Write Better Proposals
Updated: Jul 16
Writing is a skill that you've likely been practicing for years. That's why every proposal writer out there has their own strategy to write compelling proposals. And it's why changing your habits related to writing can be such a challenge.
If you want to change up your writing, or if you've gotten feedback that your writing could be improved, the most important thing is to slow down and be intentional. As with any habit, when moving quickly you will default to what you know and have done for years.
Writing better requires slowing down and being intentional.
Global development's work requires strong writing and proposal writing requires compelling writing. Learning to write better can be a lifelong challenge, so here are some strategies to help you get started.
Look for examples
Create a library of documents that you really enjoy the writing in. Whether that is reports or proposals developed by your organization or publications available online or in print, collecting examples can be a great starting point.
The second step here is very important, so don't skip it! A library of resources will do nothing if you don't know why you like them. Take time to analyze the examples you've collected, asking yourself these questions:
What makes this writing example strong?
Do I like particular phrases or sentence constructions?
Are the images helpful to the writing?
Is the formatting appealing?
What words are particularly strong?
Take notes as you evaluate each example and save those notes in an easy to access spot for the next time you write.
Don't write - yet
If I could tell every writer to not write yet, I would. That's my number one piece of advice. Before you start writing, create a writing plan.
No matter what kind of writing you are doing in international development, you need to inform, inspire, pursue, and connect with others.
Writing compelling copy requires advance planning. Think back to your school days and create a very detailed outline. Start with the objective of the writing piece overall - what story are you trying to tell? Then build headings - what components are there to this story? Then build out your subheadings - what examples or evidence are needed to make each component compelling?
Once your outline is completed, share it with someone else. Having another person review your writing is essential to ensuring that the key messages you want to share are actually clear to an external viewer.
Explain it like I'm five.
There are a lot of complex ideas in international development, and it's easy to fall into abstract, meaningless, and overcomplicated language. There's a simple logic to proposal writing that I always find helpful:
What is the problem?
What are you going to do about it?
What will happen as a result?
Why are you best positioned to accomplish these results?
Answering these questions clearly, using simple language, is your best path to writing that communicates a point clearly to most readers.
Keep in mind that there are a lot of terms - think "capacity building" or "behavior change" or "systems approach" - that don't actually mean anything by themselves. I like to ask myself (and my clients) the simple question "but what do you mean by that?" to get to the heart of it. Instead of saying that you'll "build the financial capacity of a local organization," saying that you'll "embed financial management staff and provide training on anti-corruption in financial management" is much clearer and pointed.
The most important consideration for writing is that it will not change overnight. Even if you continue to receive negative feedback or remain dissatisfied with your progress, your value is much more that you writing. Learning and growing is doing your best, and it's plenty to be proud of.
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