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spike bullet November 2000 - Effective Written Communication

Effective Writing Tips - e-mail and business letters
Writing Effective Proposals
Internet Resources (books, articles, the lighter side)

color bulletEffective Writing Tips

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:

  1. E-mail messages
  2. Business letters 
  3. Proposals 

All of these have a few things in common to be effective.

Summary of the Tips 

  1. Be clear about your goal and communicate it
  2. Explain what you want the person receiving it to do
  3. Explain the benefits for responding as requested 
  4. Establish credibility and show respect for the reader
  5. Choose an appropriate communication method.  

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 message?
  • 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 else?

State your goal clearly in your message.

Example: Writing to a stranger when you want them to do something for you.

Bad Example

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.

Good Example

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 Borders.

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. 

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 unanswered. 

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 requested 

In the bad example, no explanation was given about any benefits to us for responding. 

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 page.

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 it.  

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 method  

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.

color bulletWriting Effective Proposals

Writing effective proposals requires much more time and effort than writing a business letter.  However, the similarities include:

  1. Being clear about your goal
  2. Respecting the reader
  3. Identifying the benefits of your communication to the reader
  4. Demonstrating credibility
  5. Using an appropriate communication method.

Responding to a formal Request for Proposal (RFP)

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 guidelines strictly.

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.  

Your goal 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 easier.  

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 allowed.  

Many 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 and/or Industry

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.

Client References 

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 proprietary information. 

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

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 client.

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