Posts Tagged ‘Project Requirements’
If you started to think about your company’s publications as behaviors instead of things, would such a shift in perspective change the resulting documents? Would your customers respond to your message in a different way?
Consider the publications that you and others in your company create—they probably run the gamut, from sales and marketing literature to online pages to proposals to technical documentation and maybe even to interactive multimedia presentations and video scripts.
Like most writers, you work with others to establish the requirements for each publication and to generate and refine its specifications. You create an outline that captures the topics, features and procedures to be included in each document and organize that content in a way that satisfies the project specifications.
Such an approach is based on seeing the document as a thing. And, while it may be necessary, at least in part, is it sufficient? Does it really satisfy your customers’ needs? Does it let you wring every last drop of value out of what you spend on trying to connect with your customers?
What if you viewed a publication as a set of behaviors, instead of just a thing?
For starters, this might mean that your project requirements stated how your company’s customers would interact with the publication—and any associated product. After all, why do your customers read your stuff? What do they expect to get out of it?
If you thought about customer behaviors—for example, how they use the publication, the ways in which they need to access the document, how they find topics, how they use the information, what other resources they might need, how they might use the document as a focal point for customer-to-customer and customer-to-company interaction—would those considerations change your document specifications? Would the specs begin to reflect a mindset that took user experience into account?
If you viewed each publication as describing, prescribing and integrating a dynamic set of behaviors among your customers, your products and your company, how would that change the types of documents you create?
Would you enhance your publication model to include various scenarios and anticipated interactions that played to customer needs and experiences?
Begin to think about your company’s publications as behaviors instead of things, and I’ll bet your documents become more interactive, more dynamic, more user-friendly and more attuned to your customers.
Now let’s talk: What is your opinion? If you create publications, what is your approach? As a customer, how do you respond to companies’ offline and online publications: What do you like about them? What don’t you like? You can leave your comment at the top of this post. Elizabeth Lexleigh LexPower The Write Ideas
So you’ve decided to work with a ghostwriter. You’re in good company, as ghosting is one of the best-kept secrets in the worlds of business, publishing and technology. Chances are you know someone who has worked with a ghostwriter.
Speeches, books, textbooks, scripts, web content, even social media … you name it, ghostwriters write it. If you could look behind much of what you read, see and hear across all media, you would spy a ghostly presence hovering in the background.
Now that you want your own ghost, what should you look for? What matters most?
Remember that your overarching goal is to find a writer who is a kindred spirit and who can work with you to make your project a roaring success.
Specifically, you want someone who can capture and express your vision and your ideas in your own authentic voice. You want someone who can bring your style and personality to life in the book, or speech, or whatever media your project involves. In all cases, you want the material to read and sound as though you wrote it.
With that in mind, then, here are the top qualifications to look for in your ghostwriter:
- Must be able to write. Ask to see some samples in order to judge for yourself. Does the writing appeal to you? You will have to live with the results, so be sure you like the writer’s style. Some ghostwriters may have one or more clients willing to give references, so inquire whether any are available—but understand that, in most cases, clients do not want anyone to know that their books, speeches and other materials were actually created by a ghostwriter. After all, that’s why they hired one, and they expect their secrets to be kept.
- Must be able to work with you. In general, look for the type of writer who is able to work with CEOs, top executives, business owners, celebrities, and other exceptional people. Once you have several candidates who fulfill this requirement, meet with each of them to see whether the two of you are compatible. Is there a personality fit? Do you like this person? Can you trust this person? As you winnow your prospects, remember my motto: “The project is way too long, and life is way too short, to work with anyone other than someone who is compatible.”
- Must be proficient in the subject matter. While this does not mean the writer must necessarily be an expert, it does mean the writer’s background and other qualifications should be relevant and relatable to your subject area. In addition, since every project presents new material and requires research, look for a ghostwriter who is intellectually curious, and a quick and thorough study.
- Must understand “work for hire.” Experienced ghostwriters should understand this, but do not assume. Since you will of course have a contract, be sure one or more clauses address “work for hire” and exactly what it entails for your project. Note that the best writers will typically have a standard contract ready to discuss with you, and it will include this issue.
- Must work in a businesslike manner. Look for “business competency”: professionalism, integrity, prompt communication, respect, and a customer-centric viewpoint. After all, professional writers earn their living from writing, and expect to work with you just like a business partner.
- Must guarantee excellent work. Look for a ghostwriter who can deliver, on time and on budget. This type of writer will arrive with a game plan, the right questions, and will expect to send you a detailed proposal that outlines the scope of the project, as well as time and cost estimates based on the scope. Pay careful attention to all of this, because the contract you sign will be based on the proposal. Do you like what you see in the proposal?
When all these pieces fit together to your satisfaction, you have probably found the ghostwriter who is well qualified to work with you.
Have you ever worked with a ghostwriter? If so, how did you select that writer? Were you happy with the results? What else would you recommend adding to my list of qualifications?
Are you a ghostwriter? What are your experiences in working with clients?
Please share your thoughts. Elizabeth Lexleigh LexPower The Write Ideas
Are your business proposals missing the mark too often? Have you been told they are “nonresponsive”?
Although you can encounter many pitfalls and hidden traps in responding to an RFP (Request for Proposal), perhaps the most important is this one:
Many companies simply do not meet the requested requirements, as stated in the SOW (Statement of Work).
The SOW describes the product or service a company, government agency or organization wants to buy. It is the key to a successful proposal.
And yet, amazingly, many companies submit proposals that do not adequately respond to the requirements given in the SOW.
Fitting the Pieces Together
To win the business, your company must be able to:
- Meet the requirements set forth in the SOW.
- Write the proposal in such a way that every requirement in the SOW is thoroughly addressed.
Can Your Company Meet the Requirements?
Whether the SOW is general or specific, vague or concrete, long or short, pay attention to every issue and detail it contains.
Before you do any work on the proposal at all, study each section to be sure your company can actually deliver the product or service, or solve the problem. And if so, can you deliver the goods in the manner requested?
If you have any misgivings, contact the company or agency to discuss your questions. You may want to do more research, including on-site, to clarify any doubts or uncertainties about what the project entails.
Additionally, RFPs can contain errors and omissions. If you think you have found any, get in touch with the person in charge of the project to discuss acceptable modifications or work-arounds.
While you are talking with the procurement agent, keep in mind that a tone of voice or a revealing comment on the part of the agent could provide you with insight about the RFP and the project. This information could prove very useful in deciding how to design your proposal – or even whether to submit a proposal.
You may also find it helpful to find out who will be evaluating your proposal. After all, technical experts in a field will have different evaluation standards than accountants or business executives. Knowing who is on the source evaluation board can help ensure that the solution your company proposes will satisfy the requirements of the SOW.
Write to the Requirements of the SOW
As part of your proposal strategy, review the vocabulary and style of the company, government agency or organization for which you are writing the proposal. You must use their terms and jargon. Your language and style must reflect their practice and their context. Know your audience!
The wording in your proposal should reflect the language used in the RFP, especially the language used in the SOW and the evaluation standards. Repeat key words, phrases and sentences, because doing so will help the evaluators recognize that you are responding to the criteria given in the RFP. If you can, write in such a way that they are able to tell which criteria you are responding to, just by reading your words.
Pay close attention to the relative importance assigned to the evaluation criteria. The weighting values of the various categories help determine the scope, level of detail and amount of discussion to give to each issue in the SOW.
For more information on writing proposals, check out Deborah’s Proposal Writing Blog.
You may also want to check out this Boot$trapping Blog page on writing business proposals.
Make It a Winner!
Remember, the SOW is the critical document in the solicitation package. It is a statement of the work your company must perform to deliver a product or service, or solve a problem.
To craft a proposal that stands a good chance of resulting in a contractual relationship, you must address the issues in the SOW in a responsive and relevant manner.
What other advice would you give to readers on how to write a successful proposal? Elizabeth Lexleigh LexPower The Write Ideas
Context is a tricky word, because its meaning morphs, depending on the situation. Given this interesting quality, today I thought I’d look at some of the ways we can think of what the word context can mean in writing.
When we speak about the text, or copy, in a document, the word context commonly refers to the elements of a sentence (or paragraph) that surround a particular word or phrase and that influence its meaning. So, what precedes and follows a word, sentence or paragraph helps to determine how readers will interpret it.
But as we know, the text lives inside a document, which in turn affects how readers understand the text.
At the document level, the writing situation changes. Here, context is broadly understood to mean the relationship of the writer, the audience, the subject, and the purpose of the document.
As writers, we ask ourselves these core communication questions to start to get a handle on the document’s context:
- What do I know about the subject?
- What is the purpose of the document?
- What does my audience know about the subject?
- What does my audience need to know about the subject, given the purpose of the document?
And just when you think you’ve got it nailed, it’s very useful to get feedback on your document’s game plan from some test users, who should ask themselves: “What do I know about the subject now that I’ve read the document?” And, most important: “What else do I need to know?”
Of course, no document stands alone. Every piece of writing exists in a system, or setting, which helps to shape how the writer approaches the document.
The document itself exists in a context, an environment we can think of as the conditions that govern the document’s function or the setting in which the document is to be used.
Here are some key questions to help define the conditions/setting:
- Where will the document be used?
- Is this a print or online document?
- Is the document flying solo, or is it part of a communications package?
- Will readers have access to other help resources?
In order to clarify the complexities of the setting-document-text relationships, many writers find it helpful to use a context diagram.
How Context Works: Some Considerations (Involving Basil)
Bet you were wondering why a picture of a basil leaf opens this post.
Because, in making pesto last weekend, I ran into some context questions, which prompted me to write this post.
The pesto recipe I used calls for three cups of snipped fresh basil. Now, I happened to already know that “snipped” in this context generally means to tear each leaf by hand into rather small pieces (or use scissors to mince it).
But what if I hadn’t? Solution: For online publications, define “snipped” in context-sensitive help; in this case, a linked glossary definition or a pop-up. For print publications, use boldface on the word and, in an introductory section about conventions used in the document, tell the readers that a bolded word means the word is defined in a glossary. Another option (for both media) would be to define the audience: level of expertise, experience and knowledge.
On second thought, what if the writer of this recipe actually understood “snipped” to just mean “cut the leaf from the stem”? After all, the recipe says to use a food processor. Why hand mince the leaves if the machine will do that? How could I be fairly certain that my interpretation was probably correct? Answer: I interpreted the statement in the context of previous general knowledge. Still and all, that’s a little dicey. Maybe the author really did mean three cups of whole leaves, with the stems snipped off.
After all, recipes for a given dish can differ wildly, and who knows what the writer’s intent actually is, unless it’s explicitly stated?
Onward. Since this was my first foray into personally making homemade pesto, I didn’t know how many whole leaves to gather. How many cups of whole leaves result in three cups of snipped leaves?
So I experimented and discovered that about four cups of whole leaves very nicely turn into three cups of snipped.
The entire whole-to-snipped dilemma is another lovely opportunity for the writer to supply some context. Why make the cook guess and spend time experimenting?
Another aspect of context would be to tell readers to harvest the basil leaves before the plant flowers. Ah, tips on usage. Now that is helpful. Who wouldn’t want to know that after the plant flowers you will taste a tinge of bitterness in the leaves?
In this next picture, you can see the flower spikes on a basil plant that is just starting to blossom.
The recipe does provide substitution suggestions (walnuts or pecans) for the pine nuts, which is terrific contextual information. Pine nuts cause adverse reactions in some people, and others simply prefer another taste.
Another contextual suggestion, again involving usage, concerns storage. The recipe says the pesto can be put in a jar, covered with ¼-inch olive oil, and stored in the refrigerator or the freezer. Wouldn’t it be nice to know for how long in each case? When does the pesto go bad? What is the outside “safe” date for each method of storage?
Also of contextual interest to a cook is the best way to store something for ease of future use. Freezing the pesto in a jar means you have to thaw all of it at once. What about including the following alternative: If you intend to store the pesto in the freezer, pour or ladle it into the sections of an ice-cube tray. That way, you can conveniently access exactly the amount of pesto you need for one meal. How cool: little frozen cubes of pesto. Talk about ease of use! Wouldn’t that be nice information to offer to readers in the recipe?
As you see, this simple recipe for pesto (only six ingredients and minimal assembly work) very quickly got more complicated due to issues of context: one question at the level of text (“snipped”), and many more at the levels of document and setting.
Well then, what happens when we write user manuals, hardware assembly instructions, operations guides, policy manuals, and so many other business and technical publications?
Compared to a simple pesto recipe, those and other documents are astonishingly complex in their requirements for suitable contextual information.
We need to pay attention to all levels of context so our readers get what they really need to know in order to get a job done (without tearing their hair out).
If our audience wins, our company wins as well, because there is a bonus benefit for using context well: notice that adding these contextual elements to the pesto recipe would help readers find a lot more meaning in the recipe book. (And, of course, we would add similar contextual information for the other recipes in the book as well.) Think of the marketing opportunities! Think of the increased sales! Think of the expanding market share!
What do you think of my observations about context? What suggestions do you have for dealing with the complexities of context? Elizabeth Lexleigh LexPower The Write Ideas
In any document you write, your overriding objective is to make the content immediately understandable and usable by your audience.
If someone tells you that your work is not clear, the problem typically falls into one or more of these categories: planning, conceptual design, information, and language usage. To analyze the problem, start by asking the following questions:
Planning. Did you complete a thorough planning phase at the beginning of the writing project? Did you use the results in writing the document? For example, do you understand the purpose of the product? The purpose of the document? Do you know who your audience is? Do you know how your audience will use the document? You should have answered these and other planning questions at the outset, and then implemented the answers as you conceptually designed the document, gathered the information to be included, and wrote and reviewed the material.
Conceptual Design. Did you answer all of the important design questions? For example, do you know what your audience is looking for in the document? What is the most important part of the document? What are the key requirements that the document must meet? What are the editorial standards you are to use in your work? And so on. Further, did you establish page and text formatting guidelines? And, critically, did you build an outline based on your planning and design decisions?
Information. Did you scope out the content to be included in the document? Content to be excluded? Did you keep in close touch with your subject-matter experts and have them review the document, giving you feedback? How much do you yourself know about the subject matter? How good a researcher are you? Do you have the right material for the document, based on your outline?
Language. Do you have the necessary knowledge and grasp of the craft of language: spelling, grammar, syntax, punctuation, vocabulary and word usage? If you feel you need to improve in this area, do two things: read and write. Read good writing by good writers, and practice writing. Make both a daily habit. If you want regular critiques of your writing, join a local writers’ group, or check out classes for adult learners at your local university, community college, or online.
A final tip on analyzing problems involving clarity of writing: be careful of telling stories or going off on tangents when you write. All content and how you handle it must serve the purpose of the document, based on your planning and design decisions, and your outline. If it doesn’t, get rid of it.
What do you think? Do you agree with these suggestions? What would you add? Elizabeth Lexleigh The Write Ideas lexpower
When you are writing a document, how do you begin to tell your story? How do you snag your readers’ attention and charm them enough to keep them reading?
The beginning of your document is the critical point where you must engage your readers’ interest. If the beginning isn’t good, it will also quickly become the end, and your attempt to communicate with your audience will fall far short of the mark.
So, how to begin? The short answer is that there is no definitive answer; it all depends on the following, which you defined in the planning phase of your project:
- type of document
- purpose of the document
For example, if you are writing a report, you might start with an executive summary, in which you present the gist of your research, conclusions and recommendations.
On the other hand, if you are writing a user guide, you could start with an overview of the product, its intended audience, ways of using the product, and other useful “getting started” information for your company’s customers.
In a memo, you may decide that opening with a summary of results or conclusions would work best for your audience.
In other types of documents, you could begin by presenting a theme, or opening with a question, or stating a problem, or by providing an answer.
What all these ways of starting a document have in common is that they must give your readers a general sense of where you are going and how you intend to get there. You need to manage their expectations and get your document off on the right foot to accomplish your communication objectives. So think of your opening as a sort of “roadmap,” with the details to follow.
There are no absolutes in how to begin a document, because each type of document has its own requirements, as well as its intended audience and objectives. So put your thinking cap on and nail this part first, before you begin the first draft.
Now it’s your turn, dear reader: What is your approach to beginning a document? Please comment on your most successful method. Elizabeth Lexleigh lexpower The Write Ideas