Five tips to help evaluators find key words (and winning content)

Use our five tips to help evaluators find key wordsFederal Government source selection officials are very likely to review your bid electronically rather than in hard copy. Telework is here to stay, and federal proposal evaluators working from home are unlikely to print thousands of pages from multiple bids. Even in the office, printing large documents is wasteful and not environmentally friendly. In addition, over-worked government evaluators look for ways to speed the evaluation process.

Increasingly, government evaluators rely on automation to help them efficiently review proposals.

Whether the Source Selection Evaluation Board (SSEB) members are using acquisition software to check compliance and document findings or simply the search and find features of MS Word or Adobe Acrobat, they must be able to find content quickly and easily.

An important part of planning before you write is identifying important key words for automated content searches. Using key words is not the same as parroting back RFP requirements. It is an important technique to avoid evaluator frustration, which could result in a Significant Weakness or Deficiency. If a government evaluator cannot find content, it is not there (even if it is there under a different name).

Five Tips for Key Words

Here are five tips to help evaluators use automation to find winning proposal content.

  1. Create and use a conventions list that mimics the exact language the RFP uses. For example, if the RFP asks for a Service Desk, don’t call it a Customer Help Desk.
  2. Follow the RFP instructions to create your outline, while ensuring headings and subheadings also map to the evaluation factors and other requirements in the PWS/SOW. Remember, government scoresheets are based on the evaluation criteria, so that language is critical.
  3. In addition to headings and subheadings, include the key words in the narrative. For example, if the RFP states that the government will evaluate whether the organizational structure is feasible, clearly state: The organizational structure is feasible because <evidence of proven and beneficial results>. If the RFP states that a Strength must have merit, then state: The solution has merit because <how the approach exceeds requirements and/or reduces risk significantly>.
  4. When the solicitation’s evaluation plan states that the government will document Strengths and that these must far outweigh Weaknesses, consider using the words “Strength” or “Significant Strength” to point to winning content. Of course, make sure that your Strength Statements begin with the customer and include substantiation of the merits of your features and benefits.
  5. Recognize that the government’s rationale for award must state the benefits of the selected offeror’s services and/or products. Therefore, use the word benefits; for example, The government benefits from <approach features with evidence of results>.

Bonus Tip!

Train your internal color team reviewers to search for key words. Provide color team reviewers with the key word convention list. Ask them to perform content searches and document results as part of the out-brief to the proposal team.

The government’s use of automation will continue to increase as acquisition and content search applications grow in sophistication. Make identification and use of key words part of your standard proposal planning, writing, and review process.

By Lisa Pafe, Vice President at Lohfeld Consulting Group, CPP APMP Fellow and PMI PMP

Lohfeld Consulting Group has proven results specializing in helping companies create winning captures and proposals.
As the premier capture and proposal services consulting firm focused exclusively on government markets, we provide expert assistance to government contractors in Go-to-Market Strategy, Capture Planning and Strategy, Proposal Management and Writing, Capture and Proposal Process and Infrastructure, and Training. In the last 3 years, we’ve supported over 550 proposals winning more than $135B for our clients—including the Top 10 government contractors. Lohfeld Consulting Group is your “go-to” capture and proposal source! Start winning by contacting us at and join us on LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter.