change. What this?How it works?Could you also
give me some examples about that topis and a small texr dealing about
that? Thanks in advance.
Does that message inspire someone to help?
We did not
respond to that one at all.
Here's a good example — someone who explained
clearly what they wanted and their reasons for asking us for something:
Dear Barbara and Michael,
I was looking at your website and
thought you might be interested in submitting an article, 500-700
words, for our new online newsletter, Working Spirit: for those of us
who are unwilling to "leave our souls in the parking lot"
during the work week.
The first issue of Working Spirit
is slated to be delivered to over 10,000 CEOs, managers and HR people
in corporations all over the country in early September. We intend to
introduce principals of spirituality and values-based management
techniques to CEOs, HR people, and other corporate professionals. Suze
Orman is the featured interview for the first issue.
Working Spirit is produced by
Brush Dance, Inc. We are a leading publisher of greeting cards,
journals, calendars, and gift items for the Mind, Body, Spirit
community. Currently, Brush Dance products are sold in 2,000 stores
throughout the United States, including national outlets such as
Barnes & Noble (our cards are the number one seller in Barnes and
Noble nationwide), Bed Bath & Beyond, Whole Foods, Papyrus and
I hope to hear from you soon
regarding the newsletter and article possibilities. Perhaps you'd like
to exchange links as well.
Randy Peyser Editorial Director,
Brush Dance, Inc.
(c) Copyright 2000 Randy Peyser, used with permission
of the author. www.brushdance.com
Tip 2: Explain what you want the person to do
In the bad example, the writer stated what they wanted.
However, the topic "managing change" is so large and the
message so poorly written that it did not inspire us to take any action
at all. It is similar to many requests we get that go
In the good example, the writer clearly states what they would
like us to do — write an article and
respond to the e-mail message.
In addition, they specified the size of an article, the intended
audience and gave information about the timing of their first
issue. That provides more detailed information so we can
better evaluate whether we can do what they ask.
Tip 3: Explain the benefits for responding as
In the bad example, no explanation was given about any benefits to us
In the good example, the writer provided information about the
intended audience of their newsletter and how many people it would
reach. In addition, the subject matter is one that we are
interested in, which the writer clearly referenced. The benefit to
us was implied — a larger audience for a
subject we support.
Tip 4: Establish credibility and show respect
for the reader
In the bad example, no credibility was attempted. Because it
was so poorly written, the writer has no credibility with us. Nor
did they respect our time by sending a message that was already
answered by our website's Frequently Asked Questions
In the good example, the writer provided information about
their job function, the company behind the newsletter, their other
products and services, their audience and their distribution outlets.
He showed respect by taking the time to make sure we were interested
in his subject.
In any business communication, be careful about spelling, grammar and
punctuation. Errors in typing are much more tolerated in e-mail
messages than in business letters, because people usually understand
they are written quickly. However, be aware that many people are
offended by sloppiness so always re-read your message before sending
If you have an e-mail system with automatic spell-checking, it may be
wise to use that feature.
Tip 5: Choose an appropriate communication
E-mail is quickly replacing formal business letters in many
situations because of the faster turn-around time. The
majority of major corporations now have e-mail systems and a growing
percentage of small business also have e-mail.
When writing to strangers, the techniques described above apply
equally to e-mail or to formal business letters.
E-mail may be very informal between people who already have an
established relationship. However, when writing to someone you
don't know, we suggest taking the time to compose your message as you
would a formal business letter for greater effectiveness.
Writing effective proposals requires much more time and effort than
writing a business letter. However, the similarities include:
- Being clear about your goal
- Respecting the reader
- Identifying the benefits of your communication to the reader
- Demonstrating credibility
- Using an appropriate communication method.
Responding to a formal Request for Proposal
If the proposal is in response to a formal RFP, the issuer will often
provide some guidance about specific points that must be included in the
proposal submitted. If they do, follow their suggestions and
That means: if they say they want specific sections, do exactly what is
requested. Submit your proposal organized in the same was as the
RFP and address every single item requested in the RFP.
is to make the proposal evaluators comfortable with your proposal.
When it is organized the same way as the RFP, you have already connected
with the way they have organized the project. That makes their job
The last thing you want is for the proposal evaluator to throw up
their hands because they cannot understand your proposal or because they
don't understand how it meets their requirements.
If you cannot respond to a particular item, include a statement to
that effect rather than just ignoring it.
Include any additional information in an appendix, if that is
proposals are rejected because the writer does
not follow specified guidelines or does not present information in a
clearly organized way.
Other Business Proposals
If the proposal is in response to an RFP without specific guidelines
or simply a request to "submit a proposal," the proposal writer must be careful to include all the information needed to make their
proposal a winner.
General topics to be included:
Project Overview / Executive Summary
This section provides an executive summary of the proposal.
The overview demonstrates an understanding of the scope of the
project and summarizes the details of the proposal succinctly.
The overview should be short - usually no more than 2 pages.
Experience with Similar Projects, Clients
This section describes experience that is relevant to the proposed project.
Proposed Project Tasks
This section describes the tasks that are to be accomplished in the
project. Large project proposals include a time line or Gantt chart.
Proposed Staffing and Schedules
This section describes the people involved and the timing of their
proposed work on the project.
Background of Company
The background section describes the company making the proposal,
their history and other similar projects.
References may be letters or contact information to other clients
who can affirm that you are who you say you are.
Proposed Client Responsibilities
This section describes any specific responsibilities that must be
met by the proposed client.
Billing Rates and Estimated Project Costs
Billing rates and project costs are included in this section.
Confidentiality and Non-Disclosure
Most proposals include a section on confidentiality and
non-disclosure of the contents, since business proposals are usually consider
When making proposals to government
agencies, this section will prevent company proprietary information
from becoming public information.
If you are concerned
about this, you should check with the client about their requirements
for maintaining confidentiality of proposals. Some
public agencies will not honor confidentiality provisions and require
complete disclosure of proposals.
Proposal Effective Date
This section provides the expected starting date and any
restrictions on the term of the proposal. For example, if you
can only guarantee the price and terms for 60 days, you must specify that clearly.
Compliance and/or Certification Information
Include any legal compliance or certification.
Attachments and Enclosures
Include any attachments that do not fit the other sections.
Packaging and Presentation of
Your proposal should be packaged attractively with a cover letter and
table of contents.
The inclusion of color charts or color text in proposals is becoming
more common. If you do use color or fancy enclosures, make sure they
support the main purpose of your proposal.
If the client is a
government agency working on a very low budget, submitting a proposal
that is gold-foil stamped may indicate that you do not understand their
needs or corporate culture.
Remember your goal is to have your proposal understood clearly by the
client and to make them choose you over others. Whatever it takes
to do that is what you want to do, without overwhelming or confusing the
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