A proposal is not a glossy brochure.
Writers! Don’t use icky brochure-speak.
A proposal is not a technical specification.
Writers! Don’t use opaque, inert jargon.
A proposal is something between a brochure and a tech spec. It’s a document that must sell a technical solution while specifying it precisely enough that it can be costed accurately as well as litigated successfully if it ever comes to a contract-interpretation dispute.
Writers! We can’t tell you what to do
but we’ll know it when we see it.
But let’s not put all of this on the put-upon writers, because a proposal is not, primarily, a marketing-communications exercise either.
A proposal is a product-creation exercise, in the broad sense of product: something you offer a customer for money. It is a vision of How you’re going to deliver something to the client, and Why that How will be great. Really Why it will be great: not a made-up or meaning-free Why like “integrated, seamless, collaborative, or state-of-the-art.”
What’s a real Why?
More reliable. More effective. More accurate. More stable. Faster to respond. Easier to change. Harder to break. Or, oh yeah, cheaper.
Some folks call this a value proposition. Some folks even capitalize it. That’s OK, but it’s not necessary to use high-falutin’ language. In terms everyone can understand, it’s just the Why.
So, a proposal doesn’t start with the writers: It starts with the people designing the solution. When that’s done, and done well, the marketing-communications aspect is a dream: demanding but eminently satisfying work. When it’s not done, or done badly, the marketing-communications aspect is a nightmare: demoralizing and completely frustrating work.
Start with the How. And the Why.
I’m pretty sure I’ve said it before. It turns out not everyone was listening.