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Do you have this useful skill for advanced proposal writing?

Advanced proposal writing goes way beyond simply selecting words that sound good

Writing from the customer’s perspective while cross-referencing the RFP requirements with the evaluation criteria and your win strategies are really just proposal writing basics. They are mechanics that tell you what to write about. They are vital, but minimum skills for writing a proposal based on what it will take to win.

I have come to realize that the skill that I find myself leaning on the most to figure out what words and phrases to use to present things in writing is translation. We normally think of translation between languages, but translation applies to ideas as well. And in fact, translating ideas is also key to advanced language translation. The translation of ideas is relevant to proposal writing because it is what you need to be able to articulate things in a different context.

See also:
Proposal Writing Tips and Techniques

The same approach, the same offering, gets presented differently when the customer is more concerned about your qualifications than your processes. Or vice versa. Or when the priority is management over your technical approach. Or vice versa. Differences in circumstances, customer preferences, the nature of the work, evaluation procedures, budget, and so much more change the context. Not only that, but you often learn more about the context while working on the proposal. The strategies you start with can shift during proposal development. It starts with looking at things from a different perspective, but for your strategies to make it onto paper, you need to be able to translate how you originally described things or your first attempt at describing them into the new context by articulating them differently. 

There are always different ways to express something you are trying to communicate. Some have different connotations and leave different impressions. Sometimes you can completely transform what you are writing by shifting the language from one way of wording things to another. This is not as simple as finding “a good way to say it.” Instead, it is more like anticipating how you want the reader to react and then expressing the idea in a way that leads them to that reaction. Instead of poetic creativity, it requires being able to phrase things with a purpose.

Doing this means anticipating their reaction, and instead of choosing the first words that come to your mind, selecting the words that will guide them to the reaction you desire them to have. This form of translation is very similar to the process of selecting words in another language that the person you are communicating with will understand. This is especially true when you consider that good language translations are not literal. To convey meaning in another language that phrases things differently, you can’t translate directly word for word. You have to substitute words and phrases to convey the meaning. Advanced proposal writing requires a similar way of mapping new phrasing to convey a meaning that will have the right impact on the reader. Advanced proposal writing goes way beyond simply selecting words that sound good.

An example of how this affects proposal writing

For example, imagine that an RFP says you should summarize your experience with what you are proposing and they want you to create something that achieves a purpose they specify. Should you provide a list of similar projects? Should you focus on the quantitative or qualitative aspects of the projects? Should you tell anecdotes about projects in which you accomplished something similar? Should you write about the challenges you had to overcome and lessons you have learned from doing similar work? Or should you create a table of your projects with columns to provide descriptions or checkmarks of things like similarity in size, scope, and complexity along with your relevant accomplishments? What understanding do you want to guide the reader to realize?

It may very well be the same project information being delivered. The difference is primarily in how you word things. What drives your decision when writing is what the customer needs to hear to perform their evaluation. If you choose incorrectly, you’ll communicate in a way that doesn’t match what the customer needs to hear and you will not get as high an evaluation score as you could have. Advanced proposal writing is translating the information into a form that not only the customer will understand, but which also achieve your goal.

Application to proposal writing

The best way to achieve this level of advanced proposal writing is to learn to ask the right questions. Consider how many different ways you can express an idea. How many different considerations should go into what you want to communicate? What will affect how the customer interprets what you have to say? What do you want to communicate beyond the words themselves? What impressions, positioning, attitudes, or emotions should you communicate? What will they do with the information you are providing? Is there a way to provide it that makes it more useful or easier to work with? Then match the words and phrases you use to what you are trying to accomplish, while doing that through another person’s interpretation of what you just wrote.

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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

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