Clear thinking

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Tools and frameworks for proposal writers

 November 15, 2016
by Paul Heron

In this month’s series on managing proposal writers, we’ve covered the need to integrate input from sales, marketing, and solution experts and good practices for communicating proposal strategy. This week, we’ll look at tools and frameworks.

Bid teams pursuing very large projects ($500M-plus) use a variety of templates and tools to keep the content development process on strategy and on schedule. We’ve adapted several of these to smaller pursuits. This post reviews four examples.

Style guides

Every bid team should have a style guide that can be quickly adapted to the current opportunity. See this blog post on proposal style guides and include the following sections:

  • Style: Ask writers to use active voice and plain language and include  a table of unacceptable phrases and preferred style (e.g. for the reason that > because)
  • Capitalization and punctuation: Specify rules for capitalizing titles and what, if any, punctuation should follow abbreviations and list items.
  • Naming conventions: Specify acceptable short forms and acronyms and how to refer to the prospect and the proponent in the proposal.
  • Abbreviations: For example, how should writers abbreviate weights and measures? How should currency amounts be written? Is it OK to use % for percent?
  • Language and standards: Specify which dictionary to use—e.g. English (Canadian). Will the proposal use metric or imperial measures?

Section content planner (SCP)

The SCP is a framework document content developers can use to quickly access the information they’ll need to write their sections, and then to organize their thinking before starting to write.

SCPs can be pre-populated by the proposal management team, or by the content develop as part of his or her responsibilities. In either case, it draws on the proposal compliance matrix, the annotated table of contents (ATOC), and the proposal strategy document. See this blog post for more on proposal section content planners.

Content templates

Always structure content to mirror the RFP question or section description. Beyond that rule, some types of content benefit from preplanning the response structure. An obvious case can be made for standardizing team member resumes and project sheets.

Where the RFP provides latitude in how to respond, we recommend adopting a common structure for similar categories of content. For example, see this blog post on standardizing structure for various plans (operating plans, maintenance plans, safety plans, etc.).

Templates can also produce more unified proposals when joint venture partners or subcontractors are contributing content, especially at the RFP stage.

Author contracts

Author contracts set out content developer and proposal manager responsibilities in a written document. They are a common feature of large consortium bids, where the proposal manager needs to ensure that content developers across multiple companies understand their commitments.

If your writers are new, or if quality or on-time delivery is an issue, you may find a written agreement helpful. See this blog post on proposal author contracts.

Are these tools worth the effort?

Investing time in proposal tools and frameworks typically results in first drafts that are on-strategy and also meet structure and style requirements. Since last-minute crunches are common, anything that produces better content earlier is worth considering.

Next week: Writers and visualization


Need help managing your proposal process?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit


Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 






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