WRITING TO WIN: Persuasion and Occasion in Internal Proposals
by Royce Murcherson, Ph.D., Professor of English, Richland College
You are a professional. You want to be successful. You want your good ideas to be noticed and implemented. What’s the magic formula? You write to persuade. You create carefully crafted internal proposals that will cause your supervisor to accept your recommendations. That’s easily said. The hard part is knowing the difference between a document that persuades a supervisor to accept a solution to an old problem, and a document that tells the story of an old problem.
One of the ‘booby traps’ in business writing that can cause your ideas to go unnoticed is telling a story rather than providing a solution. This is called, ‘writing about the occasion’. For example, my students have in more than one instance attempted to write a persuasive proposal, but instead penned a narrative that told the story of a problem rather than presenting a solution. There is a big difference between occasion and persuasion, one of which you should be fully aware.
What is ‘Writing about the Occasion’?
- Writing about the occasion leaves out relevant valuable detail.
- Writing about the occasion gives too much time to tangentially related personal experience and the opinions/reactions of colleagues.
- Writing about the occasion is background that over spends itself in immaterial details of what has taken place.
- Writing about the occasion does not lay out a clear recommendation and solution.
You have discovered a way to increase productivity in the workplace. You want to submit an informal internal proposal to your supervisor. These are the things you think you must cover in your proposal:
- You feel you must describe what’s going on.
- You think you need to list all who are involved.
- You are determined to include the opinions of your colleagues.
- You are convinced you must include your big ideas and thoughts because you’re the one who has the solution.
- You’ll write it all down from beginning to end in a long string of paragraphs.
This is exactly what you do. Congratulations! You have just written about the occasion of ‘poor productivity’ in the workplace. It might make an interesting tale, but remember, your supervisor doesn’t expect short-short stories from you. They expect ‘usable’ ideas that give way to solid solutions
So how do you compose a document that recommends, proposes a plan, and provides a solution without telling a story? You follow a blue print. A blue print is something as simple as a list of content sub-headings. If you keep to specific content and clear sub-headings, you’ll be safe. Think of these areas as a table of contents, or even an outline. Below is a list of solution driven content headings in internal proposals:
- Subject Line
- Statement of the Problem
- Proposed Solution
- Proposed Plan
Confining your proposal to specific areas of discussion will keep you away from relating a story. It will leave you little room to digress and keep you to the job at hand. Structure, focus, clarity, and detail are essential. We all have a tendency to want to jump out there and start talking about what needs to be done, but this is not what needs to be done when it comes to writing a proposal. Stick with content areas organized under short, clear sub-headings to avoid becoming a writer of short-stories.
It is possible for the two to happily occupy the same document on a very limited basis in the following areas:
- The background in the proposal would be an appropriate place to include some personal on the job experience if it serves as an ‘attention getting’ device, or an anecdote that helps bring the problem into greater focus.
- The statement of the problem is also another possible place to include a little story telling. Sometimes relating a ‘real experience’ is necessary to help convince and elicit an emotional response in the reader. This technique is called ‘pathos’ in argument theory. It is the use of language or stories that emotionally bind an audience to a subject and is likely to persuade an audience to change position. In the case of an internal proposal being submitted to your supervisor arguing an increase in safety protocols, a very limited description of on the job accidents could prove helpful.
For a more expanded discussion on composing effective internal proposals, see my book, Royce Murcherson, Ph.D., The Guide to Persuasive Business Writing: A New Model that Gets Results. (Iowa: Kendall-Hall, 2013)
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