Readability is a measure of how easy it is for your reader (customer) to both follow and understand your solutions, ideas, arguments, and recommendations. Over time, several tests and algorithms have been developed to help score readability (typically based on word choice, word length, sentence length, paragraph length, and grammar) and have been incorporated into several free and paid services to help in the process of writing and in developing proposals.
Improving your readability score tends to also improve how your writing is received by your reader. But a perfect score from a readability test does not guarantee that your proposal or sales document will win the project or contract. The test is only a tool to help you develop into a better writer, to communicate and connect better with your audience. You still need to develop habits with these four Cs to improve your connection with your reader:
• Customer Focused
Clarity refers to both language and structure. In your language, use simple and direct words. Avoid jargon, colloquialisms, hyperbole, unnecessary words, or long explanations. Make sure your reader finds your main point and value very early in the document and finds your point supported by relevant details throughout the document.
Use active voice and action verbs to make your sentences more direct and engaging. This helps your readers to understand who is doing what and why.
Use a consistent style and tone throughout your proposal. Your language and word choice reflect the level of respect you have for your readers and your desire to connect with them.
In structure, use informative headings to organize your content and make it easy for your customer to scan and find important points. Use lists to present key points, steps, or benefits. Use tables, graphics, or diagrams to help the customer visualize your solution better. Use white space, colors, and dynamic formatting to make your proposal visually appealing and professional.
Eliminate redundant or irrelevant information that does not respond directly to your customer’s requirements and does not add value to your proposal. Avoid wordiness and repetition. Use active voice and strong verbs. Keep your sentences and paragraphs short and focused on one topic at a time. Cite specifics where you can, such as numbers, percentages, and actual results, to improve your connection with the customer.
Check your grammar, spelling, punctuation, and formatting. Verify for accuracy any formulas, figures, data, and sources. Proofread your text carefully and use tools like spell checkers and grammar checkers to catch errors.
Being customer focused is to place the reader (your customer) as the actor or receiver of the benefit in your solution. It is to learn about the customer’s needs and then persuade them through your message that they can achieve their goals with your solution.
Demonstrate customer focus by naming the customer before your company in sentences and paragraphs. Then cite the benefits your customer receives from the features of your solution. This effort forces a change in the writer’s mindset from talking about the stuff you know (your company’s solution) to talking about what the customer receives. Instead of paragraphs leading with “We,” “Our,” or your company’s name, lead with the customer’s name and their benefit. They will see themselves in your solution and better evaluate your solution against your competitors.
Demonstrate customer focus by validating all claims you make in the proposal. While you may claim a “world-class” solution, your claim is empty without validating proof. Validating information may include complimentary customer statements, letters, or client newsletter excerpts; performance ratings; exceptional aspects or quantifiable benefits; or third-party validation reports. Validated claims improve your scores and reduce the customer’s perceived risk of your solution.
As you review and implement the four Cs above, you will increase the readability of your message to your customers. They will better understand your solution and see its viability in their organization. And yes, the readability tests will reflect a higher score for you as well. Regardless, keep your eye and focus on your reader, the customer.