Is my tender or proposal too long?

How do you assess whether your tender response or project proposal is too long? Our philosophy is that your tender length cannot be “too long”. Most requests for tenders (RFTs) and other forms of contract specification have page or word limits. Although you must adhere to these word or page limits, you must not allow the tender length constraints to prevent the proposal writer from presenting a comprehensive and complete case. Here are some tips and warnings!

1. The macro-micro approach in writing a proposal

The most important is to use a “macro-micro” approach where you split the information into high-level capability and experience statements and provide evidence in the appendices. The macro part is well-written, high-level information on your capability and experience. The micro part is the detailed supporting information that goes in an appendix.

2. Referencing external material in a proposal

We do not recommend you refer to important information outside your document, because there is a strong likelihood that the assessors won’t read it. However, if the RFT is particularly strict on word and page limits, even to the point of limiting number of appendices, you may need to summarise information and direct the reader to external documents or the Internet for less important material.

3. Cross-referencing within the proposal

Each section in a large tender may be assessed by different people or even by different teams so each section should be written to be free-standing and addressed to these readers. However some material in the document can be cross-referenced such as CVs and case studies. Resist the temptation of cross-referencing—it is not recommended because it disrupts the document logic and can annoy the reader. Repetition within the document is not a bad thing if it keeps readers from having to search for information.

4. Good writing and editing

There is an often-quoted line from Blaise Pascal, a 17th century French writer and philosopher which is relevant for tender length consideration:

I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.

Good proposal writing takes both skill and time. It is part of the expertise of proposal writers to distil the most meaning out of the least amount of words. The first draft of a tender or proposal document can be significantly edited down if the bid manager gives enough time to the editor.

5. Proposal template and layout

Don’t cheat for space. Make sure that your document template is well set out and generous. You must not use small fonts and small margins to try to squeeze more words onto a page. On the other hand, make sure your corporate template is not so spread out that it is inefficient.