(Adapted from Paul Emanuelli’s Precision Drafting: A Handbook for Tenders and RFPs)

The more complex your project and the larger your team, the more critical the need to establish a clear game plan at the outset. While the pressure of pending deadlines may tempt you to rush headlong into the drafting process, you need to exercise discipline at the initial stages in order to prevent significant inefficiencies later on in the process.

The first step in your drafting process is to design an initial mapping statement. This will help you communicate what you are buying and serve as a framework to organize your team throughout the drafting process.

This post explores the importance of applying clear thinking, group organization and clear language to the creation of that initial mapping statement.

Informing Your Reader with Clarity

As William Zinsser observes in On Writing Well (25th anniversary ed., New York: HarperCollins, 2001, p. 9), to communicate effectively, you need to first have a clear idea in your own mind of what you want to say:

The answer is to clear our heads of clutter. Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other. It’s impossible for a muddy thinker to write good English. He may get away with it for a paragraph or two, but soon the reader will be lost, and there’s no sin so grave, for the reader will not easily be lured back.

Before you start drafting, you need to be able to prepare a brief statement that answers the most important question of the entire procurement process: What are we buying?

You should be able to answer this question in thirty seconds or less. The answer will inform the creation of your initial mapping statement, which will then become the reference point for everything you do during your procurement process.

As George Merlis explains in his book How to Make the Most of Every Media Appearance: Getting Your Message Across on Air, in Print, or Online (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004, p. 19), taking an audience-focused approach is critical to clear communication:

Whether your audience is the broad-based readership of USA Today or the sophisticated scientists who subscribe to the magazine Science, they are all listening to WSIC. The call letters stand for Why Should I Care?

In this era of unprecedented information overload, you need to be efficient when communicating to your audience. In their seminal work Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001, p. 29), internationally acclaimed marketing strategists Al Reis and Jack Trout observe how we filter out new information that does not compute with our way of thinking:

Like the memory bank of a computer, the mind has a slot or position for each bit of information it has chosen to retain. In operation, the mind is a lot like a computer.

But there is one important difference. A computer has to accept what you put into it. The mind does not. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

The mind rejects new information that does not “compute”. It accepts only that new information which matches its state of mind. It filters out everything else.

If you want to prevent your audience from changing the channel, you need to think hard about the structure and content of your information and its relevance to your reader.

In Thinking Like a Writer: A Lawyer’s Guide to Effective Writing and Editing (2nd ed., Practicing Law Institute: New York, 2003, p. 18), Stephen V. Armstrong and Timothy P. Terrell observe how readers absorb information best if they understand its significance as soon as they see it, if its form mirrors its substance and if they can absorb it in pieces. To help readers absorb your information, you need to provide them with a structural container for that information:

When you set out to communicate complex information, therefore, your first task is to create a container in your reader’s mind before you give them information. And that task never ends, because you should continue to create containers throughout the document whenever you are about to dump new information on the page. The containers’ function is to make readers smart — smart enough to understand the significance of every detail that follows as soon as they see it.

Your initial mapping statement will serve as this container, providing your reader with a clear, concise statement that explains what you are buying and sets out the road map for the information that follows.

Read more about initial mapping statements: