A new year brings greater emphasis on what we need to improve in ourselves. For many in the proposal writing world, you may not need a complete overhaul of your proposal practices to start writing more effectively and winning more business. Often, a simple refresh of the basics will sharpen your edges and improve your overall proposal writing.

So, what are the basics of proposal writing? Oddly enough, some of them don’t involve writing at all.

Plan, Plan, Plan

A tremendous amount of work goes into a proposal before writers push a single key on their keyboards. Whether your organization uses storyboards, mockups, or some other type of content plan, planning before you write saves time in the long run. Plan out graphics, page allocations, and margins, so you know first off how much space you have to write each proposal section. Then plan strategy statements for each section, win themes, customer needs, and more.

Content plans also allow you to quickly spot significant gaps. If your content plan is incomplete in a certain section, that should be an indicator that you need more information. Once you have completed your content plan, go back and flesh it out. Insert the following items, in the approximate order listed below:

  • Insert the top-level theme statement from the storyboard.
  • Identify each graphic and identify it in the reserved space.
  • List the key points to be made.
  • Draft action captions for each visual.
  • Draft every planned theme statement.
  • Draft the section summary and introduction.
  • Begin drafting text. Start where you feel most prepared or comfortable.
  • The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to review the content planning tools or templates that your organization uses to prepare yourself for upcoming bids.

Review, Review, Review

Another vital step in proposal writing is taking the time to hold appropriate color team reviews. Take your eyes off the paper and let someone else give it a look. They’ll have a clearer perspective because they haven’t been bogged down with writing the proposal.

Additionally, different color team reviews concentrate on various aspects of customer focus and proposal excellence. Pink team reviews verify that your content plan aligns with your win strategy, so you don’t waste time writing things you’ll have to delete later. A red team review predicts how well your near-final proposal would be scored by the customer. It’s essentially a trial run proposal submission, which can be incredibly useful in preparing a compliant, responsive proposal.

Color team reviews serve as checkpoints for proposal document quality and conformance to organizational standards. They boost your proposal excellence by keeping customer issues at the focus and aligning to win strategies.

Grammar, Grammar, Grammar

Finally, a proposal basic that actually involves writing! If you’re looking to refresh the basics, it never hurts to brush up on bare-boned writing rules. Grab your appropriate style guide and give it a study. While I know not everyone loves the nitty gritty of grammar rules and rhetoric, incorrect grammar within a proposal raises an immediate red flag to evaluators.

Be correct with mechanics of spelling, punctuation, and grammar. This solidifies your professionalism to the customer and minimizes distractions as evaluators read the proposal.

Words, Words, Words

From time to time, everyone needs a reminder to take a long, hard look at their own writing style and word choices. Are there long words or wordy phrases you tend to use? Does company-specific jargon sneak into your proposals? A compelling, persuasive proposal uses words that are precise, powerful, and descriptive.

Most evaluators will not read the entire proposal. They will read enough of a section to assign a score and then move on. Writing clearly and concisely is vital to creating a winning proposal. It’s a skill that can ebb and flow throughout a proposal writers’ career. Even personally while writing this article, I have had to go back and edit out many unnecessary words or phrases that have contributed to the word count without adding any meaning (and I’m sure I still didn’t get them all!).

Because evaluators will not read every single word, using informative headings is another essential skill proposal writers should have. Look at some of the headings in proposals you submitted last year. Are they short, telegraphic headings or informative headings? Do your past headings link a benefit to a feature and cite discriminators? They should. Informative, specific headings help evaluators immediately determine the contents of a section—and often the benefit to their organization.

As you make and attain other New Year’s resolutions, consider going back to the basics of proposal writing to bring this year’s bids above and beyond. If you are looking for other tangible ways to review the basics, consider taking Shipley’s self-paced Proposal Writing course online.