Copyediting proposals

Earlier posts focused on developing content prompts for proposal writers, managing early drafts and structural editing. Approaching content management and editing systematically improves efficiency and helps avoid last-minute rewrites.

Copyediting is the next step. Sections should now be complete, compliant, well-organized and should express the win strategy. The proposal should also be in a template that uses styles to format heads and subheads , body text, lists, tables, captions, etc.

Copyediting basics

Copyediting aims to remove any remaining impediments to evaluators engaging with and understanding your offer. Prime offenders include complex and/or awkwardly structured sentences and paragraphs, confusing words and phrases, uneven formatting (including section and subsection numbering) and inconsistent use of acronyms, abbreviations, capitalization, references, etc.

At a minimum, copy editors should do the following:

  • Match the language to the prospect (U.S. English proposals for U.S. prospects, Canadian English proposals for Canadian prospects, etc.). Update the template styles to the correct version, if necessary. To reconfirm, select all, set the language preference in Word, enable check spelling, and correct any misspellings.
  • Use styles for formatting. In Word, on the Home tab, click on the Styles pane and then select Show Styles Guides and Show Direct Formatting Guides.
  • Edit to a consistent voice. Use similar syntax (short declarative sentences, devoid of bafflegab, clichés, superlatives, and idiosyncratic expressions).
  • Be consistent in using pronouns, punctuation, abbreviations, acronyms, figure and table numbering and captioning.
  • Align formatting of tables. Text size, colours, shading, border colour and line weight should be consistent.
  • Use lists consistently. This blog post provides guidelines for using lists in proposals.
  • For joint venture or consortium proposals, develop and observe guidelines for referring to team members, key individuals, reference projects, and for the use of first- and third-person pronouns when referring to the J-V or consortium and its members.

The best way to ensure high quality results is to edit in several sweeps. Choose one or two items from the list above and focus on checking just those requirements. If copyediting reveals gaps or other major flaws, flag these with comments for review and correction.

Develop and use a style guide

A style guide is indispensable for consistent copyediting—especially if proposals will be copyedited by two or more individuals. If you develop proposals regularly, consider building a guide tailored to your business. The U.S. Plain Language Guidelines are a good starting point.

Copyediting support tools

A downloadable or cloud-based support tool, such as PerfectIt or Grammarly, can improve editing speed and consistency. You can also use Word’s advanced search function to find repeat errors—but be very careful of accepting “Replace all,” which can have unintended results. Always create a new version before making global changes.

The payoff

Evaluators read to scan and score proposals. They have little patience for irrelevant or confusing content. Edits that produce clear, persuasive proposals will dramatically improve the attention your offer receives, your technical score—and your wins.

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