Don’t let ‘word limits’ limit your proposal!

Word limits can lead to serious headaches when writing a proposal. You want to share so much information about your business, its people and its value. It’s difficult to curb your enthusiasm! You might find yourself ‘in the zone’, far exceeding word limits, cutting your work afterwards and wasting valuable time. 

Word limits exist for a reason. Your reader may receive dozens of proposals. They don’t want to read a thesis. They’re looking for succinct, compelling, relevant proposals that get to the point. So don’t confuse them or put them to sleep! 

Plan first, write later

Brevity and prioritisation are key here – conveying the most important information, in less words. You can’t word-dump everything, so start by checking word limits and decide what’s critical and what’s nice-to-have.

Keep it short and simple

Writing well is a strategic process that absolutely can be learned. For example, George Orwell’s ‘rules for writing’ include two rules about writing ‘short’:

  • Never use a long word where a short one will do. 
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. 

These two rules will make you proposal writing better – and all your business writing, for that matter. If you can say the same thing with less words, then do it!

Avoid repetition

Repetition is an enemy lurking in the shadows, and a hard habit to break even among highly experienced proposal writers. Don’t wait until you’ve finished to nip this in the bud! Every morning, look back with fresh eyes at what you’ve written yesterday, and see if you can spot repetitions – particularly, when you’ve said the same thing phrased slightly differently.

You may be wondering, what about when the same information is relevant elsewhere in the proposal? The best-practice here is summarising key points and referring your reader back to where you’ve provided the full information. This frees up important word count, so you can share more of what matters.

Your first draft is NOT your best work

Once your first draft is complete, go back again over it carefully, and then ask someone else you trust for feedback – a second pair of eyes makes a big difference! Some things to keep an eye out for:

  • Are you answering the right questions? It might be important to you, but is it relevant to what’s being asked?
  • Can this be left out? If you didn’t include this information, would it make a difference? 

Word limits don’t have to be a headache if you see them as an opportunity. Trimming the fat frees up more word count for points you wouldn’t otherwise have space to make before; and if your competitors’ proposals don’t get this right, you’ll stand out from the pack. By deciding what really matters when telling your story, you’ll become a better writer and win more business!

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