Review of lynda.com Course Writing Proposals with Judy Steiner-Williams

If you prefer to learn about a topic through video instruction rather than reading a book, there are lots options to choose from. One company that consistently delivers high-quality courses is lynda.com. Currently, lynda.com offers three courses related to grants and proposal writing.

Writing Proposals, the subject of this post, focuses on business proposals. Although it has a business orientation, much of the content in Writing Proposals applies to proposal writing in general. For this reason, the course is worth considering even if you work in the nonprofit sector.

Review of the eCourse Writing Proposals by Judy Steiner-Williams

Course: Writing Proposals
Instructor: Judy Steiner-Williams
Length: 2 hours 17 minutes
Content: 6 sections, 28 segments
Level: Tagged as appropriate for all levels
Target Audience: Individuals interested in an overview of the proposal process.
Cost: Requires lynda.com membership to view (or participation in the free trial period)
Course LinkWriting Proposals
Released: June 10, 2015

The instructor is Judy Steiner-Williams, a senior lecturer in business communication at the Kelley Business School at Indiana University. The course covers topics at a basic-to-intermediate level. You don't need to be familiar with proposals before you take the course, but to get the most out of the course it would be helpful to have prior experience working in a business setting.

Course Overview

The course has six sections: 

  1. Understanding the Proposal
  2. Types of Proposals
  3. Responding to an RFP
  4. Customizing the Proposal
  5. What to Include
  6. Following Up

First Section

The first section, "Understanding the Proposal," introduces topics such as the purpose of the request for proposals (RFP), how to read the RFP, considerations when scheduling the proposal work, and understanding the proposal reviewer's perspective. The information in this section is general and applies to more than just business proposals.

Second Section

In the second section, "Types of Proposals," Ms. Steiner-Williams goes over the four variations of proposals and provides suggestions on how to approach each:

  1. External Solicited
  2. External Unsolicited
  3. Internal Solicited
  4. Internal Unsolicited

For most viewers from the nonprofit sector, solicited proposals are the type most commonly encountered. You'll want to devote more attention to solicted proposal segments and possibly just scan the transcripts of the segments on unsolicited proposals.

Third Section

The third section, "Responding to an RFP," stresses the importance of following an RFP's instructions and paying attention to the overall readability of the proposal. Topics range from how to prepare an executive summary to factors to consider when scheduling proposal work. This section has content relevant to any proposal effort, whether RFP or RFA, for-profit or nonprofit.

Fourth Section

The fourth section, "Customizing the Proposal," Ms. Steiner-Williams emphasizes the need to tailor a proposal for its intended audience. She provides several examples of how to do this and discusses the reverse of tailoring information, which is the risk of using boilerplate. She believes using boilerplate will leave a negative impression on the proposal reviewer. Boilerplate refers to text, written in advance and reused for multiple proposals, that covers common proposal elements such as the organization's history and accomplishments. There is a risk that boilerplate language will come across as generic.  However, if used correctly--that is, updated and tailored as new opportunities come up--boilerplate can serve a valuable purpose.

Fifth Section

The fifth section, "What to Include,"  is a walk-through of the standard components of a proposal. Ms. Steiner-Williams breaks the proposal into four parts: prefatory parts, body parts, ending parts, and appended parts.  She provides suggestions for what content to include in each part, which is a helpful reference if you're not sure whether a particular piece belongs in the body or appendix of the proposal. Some of her suggestions of what to include within each part are business-oriented and will not be as relevant for nonprofits.

Sixth Section

The last section, "Following Up," offers guidance on how to handle the waiting period after you submit your proposal. Do you follow-up with the company that issued the RFP to find out about the status of the review or do you just wait? The advice under this section is oriented for the business context and is not as applicable to proposals written for government agencies or foundations. However, the core of her advice (check-in, don't irritate) applies to both the nonprofit and business sectors. More relevant to the nonprofit sector is the last segment in this section that touches on the value of requesting a debrief to find out why your proposal wasn't successful.

Is the Course Worth Taking?

For those interested in writing business proposals the course is recommended. For those interested in responding to an RFA or RFP on behalf of a nonprofit organization, it's mixed. Some of the advice is general and applicable to all kinds of proposals (e.g. reading the RFP carefully, tailoring the proposal for the reviewer, following submission guidelines). Other sections--such as what to include in the proposal--may be less relevant because of the business focus.

How to Get the Most from the Course

Ms. Steiner-Williams goes through the material at a fast pace. If you are a note taker, you'll find yourself frequently pausing the videos. In fact, since the slides are not that helpful (i.e. they do not provide additional content) you may find it is easier to read the course transcripts than to watch and listen to the video. Related to the video,  the volume of the audio fluctuates throughout the course. It isn't to such an extreme that you cannot understand the instructor, but it's noticeable.

Bottom Line: If you want an introduction to business proposals, this course is for you and will give you a good overview of what is involved in preparing a proposal. If you work in the nonprofit sector, there are other eCourses out there that are going to be more relevant to your needs. One to try is Udemy's course Grant Writing for Nonprofits and Freelancers.