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Writing Tips: 651 - 660

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Tip #651: Bids/proposals


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Be prepared to respond to customers who ask for bids/proposals. Ask these questions of the prospect:
1. What is the scope of the project?
2. When should the work be started and completed?
3. How soon will you be making a decision on a vendor?
4. How many bids are you getting?
5. What other alternatives are you considering?
6. What are the most important considerations in your decision?


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Tip #652: Errors on signs

Have you ever looked at a billboard or a sign and wondered if the proofreaders were asleep on the job? It is frustrating to find errors in spelling, grammar, word usage, and punctuation on professional signage.

In addition, the aforementioned errors reflect poorly on a business, much like errors on a résumé reflect poorly upon the job applicant.



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Tip #653: Addressing memos

Sending communications to more than one person takes a little diplomacy. In case you don't know which way to list participants or readers, there are three alternatives:
  1. Very formal companies list addressees by rank, going from highest to lowest.
  2. More informal companies list people alphabetically.
  3. Small companies might use either rank or alphabetical order, but use first names only.
    The problem with creating lists by rank is that your list might include two or more people of a similar rank, causing you to choose which comes first. That can lead to bruised egos.

The problem with alphabetical lists is that the new intern might be listed above the vice president. That can lead to bruised egos as well.

It’s best to look at some examples of memos from your office to decide which of the three alternatives is the most appropriate one to use.




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Tip #654: How to structure a business memo or e-mail

Many business writers feel that to be clear and understandable in written communications, they must explain what they want, why they want it, and why they are asking. This almost inevitably leads to "long copy," a term that suggests long sentences and long paragraphs. This is almost always the wrong strategy for business writing.

Most business people want to know what they need to know, what they need to do, and when the work is due. Business people do not read; they skim for information. Help them out by simplifying your writing style.

Organizing your writing around sub-headlines is a good idea. If you need to explain yourself, put it in a section called "Background." If you are trying to sell an idea, call it "Recommendation." If there's a "to-do" list, call it "Action Steps." Make it clear what needs to be done, who is to do what, and when the work is due.




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Tip #655: Fact or opinion?

Two of the fastest ways to lose credibility as a business writer are to give opinions without facts or to mix the two together. Whenever you need to inform and persuade an audience, you should first give the facts behind the situation, and then give your reactions to the facts in a separate, clearly-labeled paragraph or section.

You can call your point-of-view 'my opinions' or 'our recommendations,' but remember to keep your personal views separate from the facts, knowing that someone else might read the same facts and have a different opinion based on the same facts.



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Tip #656: Bc or Cc?

Addressing memos and emails is sometimes trickier than it might seem. It is important that everyone who needs to know is involved, but that uninvolved people are not included. Here are the general rules:

Use To: for people who are directly involved and expected to respond to the memo or email. For example, a person would be on the To: list if he or she was invited to a meeting or is part of a work team.

Use Cc: (copy to) to keep people who are not directly involved but need to be informed. For example, the supervisor for anyone invited to a meeting or is part of a work team should be on the Cc: list, because that person would want to know where his or her staff members are and what they are working on. The writer does not expect a response from anyone on the Cc: list.

Bc: (blind copy to) are memos sent to people who are not directly or indirectly involved in the task at hand. Many business ethics experts feel Bc's should be used sparingly, if at all, because it is inappropriate to include people who do not have a 'need to know.' Bc's are the equivalent of talking behind someone's back, and sending them can compromise a writer's reputation.



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Tip #657: Bullet points

Writing with bullet points may seem impersonal, but they should be your best friends when writing for business for the following reasons:
• Bullet points add emphasis wherever they appear
• You do not have to use full sentences or much punctuation
• Bullet points are lists, which business people prefer
• Bullet points allow you to build from ‘most to least’ or ‘least to most’ important

Add bullet points to your business writing, and you will get better results!




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Tip #658: Tone

Many good writers, both creative and business writers, will tell you that before they start working, they try to visualize who will read their writing.

For a business person, it might be the most important person who will read it or the person whom the writer is trying hardest to persuade. Many writers keep a mental picture of that person in front of them as they write.

Thinking about the audience first and foremost, in as specific a way as possible, does two things:

First, it helps get the 'tone' of the writing to be precise. Tone is a very important element of writing: it is the attitude the author presents to the reader
about the subject. The tone can be optimistic, pessimistic, objective, or critical, but thinking about a specific audience of one helps keep the writer focused on the message.

The second advantage of visualizing a writer's audience is that it helps the writer edit his or her work. Looking closely at the first or second draft, the writer imagines the reader reading the work, and that helps the writer determine where to be more specific or where to cut words without losing meaning.



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Tip #659: Ethical support for Your Argument

One good way to become a stronger business writer is to assume that you are never just explaining something when you write; you are in a debate with your reader that you want to win. Your objective is to get your reader to agree that you have contacted him or her for an important reason, that your facts are accurate, and you should be taken seriously.

But the facts don't speak for themselves. You can best present your argument if you follow one of several styles. The first is called the 'Ethical' Argument. Ask yourself, "If the board of directors would describe the company one way, what would they say?"

The Ethical Argument reminds the reader of the task at hand and asks what the reader would want a 'good person' to do under those circumstances. Some companies always want to be more profitable, while some want to be safer investments for their shareholders, while others want to be known as innovators or conservators.

When you state your facts, frame them in a way that reminds the reader of what everyone should be thinking about when making their decision.


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Tip #660: Emotional appeals

A huge advertising agency in Chicago shows a short movie each year that was made by its founder. His message is that the agency should always be true to its core values.

Sometimes a writer will need to make an argument that is not quite supported by the numbers but is right for the business for emotional reasons, like being true to core values.

The secret of an emotional appeal is that the writer should focus on that which the reader will relate to, rather than focusing on him/herself. There is a great difference between suggesting what the reader should feel about an issue and the writer who simply states his or her feelings about the subject.


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