Develop Winning Proposals by Writing Effectively

The proposal profession has benefited greatly from Steve Shipley and his company, Shipley Associates.  Mr. Shipley and his colleagues not only provide outstanding proposal services to companies, but they also convey their knowledge and passion for wining proposals in excellent publications and presentations.

Shipley Associates’ Proposal Guide for Business Development and Sales Professionals (I have the second edition from 2003) is the clearest, most succinct, and most helpful guide to doing proposals available.  I strongly recommend this book to any proposal professional.

Brad Douglas, a Shipley Associate, has excellent advice about writing winning proposals.  He recommends a very sensible five-step writing process:

  • Plan:  Think through your proposal section.
  • Organize:  Use the customer requirements as your outlining guide.
  • Write:  Write in a free-flowing manner.
  • Examine:  Walk away from your writing and review it later while letting others review it too.
  • Revise:  Emphasize clarity, conciseness, correctness, and persuasiveness.

I already have discussed planning and organizing.  In this blog, I will discuss writing.  Proposal writers should take three simple but effective steps to organize their writing assignments:  (1) write the first draft quickly; (2) use your outline; and (3) use paragraphs effectively.

Write the first draft quickly

Work from your notes and worksheet.

Write heading and subheadings first and use them as a guide.

Begin with the easiest parts of your sections.  No proposal is ever written linearly, from first page to last!

Write quickly.

Do not worry about formatting and errors.

Use your outline

Focus on the customer’s hot buttons that you have identified.

Focus on your company’s solution.

Substantiate your section with success stories, proof, and evidence.

Validate, validate, validate!  Do not make claims you cannot prove.

Use paragraphs effectively

Limit your paragraphs to one main idea.

Begin each paragraph with a thesis statement.

Put the most important point first.

Organize from general to specific, benefits to features, and the familiar to the unfamiliar.

Avoid long and compound-complex sentences.

Use plenty of bulleted and numbered lists.

Put details at the middle and end of your paragraphs.

Make sure that your paragraphs flow logically.

Use transition sentences as your glue.

If you following these steps to writing effectively, you should be able to produce a serviceable first draft of your proposal sections.

In subsequent articles I will discuss the other two steps.

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