We are all aware that the process of writing a detailed proposal for a government agency is a complicated and multi-layered task. If you count yourself among those rare individuals who create and refine proposals as a profession, congratulations. If you are just beginning your trek on this long and arduous journey, welcome aboard. If you are a mid-level proposal team member, who is striving to upwardly navigate the creative hierarchy, we are here to assist. The editing techniques we enumerate here will be generally helpful for proposal writers from all backgrounds and all levels of expertise. While each writer has his or her own style and manner of getting words on the page, it is advantageous to return to the basics—and consider how some standard rules can be revisited to offer new attitudes from which to hone the writing process.
The time you spend using each of the following three techniques will assist you in keeping the thrust of your writing time on a beneficial path. While each of the three consist of multiple segments, they still provide a viable roadmap for getting you to your ultimate goal of a finely detailed and presented package. These three editing techniques are:
Now, let’s examine how each of these techniques can be used during the writing process.
Starting with the First Technique, we immediately see how personal the process of writing is. Keep in mind, that no matter how involved, technical, and nuanced your proposal may appear, it is still, at its heart, an artistic creation, cobbled together by a team of professionals (often with conflicting styles and ideas of how to bring the project to completion). The quicker the entire team sees a pattern in the workflow that they can recognize and follow, the better the experience (and the proposal) will be. This will start with your Outlining phase, which can include any needed research or specific data input from your client. During this time, the team managers can break down the assignments and designate which team member will be performing which job. Once a general outline is agreed upon, the actual writing can begin.
As the various writers perform their duties and the proposal begins to take shape, it is important to keep the flow of work progressing. At this stage, do not worry as much about correcting grammar or spelling. Let the ideas circulate; and get them on paper while the creative Muses are cooperating. Encourage your writers to concentrate on narrowing the ideas down to a fine point and to capture the spirit of the common vision that you want to impart to your Client. Magic can happen during this phase, but only if space is offered for the magic to enter. Once an approximate first draft is created, it can be rewritten as needed to better refine the concepts and conclusions. This process may include some light editing and reworking of some sentences and paragraphs, but the main focus is to discard the parts that are outside the main thrust of the proposal, and elevate the sections that more clearly convey what the proposal is pitching.
At this time, you can begin using the Second Technique, which involves Clarity Editing of your main points, as well as the compression of the wording and expression into a more concise narrative. This is where the bulk of the editing takes place. Ideally, you will be working from a draft of your proposal that has many superlative concepts and information, presented in the styles of the many writers who contributed to the piece. The key now becomes the manner in which the varying styles are fused into a single presentation that projects a unique model of packaging that reflects your company. How you choose to clarify your proposal’s layout and disposition—clearly enumerating your points, while also efficiently leading to your outcome—will decide whether or not your proposal is finally chosen. This is where the skill and art of editing is paramount; from the many who have offered input, now must come one statement with one point of view.
During this phase, you need to be keenly aware of the material that fits into the scope of the proposal, and the material that may sound good, but is taking up more space than it is contributing. Don’t be afraid to cut out segments that are well written, but don’t propel the narrative of the whole. All writers are familiar with the term “Pride of Authorship,” and many can’t abide seeing even the slightest trims removed from their work. But, very often, choosing between the presentations of two points by two different writers in two different styles will result in an improved presentation; this is called the “one voice” of the proposal. Similarly, reorganizing the positions of paragraphs and subtopics in the flow of the narrative can present an outcome that is easier to comprehend.
As you employ the Third Technique, you will use editing skills that include tracking down and correcting any grammar and syntax mistakes that got through the previous pass, as well as confirming all words are properly spelled. This will be the final Sign-off for your proposal. Keep in mind that the next eyes that see the outcome of all this effort belong to the client. This is your last opportunity to make any changes or decisions regarding content, so don’t take any section for granted! Make sure to allot plenty of time for this process. Rushing through is not competent proofreading. Study the final draft for 15 – 20 minutes, and then break every few sections. Remember to keep your conclusions crisp and pithy. If you did your job well, your client will be reaching the exact same conclusion, and will only need a gentle “reminder” at that point.
If you follow these simple tips and use them as a guide to channel your proposal workflow, you will reap the benefits of increased efficiency and sharpness in your final presentation.