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Techniques for using tables to deal with tight proposal page limits

Tips, tricks, and gotchas for reducing page count using tables

The reasons why tables help reduce the page count are:

  • RFPs usually allow for a smaller font size in tables
  • The text that goes in a table can be succinct, use fewer words, and not to be complete sentences
  • Table text can be repetitive, but tables also help you eliminate the repetitive parts
  • Tables enable you to show relationships without explaining them
  • Tables can show required data without having to talk about it.

Just don't fill your tables with whitespace.

The main challenge to using tables is designing the rows and columns to balance out without using valuable whitespace. If page count is your primary concern, you don’t want a heading in one column with a lot of whitespace, while another column has a bunch of text. 

Be careful about going overboard

See also:
Proposal Writing

I have seen proposals that moved a large portion of the text into tables. But be careful. While I’ve never heard of it happening, sooner or later someone’s going to go too far and get thrown out for non-compliance. That said, I have tempted fate more than once because tables can be that effective for reducing your page count.

Table techniques for achieving minimal compliance

One approach is to have a column to identify a section and a column to detail requirements compliance. However, the section cell will likely have a lot less text than the requirements response, and mostly contain white space. 

Another approach is to make the section a column-spanning row with a cell underneath to describe what matters about the section and your approach to fulfilling the requirements and a cell that itemizes your compliance. This has the virtual of identifying the requirements in the RFP and saying something beyond what’s in the RFP in as tight a space as possible. 

You might also consider having a cell for each RFP requirement and a cell for (pick one) who, what, where, how, when, and why. Remember, in a table you don’t have to write in complete sentences. Sometimes this can shorten a paragraph into a few lines. As an example, if the RFP lists a set of steps you must follow, instead of responding with your implementation approach, you can put the steps in a table with a cell for the step/requirement and a cell for why that step matters, what it must achieve, or other language relevant to the evaluation criteria. If you convert your approach write-up to a single line per step you might reduce the length substantially while still saying that you’ll do each step as required.

No approach to responding to too many requirements in too little space works in all situations. Think of these approaches as the middle ground in between simply stating your compliance and fully describing your approach to compliance. 

Use text judiciously

The text in a page-limited proposal should focus on what matters to the customer. Details such as steps, requirements acknowledgement and fulfillment, resources, qualifications, etc. that don’t need to be talked about should be presented as data and lists in the most compact form possible. This form will often be formatted using tables. Use your text to explain why you are the customer’s best alternative, demonstrate insights, and explain what matters.  

Simple table formatting tips to take up less space

Make sure you optimize the formatting of your tables. If the text in the table word wraps, you can adjust the column widths until the table takes as little space as possible. But first, go into table properties and adjust the padding above, below, left, and right inside each table cell. This will give a surprising amount of space and reduce word wrapping. Make sure the text is formatted without unneeded space above or below. Also, adjust your bullets so they have little or no indentation. 

Keeping the proposal on schedule

If you don’t have time to waste, you need to plan your tables up front. You don’t have time to write a long proposal and then convert it into tables. This kind of conversion requires substantive editing and may not be something to give to people who are not subject matter experts. This means you really need to think through your table designs before you start writing and validate the design with your proposal reviewers before you get to a late-stage review when it will be too late to reformat and rewrite.

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