Confessions of a proposal production expert – desktop publishing (Part 1 of 5)

In a previous series on our Insights blog (search “Proposal production across the business development life cycle”), Briana Coleman, PPM.APMP explained the production best practices all companies should perform during each phase of the business development (BD) life cycle.

In this series, she’ll dive deeper into production elements and share war stories and her favorite tips. These production elements include:

  1. Desktop publishing
  2. Graphic design
  3. Editing
  4. Printing and assembly
  5. Delivery

Let’s begin with desktop publishing, the art of formatting a document to help communicate a message and for ease of reading.

Tip 1: Start early
Desktop publishing is not a race at the end. Think about the risks for page limits! As a desktop publisher, I’ve received documents 24 hours before they were due, with the instructions to “work my magic and cut five pages…” Don’t put that kind of pressure on your desktop publisher. Instead, begin desktop publishing and editing before Red Team so you know where you stand in terms of page count and have time to adjust.

Tip 2: Section shells
If you can’t afford to have someone there 8 hours/day desktop publishing, give the writers section shells and give them an overview of how to use the templates and shells at kick-off. At least you will ensure that everyone is using the proper font/size, so their assessments of page limitations will be close.

Tip 3: Auto-generated tables of contents and acronym glossaries
Most of the software we use for desktop publishing—Microsoft (MS) Word, Adobe InDesign, etc.—are capable of automatically generating tables of contents. I can’t tell you how many companies I see still manually developing these.

Ensure that the desktop publisher you use knows how to use these functions and have them teach you too! The same goes for acronym glossaries—there are great software packages—many free—that will auto-develop acronym glossaries for your proposals. My favorite is AcroWizard from AnvilLogic.

Tip 4: Remember your tabs
If you plan to have a tab between sections, or sections have specific page counts, instruct your desktop publisher to place hard breaks between sections. Don’t allow sections to stop and start on the same page or your tabs won’t work.

Tip 5: Electronic delivery in MS Word

An emerging trend I’ve seen lately is the government requiring electronic copies—email or CD—to be formatted in MS Word/MS Office. This can be a nightmare. Ensure your desktop publisher understands this requirement, so they can format accordingly. A couple of tips that I’ve seen used include:

  • When the requirement is to submit MS Word 2003 documents, don’t just save down to .doc at the end. Develop in the format you are delivering in (because not everything converts precisely the same from MS Word 2007 to 2003!). Example: columns can shrink in conversion—which affects every page.
  • In MS Word 2003, don’t use automatic colors; they will change from document to document (this was fixed in MS Word 2007 and later versions).
  • Use uniquely named style names for the same reason.
  • If you open up something in one version of MS Word and it’s corrupted, try using a different version of MS Word.

What production tips do you recommend? What are your favorite production-related war stories? Send your thoughts to me at, and I’ll share your advice and stories in upcoming posts!


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Lohfeld Consulting