Spring Cleaning: 5 Things to Purge from Your Writing This Season



As we find ourselves stuck at home, many of us are using this time for some Spring Cleaning around the house. While using this time to organize our closets and purge unused items is a great way to keep our minds off the gravity of the pandemic, we can also use some of this extra time to declutter our proposal writing. This week I’ll look at five things you can Spring Clean from your writing to make your proposals easier to understand and score.

Long Sentences
One easy way to clean up your proposal writing is to avoid cramming two or three main ideas into one long sentence. This can lead to long, drawn-out sentences and disjointed writing. Long sentences will also cause your message to lose focus. When you see a long, complex sentence in your writing, first identify your main points. Then break the sentence into smaller sentences. To do this may require some rewording. See the example below.

Example: Company A first identifies qualified personnel to support tasks by evaluating current employees for growth opportunities and to maintain critical skills and program knowledge; we then recruit contingent hires, if necessary.
Revision: Company A first identifies qualified personnel by evaluating current program employees for growth opportunities. This helps maintain critical skills and program knowledge. Once as many positions are filled with incumbent personnel as possible, we then recruit and hire contingent hires. 

In the example above, the revision is much clearer, which makes it easier for the evaluator to digest, understand, and ultimately score.

Passive Voice
Another surefire way to clean up your writing is to swap passive voice for active voice. Passive voice puts the subject and the action first, which can obscure who is performing the action. Passive voice also emphasizes the object of the sentence and can make your writing wordier and harder to follow. With active voice, the subject of the sentence comes first and performs the action in the sentence. Active voice is more straightforward and concise than passive voice. It also typically results in shorter, sharper sentences. See the example below.

Example: Trouble tickets are responded to within five minutes of receipt.
Revision: A help desk technician responds to the trouble ticket within five minutes of receipt.

In the example sentence, the object precedes the action, and the subject performing the action is completely missing. The revised sentence is clearer because the subject of the sentence comes first and performs the action in the sentence. As this example demonstrates, active voice flows better and is easier to understand.

Empty Words
A third easy way to scrub your text is to replace empty words and generalities with quantified specifics. Examples of empty words include: a lot, extensive, very, and really. However, be careful not to be too specific: 20% will be perceived with more confidence than 22.4%, which may raise questions of validity.

Example: Our COTS solution saves the Government time and money.
Revision: Our COTS solution provides the Government with life-cycle savings of $250,000 in software development costs.

By backing up your claims with facts and figures, you provide the necessary proof to validate your solution with the evaluator. This specificity will make your proposal writing more credible and compelling, which will result in higher scores.

Nominalizations
A fourth way to clean up your writing is to express actions in verbs. To do this, it is critical to avoid nominalizations, which are actions that are expressed in nouns rather than verbs. Examples include failure, investigation, movement, reaction, and refusal.

Example: We conducted an investigation on the issue.   
Revision: We investigated the issue.

We can’t eliminate nominalizations altogether; however, letting verbs express actions will make your sentences more dynamic, direct, clear, and concise.

Incorrect Words
A final way to clean up your writing is to avoid using incorrect words. When we’re typing fast and in a rush, it’s easy to use a homonym instead of the word that we really mean. Homonyms are words that that sound alike but have different meanings. Using the incorrect word can jar evaluators, discredit your response, and distract the evaluators from your intended message. Therefore, it’s critical to go through your proposals and check for commonly misused words. Take a look at the example below.

Example: We maintained a network uptime of more then 99.999%.
Revision: We maintained a network uptime of more than 99.999%.

In the example above, the incorrect use of “then” could easily jar an evaluator and discredit the company and their solution. Adding commonly misused words to your Wall of Truth and final editing checklist can help ensure you’re the using the words you mean to use, which will help avoid any resulting negative impressions.

Final Thoughts
Poorly-written proposals can obscure your message and make it difficult for evaluators to follow your proposal’s logic and main points. If you’re sloppy and careless in our proposal presentation, the customer can only assume that you will be similarly careless and sloppy in your contract delivery. Following these Spring Cleaning tips can help you to present your ideas more clearly and comprehensively, in a way that can be easily understood and scored by the evaluators. In addition to making your proposal easier to score, strong writing can contribute to your company’s credibility in the eyes of the evaluator—which can certainly help improve your chances of winning overall.

Written by Ashley Kayes, CP APMP

Senior Proposal Consultant, AOC Key Solutions, Inc. (KSI)
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