Think HBR

Write like a man (and win)

man hands
Suzanne Mahler
The Finer Point
If you bid for funding through grants or tenders, here’s a tip: you’ll have more success if you write like a man. Before you start organising the lynch mob, hear me out. Gender differences between communication styles have been well studied and there are benefits and drawbacks to feminine and masculine writing in the business context.
Most funding proposals in the community sector are prepared by ‘accidental’ bidders, professionals and executives whose job descriptions include proposal writing in addition to other tasks.
Accidental bidders may not count persuasive writing as a personal strength and yet a substantial amount of their business may rely on funds won through grants or tender processes.
Bidding for business through tender and grant proposals requires specific writing skills and an understanding of the audience. Proposal assessors are short on time and driven to reach a decision. They are also mind-numbingly bored by the time they read tender submission number 122.
The job of the proposal writer is to influence the decision of the assessors. ‘Writing like a man’ makes for a more influential style because it means using a voice of authority. It means taking a firm position: you are the best. Men tend to communicate with less hesitation, greater confidence and fewer qualifiers. Women tend to seek consensus, share credit and be less direct. Of course, this is not true of all men or all women; but in general these can be described as gendered traits.
Writing without hesitation gives greater authority to your writing. Removing qualifiers (like some, really, quite and very) from a proposal is an easy way to strengthen it. The same goes for words like might, could, may and somewhat. It merely is and will be. Confidence is key. If you don’t have complete confidence in your ability to do the job, who will?
Another trait more common to men is a tendency to speak plainly and get to the point. This behaviour might be considered abrasive in a social setting but it is perfect for the bored and tired tender assessor. It is also helpful when proposals are restricted by word or character limits.
The upshot of writing ‘like a man’? Your argument will be bolder, clearer and more persuasive. If you’re interested in testing your own work, there are online tools that will analyse the gender of your writing. And if you’re thinking this article is biased or unfair, just wait until you hear my advice on how to earn the trust of your colleagues: by writing like a woman.
For further information contact Suzanne on 0448 813 138, email or visit
Suzanne Mahler Suzanne Mahler
Is the owner and writer forThe Finer Point. Suzanne is a professional writer and editor and has 8 years’ experience as an executive in government policy. Her work history included assessing funding applications on behalf of the Australian Government.