Wednesday, March 4, 2009

How to write a proposal with graphics

Part of the Learn to Write Proposals online proposal guide.

What is the point of a graphic in your business proposal or sales document?

A paper written some time ago in 1986 looked at the way that graphics could be used to enhance the persuasiveness of presentations. The study ( conducted by the University of Minnesota had some interesting findings that not only are applicable to presentations, but really can affect how to write a proposal too..

The report recommended using graphics where you needed to:
  • Increase information density
  • Display multiple dimensions
  • Organize complex issues
  • Support abstract concepts
  • Illustrate trends
The report found that using graphics would improve audience:
  • Attention
  • Comprehension
  • Yielding/Agreement
  • Retention
  • Influence audience action
Lastly, it said that support in colour is more persuasive than that in black and white.

Great, you think, let’s fill our bids and proposals full of colourful graphics and it will have a magical effect on readers. But is it that straightforward? Of course not, but if we can use graphics to help in any of these areas we should, and as the old saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words”.

Graphics will help readers notice, understand and retain your information but it’s important to use them appropriately for them to be effective.

To do that you need to follow some basic do’s and don’ts:
  1. Only use a graphic if it improves your message. Don’t use graphics just for the sake of using graphics.
  2. Use one graphic for each element you are explaining – if it’s a multiple step process you are explaining or a comparison then use graphics side-by-side or in sequence for each element and number each graphic appropriately.
  3. Remember, simple graphics are easier to understand.
  4. Use captions that describe the graphic and the point, or benefit that you are trying to make
  5. Create bespoke graphics for your proposal – don’t use web clip art. Design your required graphic early (when you are preparing the solution) and get them created by a professional graphic designer and incorporate them into your solution – they should never be an afterthought.
  6. Review and improve graphics, just as you would your proposal text.
  7. Insert graphics at the point in the proposal where you have the explanatory text. It makes the page more attractive and provides an easier reference for understanding. Depending on the size of the graphic, put it at the side or after the explanatory text.
    Sometimes RFPs have very constraining response requirements that don't allow graphics in the main proposal body text. This is the only time that graphics should be included at the end of the proposal as an appendix.
  8. Do a test print out early on and ensure they look high-enough quality when printed as well as on screen.