Better RFP Responses & Management
Eschew Dog Puppies

Eschew Dog Puppies

We may know that we’re supposed to target concision in our RFP response writing. We may even believe it. Where the trouble usually arises is knowing how to do it. One problem is that it can be hard to identify which words are extra. Enter the “dog puppy” rule.  Read on for details . . .

Back in the early 14th century while I was taking my MBA, a professor with not much else to recommend him nevertheless did one thing of lasting value: he gave us an article reprinted from Toastmasters magazine.  Titled “Dog Puppies,” it was about removing superfluous words from text.  Some superfluity is from inherent redundancy (the [dog] puppies of the title): bald [headed], green [in colour], large [in size].  Some is from wordiness: [in order] to.

Dog puppies are still with us.  I expect all writing would be better without them; certainly proposal writing would be.  Whether there’s an editor on your proposal team or not, you can review your own work for wordiness.

And then you can change “This provides a quantitative measurement of . . .” to “This measures . . . .”

Or “This provides protection for . . .” to “This protects . . . .”

Or “This causes harm to . . .” to “This harms . . . .”

Or “This person is responsible for ensuring completion of the draft plan . . .” to “This person will draft the plan” or “This person will supervise the drafting of the plan” if that was what was meant.  Bonus!  Fewer words and clearer, to boot.


  1. Jim Taylor

    In my Eight-Step Editing programs, I also stress the removal of unnecessary words. In the examples you give, I would also note that they change a static/abstract noun into a verb — a guaranteed way to increase the energy conveyed to reader.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim – Interesting. I find that I don’t always know why something works – just that it does. A lawyer in one of my clients insisted that we remove all ‘to ensure’ language, concerned that they would be read/interpreted as guarantees in the legal sense. I can’t speak to the reasonableness of that concern, but eliminating them sure makes the text punchier, and that’s good enough for me!

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Christina – Oh, yes, I can imagine. Not that I want to . . . In my book, I identify resumes as one of those long-lead items that will eat your lunch. It’s hard to believe how much time they take. Good luck!

  2. Alison Uhrbach

    Well, thought I might add a comment. I read this blog but feel a bit “out of my element”. Ironically, Corvin often has me edit his writing. He writes FAR more than I do, proposals, letters of reference, etc etc. In my career I chart, I write reports, and letters to Doctors. I learned early on, the concept of “fewer words, clearer meaning” . “Ask for what you want, and tell them how they can do it” is my guideline.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Alison – Out of your element? Anyone who goes with ‘fewer words’ for ‘clearer meaning’ is hired! Seriously, all good business writing follows similar principles. I did a training session with some writers a few weeks ago – they were all new to proposals, but they got the concepts immediately. It ain’t rocket science.

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