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Freshen Up Your Templates

A client company that generates plenty of proposals asked me for tips on how to keep templates fresh. It’s a great question. When we use templates well, our readers believe every word was written just for them. When we use them badly, our readers see the cutting and pasting and lose confidence in us.

(Time out for a definition: A template is a document we use over and over, simply changing the relevant parts to match each situation and reader.)

Here are three suggestions for keeping templates fresh:

  1. Before looking to a template, think about your reader. What are this particular reader’s questions that this document needs to answer? What are this reader’s interests, goals, and concerns? Record your answers.
  2. As you adapt a template to send to your reader, be honest. If a chunk of text doesn’t answer one of this reader’s questions, cut it. Including it would only make the document longer–not more helpful or persuasive.
  3. Before sending out a proposal, quote, or other document, read it–all of it. Although you may have read the template sections many times, read the entire piece with the eyes of this specific reader. Again, be honest. Are the abbreviations and acronyms clear? Are the geographical references appropriate? Are the benefit statements something this reader cares about?

Although reading the piece from beginning to end may eat up time, you expect the reader to review it from beginning to end, don’t you? Why not see what your reader’s experience will be like? Then tweak the document to make it more persuasive and powerful.

Yes, templates save time. Use that time to freshen and tailor them for a specific reader. Doing so may mean the difference between a successful proposal and a wasted effort.

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.