How Do Reviewers Really Evaluate Your Proposal?

We make dozens of decisions each day very quickly with minimal amounts of information.  Should I buy this toothpaste brand?  Can I trust this person?  Should I attend this afternoon’s meeting?  Since the 1950s, psychologists and social scientists have been studying how people make sound judgments in an uncertain world.  Their findings have important implications for how we develop proposals.

Like the rest of us, proposal reviewers use a limited set of decision-making strategies and techniques to evaluate your application.  One study concluded that on average reviewers take a little over six minutes per proposal.

Because reviewers use fast and frugal decision strategies and as little mental effort as possible, you should design your proposal so reviewers quickly can find information and understand your major themes.  Good proposals that are easy to evaluate are more likely to be scored higher than great proposals that are difficult to evaluate.

To help reviewers quickly and accurately score your proposal, use the principles of good information design and use compelling visual explanations.  You also can take these steps to help reviewers evaluate your proposal without overtaxing their cognitive resources:

  • Convey an upbeat feeling of confidence by emphasizing your organization’s strengths, accomplishments, and ability to work well, on-time, and within budget.
  • Emphasize positive ideas, words, and visuals.
  • Demonstrate that there is a high probability that your solution will be successful.
  • Link your benefits and features, with the benefits stated first.  This is a common problem in many proposals.  We spend so much time providing enormous amounts of detail (features) that we fail to explain what is important about our solutions (benefits).
  • Emphasize that your solution has high benefits and low risks.
  • Emphasize that other solutions are likely to have low benefits and high risks.
  • Avoid information that will arouse fear and anxiety in reviewers, unless you can clearly demonstrate how you will mitigate them.

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