Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Reading :: The Anatomy of Persuasion

The Anatomy of Persuasion
By Norbert Aubuchon

For years, I've been using Rich Freed's book Writing Winning Business Proposals in my proposal writing classes and seminars. But someone recently recommended this book, which is used in UT's MA in Technology Commercialization and elsewhere, so I thought I'd check it out.

How is it? I would compare this book with Freed's, but in some ways it's an apples-and-oranges comparison. Even though both books address proposals, even though the resulting proposals have roughly the same structure, and even though the approaches are both methodical, the results are actually quite different documents.

Freed's book addresses proposals in general, but consulting proposals in particular. And these proposals can be insight, planning, or implementation proposals. For these reasons and others, the proposals tend to be long—the example used throughout the book is perhaps eight pages, and Freed clarifies that such proposals can run into the hundreds of pages. Since Freed's book is written based on his work with a consulting firm, the proposals have a heavy focus on problem-solving: they explain how the proposer will go about solving the unique, often ill-defined problem that the client faces.

Aubuchon's book, on the other hand, describes sales proposals, and specifically what Freed would call implementation proposals: Proposals in which the proposer has a ready-made solution. One of the examples, for instance, is a client who needs a new computer system. The salesperson has a system that can meet that need, and just has to describe it. Although Aubuchon's proposal does involve problem-solving, that problem-solving is in terms of how to write the proposal—not how the proposer will go about solving the client's problem, which in this case is fairly clear-cut. The rhetorical situation may not be any less complex, but Aubuchon's proposals carry less of an explanatory burden, so they wind up being 1-2 pages.

Despite those differences, the two books—Aubuchon's book was originally published in 1997, Freed's in 1995—take a fairly similar approach to examining persuasive factors, defining an objective, structuring the proposal, and "debugging" (Aubuchon) or "reconciling" (Freed) the proposal logic. Reading one against the other is fascinating, and together, they helped me gain a different perspective on the range of proposals one might write.

If you're interested in writing proposals, check it out.

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