facebook google plus twitter
Webucator's Free Business Writing Tutorial

Lesson: Writing Effective and Persuasive Business Proposals

Welcome to our free Business Writing tutorial. This tutorial is based on Webucator's Business Writing Training course.

In this lesson, we will explore both originations of business proposals and determine how to approach the proposal in a professional way designed to ensure the outcomes you want.

Lesson Goals

  • Learn how to determine the desired outcome.
  • Learn how to write an executive summary.
  • Learn what informative and persuasive techniques to use.
  • Learn how to use visuals.

Determining the Desired Outcome

The business document is produced to elicit certain outcomes or responses from the reader. It will also justify the request for commitment of resources and provide the reader with the focus of the project as well as guidelines for the design and delivery of the final project.

Following are some guidelines to help make sure your business documents result in the outcomes you desire.

  1. Content is clearly focused and the outcomes are described in business-oriented terms. A professionally written outcome will have a measurable element, a timeline or deadline element, and a realistic goal stated within it.
  2. The content indicates who will benefit. The stakeholders and financial backers of the proposal will be looking for this information. If there is no benefit to the stakeholders or funders of the project, they are not likely to approve it.
  3. The outcomes, or goals, are measurable and will indicate the extent of improvement in performance levels, whether financial or otherwise.
  4. Each proposal should have a limited number of outcomes in order to remain focused on the importance of them.
  5. The solutions proposed in the document must be focused on the outcomes. That may sound simplistic, but it is easy to get off track and start proposing solutions that are not related to the objectives of the proposal.
  6. Finally, as in any goal-setting process, the outcomes must be achievable and realistic.

Check for Understanding: Desired Outcomes

Duration: 10 to 15 minutes.

In this exercise, you will consider a proposal for an idea you wish to present. Write one or two outcomes for that proposal and respond to the following multiple choice questions:

  1. Who will look for the benefits of the proposal?
    1. Shareholders
    2. The CEO
    3. Stakeholders
    4. Financial backers
    5. None of the above
  2. Of the following statements, which one(s) are measurable?
    1. This proposal will allow us to increase sales by 57%.
    2. Implementing this process will greatly improve production.
    3. We will see more customers this quarter than last quarter.
    4. Customer satisfaction will decrease if we do not do what is proposed here.

Solution:

  1. C and D Stakeholders and financial backers.
  2. A. This proposal will allow us to increase sales by 57%.

Watch the following presentation to learn about writing outcomes for a proposal.

Writing an Executive Summary

The executive summary is found at the beginning of longer, more detailed business proposals. It is generally not more than 10% of the original document.

For example, if your proposal is five pages long, the executive summary would not be more than half a page. Here are some guidelines to writing an executive summary:

  1. The executive summary is not written until AFTER the body of the proposal is written.
  2. Start with a concise statement that contains the conclusion, and then follow the same organization in the summary that is in the proposal. In longer summaries, you might want to include sub-headings. If you do, make sure they are the exact same sub-headings found in the proposal.
  3. Avoid the use of unnecessary technical language or jargon in the executive summary. This part of the document should be able to be read and understood by anyone, not just the primary audience.
  4. The summary is based on the proposal; therefore, all the facts mentioned must match the detail in the proposal and be accurate.
  5. Do not mention any of the process or analysis that leads to conclusions made in the proposal. Those details are for the proposal, not the executive summary.
  6. Near the end of the executive summary are the recommendations or calls to action that match those of the proposal.
  7. There should be a justification for the recommendation included in the executive summary. This might be a simple statement about increased profit or productivity, or it can be more complex, providing some, but not much, discussion of why the writer reached this conclusion.

Keep in mind that the executive summary's purpose is to sell the ideas presented in the proposal, not to describe them. You need to grab the reader's attention and compel him or her to read the entire proposal, not just the summary. Show the reader through the summary that there is a big problem either existing or coming that your proposal will resolve.

Check for Understanding: The Executive Summary

Duration: 10 to 15 minutes.

In this exercise, you will answer the following questions.

  1. You are part of a project team that has been assigned the task of writing a proposal to implement a new software program in the accounts receivable department. Your task is to create the executive summary. When will you write it?
    1. During the outline stage of the writing project.
    2. After the proposal is finished.
    3. About halfway through the project to help the team focus.
    4. Before starting the project so you know what you are writing about.
  2. The proposal you have been working on is very detailed, with lots of facts, analysis, and technical material. What do you include in the executive summary?
    1. All of the analysis; you want the reader to understand why you reached the conclusion you did.
    2. None of the facts and analysis, but use the technical material because you want the reader to understand the concepts from a technical viewpoint.
    3. Only the essential information, in plain language, following the same organization as the proposal.
    4. The conclusion or recommendation that is made in the proposal.

Solution:

  1. B. After the proposal is finished.
  2. C and D. Only the essential information and the recommendation.

The following presentation provides more information on the executive summary.

Using Informative and Persuasive Techniques

You can write an informative proposal and use persuasive techniques to "sell" the ideas, concepts, or programs you are promoting in the document. Or you can write the document to either inform or persuade.

An informative document alone will provide information to the audience, but will not attempt to persuade them to do anything other than absorb the information.

A document that was written for the sole purpose of selling something relies much more on appeals to emotion than presenting facts. Before determining the type of document you want to write, you must first review the purpose of the document.

There are some techniques you can employ to make your documents more persuasive:

  1. Repetition
  2. Rhetorical questioning
  3. Statistics
  4. Rebuttal to arguments
  5. Appeal to the audience

Let's look at some examples of each of these techniques.

Repetition

Repetition is a technique where the writer re-states the point in multiple ways. Sometimes even just a single word or phrase is repeated as-is in order to get the attention of the reader. Here is an example:

"We have a very severe problem here. We cannot go any longer without making changes. Again, the problem is very severe."

Rhetorical Questioning

A rhetorical question is one that does not require an answer. It is asked merely for effect. Some examples of rhetorical questions are:

  1. We have a serious problem in our shipping department?
  2. How long can we put up with it?
  3. How long will it be before our customers go somewhere else?

Statistics

Statistics can be very powerful elements in a proposal. They can also be quite distracting. The key to using statistics is to balance the information, present it in an understandable way, and not overload your reader with a lot of numbers, facts, and relationships between those numbers.

Here is an example of a paragraph with a lot of emphasis on statistics.

"Overall the company had another excellent year. We shipped 14.3 tons of fertilizer for the year, and averaged 1.7 tons of fertilizer during the summer months. This is an increase over last year, where we shipped only 13.1 tons of fertilizer, and averaged only 1.4 tons during the summer months. (Standard deviations were as followed: this summer .3 tons, last summer .4 tons)." (Purdue OWL: Writing with Statistics. http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/672/04/ )

While the above paragraph is fine, it may bog your reader down with all the numbers. A much simpler way to present this information would be to write a simple statement about the excellent year that was had, and then present a chart or graph of some kind that shows what all these numbers mean. We will discuss the use of visuals in the last section of this class.

Rebuttal to Arguments

This is another technique that will make your reader pay attention. If you anticipate the arguments against your proposal before you present it, you can include your rebuttal in the initial proposal. State the argument and follow up with your suggestions for resolving that issue.

Your reader will appreciate you taking the time to consider these arguments before they even happen.

Appeal to the Audience

This is an emotional device that can effectively persuade your audience. For example, if you run an art gallery and you want to upgrade the security system, but you know there will be opposition to the proposal because of the cost, an emotional appeal might be to compare the cost of the upgrade to the loss that would be incurred if one of the priceless masterpieces in the gallery were stolen.

Check for Understanding: Informative and Persuasive Techniques

Duration: 10 to 15 minutes.

In this exercise, you will review the following scenario, and then write some notes responding to the questions at the end.

You are the manager of the graphic art department in a greeting card production company. You have noticed that a new supply of colored pencils has been ordered every week or so. You wonder why so many pencils are needed and when you ask the staff, they don't seem to know. All they say is there are never any pencils when they need them.

One of the staff members is quiet, but denies any knowledge of the whereabouts of the pencils when directly asked. You decide to write up a proposal for your supervisor regarding instituting some stringent policies about the use of supplies. You want the staff to "check out" any supplies when they come to work and "check them back in" before they leave for the day. What are some persuasive techniques you will use? Give examples.

Solution:

With your notes handy, watch the following presentation about persuasive techniques in proposal writing.

Using Visuals

Visuals, when used correctly, can make the proposal very effective. However, you can also overwhelm your audience with the use of visuals if you are not careful. Visuals include:

  1. Graphs.
  2. Charts.
  3. Illustrations.

Visuals should:

  1. Be clear and easy to understand.
  2. Be used sparingly.
  3. Support the text.
  4. Emphasize main points.
  5. Clarify complex statistical analysis.
  6. Be used to break up long blocks of text.
  7. Be placed near the relevant text.

Visuals should not be placed in an appendix at the back of the report. You don't want your reader to have to flip back and forth to see the visuals.

Some commonly used visuals are listed in the following table.

Visual Type Tips for Using
Pie charts Make sure you do not have very many slices. Tiny slices are difficult to interpret and will only serve to confuse your reader.
Bar charts Bar charts should have the x and y axis clearly defined and the legend should tell the reader what the chart is about.
Line charts Line charts should also be clearly defined with a title and legend. They should also be simple depictions of the numbers discussed in the text of the proposal.
Tables Tables can show relationships between various elements being discussed in the proposal.

Using visuals will not only enhance the look of your proposal, but will impress your reader with your skill in creating a professional business document.

If you use illustrations, make sure you are using copyright-free ones, or that you have the permission from the creator to use them. Illustrations and clip art from the Internet may not be "free" to use, so be sure to check your source if you plan on illustrating your documents in this way.

Check for Understanding: Using Visuals

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes.

In this exercise, you will read and respond to the following questions.

  1. Why is it important to use visuals in a proposal?
    1. To impress your reader.
    2. To break up the blocks of text.
    3. To clarify statistical detail in the report.
    4. All of the above.
  2. Which kind of chart is the best way to illustrate the differences in items over a period of years?
    1. Pie chart
    2. Bar chart
    3. Line chart
    4. Flow chart
  3. You can use illustrations and clip art from the Internet without worrying about copyright. After all, they are posted online for everyone to use.
    1. True
    2. False

Solution:

  1. D. All of the above.
  2. B. Bar chart
  3. B. False