Tips and Tools for Improving Proposal Readability

Graphics focus boxes, paragraph order, structure, text layout, and flawless spelling and grammar are all the necessary attributes of a great proposal. After spending years in proposal management, however, I have noticed that one important attribute, readability, is often overlooked. Since editors frequently refrain from making in-depth content edits, it is the technical writers’ task to make their sections more readable before their sections go to editors. The problem is that many people tasked with technical writing do not know what readability means or how to make tangible changes to make their sections more readable. This article offers a tutorial on improving readability that proposal writers could start using immediately.

Before a proposal section ever makes it to an editor’s desk, it should be understandable at a 9th-10th grade level if it is non-technical, and at an 11th – 12th grade level if it is highly technical. Why readability? Try to think like your audience, the government evaluators. Each evaluator is responsible for reading and scoring multiple sections of proposals submitted by you and your competitors. Each set of proposal sections consists of dozens or hundreds of pages of boring technical content. Usually, on the Source Selection Evaluation Board (SSEB), only a few people are truly interested in the proposed solutions. These are the people who made this program a reality and who are responsible for its execution. The rest are often the “stuckees” who are doing their “jury duty” when it is their turn to serve on the SSEB. It is possible that as many as 80% of SSEB members may be neither technically proficient in the topic nor enthusiastic about the technical gobbledygook through which they have to navigate.

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