5 Tips for Clearer Writing
In proposals, clear writing is critical to ensuring the evaluators understand the message you are trying to communicate. Even if you have the most valuable solution, if you can’t clearly articulate the features and benefits of that solution, you won’t have a high chance of winning the work. Shipley demonstrates this reality in their proposal training courses. As part of their combined proposal writing and management workshops, teams evaluate three separate proposal responses. The proposal that is rumored to have the best technical solution is poorly written and disorganized—and very rarely do teams select that proposal to win. Why? Because it’s difficult to score a proposal that is difficult to understand. In this week’s article I present five strategies for clearer writing so evaluators can understand your solution and message and score you appropriately.
Use Shorter Sentences
I’ll admit, this is an area where I tend to fall short in writing. I like complex sentences, and I frequently include sentences that are far too long in my writing. However, research shows that longer sentences are more difficult to digest and understand. Most writing analysis tools will score the readability higher when you use shorter sentences and easier to understand words. However, your proposal would likely flow awkwardly if all sentences were short and choppy. Therefore, my advice to you is to mix things up. When you see a particularly long sentence, break in to two or even three sentences, depending on the complexity of the message:
- Original: 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.
- Split: 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.
Breaking up long, complex sentences will help clarify the thought and make it easier for the evaluator to understand and score your response.
Use Active Voice
I know you hear this all the time, but active voice really is clearer because it forces you to articulate who is performing the action in the sentence. Without active voice, you can write an entire proposal and not know who is responsible for performing any of the tasks:
- The Project Management Plan is implemented according to the schedule.
- The systems are transferred over to the new platform.
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 sharper sentences with stronger verbs:
- The Project Manager implements the Project Management Plan according to the schedule.
- Our experienced technicians transfer the systems over to the new platform.
As these examples demonstrate, active voice also flows better and is easier to understand.
Use Strong Verbs
Another way to make your writing clearer is to express actions in verbs. To do this, you should avoid using nominalizations where possible. Nominalizations are actions expressed in nouns rather than verbs. Examples include failure, investigation, movement, reaction, and refusal:
- The program was a failure.
- We conducted an investigation on the issue.
- His reaction was positive.
Replacing weak verbs and nominalizations with strong verbs will make your sentences more dynamic, direct, clear, and concise:
- The program failed.
- We investigated the issue.
- He reacted positively.
Redundancies add extra words that can obscure your message rather than add value. Look for common redundant phrases that take up space but don’t add value, including:
- Actual experience
- Advanced planning
- Close proximity
- Consensus of opinion
Replace these redundant phrases with clearer verbiage:
Removing redundancies will help make your writing clearer and more concise, which in turn will make it easier to evaluate.
Simplify Your Word Choice
Writers sometimes feel compelled to add emphasis to their writing by using extra words or phrases that don’t contribute much to the meaning and frequently actually obscure it. Consider the following swaps:
- Absolutely vital; replace with vital
- Quite unique; replace with unique
- Due to the fact that; replace with because
- Utilize/Utilization; replace with use
- In the amount of; replace with for
- In the event of; replace with if
- In order that; replace with for or so
- Commence; replace with start
Using simple words and phrases will make your writing clearer so that the evaluators can easily understand your message and score you appropriately.
Poorly written, unclear proposals can obscure your message and make it difficult for evaluators to follow your proposal’s logic and main points. If you’re unclear in your writing, the customer can only assume that your communication will be similarly unclear in your contract delivery. Following these tips can help you to present your ideas more clearly so that evaluators can understand and more easily score your proposals. In addition to making your proposal easier to score, clear 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)LinkedIn