If Megamind was a Business Writer…

megamind-business-writer

So, what do Megamind and business writers have in common?

Here’s a clue from one of my favourite parts in the movie.

Titan: This town isn’t big enough for two supervillains!
Megamind: Oh, you’re a villain all right, just not a SUPER one!
Titan: Oh yeah? What’s the difference?
Megamind: Presentation!

Presentation. That’s the difference. Watch it here.

What Megamind knew about formatting business proposals

As someone who reviews responses to Request For Proposals, I often start my day with several monster bids on the desk. We print them out as it’s easier to make comments.

As I start to read the bid document, a few things happen. I’m checking the response against the requirements, looking for areas that need clarification, while scanning over the pages.

So, what’s strange with that? Nothing expect that after a few hours my eyes get tired, small fonts begin to irritate me, and poor quality paper starts to smudge on my fingers. I continue to read. But I’m human. Inky fingers, sore eyes and other minor details begin to add up.

I can’t help asking: why didn’t they write a proposal that was easy to read, nice to hold, and helped me find the most important text?

My suggestion is that the next time you sit down and write any document that will be assessed by someone else – proposals, case studies, grants, or design documents – remember the person on the other side.

Here’s how you can improve the presentation, especially with the formatting:

  1. Paper quality – don’t use the stuff in the printer. Get slightly heavier paper. It adds gravity to your document. Also, when I pick it up, if feels good, which reflects well on you. Remember, others will use less expensive paper which runs and smudges. You really want to avoid this.
  2. Right Hand Margins Unjustified – the ragged edge on the right margin makes it easier on the eye. Large blocks of text, ie with justified margins, make it difficult for the reader to follow the text. There are no breaks. It’s just a block. Only justify right margins when using columns or if it’s specified in the Request For Proposal.
  3. Single space – use single spacing unless the agency states otherwise. Double spacing looks affected.
  4. Headings – use the headings specified in the Request For Proposal (that’s mandatory) but add your own subheadings to improve readability. Try to limit your proposal to three levels of headings only.
  5. White Space – be generous with white space. It helps the document breath. Don’t overdo it. It also helps the reader orient themselves and see transitions in the narrative.
  6. Color – careful here! Use color and graphics to improve the proposal’s readability, but avoid using too much as this can distract the reader from the text. Color also complicates things when printing.
  7. Formatting – use bold, italics and underlining sparingly. Don’t overwhelm the reader. Use them to highlight critical terms, points, or figures only.
  8. Fonts – use ‘fonts with feet’, such as Times New Roman, as these are easier on the eye. They may not be hip or trendy but the evaluators will be grateful. Their eyes may not be as young as yours.
  9. Binding – don’t bind proposals if the agency requests that proposals are submitted unbound. If they are going to be bound, make sure the proposal can be laid flat when opened. For this reason, avoid gluing proposals the way hardback novels are glued. They tend to snap and crack. Also make sure left hand margins are wide enough to accommodate binding.
  10. Quotes – avoid using footnotes, endnotes or references, if possible. They distract from the main narrative and clutter the page.

Summary

The way you format your proposal AFFECTS the score your proposal receives.

For this reason, look at winning bids and see how they formatted their bids. Develop best practices. Create standards and guidelines and ensure the team use a common proposal template.

Free and Premium MS Word, Excel and Apple iWork Templates

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