The root causes and solutions to “100 words that kill your proposal”

Proposal writingBob Lohfeld published an article in Washington Technology several years ago called 100 words that kill your proposal. He explained, “Inexperienced proposal writers seem to use words that should be avoided when writing proposals. These inappropriate words and phrases can weaken a proposal, annoy evaluators, and even undermine the bidder’s credibility.”

I have found both inexperienced and experienced writers can fall into this trap, and I continue to see phrases such as “we understand” or “leverage our experience” in proposals. The following list provides examples of some of the 100 words that kill proposals, the potential root causes of their use, and solutions for avoiding them.

Boastful words

  • Examples: best-in-class, best-of-breed, world class
  • Root cause: Inability to distinguish your product or solution in comparison to the competition
  • Solution: Determine how your solution distinguishes you from the competition by conducting due diligence. Describe how your solution will precisely benefit the customer through increased productivity, reduced costs, higher customer satisfaction, or increased quality.

Redundant or crutch words

  • Examples: We understand your requirements
  • Root cause: Insufficient information to formulate a precise understanding or solution
  • Solution: Before writing the understanding section, collect information about the customer’s background, scope, objectives, constraints, and risks associated with the project. Verify your understanding with the customer. Before offering a technical or management solution, formulate a precise work breakdown structure, schedule, resources, deliverables, performance measurements, and list of deliverables. Test the solution to ensure it meets the customer’s requirements. Use your findings to clearly describe how your solution benefits the customer and back up your claims with facts.

Weak words

  • Examples: believe, think, feel
  • Root cause: Insufficient evidence to formulate a solution or opinion
  • Solution: Use clear and precise words to describe the benefits of your solution and provide facts to back up your claims.

Vague or needlessly long words or phrases

  • Examples: in the event of, ascertain, encompass, enumerate
  • Root cause: The need to make your solution seem more sophisticated by using bigger words
  • Solution: Use the readability statistics built into MS Word to reduce your Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid scores downward.

by Brenda Crist, MPA, CPP APMP Fellow

Connect with Brenda on LinkedIn