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How to word the headings in your outline

Make it easy for the customer to find what they are looking for

There are three competing interests when wording headings for a proposal, and they are listed in priority order:

  1. Making it easy for the customer to find things in your proposal. 
  2. Telling a story through your headings alone.
  3. Logically organizing what you have to say.  

Making it easy for the customer to find things in your proposal, means:

See also:
Proposal outlines
  • You must give using the customer’s wording the highest priority.  
  • If they have specified an outline, use their wording exactly.  
  • When you parse headings out of a paragraph, try to preserve as much of their wording as possible.
  • Avoid abbreviating or shortening their wording to make smaller headings.  Only do it if you have to.
  • When possible include RFP paragraph number references at the end of the heading.
  • If possible, use the same numbering system that the customer uses and make your heading numbers match theirs.

Because doing that usually results in descriptive headings that don’t tell a story, we recommend that if the RFP permits it, include a theme statement under each major heading that states the conclusion you want the customer to reach when they read that section. You have to decide whether to do this for all headings or just the major headings, and what heading level to take it down to. Sometimes you can even include the theme statements in your Table of Contents, so that the Table of Contents alone tells your story.

Unfortunately, the last priority is organizing the material in a logical way. It is dangerous to try to be more logical than the RFP.  The customer expects to find things in the order of the RFP and using the RFP’s terminology.  When you deviate from this, you will at minimum make it hard to evaluate your proposal, and could even get your proposal thrown out for being non-compliant.

After following the instructions in the RFP, in the order of the RFP, and using the same wording as the RFP, then you are free to organize the material in a way that you feel is logical.


Return to the Topic Hub for Creating Your Proposal Outline, or return to the Starting Point for Figuring Out What to Say in Your Proposals.

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