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Posts Tagged ‘Reconciling Expectations

Are Your Publications Things or Behaviors?

Do you see your company's publications as things or behaviors? Your answer can have all sorts of interesting consequences for your customers and your company.

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

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How to Find the Right Ghostwriter for Your Project

How to Find the Right Ghostwriter for Your Project

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

Many proposals miss their target. Why?

Are Your Proposals Missing the Target?

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

Crafting a Successful Proposal Is Like Fitting Together a Puzzle

Crafting a Successful Proposal Is Like Fitting Together a Puzzle

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!

The SOW Is the Key to a Successful Proposal

The SOW Is the Key to a Successful Proposal

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

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
  • audience
  • 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

How do you estimate the time needed to write a document? As an example, let’s talk about the user manual, a type of document that is long, complex and typically rather tricky to finish on time and on budget.

The first step is to get team consensus on the planning and design questions (see earlier posts). Although factors vary project by project, here are some guidelines to use in calculating your estimates:

  • How much do you know about the product?
  • How much do you know about the subject matter?
  • Who is the audience? Is there more than one audience?
  • How complex is the user manual, in terms of the product, training needs, artwork, formatting, examples, and level of detail?
  • How much production time is required to produce a finished, marketable document?
  • How much artwork (figures, tables, illustrations, etc.) is there? Who is to create it? How will it be merged into the text?
  • How many reviewers are there? How fast and thorough are they?
  • Do you have established review procedures and firm timelines?

Other issues a writer needs to address include these:

  • How familiar are you with the application package and other tools you will use to write and publish the document?
  • Is producing the document your sole responsibility, or one of many projects you must juggle?
  • How fast do you work?
  • What is your approach to the project? Structured (project statement and document outline) or more random and disorganized?

Over the years I have discussed time estimates with other professional writers. On a per-page basis, their estimates have ranged widely from 1.0-1.5 hours all the way up to three days. These per-page estimates included planning and conceptual design, information gathering, an outline, a first draft, two revisions, proofreading/editing, and delivery of the document in the agreed-upon format.

So many factors can play a significant role in estimating the time required to successfully complete a document. In general, the less experience you have, the more time you should allocate. It is preferable to finish the project within your time and cost budgets than to overrun them, so allow for emergencies and unexpected delays.

Above all: no magical thinking. Be realistic. A good document (in print or online) requires a certain amount of time and money. With experience you will improve your project estimates.

Planning a writing project establishes the framework for writing the document and sets the stage for all subsequent work: conceptual design, gathering information, writing, and evaluation.

The decisions you make in the planning phase will be used throughout the project to guide your work and, eventually, to help judge the results. Planning allows you to measure whether the document meets project requirements.

After your meetings with the project team, write a memo containing the planning questions and answers. Distribute copies to all members of the team with a request for feedback. It is imperative for the success of the project that you get buy-in from everyone. No going forward with the project until all team members agree on each point!

If there are any subsequent changes to any of the planning decisions, send a written copy of the changes to everyone. Be prepared to negotiate your way to a final agreement with all team members.

If you are the entire team at your company, then ask yourself the planning questions, make the decisions, and write down your answers. Formalize the process to clarify your thinking and establish a benchmark for judging the outcome of your work. Oh — be sure to run the memo by your boss, so there are no unexpected surprises late in the project.

Planning is the first step in maintaining control of your work. It is absolutely indispensable.

If you have more than one audience, there are several ways to handle this situation. Using a software user manual as our example, here are three:

One: Write a separate document for each audience. This is typically done when there are audiences with widely differing needs or abilities.

Example: Say you have two audiences for a software package, general users and system operators. Both may use the same software, but from completely different perspectives.

Two: Group the material for each of your audiences into separate parts of a single document. In this case, each audience has its own section in the document. In this scenario there is usually no audience overlap, so each section is devoted to a single audience.

Example: An updated product that will be used by novices and also by those who already have experience with previous models/releases of the product.

Example: One product may be used for many purposes or tasks. You might group material by task and thus, implicitly, by audience.

Three: Create an “audience guide” in matrix format, showing which audience should read which chapter or section. The guide could be combined with the table of contents, or precede it in a “How to Use This Document” section. In this situation there is definitely audience overlap, which means that sections or chapters are geared toward different sets of readers.

Example: An internal operations manual may need to address several departments. Staff in those departments will all need to read and use several of the chapters  in common. However, any number of chapters in the document are solely devoted to each department.

During one of my seminars on writing for users, I ended the discussion about defining and understanding your audience by saying: “Remember, it’s not enough just to build a better mousetrap. You have to …” and an attendee quickly interjected: “… know your mouse!”


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