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I can’t tell you how to make every proposal a winning one every time, but I thought I’d at least share some tips on how to make sure a decent proposal doesn’t end up in the bin because of careless mistakes.

Tip: If you’d like to step through an example of a winning proposal and the rationale for the way it is structured, consider becoming a DPM member and taking our Master Project Proposals workshop!

In this article

Here are four of my top tips to keep your proposal from being trashed:

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1. Answer The Mail — Don’t Make Your Readers Think

If your audience has asked for something specific, don’t make them search for it in your proposal. Use the terminology from their ask, answer their questions explicitly with their exact question listed verbatim, and consider providing a reference table indicating where your proposal addresses scored criteria. Don’t bury the lead!

2. Mind The Arc — Remember: You’re Telling A Story

Not every proposal is going to be read from front to back in its entirety, but it never hurts to make each section a free-standing narrative that is engaging, relevant, and informative.

You might think of it as each section being an episode within one season of a television show: you can watch one on its own, but there are also themes and sub-plots that cut across the entire season to tie things all together.

3. Tailor, Tailor, Tailor! — Everything Should Fit The Ask

Don’t make the mistake of filling your proposal with boilerplate and pieces from previous proposals without investing the time to make sure every sentence is relevant to the ask.

Do a line-by-line review of any content you’re not creating specifically for that proposal. Where possible, be explicit about how the content applies to them (for example: “we chose this case study because, like you, this organization needed…”).

4. Be Consistent

Readers will have a hard time getting through your proposal if it sounds like 12 different people wrote it. Consistency of voice and tone is an easy way to reduce the cognitive load that you are demanding from your audience so that they can focus on the argument you’re making.

If you have to, use a lightweight style guide to give your contributors some guardrails as they create their content. If possible, review content as a group, so everyone has a chance to see the content surrounding their contributions.

What Do You Think?

What other tips do you have for how to win a project proposal? If you’re someone who reviews proposals as part of your role, what are your top pet peeves that proposal teams do that put you off? Let me know in the comments!

By Galen Low

Galen is a digital project manager with over 10 years of experience shaping and delivering human-centered digital transformation initiatives in government, healthcare, transit, and retail. He is a digital project management nerd, a cultivator of highly collaborative teams, and an impulsive sharer of knowledge. He's also the co-founder of The Digital Project Manager and host of The DPM Podcast.