Development Cooperation Handbook/Communication Skills /Guidelines to Project Managers on Effective Writing
Strong writing is the result of many different elements. However, there are a few simple guidelines that writers can use to increase the quality and effectiveness of their plans:
- Use Spellchecker/Proofread: One of the most distracting and dangerous mistakes an manager can make when writing the plan is misspelling a word. Doing so leaves the impression that the manager is careless and takes away from the argument the author is making. Therefore, managers should be careful to spell check their document and have others proofread it for any grammatical mistakes.
- Page Numbers: program plans quickly become large documents. Therefore, it is crucial that page numbers are included for easy reference.
- Spelling Numbers: Many managers forget that you spell out numbers one through ten, and use numbers for any numbers over ten (11,12, 100, etc).
- No Footnotes: As mentioned in a previous module, the appendix is an important part of the plan for reinforcing the arguments made within. As a result, there should be no footnotes within the plan. All sources and additional information should be place in the appendix.
- Spaces Between Paragraphs: managers should strive to keep their document from looking dense. By placing a blank line between paragraphs, the page looks less cluttered and allows the reader to feel that they are moving through the document faster.
- Date Pages: Since the program plan is a constantly changing and evolving planning document, it is important that the date be included in the header or footer of each page. That way the reader can quickly determine when the plan was written and whether it was the most recent version.
- Avoid Redundancy: Once something has been stated in the plan, the author should avoid repeating it over and over. The repetition will merely frustrate the reader.
What to Avoid
Managers want to write their plans with confidence and enthusiasm. However, often they cross a line from being confident to being unrealistic. It is crucial that the author resist the temptation to exaggerate. Often the exaggeration comes not from what the managers say as much as how they say it. Therefore, the following are some terms and phrases that should be avoided:
Superlatives: Perhaps the most common abuse of language is the overuse of superlatives. While sometimes superlatives can be necessary to show the products performance versus the competition, their use often can seem incredulous or ridiculous to the reader. Some common superlatives include:
- Truly staggering
Phrases: In addition to these superlatives, there are also many phrases that should be avoided. These phrases are ones that have become program clichés, devoid of meaning and a source of derision. Whenever possible, they should be avoided completely:
- Easy to use
- User friendly
- Cutting edge technology
- Untapped market
Common Content Problems
In addition to these grammatical traps, there are also several problems that many face with regard to their content. By looking at common problems, managers can try and avoid these pitfalls. They include:
- Generalization: One thing that can kill a program plan is a sweeping generalization. Often managers take common wisdom from different programmes and repackage for the specific context where they intend to operate without having done specific research in the new environment. Or they have done research on a specific programme component and then apply the lessons learned on a much wider scale. Either way the reader will feel that decisions are made upon information that is not applicable to the beneficiary groups being highlighted.
- Unclear deliverables and the expected outcomes and impact. A surprising number of plans leave the audience scratching its head about what benefices are being proposed. Readers are unlikely to invest much time or effort in a program they cannot understand.
- Weak Value Proposition: Even the most well researched and eloquently written program plan will fail if the reader feels that the value the program is offering is not compelling.
- Unclear Implementation Plan: Many plans offer an impressive vision of the future of their organization, complete with documented indicators of achievements. However, if that success is not carefully explained and the steps that need to be take clear, then it sounds as a mere wish list.
Four Things to Remember
Finding the correct tone and writing style for a program plan is a difficult task for any manager. Each author of a program plan will have their own unique writing style, their own organization, and their own program concept. However, the following are four key elements universal to the process of writing a plan. managers should use them as a general guideline during the writing process.
1. Brevity – program plans are not elaborate written works. The author does not need to impress the audience with their grasp of a broad vocabulary or use of metaphors. In a program plan, being as brief as possible while still conveying the core information is ideal. However, being brief often takes more effort then crafting long, rambling sentences. Authors must be disciplined when writing, using only enough language to convey the core message.
2. Expressiveness – While brevity is a necessary element of program plan writing, that does not mean that the plan must be boring or lack personality. Expressiveness is a crucial element in writing as well. Authors should strive to open paragraphs and sections of the plan with sentences crafted to grab the audience’s attention.
3. Powerful Endings – Again, the author of a program plan wants the audience to remain engaged and interested in their idea. Therefore, when ending any portion of the plan, it is important that the manager make his point in a clear and succinct way. In doing so, the reader will consistently understand the position held by the author.
4. Correct Word Usage – Similar to the issue of misspelled words, managers must also be careful to use words in the correct way. Everyone makes mistakes. However, the program plan is no place to mix up words like “accept” and “except.” While misspelled words signify carelessness, word used in the wrong context signifies the author has a weak grasp of language.
Just as a marketing campaign must be targeted to a specific audience, so must the program plan be targeted to a specific group. Program plans are first and foremost a planning document. As such, they should be written in a way that explains the company and its plans for growth and expansion. However, typically program plans are also written to speak to specific stakeholders in the organization.
Various target audiences have different priorities when examining a program plan. What many managers do is craft several versions of the plan for the various audiences. While the facts in the plan must remain the same, the presentation of those facts can be tailored to each group’s specific needs. For example, an internal plan to be used by senior management may have a much more extensive discussion about the organization’s challenges while a plan to donors will focus more on the organization’s strengths.
The following is a chart highlighting the various audiences for a program plan and what issues should be stressed or de-emphasized for each.
|Stakeholder||Issues to Emphasize||Issues to De-emphasize|
|Organization Headquarter||Cash flow, assets, future outlook||Ethical commitments, Beneficiary needs|
|Institutional Donors||Synergy, management team||Assets|
|Private donors||Ethical commitments, Beneficiary needs||Marketing force, assets|
|Key Employees||Security, opportunities, work style||Technology|
|Government||Synergy, Stability, Past accomplishments||Stable growth|
Once the plan has been composed and written, the author must take a moment to ensure that it answers the right questions and provides the right information. Plans that are incomplete or lack key data often appear to be poorly prepared or deceptive. Therefore, managers can use the following checklist to make sure their plans are on target.
- Does the program plan accomplish the following?
- Make it clear what the program is.
- Demonstrate that the program will provide the beneficiaries value in a unique way.
- Show that the program has the adequate staffing and expertise to handle finance, operations, management, and any other key area.
- Outline the objectives and time frames for the organization.
- Note the inherent problems and potential risks involved.
- Clearly states what the donors funds will be used for.
Managers want to be as prepared as possible when they deliver their program plans into the hand of their audience. Another test they can take to ensure their plan is complete is the M.O.R.E. test. Actually, this test should be completed early in the process, when the idea for the program is generated and should be continuously conducted throughout the composition of the plan. If at any point the test fails, then the manager should reconsider continuing with the program
The M.O.R.E. test consists of four elements. They are as follows:
- Motive – Is the manager and his or her team motivated? Do they have the drive and ambition to be successful? Will they be able to weather tough times to reach the end goal?
- Opportunity – Is there a unique, compelling opportunity in the program concept?
- Resources – Are the resources necessary for success available to the managers? Can they be secured at a reasonable cost an in a timely manner? How will the resources be used to meet the objectives of the program?
- Experience – Has the programme team been in this kind of program before? Is expertise in place to handle the various functions of a growing program?
The M.O.R.E. test provides a yardstick to measure the program’s attractiveness.