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Proposal writing for people who are not professional writers

This is an article for people who are stuck

This is an article for people who are not writers and don’t know what words to use when they write a proposal. They may know how to do the work and what to offer, but they often go blank when it comes to how to say that in words on paper.

Ok, here it goes…

Don’t describe. Just explain. 

What does that mean? When you describe, you tell the customer the details about your approach, offering, or qualifications. But when you explain your approach, offering, or qualification, it shifts you into explaining why. It improves your proposal writing by helping you to communicate things like: 

  • Why it matters
  • Why it's the best alternative
  • What’s special about it
  • How the customer will benefit from it
  • What makes your approach different and better

Explain what you have to write about. Don't describe things.

An easy way to explain things in a proposal

See also:
Making proposals simple

Every sentence should have two parts: Your response to an RFP requirement and your explanation.  Often the customer is more interested in the explanation than the details. Even when they are interested in the details, they are even more interested in why you chose those details. Even when the RFP asks you to describe something, such as your approach, what the customer is really interested in is the explanation for why it matters.

If you write everything to include a response and an explanation, you will impress people with the quality of your proposal writing. Even if it's not exactly what they had in mind, they'll have enough to turn what you wrote into exactly what they want.

There are hundreds of articles on PropLIBRARY with tips and best practices for creating great proposals. But if you’re struggling, then trying to think of all the things you could write about, the many ways to position what you’ve said, and more ways to write like an expert is just going to distract you from what you really need to do. Which is to stop describing and explain instead.

Making proposal writing even easier

To make proposal writing even easier, here are some things you can ignore:

  • Style. Just say what needs to be said in any style and the customer will hear you. Don’t worry about trying to sound like what you think a proposal should sound like. Most of them aren’t well written, and this will likely steer you in the wrong direction. Just be authentic in the style you are comfortable with. If you are too wordy, too formal, or too informal, so be it. If someone complains, let them edit it. The only opinion that matters is the customer, so the most important thing is to deliver an explanation the customer can understand.
  • Construction. Don't let thinking about how many sentences should go in a paragraph and how paragraphs should be structured get in the way of providing the information the customer needs. Avoid the really big paragraphs. That is all.
  • How to introduce things. Don’t write proposal introductions the way you were taught in school. Just jump into the heart of the matter and explain what they are going to get or what you are going to do for them. Focus on why they can believe you at least as much as what you are telling them.

Proposal writing can be challenging

Here are some challenges you will face trying to get your explanation written:

  • Writing against an outline that you don’t control and can’t change. You’re going to want to rearrange the topics so they make sense. Only you can’t. If you do that, it may no longer make sense to the customer. The customer will most likely be looking for what the RFP asked for in the exact places it asked for them and the sequence they requested them. It may not seem ideal, but you should follow their lead.
  • Getting the right level of detail. Most proposals have page limits. More than anything else, that will determine the right level of detail. What you don’t want to do is ignore the page limit and write something lengthy for someone else to summarize. That’s actually more work than it takes to write it within the page limit. If the page limit is too short for you to explain things in detail, focus on what matters instead of the details.
  • RFP compliance. Some proposals, such as government proposals, must be completely compliant with all RFP requirements or the proposal will not be eligible for an award. It may not even get read. So what you are proposing must be fully compliant with what’s in the RFP even though it’s hard to write against requirements that are out of sequence, disjointed, outdated, or otherwise problematical. Not only that, but you have to use their terminology to ensure they realize it’s compliant. If you really want to learn how to write an RFP compliant proposal, you should learn how to create a compliance matrix.
  • Getting the highest score. Proposals are evaluated and not read. The winner may not be the best reading proposal or even the best solution. The winner will get the best score. This means responding to the language of the evaluation criteria in the RFP. If you don’t do this, then your superior offering may lose to a substandard one that scores better.
  • Writing using other people’s words. Achieving RFP compliance and optimizing your score against the evaluation criteria means using the words in the RFP instead of the words you are more comfortable with. It’s a challenge, especially when you’re struggling to express things in your own words. If you have to, make two passes at it: once to get the ideas lined up, and then translate it into their terminology. How to respond to an RFP with the right words is the topic of one of the online training courses available to PropLIBRARY Subscribers.

When you are ready for more…

When you can write explanations instead of descriptions and overcome all those challenges, then you’re ready to start thinking about writing from the customer’s perspective. Because ultimately, they are the only judge of what great proposal writing is. The best proposal writing anticipates what the customer needs to see in order to accept the proposal. When you reach this level, proposal writing becomes easy and the challenge becomes gaining customer insight. 

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More information about "Carl Dickson"

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.

Click here to learn how to engage Carl as a consultant.

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