proposal writing tips

The stylistics of a convincing business proposal

November 13, 2014

A persuasive business proposal depends on the tone and language just as much as it does on its content and structure. Even though the writing style of business proposals can vary depending on its purpose and target audience, there are some general stylistic guidelines that apply to all written business communication.

It is important to keep in mind that business style is not the same as academic writing style. Educated professionals often fall into trap of writing a proposal using elaborate metaphors, long sentences, and obscure vocabulary, with the hope of impressing their clients. The goal of a business proposal is to sell something to the client, and not to appeal to a select group of readers with a refined taste in the art of the written word. What makes a business proposal effective is a clear and concise style, and language that gets the point across without any ambiguity. Sentence structures should be plain, sentences short and stripped of all unnecessary words. The same goes for paragraphs – they should not exceed the length of maximum three sentences.

The tone of a business proposal refers to the general feeling or impression that the proposal leaves on its audience. How formal the tone will be largely depends on the type of document, business culture of the company, and the nature of the relationship with the client.  Still, there are some general rules to follow when it comes to the tone. Even if you have all the facts and figures right, the wrong tone can detract from the good sides of the proposal. All the relevant information in a business plan must be conveyed in an accessible and insightful way.  You want to organize the information in a manner that shows that you put your client’s needs first, instead of overemphasizing your own agenda. To achieve this, it is always a good idea to picture yourself in your client’s shoes and figure out what kind of tone would they appreciate the most.

When it comes to the choice of grammatical person, this normally depends on the target audience of the proposal. Using first or second grammatical person is usually indicative of a more informal style, and should be reserved when writing for clients with whom you already have a well-established relationship or if the client is a single person, not a corporation. For companies and corporations, and clients you haven’t worked with in the past, it is best to use third grammatical person, more appropriate for formal style of writing.

Finally, always check your proposal for any discriminatory language, be it gender, age, sex, ethnicity, or disability. No matter what your stance on political correctness might be, you should always adhere to the ground rules of writing business proposals which means avoiding all potentially discriminatory language. Using slang or making sarcastic jokes is not only considered highly unprofessional, but can be offensive to your prospective clients. Set aside enough time to proof-read your proposal several times since even a single word that could be considered derogatory can ruin your chances of landing the job.

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