Getting to Lovely

There comes a point on a proposal where an editor must settle for coherent . . .

The Operations Manager and Facilities Lead will interact with government, federal, provincial, municipal and territorial regulatory organizations, the Technical Authority, DND centres of expertise and functional authorities, building occupants, other service contractors, specialized services subcontractors, other authorities having jurisdiction, third parties, public service union representatives and stakeholders, as required, to continually improve operations and services for the buildings in the Contract.

But where’s the problem with settling? It’s lovely, yes? Well, good enough, no?

No. Don’t do this. (Except for the active voice. :-))

Don’t put a long list inside a sentence, thereby generating a hard-to-read and harder-to-remember paragraph. Instead, group the list in bullets with headings, like this:

. . . interact with:

    • Government bodies and agencies: federal, provincial, municipal and territorial regulatory organizations
    • Client representatives, agencies, and users: the Technical Authority, DND centres of expertise and functional authorities, building occupants
    • Contractors: other service contractors, specialized services subcontractors
    • Miscellaneous stakeholders: other authorities having jurisdiction, third parties, public service union representatives

  Now a reviewer or evaluator can scan the page to see what you’ve included.

⇒  Now *you* can see whether you want to add a whole category, like community organizations or technical associations.

Don’t use vague, high-falutin’ words like “interact.” Instead, use more-precise words, like this:

    • Meet with
    • Submit plans to
    • Report results to
    • Consult with
    • Advise of changes

⇒  Now the reviewer or evaluator knows what they’ll get.

⇒  Now your costers know what the work will cost, in time and money.

Don’t bury the benefit. Instead, lead with it, like this:

To continually improve operations and services for the buildings in the Contract, the Operations Manager and Facilities Lead will . . .

⇒  Now a reviewer or evaluator knows why they’re bothering to read the rest of it.

⇒  Now you know what you’re selling and can think about whether there are more points you should make, which leads to the last point . . .

Don’t stop at the bare minimum specified in the RFP. Instead, tell them what else you’ll do to achieve the benefit, like this:

To continually improve operations and services for the buildings in the Contract, the Operations Manager and Facilities Lead will deliver the following:

    • Compliance – By maintaining currency with regulations by consulting monthly with government bodies and agencies . . . (as above)
    • Communication – By meeting, on the schedule provided in Attachment 1, with client representatives . . . (as above)
    • Coordination – By meeting with other contractors . . .  (as above) . . . during project initiation to communicate site safety standards and to confirm that work schedules minimize disruption to client activities
    • Cost control – By implementing our 4-step facilities-inspection process, detailed in Attachment 2, which has cut annual operating costs by 23%  for a client with similar infrastructure (see project citation in sidebar)
    • Customer satisfaction – By surveying building occupants quarterly (see Attachment 3 for a sample questionnaire), a process which identifies customer priorities and which has allowed us to improve customer satisfaction rates by an average of 14% year-over-year on similar projects (see Table 1, below, for project list)
    • Verification – By commissioning BOMA-accredited inspectors to complete annual independent third-party audits of building condition and of our services
    • Quality control – By convening annual meetings with client representatives to discuss progress to date and areas requiring improvement

⇒  Now the reviewer or evaluator can see that you have a sensible plan for achieving their objective.

⇒  Now you can highlight the things you’re promising to do that your competitors might not be.

Does that content make real-world sense? Hey, don’t ask me: I’m the editor. Ask the technical expert. These are only for illustration.

But remember that while some of these changes can be handled by editors, some require technical and marketing experts to cough up more content, and all of them require proposal managers to set schedules that give time for revisions. Getting to lovely requires the whole team to work together.

Don’t. Settle.


A Man Walks Into a Bar – Riff #1

A bar was walked into by the passive voice.

If you are one of the millions whose eyes glaze over when you hear anything remotely to do with grammar, suck it up.

The passive voice puts the thing being acted upon first, with the doer/act-or introduced by, well, “by.” It has its legitimate uses, like when we don’t know or really care exactly who did something, or when we’re focusing on the thing that was done, not the person who did it.

A man’s body was found
by a woman walking her dog.

It also has its weaselly uses, like when someone is trying to avoid taking responsibility.

Mistakes were made.

But lots of the time, it’s just Wrong.

These uses of the passive
can be read about by you, here.

You see? Awkward. Unnatural. Not nice.

By contrast, the active voice puts the person or organization acting at the start of the sentence, as its subject.

The supervisor made mistakes.
You can read about the passive voice, here.

In proposals, the active voice is overwhelmingly better than the passive. Why?

  • The active voice helps/makes writers think about who (what position) is going to deliver a service or execute a task, and evaluators often care. What are that person’s credentials and experience? What is their organizational seniority and authority?
  • The active voice is clearer because it’s simpler, more direct, less convoluted.
  • The active voice is shorter, and space is at a premium in proposals.
  • The active voice is punchier, keeping a reader’s interest and attention.
  • The active voice is easier and, therefore, faster to edit.

Make the active voice your default style in proposals. Evaluators may not thank you, exactly, but they will appreciate it. Even if they don’t know that they care about grammar.


Term: Partnership

One of those terms whose casual use in writing gives lawyers fits.

Under Canadian law, partnerships are not separate legal entities; they occur when two or more companies operate in business together and share the profits (they hope) and the losses (they hope not) in proportion to their ownership share. Partnerships also involve joint-and-several liability, which makes one partner responsible for the bad stuff any other partner does (paraphrasing the legislation).

In proposal-speak, by contrast, “partnership” is a squishy term, mostly meaning that the bidder intends to work nicely with someone else: another company, perhaps, or the client. I have never seen a non-joint-venture partnership as the bidder for what I’m sure are reasons to do with liability; conversely, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a proposal that didn’t talk somewhere about “partnership.”

Buddy & Me: If You’re Going to Fight

Not all government contracting is defence contracting: Not all colleagues are retired military members in their second career.

But a whole whack of *it* is, and a whole whack of *them* are. Given that, you’d think companies would do something to help life-long civilians and retired senior military officers work effectively together, rather than just stumbling through it. Maybe some do. I never saw it.

Some of the inevitable bumps were annoying; some were puzzling; some were just funny. Some were all three.

Buddy & Me: If You're Going to Fight