Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” ~ William Strunk Jr –  Author, The Elements of Style.

Early 20th Century American linguist William Strunk has been labelled one of the most influential grammatists of all time and his principles continue to be taught today.

Strunk’s key principle was to “make every word tell” – a mantra that is important to all writers, none more so than the writers of bid documents where strict page limits and styles (eg font size) generally apply.

While many subject matter experts bemoan the fact that they are restricted to a page limit – “How can I possibly cram my entire solution into just 10 pages – with diagrams!” –  this is a practical requirement. When you think that an average bid may run to 100 or more returnables encompassing thousands of pages – and then spare a thought for the evaluators who have to read ALL returnables, would you want to be the one reading a submission that has no page limit? I have worked with companies that have submitted tenders where many or all of the returnables have had no page restrictions and they have really struggled with direction and not knowing how much detail to include. By the end, they have often felt dissatisfied with their response and spent more than one night staring at the ceiling at 2am wondering if they had written way too much, or not nearly enough.

So once you receive your RFT documents and get over the initial shock of how few pages you may have to put your solution forward (and that the client has annoying stipulated a minimum text size of Arial 10 point), how do you make every word tell?

What do to when no limit is off limits

Speak to any professional writer and they will tell you that writing a short story or essay can be more challenging than writing a book – every word has to be carefully chosen and every sentence designed to get your message across.

It’s the same with writing a tender document – page limits force you to be concise, laser-focused and economical with language. Here are a few tips on how to stick within that page count when you can’t get away with changing your text to 7 point in order to cram more words in!

A recipe to keep you on track

Few writers start off with just a flashing cursor in the top left corner of a Word document. Before getting stuck into the writing bit, begin with an outline or storyboard that includes the main questions you need to address, the most important points you want to get across, the key components of your solution, etc… Break your response into sections and then put down a few dot points on each – you can then start fleshing out the detail. It’s like baking a cake – you start with the recipe, assemble the ingredients, follow the method to mix them together, cook and finally decorate to make it look appetising. Having a document recipe to refer back to will help keep you on track.

Less means more

When I was a journalist in a former career, there was a rule of thumb that sentences should not be more than 25-30 words long. The longer and more convoluted the sentence, the more likely you are to lose your reader’s attention or confuse them by trying to cram in too many ideas. Try to keep sentences concise and within this approximate word limit.

Make redundancies redundant

It’s an ATM not an ATM Machine! Get rid of double-teaming words or redundancies/tautologies. For example: “end result” (result is a finite thing and by its very definition signifies the end, so just talk about the “result”); “larger in size” (large refers to size so just say “larger than”); “square in shape” (a square is a shape so stick with “square”). In bid terminology, terms like an AMS System include a redundancy ie –  where AMS stands for Asset Management System just stick with an/the AMS  – you don’t have an Asset Management System System.

Use your words well

Shortening phrases to a few words is not just well – shorter – but more impactful. For example, saying “Engineers who are experienced in the field of traction control will be part of the team….” doesn’t sound nearly as strong as “Engineers experienced in traction control will be part of the team”.

Be active

Using active rather than passive voice saves words and sounds more dynamic and vibrant. For example: “The dog was walked by the boy.” (passive voice) doesn’t sound as motivating as “The boy walked the dog.” (active voice).
Tip for using active voice: put the subject first (in this case “the boy”) directly followed by the verb (“walked”).

Clichés are so last bid….

Clichés are clichés for a reason –they are over-used and often yawn-inducing. Imagine how many times across multiple submissions your reader sees phrases like “tried and true”; “exceptional value”; “paradigm shift”; “take it to the next level”; “next generation” – the list goes on… These phrases don’t really add to your solution, take up valuable word space and can cause an equal measure of yawns or eye-rolls from your audience. Plus, if you make a cliched claim, you need to be able to prove it!

Nobody likes a smarty pants

As writers, we like to think we are highly-intelligent and have an advanced grasp of vocabulary and language. This doesn’t mean that we need to use lots of big words and sentence structures so complex they leave our reader bamboozled and reaching for the dictionary. There is actually more skill in writing simply and concisely than in penning highly-technical missives that the average person can’t comprehend. You need to remember that not everyone who reads your submission will be a technical expert – while your solution may be technical, your response won’t just be read by the engineers – it will also be read by the legal guys, stakeholder engagement, CEO/CFO, marketing, HR etc….  While a few well-placed words can certainly raise the quality of your writing, if you are overly verbose and your reader can’t understand what you’re saying they aren’t going to score you highly.

Be a glass is half-full kind of writer

Writing in affirmative speech not only saves words but puts your message across in a more positive manner  – you don’t want to sound like a finger-wagging teacher taking a student to task. Here’s an example of affirmative speech:

Negative speech: Unless our civil engineers have a minimum of five years’ experience in a similar role, they won’t be considered to join our team.

Affirmative speech: Our team of civil engineers is highly-skilled, with a minimum of five years’ experience in a similar role.

Chunk it up

Your response shouldn’t read like a stream of consciousness or interior monologue. It’s easier on the reader’s eye and their concentration if you can break your response into manageable chunks of text with sub-headings and dot points. This also saves on word count.

Hand the baby over

Finally, it’s important to have a fresh set of eyes – preferably someone with editing experience –read each document before it’s finalised. They will look at it from a new perspective for comprehensiveness, structure, overall readability and whether it answers the question. If they suggest edits, (and they almost certainly will) leave your ego at the door and take it as constructive feedback rather than criticism. Even Shakespeare had editors!

Aurora Marketing can help organisations in each phase of the sales process. For help winning your next complex sale, call us today on 1300 976 312 or email us at info@auroramarketing.com.au 

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