The more proposals I do, the more I appreciate the need for a style sheet. These templates can do more than establish fonts, headings, spacing, captions, and body text styles. They can provide the proposal team with a list of standard practices for writing. Today I’ll touch on some of those often-unspoken needs.
I first became aware of company sensitivities to proper naming conventions when I was working at Disney. They were very particular about spelling out things such as the company name, how it was represented on the page, and what specific company products were called. This also included things like italicizing specific words, adding © or ® before or after particular words, and general nomenclature for company products. For example, Disney has “attractions” not “rides,” “cast members” not “employees,” “costumes” not uniforms, “guests” not customers. Oh, yes: and it’s the Walt Disney World Resort, not “Disney World.”
All of this might seem picky (and it is), but using specific nomenclature for company names, products, and services is tied to copyrights, patents, and brand naming. If you don’t remain consistent with your nomenclature, your trade name can get diluted in the marketplace and, eventually, fall out of your control. For example, “Kleenex” has become a generic term for facial tissues, and “Aspirin,” once a brand name, became a generic term for acetylsalicylic acid. If you’re using your nomenclature correctly and properly, you’re solidifying not just your branding but your corporate culture.
Along with product name consistency, proposal writers have to be consistent about how they refer to their organization in their writing. It’s usually customary, for example, to spell out the company’s full name (“ABC Widget Company, Inc.”) the first time it appears in the text; after that, a company-acceptable shorthand might be used after that (“ABC”).
However, depending on your corporate culture or how often you need to refer to yourselves in the proposal, you might need to switch to a pronoun just to break things up. Would “ABC Widgets” or just “ABC” be permissible? Is the “royal ‘We'” acceptable, or should you say “The Company?” But wait, there’s more.
In addition to branding issues, there are just some things you have establish up front for consistency’s sake–otherwise you end up overworking your writers/editors. These include:
- Do you use the Oxford comma before “and” or not? (I’m of the school of thought that says, “You’d bloody well better.” 🙂 )
- How do you number tables and figures in your proposal? If it’s short, numerically using Arabic or Roman numerals is probably acceptable. If you’re writing a much longer one, it might make more sense (and sometimes the organization issuing the RFP will specify) that you number tables and figures by section number followed by a hyphen and then its sequence number.
- Do you include a period at the end of each caption?
- Do you use only numerals or do you spell out the numbers one through ten?
- Do you add ordinal abbreviations to dates (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) or just use the number?
- Do you spell out an acronym and put the initialism in parentheses afterward or do you write the acronym and put the full spelling in parentheses?
- Do you use end notes or footnotes for references?
- Is the ampersand acceptable (&) in certain situations?
- What format do you use for telephone numbers? (I’ve become fond of 407-824-2222 format myself, but some companies use 407.824.2222.)
- Do you capitalize individuals’ titles? Documents? Reviews? Procedures? Types of analyses? (I once tried to form the Society for the Elimination of Unnecessary Capitalization (SEUC), but I couldn’t get any takers, alas.)
- Do you treat data as a singular or plural noun?
- Do you include a space between a numeral and a unit (e.g. 5m vs. 5 m)?
- Which abbreviation do you use for items that have more than one (e.g. LOX or LO2 for liquid oxygen)?
Note that most of these items are matters of choice/preference, not matters of generally accepted spelling, grammar, or punctuation. And while these issues might seem minor, by keeping your style consistent among contributors, you get a lot closer to “making it sound like only one person wrote it,” which is an editorial task proposal writers often receive. The consistency also makes your proposal easier to read. As a result, it’s worth taking some time to establish the conventions (“rule of engagement”) under which your proposals will be written. It can save your team a lot of effort in the future.