Proposal Editing: The Key Step to Selling in Your Proposal

Proposal Editing: The Key Step to Selling in Your Proposal

This article highlights the most effective steps to see your proposal to federal government agencies.  

Today, we bring you an article by our Proposal Manager and writer, Erin Hoefer, who supports our clients on consulting engagements. She discusses her take on proposal editing, self-editing, and editing others’ work:

Proposal managers often get to wear different hats. I am stating the obvious, I know. We do not always get to stand back and orchestrate the overall effort of a winning proposal. Often we have to also get down in the trenches and perform last-minute capture management, fill out pricing and contractual forms, write the technical sections when the Subject Matter Experts are unavailable, and dare I say we even have to edit the proposal after we have written most of it ourselves.

Editing begins early in the proposal writing process and continues throughout the lifecycle, but no matter what stage you are pulled in to edit, it is a distinct task in a proposal’s lifecycle that requires a specific skill set. Editing includes cutting and strengthening text for readability and impact, bringing consistency to diverse materials, achieving a “single voice” in a proposal, and even making your writing sing.

At the very least, as a good proposal editor, you will:

  • Work to a proposal-specific or company style guide to ensure consistent use of words.
  • Strengthen messages and remove ambiguity missed by the proposal team through familiarity.
  • Reduce word count—we all tend to use unnecessary words and phrases.
  • Identify and correct errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

It does not matter what you choose to edit first. It may make sense to one editor to review for punctuation and spelling first, and then dig deeper into the message, but there is no right order for editing. It is up to the individual.Editing your own proposal writing

If you are anything like me, you will repeatedly fall in love with your own writing (I am having a love fest with this piece right now). It is easy to fall into this trap, since writing is hard work. It does not matter what type of writing you are doing, it takes a serious effort to get the right words onto the screen in a coherent fashion. When we spend so much time learning about our clients with the final mission of winning business for them, we inevitably begin to feel passionate about the proposal and its potential outcome. We struggle for the right words, then struggle more to arrange them into the right messages, and finally, present a winning proposal that we know (or think we know) needs very little editing. Therefore, it is not surprising we love our writing more than Angelina Jolie loves to fill out adoption papers—so much time has been invested.

But snap out of it lovers! There is a reason the great proposal writers and editors use the various color reviews (and depending on the size and importance of the proposal, there may be a review for every color in the rainbow). You must be objective about your own work. How do you do that?

Here are a few ways to detach yourself or develop objectivity to your own writing:

  • Step away from the piece for at least one full day (that is 24 hours in proposal writer time). Having a fresh look at the writing will help you see what you could not see when you were buried in the words.
  • Do it in an alternative format: if you were working in Word, look at your text in PDF. You will see different things. Never skip a hard copy review of your proposal.
  • Read it aloud. You know how in your head you are a great singer, but when you actually sing out loud, it sounds surprisingly different? Or is that just me? This exercise can also work on your writing. No matter how great a writer you are, your ears are better at picking up things such as incomplete sentences, vague thoughts, or misplaced points when you read it out loud. This is also a key step in the Read Out Loud review prior to your Gold Team Review.
  • Record yourself. Read it out loud again, but this time, use your computer or smart phone to record it. You will hear yourself differently, but more importantly, any inconsistencies or structural errors will be noted sooner than if re-reading the piece in your head.

Editing Someone Else’s Writing

Make no mistake about it. As much as proposal writers love their own words, nothing trumps the opportunity to alter someone else’s work. It is not because the hard work has already been done. No, it is because it is easier for most of us to edit than to come up with the first draft, however bad it may be.

In reality, editing someone else’s work is a bit of a burden. I know how painstakingly difficult it can be to get all the right words in a proposal. How do I tell the writer to remove a whole paragraph? I do not want to make them upset enough to never want to work with me again. However, the opportunity to edit someone else’s work also brings a two-way street of education. I must be prepared to explain every edit, and at the same time, the writer must be able explain why a particular section or sentence must stay. This often requires team work—give and take.

Below is a simple editing checklist from OST Global Solutions that I use for all proposal pieces, whether my own or someone else’s:

  • Review content. Cover areas such as compliance, accuracy, consistency, missing information, redundancy, win_themes, and acronyms.
  • Review for length and structure. This includes proper paragraph order, flow, and paragraph and section length.
  • Edit and review every sentence and word. Look for passive and active voice, word use, tone, style, and a variety of other issues related to the piece.
  • Look over the basic mechanics such as spelling, typos, punctuation, capitalization, use of pronouns, subject-verb agreement, and verb tense throughout the document.

In conclusion, whether you edit your own beautiful masterpiece or someone else’s, you can never underestimate the power of making yourself detached and objective. Build the time into your proposal schedule if you are the writer. Estimate a proper amount of time if you are editing someone else’s writing. Cover the basics of editing and dig deep to ensure the proposal communicates the message intended, and that the proposal will sell.

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