Repeating the Question: A Best Practice?

Repeating the RFP question in the response – something I never saw done in my early days in this business, a full quarter-century ago – has become more and more a standard practice in RFP responses.  Is it also a best practice?  Let’s take a look.

Why do it?

Why has it become more common?  I’m not sure, but I can see two benefits.

First, during response development, it facilitates reviews, making it easier to see three things about the answer to each question:

  • Whether it’s responsive (that is, actually answering the question)
  • Whether it’s complete (that is, answering every part)
  • Whether it’s in the right order (that is, in the same order as the question)

Eliminating the need to flip back and forth to the RFP itself is a real boon in these speedier times.

Second, it might also help the client’s evaluators:

  • Making it obvious which question you’re answering
  • Making it as easy as possible for the evaluator to see that the answer is responsive and complete, thereby garnering the most marks possible, given its content

Why just “might help”?  Well, evaluators are likely working with an answer key, a scoring sheet, or a checklist of some sort, so they might not need to refer to the actual question.

Why not do it?

Two words: page limits.

In the old days, clients rarely set page limits on sections or overall responses: now, that too is common.

Most proposals can ill afford the space to repeat the question, especially where they’re wordy, and especially since there are other ways to ensure that the evaluators know which question you’re answering.

If you do do it, how should you do it?

Do unambiguously differentiate the question from the response text, using text boxes or different font selections from the main text (colour, style, type), or use both of these visual cues.

Don’t use unnecessarily large graphics like fancy 60-point “Qs.”  The question is not more important than the answer.

Don’t summarize the question.  This effectively destroys the one clear benefit from the practice:

  • A summary can mislead in-house reviewers into thinking an incomplete answer is actually OK
  • A summary can annoy evaluators who realize that the question is not true to their original

If you don’t do it, what should you do instead?

Do use the numbering specified in the response instructions, exactly as given.

Do create a short, meaningful heading/title for each numbered section that helps evaluators confidently identify the question.

Do issue RFP questions to in-house editors and reviewers and brief them on how to use them to assess each answer.

Is it a good idea to keep the questions in until after the final review and them remove them?

Not if you’re working with a page limit.

Editing and formatting to meet a page limit is almost an art form.  Both editors and formatters will do their best work when they know the parameters from the outset.

Pulling all the questions just before going to production will have one of three results:

  • You’ll be bang on the page limit
  • You’ll be over, resulting in panicky, ill-considered cutting
  • You’ll be under, with no time to fill the extra space available

Me, I play the odds, and get a look at how we’re doing with page counts as early as possible.

 

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