Aligning Proposal Development with the Standard 5-Step Writing Process




Proposal writing can be stressful. We often yank authors away from their day jobs, or worse, ask them to perform both tasks at the same time. What’s more, we throw all of these foreign terms at them: Pink Team, Red Team, and Gold Team. It can be overwhelming for even the seasoned proposal professional!

Sometimes it can be helpful to step back and break thing down into terms that may be more familiar to your authors. For example, most authors will have seen the standard 5-step writing process before. In this week’s article, I’ve aligned the proposal development process to the standard 5-Step Writing Process; the one I used for this post is published by the University of Kansas (KU) Writing Center.

STEP 1: PREWRITING
Think & Decide

Make sure you understand your assignment. Before you dive into writing the section, you should review the limitations of your assigned task. Consider things such as your page limits and relevant RFP sections to address. You should also review and understand the proposal schedule and any major deadlines.

Consider who will read your work. It is important to consider your audience, especially with proposals. As yourself the following questions: Who is the customer? Is a technical person likely reading your section or someone else? What are their major hot buttons? 

Brainstorm ideas about the subject. Brainstorming will help you come up the content for your section. Consider the following: What are the likely strategies of the competitors? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What are your company’s strengths and weaknesses? Are there any past performances or proof points to cite?


*Note: Most storyboard templates provide places for you to document the outcomes of this thinking phase!


STEP 2: RESEARCH     
Search

Make an outline to help organize your research. Use the Request for Proposal (RFP) or outline provided by your Proposal Manager to develop and/or document your section outline. Annotate the outline with the information you will need to complete your section.

List places where you can find information. Consider the information you need to complete your section. Are there past proposals you can use? Boilerplate? Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) you need to interview? Document these in your annotated outline.

Do your research. Look through proposal libraries, past proposals, and reach out to your SMEs. As you find the information you need, organize and store any source materials you have found and update your annotated outline with the location of each.


*Note: Most storyboard templates provide a space for you to document the outcomes of this research! After completing this phase, you will be ready for the Storyboard Review, often called the Blue Team.


STEP 3: DRAFTING
Write

Put the information you researched into your own words. Start going through the past proposal content, boilerplate, and SME interview content that you have gathered. Organize and tailor the content to your customer and their needs. Consider whether the content you found makes sense for this specific proposal and solution. Make necessary updates to your draft.

Write sentences and paragraphs even if they are not perfect. You will probably need to form your own paragraphs and sentences to help link any reuse material together and to form a coherent section. Remember that it is easier to revise content than to start from a blank slate. Put words down on the page even if you are not 100% happy with them.

Read what you have written and make sure it says what you meant. Now you can clean up the words that may not have been quite right. Adjust your text for clarity and flow.

Form your theme statements. If you didn’t form theme statements or strength statements as part of your brainstorming (i.e., storyboarding), now is the time to add these into your section. Consider the win themes as well as the strengths that are coming out of your draft. Link discriminating features of your section with benefits. Form a theme or strength statement for each first- and second-level section.

Write some more. Continue writing to fill in gaps.

Read it again. Judge if your message is coming through how you intend. Make necessary adjustments.

Write some more. Continue filling in gaps.

Read it again. Judge if your message is coming through how you intend. Make necessary adjustments.

Repeat the reading and writing cycle until your section is complete.


*Note: At this point, your section is Pink Team ready! Sometimes your draft will have some gaps at Pink Team. That is OK!


STEP 4: REVISING
Make it Better

Read what you have written again. With Pink Team reviewer comments in mind, review what you have written again. Start making the necessary revisions to address the reviewer comments.

Do more research (if necessary). The reviewers might have identified issues that may require additional research. Think through where you need to go to find the necessary information. Make notes of this in your draft and keep researching until you have located the information you need. 

Rearrange words, sentences, or paragraphs. Once you have addressed the review comments, start cleaning up the section. Move things around so that your section flows smoothly.

Take out or add parts. Remove content that doesn’t fit or directly address the section requirements. Add in content that may be necessary to strengthen the section (e.g., proof points, graphics, additional text, etc.).

Replace overused or unclear words. Comb through your section and look for words that may need to be changed. Here is a comprehensive list.

Read your writing aloud to be sure it flows smoothly. Reading out loud helps you catch mistakes that you might miss when reading in your head (when you read things silently, you tend to hear your writing how you meant it to read rather than how it actually reads). Make adjustments as necessary.


*Note: At this point, your section is Red Team ready!


STEP 5: EDITING AND PROOFREADING
Make it Correct

Read what you have written again. With Red Team reviewer comments in mind, review what you have written again. Start making the necessary revisions to address the reviewer comments.

Be sure all sentences are complete. Look for subjects and verbs and make sure you are using active voice.

Change words that are not used correctly or are unclear. Check for commonly misused words  and other unclear formations in your draft.

Correct spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. If you have time to clean your section up before it goes through the edit, you will help speed up the editing process.

Make sure you are using the appropriate styles and formatting. Using the embedded styles within your Microsoft Word section template is a good first step! Also, most proposal style guides provide guidance on things like capitalization, bullet use, acronym use, and other common stylistic rules to follow. Following these conventions will also help speed up the desktop publishing and editing processes!


*Note: At this point your draft is ready for desktop publishing, editing, and then the Gold Team Review!


Final Thoughts
At proposal time, stress levels are at their peak. Sometimes it can help to make the process more familiar for our authors. I hope that you have found this breakdown useful and that you will be able to use it to help guide your writing teams as we approach our peak season. Cheers!


Written by Ashley Kayes, CP APMP
Senior Proposal Consultant, AOC Key Solutions, Inc. (KSI)
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