Better RFP Responses & Management
Sum Up

Sum Up

Near the end of the proposal, the client announced that their “recommendation” of a page limit for each technical section had transmogrified to a hard cap. Yikes.

As the writers hyper-ventilated or banged their heads on their desks, I took every section and cut. And cut.

Flowery introductions? Out.

Repeats of content found in other sections? Out.

Long, thorough explanations? Out.

Promises of good behaviour unsubstantiated by specifics? Out.

Content-free graphics? Out.

Content that answered an implied question? Out. RTQ/ATQ.

Or, in the words of one family member who is just a little impatient with long-winded explanations:

Sum up.

In the background, of course, there was a full-court press on to persuade the client to reverse this decision as coming too late in the process and as unreasonable besides, given the detail they’d asked for.

But by the time that decision had been taken, every person on our team agreed that we preferred the lean, mean proposal-machine versions to the originals that had, like Topsy, just growed. We added back a few things that were just too good to lose, and carried on, much leaner and definitely feeling meaner.

It’s not a best practice to write whatever you want and then pretend you’re being forced to cut it, but it’s an interesting thought experiment. In an environment where every risk-mitigation impulse and every document review adds content and length — details, context, examples, caveats, kudos, explanations, experience, achievements, lessons learned, background, words words words — what would it look like if you really had to sum up? And would it be easier to mark?



  1. Jim Taylor

    While I agree wholehearted with your point, I think there are also times when you have to write way too much just to figure out what you’re trying to say. The ruthlessly summed-up version might not be the same thing as what you would have originally written, if you were writing only to length.

    Jim T

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim T – I agree: Writing is often a way of figuring out what we think and what we want to say. The challenge (and not just in Proposal Land) is the deadline. It takes time to strip away the extra, after figuring out what is essential.

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