Proposal writing, like many other highly specified jobs, is a discipline requiring that certain standards be adhered to. Within these parameters, writers are allowed (in some organizations, even encouraged) to stretch the creative presentations of the topics in an attempt to make them more approachable for the target audience. Other companies prefer to maintain a consistent format regarding both presentation and content, in an effort to formulate an internal mode that is at once comfortable and familiar to their clients. Both intentions are valid—and both can benefit from using a Style Guide for their proposal writing.
But what exactly is a Style Guide, and how can it assist your team in assembling and polishing your proposals? First, we must understand that a Style Guide is usually not a strict manual of rules that must be unflinchingly followed under all circumstances. Rather, it is more a table of suggestions—a “guide” as the title implies. Some companies may have a Style Guide that lists preferred technical terms for certain topics, while others may list terms to avoid. This may have as much to do with a company’s internal idea of professionalism as it does with attitude and technique. The Style Guide may accentuate certain paths to take when there are multiple ways of approaching a topic within the company’s sphere of experience.
In many regards, a uniform company Style Guide isn’t as much of a “life saver” as it can be a very efficient “time-saver.” Time usage can be maximized (and conflict minimized) when a Style Guide provides the preferred avenue for clarifying a particular point within the boundaries set by the company. A Style Guide must not be considered a book of rules or an arbitrary and random whim created by rigid company chiefs. Rather, it must be looked at as the culmination of years of experience in proposal writing on the part of numerous writers, managers, and technicians. It contains the sum knowledge of years of creation and understanding of the workings within a company. It is a useful shortcut in navigating the often contradictory options available to a team of writers, thus offering maximum efficiency with a minimum of difficulty. In short, it is a book of Things That Work for the company when writing and submitting a proposal.
The Style Guide should also be a resource for standardizing many presentation issues within the company. This may cover overall criteria for font type and size, how lists are indented and arranged, when certain terms are capitalized or italicized, how numbers are used (spelled out or enumerated), the formats for headings, and placement of graphics. This will go a long way in bringing together various writers on the team and maintaining a uniform appearance of your proposal. This will help keep clients comfortable with their expectations of a company that they have been doing business with. Many phrases and explanatory term mixings can be reworded in future proposals, as appropriate. Templates exhibiting the various styles of presentation acceptable to the company should also be included in your company’s internal Style Guide.
Of course, a company Style Guide should always be amended and updated as the need arises. For example, a bright new writer may interject an idea that works perfectly for a new client. It could be a choice of sentence structure that plays to a specific part of the client’s product line, or a blending of terms that create an inference to the client’s more well-known catch phrases. Either way, new ideas and examples should be included into your company’s Style Guide. It is always advantageous when a clever writer knows how to break the rules—even if it happens by a lucky accident. Encourage creative thought to make your proposals come alive and stand out, while also noting them and maintaining a record for future use.
While an internal company Style Guide is a proprietary document, there are many examples of Style Guides available on the internet. These cover various writing formats for different companies and can be useful if you need to create a uniform Style Guide for a new company, or just want to search for additional tips that might prove useful to you. Researching information from the experiences of others can be a quick way to help meet creativity half-way.