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When RFP Response Formatting Goes Wrong

Writing a winning proposal requires attention to detail that sometimes gets pushed to the back burner. It is understandable because the level of effort that goes into government contract proposal writing can be a considerable amount. Yet, you should always pay close attention to the content of the request for proposal (RFP) response – the proposal – and the formatting of the document. 

RFP responses win contracts when they are compliant, responsive, and compelling… but what happens when RFP formatting goes wrong? If you know anything about government bid processes, you know that the evaluation and scoring factor is extremely strict. 

Government proposal evaluators will not cut your proposal any slack. So, to avoid lower scores, your proposal writers should make sure that the RFP response formatting and content is up to par. 

Are You Following the Right Proposal Format?

Government RFPs, state, and federal government, have a technical proposal format requirements section that is very important to understand and consistently re-check. For federal government RFPs, this section is labeled Section L. 

Most proposal managers use this section to write the business proposal outline, as well as to monitor the progress of the compliance matrix and proposal response. Your RFP response must follow whatever format is listed in the RFP. Some requirements you may see include:

  • Times New Roman, 12-point font 
  • No less than the 10-point font in graphics
  • Double spaced with 1-inch margins 
  • No more than 20 pages for the Technical Proposal 

Additional formatting may likely be required, and all of it must be compliant for the final submission. Yes, all these nuances can determine whether a proposal will win the government contract. 

More so, a proposal document must look neat and follow an easy-to-read flow. Based on your proposal outline, set up your proposal document to have the correct headings and section numbers in compliant order. 

With that, here are tips on how to create the best RFP response format that is compliant.

04 Tips to Create the Best RFP Response Format 

The trick to creating the best RFP response format is to follow the RFP guidelines and make the document visibly appealing to the eye. That means if you look over your document and see noticeable errors or things that seem confusing, your format is off. 

Remember that the government proposal evaluators have several bid responses to review. The slightest hiccup in your government proposal response will be the easiest way to disqualify your proposal or lessen your evaluation score. 

Let’s make your life easier. Here are 05 tips to creating the best RFP response format:

1.Stick to the script.

Government proposals must be compliant and follow exactly what the RFP says. Though it can be enticing to make some sections be more creative – don’t bother. Stick to the script and follow the RFP instructions.

2. Follow the eye.

A reader will scan a document before digesting the content. Your proposal format ought to adhere to that frame of mind. Structure the look and feel of your proposal to be friendly to the eye. For instance, in the United States and other countries, people read left to right and typically from the top left to diagonal bottom right. Thus, your proposal can incorporate design elements that support the reader’s eye.

3. Make it make sense.

The chronological order of information goes without saying in narrative and in RFP format. Structure the RFP format to use lettering and numbering that reflects a sensible chronological order (i.e. 1.1, 1.2, 1.2.1, 1.2.2, A, B, etc.).

4. Establish formatting standards.

Use corporate branding guidance to structure your document and differentiate it. Everything is an opportunity to be compelling as well as compliant. It is helpful to have formatting standards that remain the same no matter how many proposals your company submits. 

5. Be consistent.

Use the same dictation and style throughout the entire document. If you use rounded bullet points in the Executive Summary, use rounded bullet points throughout every section instead of switching to numbered lists in a later proposal section, for example.  

Proposal writing is time-consuming and a bit stressful considering the stakes of winning a government contract. It will streamline proposal writing, proposal review, and proposal evaluation when you maintain a clear and clean RFP response format.

The challenge is ensuring that all pages of the RFP response are formatted the same – sometimes that could be more than 100 pages. Organizations use proposal management software to avoid manual formatting or the possibility of noncompliance. 

Proposal management software saves hours in manpower and gives your proposal team back some time. Use the extra time to conduct a seamless proposal process rather than languish over tedious tasks like bullet point formatting.

Take an opportunity to reimagine or refine your technical approach or capture management strategy with the extra time you would otherwise not normally be able to use.    

Here’s what the experts have to say about a winning RFP response:

On Proposal Quality 

Lisa Pafe, Lohfield Consulting Group –

“Your proposal can be compliant but not responsive. How does that happen? The narrative complies with the instructions, evaluation criteria, and work requirements. The format, whether electronic or hard copy, conforms with the instructions.

The proposal even includes a compliance matrix. However, the content fails to focus on the meaning behind the RFP words. The outline is correct, but the proposal narrative misses the mark, perhaps providing too much detail on topics the customer does not care about and too little on what they value.” How good are your proposals?

On Winning Over Evaluators 

Chris Simmons, Rainmakerz Consulting

“A winning proposal is all about standing out from the competition by capturing the attention and the imagination of proposal evaluators. Compliant and compelling proposal themes can make the difference between winning and losing your next bid by providing evaluators with the reasons to pick you.” 

On Automation 

Nik Fuler –

“Think through the intake process and automate creating a project. Delegation can be automated. Automate sending emails and find ways to automate answers and reviews.

Offer an alternative upfront like a trusted package that contains certifications, white papers, and policies. This reduces questionnaires. Build a list of key stakeholders. The people you hire are critical and using good technology will prevent burnout.”

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