Much of this guide focuses on commanding audience attention and making a first impression. Of course, once the spotlight turns to us, we need to support the claims we make. This starts with proof points.
These are the facts that make our message real—the examples that help people understand what we’re talking about and the evidence that leads them to believe us.
Types of Proof Points
In some circles, the term “proof point” refers specifically to a statistic—and numerical evidence can certainly be powerful. For instance, if we say,
An economic impact of $1.14 billion on the Washington, D.C., region.
More than 600 Mason students completing research projects through OSCAR.
We have strongly supported the message that Mason is a significant economic contributor and affords ample opportunity for student research.
Similarly, when we speak about diversity, a statistic on the ethnic composition of the student body could work well, or when we cite the opportunity for student access to faculty, we might quote figures on class sizes.
However, good proof points come in many forms, and not all feature numbers. When we speak about ROI, validation can be a best-value ranking from a national publication. When we tout “Ideas with Impact,” it may be an example of a break-through from the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine. If the topic is the warmth and openness of the Mason community, the best proof may be a quote from a student or visitor to campus.
Expanding Proof Points
Note that proof points can be more than a just a few words. For instance, the proof point takes the form of this caption:
“Making a microcontroller to help people with speech difficulties.”
This quick phrase works with the headline and could be used alone, for instance, as part of a series of messages in a web carousel. However, given space, this point could also be expanded. In a viewbook or a campaign case statement, we could run a paragraph naming the students and explaining the project. On the web, there could be a “more” button linking to the full story. In a magazine feature, we could tell the entire tale, from the spark of the idea to its impact in action.
When and How to Use Proof Points
The best advice on the use of proof points is to follow the old adage about voting: do it early and often. Make your point, then back it up. If you’ve drafted a whole paragraph and look back without seeing something you could clearly label as evidence, start revising.
In running text, proof points are woven into sentences and paragraphs—part of the flow of the narrative; however, there are also other excellent ways to present them: as captions, in bulleted lists, or as call-outs.
Where to Find Proof Points
Mason has no shortage of good material with which to back up its messages. If you look at a copy of the President’s Report, past issues of Mason Spirit magazine, or publications from various colleges and schools, you’ll find excellent content.
As Mason people do their work, they are continually generating more great examples. In short, proof points are everywhere; the task of the writer is to find them, shape them, and verify them. This starts with interviewing and networking. Fortunately, there are also some short cuts:
- You can turn to the Mason website—especially such pages as News (newsdesk.gmu.edu) and Facts and Figures (irr.gmu.edu/FastFacts).
- You can check out the Mason photo archive (gmu.smugmug.com). Proof points work powerfully when connected to images, and this is a great way to see what’s available.
- Finally, you can also build your own supply of points that work in the projects you need to write, whether it’s grant proposals or admissions materials for a graduate program.