Technical Writing – How to Write Project Justification Documents

As part of building the overall project scope a technical author will first need to lay out the justification documentation. This document which can also be considered a “business case” lays out the fundamental reasons for implementing the project. Here’s a simple guide on creating a project justification.

State the Problem

Businesses don’t carry out projects for fun; they perform them in order to solve a specific issue or issues. You need to describe the problem clearly and accurately at the start of your document so that you can then present the solution to that problem.

For example if you intend to implement a new HRMS (Human Resource Management System) your problem may be; “The HR team currently spends nearly 80% of its time on non-productive administrative tasks, reducing the effectiveness of the function dramatically.”

State the Solution

This should be a simple statement to define your project. This enables your reader to understand what it is you’re proposing.

“We intend to implement an automated HRMS system to reduce manual administration by half.”

Supply Supporting Information

The problem and solution aren’t going to justify your project to the stakeholders and decision makers, so you need to provide the right level of information to enable them to support your recommendation.

Examples of the kind of information you should use:

  • Market Demand – Not always the strongest argument, but if you can show that all your competitors are implementing similar systems, it certainly suggests that it may be worth considering in your organisation.
  • Business Need – In this example the business need is clear, the HR team are spending the majority of their work time on non-specialist tasks and that costs money.
  • Customer Demands – what is it that your customers are screaming out for? Don’t forget to include internal customers as well as external ones.
  • Technological Progression – what’s going on in the world around you, is there are compelling case to be told in terms of the way IT and systems are developing?
  • Legal – Don’t forget the all important obligation to the law, if you can show that your project brings compliance or makes it easier to comply with those requirements you have a stronger case.

Writing a business case or project justification is an essential part of the larger project scoping process. Ideally you should write this early in the lifecycle of your project to help you obtain funding and support. You will also then be able to clearly identify the objectives of your task so that team members have a clear message to take away.

Ethical Justification on the Public Administration

The justification of a public sector institution can provide the basis for the ethics of its administrators. This can help indicate what individuals should refrain from doing. Thus, if the justification of a public sector institution is that it serves some public value, this rules out actions that enrich either the individual or the institution at the expense of achieving that value for the wider community. For example, if the value to be served is to build roads to assist the free movement of citizens and their goods, the use of that power to build roads and overpasses to suit the individual business interests of politicians is ruled out.

However, the most important role of ethics is more constructive, telling us how we should live our lives or, in the case of public sector ethics, how we should act within our administrative roles. For example, the core of medical ethics is to be found in professional goals like the promotion of health, the relief of suffering, and the curing of disease rather than the punishable transgressions which reflect the more serious deviations from those goals. Likewise, the justification of an institution not only provides a point for the institution but also for activity within it and it can suggest the goals members should set themselves and how they should exercise the powers they have by virtue of that membership. It sets out the positive achievements by which an administrator should be judged by her peers and should judge herself.

In the example given above it is to build roads to assist the free movement of citizens and their goods by discovering where that movement is most hampered and where the most assistance can be provided by the least expenditure of public money.

Ethics such as these can, in turn, support laws that are based around publicly acknowledged values.

The provision of a justification for an institution provides a standard for criticism of the performance and design of institutions. It constantly raises the question of what structure, what design, what kinds of relationships between members and employees of an organisation are likely to aid the institution achieving the values that justify having a public sector agency. (It also raises the negative question of how we can prevent some of the aberrations that prevent it achieving those values. However, as with law and ethics, the primary emphasis is on what they can positively achieve.)

Thus we should be asking what sort of institutional structure is more likely to allow public sector agencies fulfill the values for which they were established. For example, we should ask what structure allows universities to produce world class teaching and research and what structure allows the courts to better resolve disputes that come to it? Assume for the moment that the justification of public sector agencies is to serve some stated community value such as educating school children, improving the health of the community or increasing our exports. Such a justification should provide a reason for blocking off avenues by which monies provided for those purposes was expended for other ends and removing incentives for them to do so. At the same time, those institutions would be prevented from doing so at the expense of other values such as human rights.

Effective Copywriting 2 – Embedded Commands, Visualising Your Customer & Logical Justification

Embedded Commands

One of the key techniques we can employ is drawn from NLP, or Neuro-Linguistic Programming. At first sight, it might appear amazingly unsubtle, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Have you ever read a sales letter and wondered why some words were underlined or in bold? Of course, it’s for emphasis, but it can seem a bit haphazard at times. Have you ever wondered why the lines in a letter sometimes seem to be cut short? Well, it might be bad design or poor proofreading, but there is another reason.

What the copywriter has done, or attempted to do, is ’embed’ commands within the copy. Once again, the writer has tried to engage your subconscious, to embed or hide instructions within the copy that your conscious mind doesn’t register, but which your much more subtle subconscious mind will record and file away. Because the words are underlined, in bold or in capitals (’embedded commands’), the subconscious brain assigns them greater importance.

Your subconscious also constantly looks for patterns, including language patterns, so it assembles these apparently random words and phrases into meaningful commands. Of course, they were never really random. When you begin to assemble them in sequences or groups, they do start to make sense, and your subconscious can easily make sense of them, often without bothering to make you ‘aware’ of the fact.

And yet, the commands that your subconscious has taken onboard will have a significant effect on your buying decision. After all, what commands might you expect to find in a sales letter? Here’s a brief example:

… buy my manual or go on to buy loads more books and courses, what you’re investing in could hardly be more worthwhile. Your future belongs to you. You just have to choose what you’re going to do with it.

Do you want personal success, financial success and the knowledge that it’s all yours because you’ve helped other people to success as well?

You’re investing for other people.

Still not convinced? Remember how I showed you how helping other people and helping yourself can be in perfect harmony, and how so few people…’

So, the embedded commands in that sales letter will actually run together in the reader’s mind as a sentence that reads: ‘Buy my manual: choose personal success, financial success, in perfect harmony’.

As we said, it can look quite crude, but it works.

Visualising Your Customer

There are two very good reasons for having a clear image of our target customer in our minds.

Firstly, we have to know we’re aiming our product at the right people

Secondly, we need to be speaking their language

Aiming at the right people comes down to market research and, if we’re lucky, to choosing the types of people we’d prefer to deal with.

Speaking your prospects’ language involves a lot of listening first of all. If we’re marketing to a particular niche, it’s very likely to have a language and a set of acronyms all its own. Property investors have their own jargon, just as football fans and classical musicians do. If in doubt, use ‘plain English’, but you’ll sound much more authentic and plausible when you’ve mastered the appropriate vocabulary. Don’t use slang (and watch your punctuation) if your target market is English professors, and don’t be imprecise if you’re addressing professional physicists.

It’s a good idea to read the publications your target prospects read and copy their literary style. Just one warning: some of the simplest-looking writing is actually the hardest to pull off. For instance, The Sun employs some of the most highly skilled journalists around, and for good reason.

The Logical Justification

We’ve already said you need a picture in your head of the person you’re ‘speaking to’ with your copy. And that’s quite true, because, as we’ve said, all buying decisions are made by people.

But it’s also true that a lot of buying decisions have to be justified to an employer, business partner, accountant or spouse. Even those that aren’t may have to be justified later by a more logical analysis. Thus, it pays to equip your customer with the ammunition he or she needs to back up their decision, if only to themselves. Of course, you should never sell anything that your customer will seriously regret buying, which means you need to either have a very cheap product that’s neither here nor there in the great (accountants’) scheme of things, or you should be selling appropriate and excellent products or services. That way, your customer should have no difficulty when it comes to justifying his or her purchase.

So, while you will use emotion to persuade your prospect to buy, because it’s by far the most effective way to do it, you should also try to give them a ‘logical’ reason not to change their mind. Facts, figures, efficiency savings, safety, current media obsessions, potential earnings and even the realistic chance of turning dreams into reality can all be represented as logical justification. You might not get the last of those past a committee, but it can work with real people.

What logical justification(s) could you give to your prospects to help them ‘justify’ buying your products?