Plagues to Effective Proposal Writing

When writing proposals, it is important to remember all the aspects that make a winning proposal. Some key techniques are things like incorporating customer focus throughout the proposal and using the customer’s numbering system. However, equally important is to avoid writing habits that can undermine your proposal and detract from the message to the customer.

Don’t Ignore Poor Past Performance

Address all weaknesses known or potentially known by the customer. It may be tempting to omit information about a poor past performance, but—if done effectively—writing about the lessons learned from past performances can strengthen your position to the customer.

If a customer is aware of previous poor performance, use it as an opportunity to highlight how your company fixed the issue, prevented it from happening in the future, and learned from the experience. As you develop the proposal, employ a risk mitigation strategy that includes the following:

  • Cite the lessons learned.
  • Cite the changes you have already made in your approach, and emphasize the positive results attained, if any.
  • Cite your decision to team with another organization or hire a proven individual with a record of performance in the area.

Neglecting to address known weaknesses will not improve your company’s position with the customer. Instead, develop a strategy to use poor past performance to bolster your proposal.

Abstain from Jargon

Proposal writers can be tempting to flaunt their company’s industry knowledge by incorporating technical jargon, but often the person reviewing the proposal is not a content expert. Using technical jargon may obscure meaning and give the proposal an arrogant tone. Instead, you should write at a level the evaluators will understand.

Write simply and clearly. If evaluators cannot easily understand a proposal, they will move on to the next one. When jargon is necessary in a proposal, use the customer’s or industry’s jargon before jargon unique to your company.

Ultimately, customers determine whether jargon is acceptable or not. Pay close attention to the jargon and wording that the customer uses in the RFP. Mirroring this language or terminology in your proposal can make the proposal feel familiar to the customer and evaluators.

Use Graphics Purposefully

Although this recommendation does not involve any writing, avoid using graphics solely to liven up a page or break up text. Graphics are a common way ineffective proposals detract from the message. Evaluators may look at the proposal and think it looks amazing, but if a graphic or design element is not functional, it is still useless.

Consider these questions when brainstorming graphics:

  • What is the overall point I am trying to make?
  • How much room is available to create graphics?
  • What is the most important idea that I must communicate?
  • What is the central concept?
  • How are we different in this area?
  • What is unique, desirable, or beneficial?

Used effectively, graphics convey facts and help evaluators remember key aspects of the proposal. Plan out the graphics you will use in each proposal section prior to writing the section. Work with graphics personnel until the graphic is easily understandable.


proposal writers need to remember many effective proposal practices as they write. However, there are also many proposal habits to avoid. To help you abstain from poor proposal habits you may practice regularly, keep a list of unwelcome habits in your workspace. Run through this list as you review proposal sections so you can correct them. Knowing what to include and exclude in a proposal can improve your evaluations with the customer and help you win more business.