Friday, August 14, 2009

Contronyms, dangling modifiers and confusion. Keep them away from your business proposal.

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At Learn to Write Proposals we often make the same point - a proposal is designed to communicate and persuade. In order to do that you need to write clearly, so that the people reading your proposal, tender or sales document understand it.

OK - that much is simple and straightforward, isn't it? Though it's surprising how often the simple things get ignored!

It usually happens when we use overly technical language that is familiar to us, but not the client.

Sometimes though we can use perfectly innocent words, that might be taken out of context. Again, this is usually due to ambiguous writing and using such things as dangling modifiers where a word modifies the meaning of a sentence. These tend to be amusing:

"After being set alight for 10 minutes, John went to check on the barbecue"

But they cause a problem - they draw attention to the words and not the message.

Sometimes the words themselves are the problem, when they can mean completely different things:

"Jane decided it was time to trim the Christmas tree".

Is Jane adding to the tree or taking away. These words are contronyms - words that have different meaning. Usually the context for your writing in your proposal will make it clear, but don't make assumptions.

Remember that when you say these words your tone, inflection and context carry meaning that doesn't always make it onto the paper, so think carefully about your writing style and choice of words. Always write for your audience and their level of language and remember, you are trying to persuade - don't let the words get in the way of your communication.

Other contronyms:

Buckle - to secure or to collapse
Lease - to lend or to borrow
Out - to remove or to make public
Sanction - to permit or to restrict
Screen - to hide or to show
Weather - endure or decay

Lots more here.