Writing a proposal can be stressful. We’re often working late at night, on tight deadlines, under lots of pressure.
I talked with David Bol from Shipley Associates recently about proposal editing. He had a lot of insights. That should come as no surprise; he’s a senior VP at Shipley and has managed the content on hundreds of bids.
I just got done teaching the most recent proposal editing course for OST Global Solutions. OST is run by APMP Fellow Olessia Smotrova-Taylor, and I've been helping her teach this course for the past two years.
I spoke recently with David Bol from Shipley Associates about proposal editing.
David is a senior VP at Shipley, a leader in the capture and proposal world. He was quick to acknowledge that on smaller bids, editing may not be in the budget.
But on larger or critical bids, David said, editing is definitely recommended. Here's why.
Reason #1: Editing Adds Value
“We believe that editing can add significant value to a proposal and dramatically affect its quality,” David told me. “Editors allow the source selection people to do exactly what they’re supposed to do—evaluate content, rather than get caught up in how many typos and inconsistencies are in the text.”
David noted that although the experts writing proposals may be brilliant, clear writing may not be their forte.
“I’ve seen SMEs write sentences that are 70, 80, 90, even 100 words long,” David said.
“When the source selection team tries to read that, their eyes are going to roll into the back of their heads. They’re going to fall off their chairs backwards, asleep.”
An editor’s job is to stop that from happening, David said.
Reason # 2: Editing Enhances Clarity
In addition to their normal copyediting tasks—cleaning up spelling, grammar, punctuation, and consistency—David suggests that editors focus on readability and clarity.
“You want the solution to be easy to read and easy to follow,” David said. “We shoot for a 7th- or 8th-grade reading level. We want the source selection people to glide through the proposal and easily evaluate our compliance."
"The easier we make it for them to check that ‘yes’ box, the easier we make it for them to accept areas where we may be marginally compliant.”
Reason #3: Your Writing Is You
“Reading your prop gives evaluators an initial sense of what it’ll be like to work with you,” David noted.
“If your proposal is hard to read, they’ll notice. They’re going to start thinking about what it’ll be like to slog through your biweekly status reports. And that’s not a good thing.”
In Summary ...
In short, David’s message was that editing adds value — whether it’s done by professional editors, or whether your budget means that it must be done by writers or managers.
“A clean, readable document sends a subliminal message,” David said. “We’re proud of what we do, and we do it well.”
Samantha Enslen runs Dragonfly Editorial, which specializes in proposal, technical, and medical editing.
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