“Write Like You Talk,” and Other Tips That Work for Proposal Development

I spend hours every week writing – proposals, emails and the occasional short story on Facebook. Over the years I’ve picked up on a few things that seem to be well-received by the general public, though some might offend the more proper among us.

  1. Write Like You Talk: When it comes to communication, I’m all about professionalism in an office environment. But sometimes too much professionalism can seriously bog down a message, waste time and even leave the reader wondering what in the heck you’re trying to say.A related pet peeve is what I call “filler,” or unnecessary words. Remember the last time you had to read a paragraph two or three times before it made sense? Filler was the likely culprit. For example, take a read through this statement drowning in filler:Our state-of-the-art new program creates customized graphics for you that you can use in place of your current marketing collateral and materials. Our talented team of engineers has developed end-user friendly technology that can be scanned with a smart phone to collect information that gives customers a chance to win. The number of spins can be completely customized to align with your preferences and budget.

    Customers will be excited that they get the chance to play and engage on the spot and receive text message marketing if they give you permission to contact them on their cell phone. This unique approach allows you to measure the effectiveness of text marketing in comparison with the techniques that you are currently utilizing.

    A good way to make sure you’re writing like you talk is by reading your message out loud. If it sounds awkward or just downright bizarre, try rewriting it like you would say it. Like this:

    As technology evolves, we’re finding new ways to connect with customers. Our team has developed fun, easy games – available instantly on any smart phone – that offer a range of prizes while expanding your contact base.

    The result is happy, engaged customers who can “opt in” to receiving future communications from your company. We can then measure the return of this approach vs. the marketing tools you’re using today.

  2. Use Similes and Metaphors: These tend to make complex or abstract ideas click. Plus, they’re easy to remember.
    For example: Proforma is One Source for Infinite Resources. Think of us as a conductor, helping you orchestrate all of your marketing messages and collateral into a powerful symphony with a consistent message.
  3. Find the Humor: Obviously cracking jokes isn’t appropriate in many business situations, but you’d be surprised how often it can be a welcome shake-up from the norm. Of course, the key here is the ability to read your audience and trust your judgement. Some people simply don’t like joy, so be sure to save your best material for the folks you know will appreciate it.
  4. Be Descriptive: This might seem to contradict my first tip, but please hear me out. It’s one thing to be concise, but another thing to cut key or illuminating details. I’ve seen variations of this disclaimer on many Requests for Proposals and questionnaires from clients:“Please respond with more than a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ if additional information will help us better understand your solution.”
    Take one:
    Will you take a creative and consulting approach to helping us select promotions?Yes.Now let’s try that again with a more descriptive response:
    Will you take a creative and consulting approach to helping us select promotions?Yes, we look forward to meeting with your team and understanding the specific goals of each promotion before suggesting relevant merchandise. For example, we understand your annual tradeshow is coming up, and the theme this year is Save the Whales. We offer a large selection of merchandise that can perfectly complement this theme and would gladly provide samples + virtual mock-ups before brainstorming how to tie it all together.

    Which potential partner would you contact to continue the conversation?

We are always open to your tips and tricks – about writing, business or just life in general. So please weigh in with comments!

AboutMichelle McCafferty

Michelle joined the Proforma team in 2008. As the Manager of Business Development for Major Accounts, she helps Proforma Owners win new and grow existing programs through proposal and presentation development, as well as periodic Relationship Reviews. Before joining Proforma, Michelle attended Cleveland State University where she earned a degree in Journalism and Promotional Communication.


  1. I love this article. I am constantly frustrated in reading communication that not only takes a second read to sink in, but is also filled with jargon that most folks don’t “get” anyway. Great tips!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Becky! Glad you found the article helpful – and I agree that jargon or acronyms can also get in the way of clean communication!

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