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Marketing / Business writing

Make proposal and report writing easy with an outline

Creating an outline for writing reports and proposals can save you time and effort. Here’s how to make business report writing easier.

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Do you find it difficult to begin the writing process for your business documents, especially reports or proposals?

Have you ever found yourself in one of these situations?

  • You have limited time to complete your document.
  • You’re not absolutely clear as to what you need to produce with your document.
  • You have too much information and sifting through it is taking too much time.

In any or all of these scenarios, an outline can save you time and can help you to become clear on the essential components of your document.

Creating an outline

An outline is the skeleton of the document – it shows you what you should write and at what point. Follow these four steps to create an outline for your document. A good outline gives you something to follow during the report writing process, breaking the task into manageable parts and ensuring no information is left out.

"An outline can save you time and can help you to become clear on the essential components of your document."

Step One: Key result

Write down the key result you’re aiming for. When doing this consider these questions:

  • What specific outcomes should this project produce?
  • Which outcomes are most important?
  • What business needs do the outcomes address?

When writing the key result it’s important to write it as a concise sentence. You don’t want to be referring to entire paragraphs in the following steps when you revisit your key result.

Want more articles like this? Check out the business writing section.

Step Two: Brainstorm

Brainstorm all that you know about the relevant aspects of your proposal or business report, focusing on the who, why and when:

Who needs to be involved?

Why is your solution the best one to follow?

When will the project need to be completed by?

To develop a complete picture, some further questions to consider include:

  • How can I define the result areas?
  • What are the appropriate measurement indicators?
  • What is the cost?
  • What is my solution to the problem or situation?

It’s important not to order the points that you’ve brainstormed at this stage. If you do, then you’re more likely to block any further thoughts about your report or proposal.

Step Three: Group related ideas or facts

Once you’ve finished brainstorming it’s time to group related ideas or facts. Connect the relevant points to the key result that you wrote at the beginning of the brainstorming process. Expand on the ideas, becoming more specific where possible.

Step Four: Prioritise

Now is the time to prioritise. Think about your reader and what should come first from their point of view. Number the key points in order of importance.

Result

The end result is an outline for a business report, the executive summary of a proposal or an outline for a complete letter proposal.

You can repeat the process for each section of your document as necessary. Depending on your document you can then focus on areas such as technical specifications, functional specifications, project plan and cost analysis.

Making this a regular part of your business report writing process will help you save time and energy, whilst creating a document that is easy to follow. By producing a document that is easy to understand and that covers the key areas for your reader you are more likely to have your report accepted and followed or your proposal winning you new business.

Do you use an outline for report and proposal writing? What else do you do to make the business report writing process easier? 

Maria Pantalone

works with individuals and teams in developing their business communication skills. Her company, Infinite Growth, provides training in presentation skills, business writing and leadership development. Armed with these skills, there is nothing a business person cannot achieve.

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