Business Proposal Writing – Writing the Proposal Content
Business proposal writing is one of the more straightforward business writing challenges you’ll ever face – if you follow a process that includes outlining your proposal clearly. Now it’s time to write your content.
If you’ve landed on this page before you had a chance to work through the module on outlining your proposal then I strongly suggest that you go there first – and then return this page to pick up on the business proposal writing process from that point.
In that module you first saw the figure above and you worked through Stage 1 – in this module you will complete Stages 2 & 3 and will end up with a proposal that is fully written and ready to be ‘beautified’. But first things first…
Having developed an outline for your proposal, let’s continue from Stage 2 of the business proposal writing process (see the figure above) and have a clear plan of its content and layout.
You are in the final business proposal writing stages – preparing a proposal which you can be confident will impress your prospect / client. Follow the four-step procedure below to complete the writing of your proposal text around your outline and finish Stage 2.
Step 1: Expand Upon Your Outline Points
Take your section outlines, one section at a time, and begin to expand on the lowest-level points in your outline, assigning a few sentences beneath each of these outline points to explain them.
As you complete each lowest-level point, work your way through that “thread” to the next level up, again writing a few explanatory sentences to explain the point as required. At these early stages, don’t be too concerned about knitting these separate points together.
Continue to work your way up through the outline until eventually you have written explanatory notes on every point and sub-point in your outline. As you proceed through this exercise, consider whether your message might be made any clearer by the use of supporting graphics.
Make notes to yourself, in the outline, to indicate where you feel that illustrations or graphics of any kind would make the point clearer. You can return to build these graphics into your proposal later. Effective business proposal writing is all about doing as much preparation work as you can.
When you have completed this initial part of the business proposal writing exercise, you will have a mass of disjointed text, possibly under an unfeasibly large number of point headings. Your next challenge will be to address the flow of the section’s text, knitting the text together into a coherent message, under a smaller number of suitable summary headings to guide the reader through the logic of the proposal.
The first step is to reduce the number of headings. Continue to Step 2.
Step 2: Revise Your Heading Titles, Reduce Their Numbers
Take each of your highest-level points, one at a time, and consider whether the point is currently expressed in a form of wording with which you are confident the client will identify, and which effectively summarises the points that you will make below. If this is not the case, then change the heading to a better form of wording.
Work down from this point to the next-lowest level. Does this sub-point actually need to appear in your section as a heading unto itself?
A simple rule of thumb: if removing the heading would not interfere with the reader’s understanding of the main point that you are making, then remove it, leaving its explanatory text in place as a separate paragraph.
Too many unnecessary headings may be irritating and distracting for your readers.
Figure 8 shows the ‘Budget Restrictions’ requirement from Section 2 partway through the process of having its sub-points fleshed out with descriptive text.
Figure 8: ‘Budget Restrictions’ Point Fleshed Out
Continue to work your way down through all of the points and sub-points in your section’s outline. Your aim should be to reduce the number of headings and sub-headings in your section to the minimum necessary to ensure that your section effectively communicates its message to your reader.
Having completed Step 2, you have developed your section to the stage where you are confident that you have included all of the necessary points to carry the message you want your section to convey.
You have laid these points and arguments out in a run order which you are confident will logically guide your reader through what you wish to say. You have also built in some summary headings which will help to keep your readers on track as they read through the section.
All that remains in this phase of the business proposal writing process is to ensure that each of the separate points you make under each heading flows easily into the next one, guiding the reader effortlessly through the section.
You do this by using transitions. Continue to Step 3.
Step 3: Build in Transitions
Transitions are words or phrases used to smooth the borders between one idea and another, one statement and another, one section and another.
They include words and phrases like “therefore”, “happily”, “consequently”, “however”, “yet”, “nevertheless”, etc., or can be questions like “but how is this achieved?” or “why is this?”
Every idea or point that you present should lead readers towards the next point, should encourage them to continue to read and follow the line of your argument.
Good transitions also ensure that readers do not make the wrong connection between the various points that you are presenting and they mnake your business proposal writing flow.
Begin to read through your sections. Consider how easily you are drawn from idea to idea, how each idea fits under its heading. You will find many ideas which present themselves as isolated paragraphs nestling under your remaining headings. Consider the message which the heading suggests this section will convey and begin to build transitions between each of the separate ideas reflecting this message.
When you are finished under one heading, be sure that the closing sentence in that sub-section points the reader towards the next section, effectively introducing the next set of ideas that you will present in support of the points that you are trying to make.
Ensure that the various points are in an order which flows logically from one point to the next and that every point that you make, every sentence that you write at this stage in the business proposal writing process, makes some sense in the context of the preceding and following sentences and sections. Create a coherent narrative – a good ‘story’. Good business proposal writing is about making your story as compelling as possible.
Step 4: Create and Integrate Any Required Graphics
Many of your readers will find clear illustrations and graphics much more communicative than vast tracts of text, so look for opportunities to use graphics to support your writing visually.
The best time to consider the use of graphics and illustrations is at this early stage of the business proposal writing process, when you are still fleshing out your proposal. By considering your use of graphics at this stage, you can design your proposal’s layout and content to allow you to make better use of the communicative strength of your graphics.
Return to those points in your outline where you noted that a graphic might aid understanding, and begin to create and integrate these required graphics.
In general, you should adopt the same attitude to graphics in your proposal as you do to text – if the graphic is not absolutely necessary to carry the main message of the section, leave it out. Don’t use graphics simply because you have “some nice illustrations” available.
Avoid using very complex, technical diagrams in the main body of your proposal – these will confuse the average reader. If your graphic is targeted at a more technical reader, or if the graphic material is more “proof” detail, then confine it to the “Appendices” section. Graphics should be clear and easily understood by the “lowest-level” reader you expect will review your proposal – continually consier your reader all through the business proposal writing process.
The points that you are making in your text will largely determine the sort of graphics that will be most effective in any given situation.
What Sort of Graphics Should I Use?
Here are some typical graphic types and suggestions on where they are best used:
- Tables: Use tables where you must handle and display large volumes of quantitative data, with multiple variables. Tables can help greatly in clarifying numeric relationships.
- Text Charts: Use text charts to summarize and introduce multiple topics. The Requirement Maps and Solution Maps discussed in earlier modules are examples of Text Charts.
- Graphs: Different graphs can be used to serve different purposes. Bar charts or pie charts are generally used to demonstrate relative quantities very effectively. Research shows that most readers find bar charts much easier to understand than pie charts.
- Product Line Drawings and Photos: Straightforward pictures of products or objects should be used only where they will make the argument of the section more compelling. Otherwise they can distract from the purpose of the section.
- Flowcharts: Flow charts are extremely effective in illustrating processes and methodologies, and can be a great aid in keeping your reader’s mind focused, particularly if the description is any way lengthy. Flow charts generally use multiple boxes to illustrate progress through a given process over time.
Some General Guidelines For Graphics Use
- Always introduce your diagrams in the text before the reader is presented with them, and try to keep diagrams as close as possible to their reference in the text.
- Use sequential numbering for your diagrams.
- Use clear communicative descriptions of your figures. Where possible use “active” descriptions of figures, e.g. “Figure 1: Profiles International’s performance is demonstrably better than the market average”.
- Make sure that every element of your graphic or illustration is labelled clearly, and ensure that the size of your graphics is adequate to accommodate the level of detail.
With the advent of inexpensive and easy-to-use graphics software packages, business proposal writing has become much easier anyone can now produce attractive high-quality illustrations and graphs (even more popular and widely used applications like Microsoft Word and PowerPoint can now produce very attractive graphics).
The upshot is that it is highly likely that the majority of your competitors will already be taking advantage of these capabilities in their business proposal writing. If you wish to compete you should consider developing a graphics production skill-set in-house.
Stage 3: Read, Revise, Edit Your Proposal
Congratulations! your proposal’s first draft is complete. You are now at Stage 3 in the three-stage busines proposal writing process (see the first figure at the top of this page). Now you can begin to polish this draft into a form which you will feel comfortable releasing to your client.
Research shows that good writers spend about 40 per cent of their total production time on pre-writing, outlining and drafting their work, and the remaining 60 per cent on revising, editing and polishing it.
Revise and edit as many times as you can, until you feel entirely confident that the arguments in each of the sections of your proposal flow smoothly and logically. Achieve this by continually revising your outline until you are satisfied that you have this smooth flow of ideas.
Check your spelling, punctuation and grammar. Think about the competence level of your readers and, bearing this in mind, focus your business proposal writing efforts on readability. Keep revising and editing until you are entirely satisfied that the proposal reads as well as it possibly can.
Where to Now?
Your proposal is now written to a standard which you feel comfortable is capable of winning the target business, and is polished to the extent that you feel comfortable with the idea of releasing the content to your client.
However, business proposal writing is about more than just good writing. The next step to consider before releasing your proposal is the physical presentation of the proposal – laying out your proposal so that it is easy to read, and its appearance conveys to your target readers an air of professionalism.
This is the subject of a module entitled: “Design & Layout”
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