Ease in Writing
Writing Tips from Full Circle Communications
July 2009
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Past Issues
Scan previous issues on such topics as design tips for writers and speechwriting.
Ease in Writing?

"Ease in writing" comes from a poem by Alexander Pope, the British poet:

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance.

Foot step chartNote he (and I) didn't say "easy writing." But just like dance lessons can help get you around the floor with your partner more gracefully, the goal for this newsletter is to share a tip or two each month so you can improve how your organization communicates in writing.
Federal Proposal Writing: Winning Advice

John Boulware set me straight about how a federal government proposal differs from other kinds of writing. You as the writer rarely decide how to organize it, what information to include, or even the length--even if, in your professional judgment, you could think of a better way to present the information.

Instead, he stressed, your proposal is a sales and solution document, with your response as the final step in a process with substantial competition. Above all, the client needs to believe your organization can provide the best solution--not how great, unique, or wonderfulwater glass you are.

In other words, not where your water comes from, not how attractive the packaging is, but are you the best choice to fill their glass?

"Reviewers or evaluators read a bunch of proposals all written with the same topic and same purpose in mind," Boulware said. "They never have enough time to read to enjoy. They tend to hurry because it is taking them away from their full-time day job.

"Thus, proposals must be written so critical information are easy to see and jump out at the reader."

Boulware has much more to say than can be included here (he periodically leads a proposal workshop through the Alexandria Small Business Development Center), but here are a few of his pointers. Look at your next proposal draft to make sure it is--
  • Client-centered, not bidder-centered: Your goal is to show how you can "ease their pain." How many times does your organization's name appear versus theirs?
  • Easy to read: He urges fewer than 20 words per sentence, no compound sentences, and paragraphs no longer than four or five sentences. Avoid complex words (e.g., the infamous "utilize" instead of "use").
  • Visual, but appropriately so: Include a table that summarizes the benefits and features you are offering. Omit photos or illustrations with no direct, obvious connection to the content.
  • Positive: Avoid negative turns of phrase that will hurt your case (e.g., 99% accuracy, not 1% failure rate).
  • Free of unsupportable claims and superlatives: Evaluators question all content. You must offer real and very clear proof in statements or graphics. Do not "promise," "ensure," or "guarantee" anything.
  • Targeted: "The single biggest mistake I see in proposal writing is not tailoring resumes or past performances to the RFP," Boulware said. "That's something you can do easily before the RFP is issued."
Before it's issued? Exactly. Writing the proposal is part of a much larger process in which your organization has targeted and gotten to know potential clients and their needs. You learn about RFPs that will be issued in the next few months to a year. According to Boulware, "If the first time you see an RFP is when it's on FedBizOpps [the government's online listing of contracting opportunities], you're too late."
A Workshop Summary on Food Deserts

Book CoverIn the United States, people living in low-income neighborhoods frequently do not have access to affordable healthy food venues, such as supermarkets or farmers' markets. Not coincidentally, these areas have some of the highest rates of obesity and diabetes in the country.

Those living in what are called "food deserts" rely on convenience stores and small neighborhood stores that offer few, if any, healthy food choices. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) and National Research Council (NRC) convened a two-day workshop in January to provide input into a Congressionally-mandated food deserts study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service. The workshop, summarized in this publication, provided a forum in which to discuss the public health effects of food deserts.

I co-authored the workshop summary, now available as a hard copy and online.
Resource: Check Out Your SBDC
Small Business Development Centers are a great resource for workshops, networking, and other opportunities. Gloria Flanagan, the assistant director of the Alexandria SBDC (where I attended the workshop conducted by John Boulware, mentioned above), suggests you visit the SBDC in the jurisdiction where you have or want to set up a business.

Virginia, Maryland, and the District all have SBDCs with free or low-cost programs and materials.