There's an accepted notion in the proposal industry that good writing doesn't matter. Or, at least it doesn't matter that much. Why is this?
For government proposals, the argument goes like this: evaluators score proposals, they don't read them. So, you don't need to write well, because no one will read it anyway. Evaluators have a checklist of requirements to burn through. They don't care about narrative or word choice.
For commercial customers, the argument is different. The customer cares about two things - 1) can we trust the people doing the work? and 2) what is the price? So, you focus on who is doing the work and the cost; writing remains a minimal element in the success of the bid.
If the conventional wisdom outlined above is true, why would good writing matter in a proposal? Because writing isn't about a pleasant sequence of words on a page.
That pleasant sequence could be fluff or puffery or lies -- and often, in proposals, it is.
Good writing organizes, develops, and articulates a way to solve a problem. Ninety percent of the work is thinking through persuasive arguments and answers to the problems as outlined in an RFP. Refining language to get well-scripted prose is the last, shortest, and most-overlooked task in writing.
This brings up an important distinction. Good writing requires a lot of time and energy. It demands refinement and rewriting, rumination. It wants order, not always chronological, and coherence and brevity. It doesn't come from out of nowhere.
To write well (especially proposals!) you need to ask questions. Then you prove the answers. Then you convince the reader you can help them. This work leads to a great solution, even if you don't use outstanding prose in your bid.
Bottom line? Good writing leads to excellent and winning proposals. To write well, you have to know what you're writing about. This means you know the players in the game. You understand the environment. You know the work and the customer's conflict. You know how to resolve the conflict. Many business development and proposal professionals don't know these things. They don't even know all the players. They're lucky if they know the true conflict.
The process of writing a solution well demands knowing. Knowing requires organization and development of ideas. This comes from iteration. Ask questions. Write. Refine. Ask questions. Rewrite. Refine. Often it takes working with many people: subject matter experts; project or product managers; executives; financial and legal professionals. At the end of the day, the proposal writer knows more about the problem and the solution than anyone else. Or, at least they should.
It's easy to cut and paste from old proposals. You can limp by with the Google machine and a couple people who kind of know what they're doing. You increase your odds of winning, though, if you work through the process of writing well.
The next time someone says good writing doesn't matter in proposals, ask them what they mean. Odds are, they don't know what good writing requires. Putting words on a page is the easy way out of this process. The right way takes a person skilled in organizing, developing, and articulating ideas -- a good writer, who writes winning proposals.
If this idea interests you, check out some of our other blog posts, and our eBook Goddamned Good Proposals. You'll learn what it takes to write proposals well.