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To what extent should a proposal writer mirror the client’s language?

As children, we learn through repetition, emulating adult language and weaving new words in to our vocabulary in order to broaden our world view. As adult proposal writers with a strong command of the English language, we understand that there are a myriad different ways of saying most things, and find a path through the dual nature of language in order to select words which best encompass our thinking, and put our point across in a clear and concise manner.

When proposal writers encounter a PQQ or RFP, it’s likely that it will take some time to familiarise themselves with the language which is being used. Common examples of this include words for customers, which can include ‘clients’, ‘service users’, or a myriad different permutations on that theme. Even if, within their own organisation, a proposal writer is accustomed to refer to customers in a certain way, mirroring the language found within the RFP brings a number of benefits:

  • It makes the recipient feel confident that the two companies share a similar approach and outlook, as they refer to words in the same way which represents a good cultural fit
  • It makes the document easier to read, as words don’t jar on the recipient, and they can skim through and find what they are looking for without hesitating over unfamiliar terms
  • It shows a level of courtesy, in that the proposal writer has taken the time to understand the culture of the company which they are bidding to, and learned enough to emulate the style of language used.

That said, most proposal writers will recognise the uncomfortable feeling of encountering spelling errors within a customer document. It’s common to find mistakes, and any writer worth their salt will start twitching at the prospect of leaving a spelling error in situ. The long-standing question for proposal writers is, do you correct the mistakes, or leave them as they are?

Opinion is divided on this. On the one hand, it highlights a lack of grammatical knowledge on the part of the proposal writer if they gloss over errors found when they reproduce the words within the RFP. On the other, it seems almost disrespectful to go along correcting errors when the RFP is essentially the first element of an ongoing contract with a customer who is ‘always right’.

A good rule of thumb is to use your own judgement, without being too picky about it. If you see words which are obviously mistyped, then feel free to amend them as you go along. Don’t copy typing errors within your own writing, and be discreet and subtle when it comes to calming those twitchy fingers and choosing to change glaring mistakes.
The bid process is all about empathy and understanding. By exercising sound judgement and more than a small handful of discretion, the best proposal writers find a happy path between the errors and linguistic challenges, and provide an empathic, professional and engaging response which closely mirrors the culture and language of the customer.

Proposal Writing FAQs

To what extent should a proposal writer mirror the client’s language?

As children, we learn through repetition, emulating adult language and weaving new words in to our vocabulary in order to broaden our world view. As adult proposal writers with a strong command of the English language, we understand that there are a myriad different ways of saying most things, and find a path through the dual nature of language in order to select words which best encompass our thinking, and put our point across in a clear and concise manner.

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The Proposal Writers’ guide to creating space

The writing process is usually one which involves a number of attributes. Creativity, discipline, focus and commitment are just a few of the words which can describe bid writing, mixed in with a heady dose of self-discipline, organisation and best practice. If all this seems a little too good to be true, it’s worth thinking about the last time you sat down in your role as bid writer, and produced some great compliant copy. The likelihood is, you managed to somehow shut out the rest of the world and focus intently upon what you were writing. You produced the copy in a kind of haze of intent, without allowing the rest of the world to intrude upon what you were doing.

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The proposal writers’ guide to letter proposals

Writing a letter proposal can be much simpler than crafting a full-blown ITT or RFP. As short, informally sent bids, they are usually unsolicited and so are not subject to the governance which other forms of tender can incur. Letter proposals are best sent to pre-empt competitor involvement with a potential client, so the bid writer can work towards minimising competition and reducing potential preparation and work costs associated with developing a full proposal and evaluation.

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Reworking for proposal writers

Bid writing is arduous at times, especially when bid writers is juggling multiple high-profile bids, all of which are required to be completed within very tight deadlines. This means that even the most effective proposal writer can sometimes be tempted to cut corners in order to meet tight timescales, sometimes compromising the quality of the bid document in an effort to meet the needs of the authority’s submission guidelines and deadlines.

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Outstanding proposal writing: Ten tips for proposal writers

No matter how experienced a proposal writer may be, it never hurts to revisit the basic tender writing requirements, in order to stay fresh and remind ourselves of the best practice principles which govern our trade. With this in mind, the following ten steps serve as a refresher guide for proposal writers, outlining the main criteria for compliance which should inform each response we produce.

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Is it possible for proposal writers to be too concise?

Bid writers are usually wordy creatures. We know how to produce ‘fluff’ in our proposal writing, creating four or five paragraphs of compliant copy when a single ‘yes’ or ‘no’ statement would probably answer the question in the ITT just as well. However, it can seem rude to reply to a query with a single syllable, as if we are afraid that our bid writing response will seem rushed or unconsidered, causing the evaluator to see our company as lazy, as a result of the brevity of our bid writing.

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How staying positive supports Proposal Writers to win

It may sound clichéd, but many people think that the power of positive thinking can go a long way in ensuring successful results within the business environment. There are many philosophies around what makes successful proposal writers, and staying positive about the outcome of a bid can actively support the writing process and facilitate a positive result. Far from being an airy approach to a serious business practice, positive thinking is grounded in fact as an excellent technique for achieving great results.

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How proposal writers end up in their niche

What did you want to be when you were young? In school, when we were given our options for choosing a career, the chances are that ‘Bid Writing’ wasn’t on the list of professions which you were encouraged to train for. Usually, people fall in to proposal writing accidentally, through a random chain of events that culminate in them sitting at their desk with the bid manager and other bid writers, wondering how they got in to that particular role.

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How proposal writers can get enough sleep

No sleep, and bid writing, go together like husband and wife. When a proposal writer enters in to the industry, one of the first jokes they will hear is that proposal writers have to get used to using their laptop as a pillow, and eat cold pizza as their staple food at three o clock in the morning. It goes without saying in the industry that insomniacs make the best bid writers, as they know how to work through the night hours and still produce compliant bids on time to meet their deadlines.

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How proposal writers can develop their skills

No matter how long seasoned proposal writers have been practicing their art, there is always room for improvement when it comes to polishing up proposal writing skills and refreshing best practice. The most common risk when it comes to undertaking any form of training relating to the bid industry is that best practice and procedures can differ greatly from institution to institution.

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How proposal writers and bid managers work together

Few professional relationships are as intense and co-dependent as that of the bid manager and their proposal writers. Both fundamental roles to the successful production of quality tenders, the bid manager and proposal writers need to have a fully integrated approach to the bid process, ensuring that they can work together harmoniously and support each other throughout the challenging and demanding production time.

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How a strong sense of humour can support proposal writers

The bid management process can be quite funny at times. Although it may not seem like it, when bid writers are struggling to juggle all their tasks and meet deadlines, there are a number of things which are worth laughing about, after the event. One of the funniest things which any group of proposal writers discuss is the content provided by subject matter experts which needs re-writing, or the language offered to us through ITTs and RFPs.

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Four critical questions for a proposal writer to include in proposals

When the average proposal writer develops material for a response, the most natural thing to do is answer the questions within the RFQ or RFP, enabling the customer’s own structure to determine the way in which our responses will be organised. While this is usually an outstanding way of providing material, there are also further questions which every proposal writer needs to include in their response, whether it is solicited or not.

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Drafting your proposal outline

When you have a number of bids to juggle, it can get confusing to remember, as a bid writer, which solutions relate to which document. Even the most talented writer can get sidetracked by all the elements of the proposal mix which need to be drawn together for each document, and how best to present information in a way that is engaging and persuasive for your potential customer.

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Covering for Proposal Writers’ absence in the bid team

Any organisation’s bid, proposal and tender team at its best works as a well-oiled wheel, with each of the cogs adding value in specific ways in order to meet the demands of the industry. Having the full complement of team members in place supports the effective production of compliant bids quickly and to a great standard. However, if a member of the team is absent due to illness or holiday, it can potentially bring the entire operation to a grinding halt.

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Proposal writing sales proposals

Writing sales proposals can be tricky, especially when the bid writer is unsure of what competitors will be offering. However, there are a number of techniques that can be used to ensure that your sales document is clear, useful and persuasive to your potential new customer. One of the fallback positions for many bid writers when faced with a challenging writing project is to rely upon obfuscation and ‘fluffiness’ in an attempt to deflect attention from a lack of substance. We’ve all done this at some point or another, but this merely serves to frustrate the bud recipient and distract from the overall message.

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