The Tone and Style You Should Use in a Business Proposal

August 17, 2016

Communication is the backbone of every business. It functions as both the content and channel for decisions, ideas, solutions and plans to be passed from one person to another. For this reason, clear and concise communication should come easy in the business world. One type of communication that is used every day in the corporate scene is business proposal writing (

Proposals are about persuasion, but they are also about communicating that persuasive message. This is why it’s very crucial to understand the basics of language- tone and style- so you can tailor your message to reach your target reader. Before we continue, let’s first talk about the difference between tone and style.

Tone and Style in Business Proposal Writing

Style and tone in proposal writing refer to the author’s general approach towards a reader and the message being communicated. More specifically, style is the way in which something is written as opposed to the meaning of the content. This includes the typeface, font size, graphics and spacing. On the other hand, tone refers to the impression or attitude you’re trying to convey in the message.

The overall tone of a written document affects the reader the same way the tone of voice has an impact on a listener in face to face exchanges. As such, it’s very important to consider the style and tone of your message when writing a business proposal. Ultimately, the tone and style of the proposal is a true reflection of your company and it does affect how the prospect will perceive the message ( Business people should, therefore, understand the following before they start writing:

Be Genuine and Sincere

It’s a great pity that many otherwise excellent proposals flop. A common and apparent theme in the vast majority of rejections originates from the golden rule of sincerity. The writers of these botched proposals didn’t make their first impressions count, at least not in their favor. And one important question that wasn’t probably asked was: Do I come out as a sincere person?

While you naturally want to appeal to your client, don’t try to be somebody else. A client can easily tell if you're authentic or not. The best way to build goodwill for yourself is to use a polite and sincere tone. Consider every word and phrase in your proposal and how your prospect will likely receive it. If you’re sincere from the very beginning, clients will be more willing to work with you, regardless of other setbacks (

Underscore the Benefits to the Client

When writing a proposal, write from the clients’ perspective. Instead of writing from a standpoint that shows how the client can help you, write in a way that shows how you can help the client. The prospect will often read your proposal wondering, 'What’s in it for me?’ It is your responsibility to tailor your proposal accordingly.

In particular, your tone and style should have one primary message. And that’s how you intend to solve their problem. In other words, make it very clear through your writing what the project you have in mind is going to look like from beginning to end. Walk them through a day-in-the-life picture so he can get a feeling of how it’s going to be like working with you. A good tone and style will help you achieve this effortlessly (

Express a High Level of Confidence

While the degree of confidence may seem inconsequential, it does, in fact, play a momentous role. On a sub-conscious level, it tells the reader more about you and your company. Confidence helps set the tone. Clients are more inclined to award contracts to individuals who appear confident and are sure of what they’re offering.

You can only come out as confident if you are prepared and knowledgeable about the client’s needs and the message you wish to convey. The manner in which you write should also assume a confident style and tone. As you begin to write, you want the prospect to award you a contract. To do this, you must write confidently (

Use Appropriate Emphasis

You can help the client understand the ideas you consider most critical by using emphasis. There are various strategies to emphasize on an idea. First, you can place the main idea in a short sentence then provide further explanation in the subordinate sentences. Secondly, you can introduce the main idea in the first paragraph then offer more information in the middle sections.

Additionally, use an active voice for the majority of sentences. Overuse of passive voice or long run-on sentences can make the client lose interest or become confused. Sentences written in an active voice are stronger and more pronounced than those written in passive voice. Of course, there are situations when passive voice is necessary. However, you should be careful so that your proposal doesn’t turn out to be overly ambiguous (

Follow the Basic Rules of Writing

There are elementary guidelines that apply regardless of what you’re writing. In the case of the proposal, the rules of writing apply as well. Break your ideas into small paragraphs of about three sentences. Use headings and subheadings to make them even more readable. No one wants to read a massive block of text, especially if they’re reading from a computer.

With regards to the choice of grammatical person, consider the target audience of your writing. Usually, first and second person is indicative of an informal style and should be reserved for clients with whom you have a close relationship with. For new clients, it’s best if you use third person, a formal style of writing (

Use Proper Fonts

It should be evident that the type of font used in a business proposal will be very different from that used in an informal setting. The subliminal message should be clear and concise. It should reflect the seriousness of the proposal. It should speak for itself. If you’re going to submit the proposal as a printed document, use a single font throughout. Times New Roman works really well.

If you’re going to submit the proposal electronically, the body of the proposal should contain a single font while the headings should differ a little bit. Many people agree that Verdana or Arial Black fonts give your proposal a professional and clean look. Avoid loud, hand-written and busy fonts. By busy, we are referring to overly elaborate fonts in different sizes, colors or bolding (

Avoid Discriminatory Language

Always check your writing for any signs of discriminatory language, be it sex, gender, ethnicity or disability. Discriminatory language can tactlessly come between your message and your reader. Regardless of your political stance, you should adhere to the rules of proposal writing, which means avoiding any discriminatory language.

Using slang or making jokes that appear sarcastic is considered highly unprofessional and can be offensive to the client. Take your time to carefully read through the whole proposal since a single statement could ruin your chances of ever landing the contract. A good example in this point is using neutral job titles such as chairperson instead of chairman (

Show That You Understand the Client

One of the most important things to consider when writing a business proposal is to ask yourself if you fully understand the client. You need to have previously learned about your client’s pains, problems and requirements. What challenge are they trying to solve? Should you appeal to logic or emotion? Commonly, it’s a combination of both.

Your tone and style will be more effective if you tailor the proposal to address the client and their needs. For example, if your client is currently struggling with providing great customer experience, your writing should show how you’re going to increase customer satisfaction. If your client is struggling with online customer engagement, your writing should explain how you intend to multiply engagement levels (


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