Better RFP Responses & Management
What Do You Mean?

What Do You Mean?

We will follow the Project Management Plan . . .

What? What are you going to do after developing this Plan?

We will follow the ISO standard . . .

What? What has supplanted the latest ISO standard for quality or environmental management?

We will follow the results . . .

What? What happens next?

In Proposal Land, “follow” can reasonably mean “to happen after” or  “to adhere to” or “to monitor.” Why not just say what we mean?

After developing the Project Management Plan,
we will write the associated SOPs.

To maintain consistency
we will adhere to the ISO standard.

By monitoring performance results,
we will learn how to improve them.

It’s a small point, but it illustrates one of the challenges of writing clearly: Words have multiple meanings. So choose your words as precisely as you can, as “least prone to momentary misinterpretation” as you can find: The person trying to understand them is not you.

Or think of it this way: The person evaluating them is not you.

Following me now?



  1. Jim+Taylor

    Yes, I follow you, but I think you may be marching to a percussion-challenged drummer. The question is not really whether your text is clear, but whether the receiver understands it. In RFP terms, there is no general audience; the audience is ONE. If he/she knows that you mean, you don’t need to be correct, or precise.
    Jim T

  2. Isabel Gibson

    Your general point is absolutely right: What matters is the communication. Proposal Land is not a place for persnicketiness about usage. But in my experience, we’ve never written to just one person. The evaluation teams can be large, and in Canadian Government contracting about half of them are working in their second language. Every bit of clarity helps.

  3. Jim Taylor

    Do RFPs go through approval loops? Up one side of the management structure and down the other side, before they get back to the person who’s actually authorized to authorize the contract?
    I’m reminded of an episode in M*A*S*H where Radar tells Col. Blake that he wasn’t authorized to read a particular paper, “so please erase your initials and initial the erasure.”
    Jim T

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim – I can’t speak for B2B procurement, but not in government. For large contracts, a whole team of technical experts goes through the proposal in accordance with their (usually stated) evaluation procedures and criteria, and recommend an award “up the chain.” It would be highly unusual for anyone up that chain to over-turn their selection. I’m not saying there are never any games played with the evaluation criteria, but it’s a pretty tight process procedurally in my experience.

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