7 tips that turn form-filling into persuasive masterpieces.
Updated: Apr 20
Some opportunities aren’t obviously what you’d think of as copywriting. But, whether you’re writing a funding bid, a tender return, a proposal, or an award submission, your task is the same. Sell, sell, sell. It’s not that easy though, is it? You’re under pressure to tick every box and list every tiny detail, from stakeholders to corporate aims. You haven’t got time to think about persuasive writing techniques, right? But you’re up against stiff competition. A bit of waffle to fill the word count won’t help you. The person reading your copy has hundreds of documents to sift through. What will make yours stand out?
1. Add some drama
Lots of businesses are good at saying what they do. But for a competitive document, that’s not good enough. You need to dramatise the problem by asking “why”. The client has a unique challenge. But why is the situation so important? Why is your product the best way to solve it? Why should the client pay more for your service than for a freelancer they found on Gumtree? Dramatising your document makes it memorable. Explain the challenge. Then present your product or service as the hero that swoops in to save the day. Say you’re filling out a tender for a brand redesign. Anyone can write a 1000 words about their expertise in modern colours and clean fonts. But if you can explain why those modern colours will work well, you dramatise the solution and make it more persuasive.
2. Make it real
Examples aren’t just for the case study section. Scatter stories throughout the copy. Real testimonials and illustrations bring your argument to life. Can you remember the details of the last sales pitch you read? Thought not. But I bet you remember the red wedding in Game of Thrones? Or the twist at the end of Downton Abbey? Or how about the holiday armadillo in Friends? Have a look at this copy from charity: water. They could just talk about providing funds for well repair. But a story makes it much more interesting: AN UNASSUMING HERO
The first time we meet Paul Botoman, he’s already in the middle of a repair. He arrived early. Without pausing, he angles his head back and reveals kind eyes from under the brim of his bucket hat. His face doesn’t change, and his hands keep moving. He just gives a silent head nod from afar. This is the man they call “The Borehole Doctor.”
By introducing a real person, they’ve instantly made us care more about their work. It’s become a tangible project that we can relate to.
3. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes
Pretend you’re a charitable funder reviewing a round of applications. It’s late in the day. Your afternoon coffee is wearing off. Your mind is drifting to tonight’s dinner. Then you stumble across a mammoth of an application – full of long, indecipherable charity jargon. What are the chances it will get your full attention? To have the best chance of success you need to captivate your reader. The best case in the world won’t help you if it’s buried in corporate drivel. A persuasive argument is a great way to engage people. But there are lots of smaller changes you can make too, from using contractions, to cutting down your sentence length. Take a look through our other blog posts for quick fixes to help your reader.
4. Front load information
A lot of your application is just a box-ticking exercise, so keep it simple and get those boxes ticked as early as possible. Put the main point at the beginning of each paragraph. If people have to trawl through your writing to find the information they need, your copy isn’t clear enough. If there’s room for it, always include an executive summary or short introduction. People need to understand what you’re about quickly, otherwise they’ll struggle to keep up with the rest of your copy while they try to figure it out. Try using a proven writing structure like CIGAR to present your case.
5. Take out jargon
Lots of tender returns read like an incomprehensible tenancy agreement. But why? There’s no reason to use complicated words just because it’s a formal process. Straightforward language isn’t “wrong”. If you simplify things your reader will relate to it more. If your reader relates to it, you’re more likely to be successful. Accessibility is never a bad thing.
6. Be ruthless with cuts
When you’ve finished your document I can almost guarantee that half of it is pointless. You can cut out way more than you’d think without losing any meaning. And it will be much better if it’s more concise. Remember that person you’re trying to convince? They’re much more likely to remember your copy if it’s short and persuasive than if it’s long and full of drivel.
7. Don’t panic, it’s mostly common sense
Writing a decent application shouldn’t be hard – you already know all the details about your organisation or project. The trick is to figure out the best way to present those details to someone else. If you’ve got the goods, then you need to sell them. Don’t let sloppy writing stand between you and success.
The ending is important too by the way
Remember that you’re always writing to real people. They’re not hugely different to you. And like you, whether they’re funders, juries or clients, they’re not immune from the influence of persuasive writing. I’ll leave you with a final bit of advice – don’t waste any opportunity to be persuasive. Whether it’s a friendly message introducing your contact details or a sentence explaining the benefits of your organisation’s small size, make every word work harder.