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#FridayFact: Proposal Readers Don’t Want Suspense

#FridayFact: Proposal Readers Don’t Want Suspense published on 12 Comments on #FridayFact: Proposal Readers Don’t Want Suspense

The Psycho House by Steve on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 licenseIf you want a positive response to your proposal, be up front with the key information. Don’t keep your readers in suspense, waiting for the details.

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) article “Don’t Make Your Innovation Proposal into a Hitchcock Movie” explains that readers don’t like to wait for the details in a proposal. Suspense works well for movies like Hitchcock’s Psycho, author Scott Anthony argues, but proposal readers want the key information right way. Anthony explains, “You simply cannot leave them waiting and wondering about what you want to do and what you need.”

As is the case with all writing, audience awareness can make or break your proposal. Your document has to give readers what they want and need. “The One Unbreakable Rule in Business Writing,” according to Harvard Business Review’s Tucker Max, is that your document “has to be about the reader, not about you.” Read the article for three questions that will help you make sure you meet your reader’s expectations.



Photo credit: The Psycho House by Steve on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license



The beginning of the article called The One Unbreakable Rule in Business Writing starts off saying that for business writing the main rule is that the writing is about the reader. This makes sense because they are the one who is trying to decide if they should approve your proposal or business idea or product. This article mentions that there are three questions that you should ask yourself. These questions are: 1) Why are you writing this? 2)What audience do you want to reach? and 3) Why will they care? For first question, the answer should be usually for the reader. However, for our class assignment there are a couple answers, first off we are writing a proposal in order to get a good grade in the class. The second reason is we are trying to persuade the reader (the professor) to accept the proposal about what we want to write about for the final paper. The second question the answer should be the specific audience that you are trying to reach with your paper. For the case of our class, that is our professor. The third question applies to our project because we have to write a proposal so that the reader (the professor) will actually care enough to read it so she will accept what we want to write about. I found this article very helpful because when writing we should keep these three questions in the back of our mind, that way we can write an efficient proposal.

I think both of these articles did a good job of telling the readers what exactly is expected of them in writing a short proposal. I think it’s important to ask yourself the three questions that were presented in the article, “The One Unbreakable Rule in Business Writing” because saying “oh I want to write this” isn’t enough. If people dig deeper and actually understand what they want from the outcome of writing a proposal/book/article, then they will feel fulfilled and have done their job. I think it’s something that I’ve never done before because I just say “ok I’m gonna write a proposal”, but I don’t know the real reason because I don’t want to dig deeper. If I actually took the time to figure out what exactly I want, who the audience is, and why they would care, I think it would be much more effective in writing a proposal.

I also agree with the other article when they said to write for the readers because I know everyone loves talking about themselves and their successes, however nobody wants to read something that someone else wrote about their amazing achievements. People want to know about certain things and they have limited attention spans, especially in this day and age, so it’s important to know what to talk about.

The article titled “The One Unbreakable Rule in Business Writing” gave important points to consider with any writing, not just proposals or other business writings. I think they are important in any type of communication, verbal, written, or nonverbal. If you do not reflect on your own intrinsic motivation when working on anything, you are blindly and passively participating in this activity. I will never understand why you would do something just do it, no true reasoning or meaning behind it.

In terms of your audience, I feel like we’ve talked extensively in past discussion posts about them. This just provided another new perspective/way of thinking about previous points.

I felt like the first article written by the Harvard Business Review entitled “Don’t Make Your Innovation Proposal Into a Hitchcock Movie” gave the basic premise of how to never surprise your audience with an unexpected turn of events. Being as direct as possible with your overall purpose is always the best route to go, especially in the business world. Surprises can actually negatively impact the outcome you may want in the business world. A concrete purpose with concrete courses of actions and goals is what gives you ultimate success.

After reading the article entitled “The One Unbreakable Rule in Business Writing,” the defined “unbreakable rule” is solidified in mind for good. Whenever I write anything from here on out, I will remember that my document “has to be about the reader, not me.” I will ensure that I answer the three basic questions, and in doing so, will stick to that unbreakable rule by consciously acknowledging the importance of the audience’s perspective on the piece.

I felt like both of these articles stated things that are common sense to me. I guess since it’s framed toward proposals rather than to writing in general it is somewhat helpful. Apparently some people get confused when writing proposals, as mentioned in the first article, and write or present proposals that have unnecessary twists and turns. I feel like it’s common sense that when you’re trying to convince someone to do something, you should state your plan and then share data that supports your reasoning for choosing this plan.

I agree that the articles seem to state the obvious. I can see how people might lead with all of their data first in a proposal and end with their final point/why they are writing the proposal, but I agree that it seems straightforward enough to state why you are writing first and then support your reasoning.

This mindset is very applicable to power point presentations as well. The audience is always the ones you have to convince and impress. If you don’t capture their interest or loose their attention by being boring it will be a pointless presentation. Something I learned by being in a debate and rhetoric club, it is also possible to present so many great points at such speed that the audience gets overwhelmed and simply stops trying to understand the presenter of the argument or proposal.

I really liked reading both of these articles. I completely understand how some people try and twist a story into making their image look better. For example when people ask why I chose chemical engineering, in all honestly one of the main reasons I made the switch is because it is a very high paying, and sought after field of study. This type of response is good to say around friends, or people you are comfortable with and have a strong relationship with. However, when I talk with potential employers I usually use the phrases, “I can get a strong technical background”, “It can help with work in different disciplinary fields”, “It’s more of a tool that can diversify my skill sets to help me achieve goals set by your company”. These responses are not false, I do truly believe that my chemical engineering degree will help me broaden my skill set and be able to work in different fields, but when push comes to shove being able to live a comfortable life, with my degree is something that is very appealing to me personally. As both the articles mentioned, you have to know who you are pitching your idea to. Making sure the audience is interested in your skills and experiences is what will help build your tenure and image.

When it comes to being in the workplace, and we are getting ready to write proposals for projects, or money for a project, or maybe even a request for leave from work. It is important to make sure the audience gets the crux of the argument within minutes. It’s like a technical paper, with an abstract. Abstracts are written in order to give the reader a brief overview of the the long paper, so they know if it will be worth their time to read. Nothing would be more frustrating for an investor, CEO, or curious individual to get to the end of a 20-50 page report only to find out that there is no valuable information present. You will not be able to please everyone, but targeting a specific audience will help make the piece more effective, as the articles have mentioned.

The three questions you need to ask yourself when you write are crucial to creating a product that is worth something. Like Mark said, sometimes you say what you know the audience wants to hear. For certain situations, I think that’s the best course of action. But more so than that, I think it is tailoring the complete story you have to fit the audience you’re going for. Even a fiction writer doesn’t sit down and just write–they have an idea of a story, but who they want to read their book is in the back of their mind. Alfred Hitchcock knew his audience came for suspense, for thrill–and he created the best way to do that. He didn’t try to placate the masses and dull down his work to appeal to kids, instead he created his masterpiece for his audience. In writing proposals, you have to highlight the most important factors for the audience you’re trying to reach. For a company, it could be bottom line profits. Presenting to a group of mothers, it might be safety. To teens, it could be how cool the product will make them be. Overall, I thought the ideas presented by these articles are very accurate, and I will definitely keep them in mind as I continue through my career.

When you focus on answering these three questions, it forces you to have a deeper understanding of your writing project. Asking yourself why you are writing this project is important to understand your own opinion so that your voice can be heard through your writing. Determining the audience is also important so that you can figure out what kind of words to use and avoid any ethical/global issues (such as the ones we provided in the writing analysis tables). Finally, when you look at why the audience cares about what you are writing, you’ll get a better idea of the significance and implications of the writing. You’ll definitely learn more about what you can accomplish with it.

For our class, it is helpful to have a strong proposal when you go to complete your final project – it will be much easier to write. Its also a good idea to ask yourself these three questions when picking a topic (especially why you are writing this) because you want a topic that you care about and that will help you in you career. Its not fun to do busy work and each assignment should be strengthening your writing skills.

I really liked the message from the Harvard Business Review article, “Don’t Make Your Innovation Into a Hitchcock Movie”. I think when it comes to pitching business ideas, being very direct and to the point is a good idea. The sooner you tell people you’re idea, the sooner you can start explaining why it’s a good idea. I also very much agree with the message of the second HBR article. It’s important that the writing focuses on the reader, because as a reader you’re always wondering why it’s relevant to you, not the writer.

I thought that both articles were very informative about influences in proposal writing. They both addressed how the writer needs to consider how the information will be presented to the audience, rather than just writing their thoughts and “a piece of themselves.” I think especially in the article “Don’t Make Your Innovation Proposal into a Hitchcock Movie”, the author described an example of a bad proposal where a young entrepreneur presented his main idea at the end of his presentation and went off an a new direction than the audience was expecting. It is essential to first describe the main idea or project pitch, then to use supporting details to support the main idea, in order to keep the reader’s attention and decrease the chances of ambiguity.

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