Re: Style Guide for Proposals

Subject: Re: Style Guide for Proposals
From: kcronin -at- daleen -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 20 Aug 2002 14:59:47 -0600

Jeff wrote:
> One of my regular tasks as a marketing manager/jack-of-all trades is the
> editing of proposals before they are submitted to potential clients. The
> proposals are usually written by members of our technical staff with
> tweaking by business development people. What style guide would be a good
> choice to suggest for adoption for producing proposals and other
> client-facing documents that are more business oriented than technical ...
> ...Content is a whole
> different issue ... I'm looking for format and grammatical guidelines.

I only occasionally need the MS manual for proposals, if some
Windows-specific issue arises. Instead I rely mostly on a dictionary,
thesaurus, Strunk & White, and common sense.

Depending on how much time you have, the biggest task is trying to make
sure all the writing seems *professional*. Often I find that technical
SMEs forget who their audience is, and write using lots of industry slang
and abbreviations that would only make sense to your coworkers. Many
times, they think they're writing for YOU (the proposal writer), and
assume that you are going to rewrite their text. Keep an eye out, and try
not to let any text that was really meant only for internal eyes from
creeping into the final proposal.

And watch out for cut-and-pasted pieces of boilerplate text, which might
contain the name of the PREVIOUS customer for whom the text was intended.
That's a major faux pas!

If you have enough time, you can address the task of trying to create a
homogenized tone for the whole proposal, which may comprise several
documents. Your goal in doing so is to mask the fact that it was written
by more than one person. But that is VERY time consuming, and my deadlines
seldom allow it.

Rather than writing a style guide for proposals, I put together a Word
template that covers all the styles I typically need for a proposal, and I
apply these to text written by others, tweaking headings and lists as I

I guess I'm not so worried about a style guide because each proposal is a
one-off job, in that it's only being read by one prospective customer. So
if my next proposal varies slightly from this one, nobody on the receiving
end will ever know. I continue to tweak my template and my chunks of
boilerplate text, so that although the process I use is repeated often,
the exact text and style of writing may vary, based on contributing
writers, the needs of the prospect, etc.

Proposals are SALES documents, so you have some more leeway with your
prose than you would in straight documentation. I pay particular attention
to the style and content of my Executive Summary - that's usually the
slickest part of any proposal I write. That section needs to be both
informative and persuasive. So I worry far less about style guide
adherence than to the overall tone and content of my sales pitch.

If you only do a few proposals a year, and have lots of free time, a style
guide might be worthwhile. But I've done more than 300 proposals without

Keith Cronin

Proposal writers eat deadlines for lunch.

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