Proposal writing is neither “technical writing” nor “marketing writing,” so it comes with its own goals and objectives—and it demands its own style. Unlike technical writing, proposal writing focuses on persuasion, not just the transmission of information. Proposal writing is organized to score well, rather than to decompose a problem.
Similarly, proposal writing is unlike marketing writing in that proposal writing focuses on facts and substantiation of claims. The intent of proposal writing is to persuade through objective analysis rather than emotion.
Navigating the Seas of Proposal Writing
How do we navigate the tricky needs of proposal writing? For starters, always remember that proposals are scored, not read. This means that proposal writing, first and foremost, provides the information asked for in the solicitation’s proposal instructions. The easier you can make it on the customer’s proposal evaluator the better. That may mean that the proposal volume does not read like a novel from page one to the end. Make it easy for the evaluator to find what they have asked for, then write the response to score well, according to the solicitation’s evaluation factors.
Some time ago I worked with a senior Business Development lead who was fond of saying that our proposals had to be, “complete, compliant, and compelling.” He said it so often and so fast that it became an empty slogan, with no impact on how we wrote our proposals. Besides being an empty slogan, it’s also redundant—if a proposal is “compliant,” it is by definition “complete.”
Proposal Writing Checklist
One valuable tool to check if your proposal is organized and written to have the best chance to win is the Seven ‘Cs’ of proposal writing:
- Compliant – Does the proposal meet all the customer requirements, and is it easy to find what the solicitation asks for in the proposal instructions?
- Compelling – Will the proposal make your customer want to award your company the contract, by clearly identifying elements the customer will consider strengths, and by explaining how those strengths provide benefits to the customer?
- Credible – Does the proposal include substantiation of your claims, so that the customer believes that you can perform the effort the way you propose?
- Correct – Is the proposal accurate and have you avoided credibility killers like misspellings and technical errors?
- Consistent – Are the facts and claims the same across all proposal volumes and have you avoided contradicting in one section what you claim in another section or volume?
- Concise – Is the proposal brief and to the point? Even if the solicitation gives you 50 pages to respond, that does not mean you need to write 50 pages if you can meet all the other ‘Cs’ in fewer pages.
- Clear – Will the customer understand your solution, have confidence that you understand their challenges, and see and agree with the strengths you are claiming?
You can get by with mediocre proposal writing but checking your writing against the Seven ‘Cs’ will boost your chances of winning.