7 Questions To Ask When Writing a Proposal

Professional conferences are a great time to learn about emerging technologies and new ideas in your field. They’re also a time to get back to basics, to be reminded of the tried-and-true practices that don’t have to change.

This happened when I listened to Olessia Smotrova-Taylor’s presentation on proposal management at APMP Bid & Proposal Con in 2012. In her discussion of tips for interviewing subject matter experts, she emphasized paying attention to the “8 Ws” of a given topic.

Yes, these are the same W’s you surely memorized sometime in elementary school: who, what, when, where, why, how, and “wow.”

“Wow” is Olessia’s addition to the list. And it’s different from “why.” “Why” describes the problem: why a proposal is being written or a solution being offered. “Wow” is the take-away; it’s the punchy message you want your reader to be left with once they’re done.

Simple but elegant, these words get overlooked all too often in the world of grown-up business writing. But if you think about it, this alliterative list gets to the core of what’s important in any written work, be it a proposal, a marketing brochure, or a white paper.

Olessia, a master proposal manager, discussed how to apply them to proposal writing. If you order sections of your proposal based on the 8 Ws, she says, they’ll always be logical, and they’ll always be complete. Think of describing a solution in this way, for example:

  • What are we going to do?
  • How will we do it?
  • Who will perform the work?
  • When will we do it (on what schedule)?
  • Where will the work be performed?
  • Why are we the strongest candidates?
  • And, what’s the wow—the characteristic that makes us different from all other competitors.

Organizing information in this way can also help you see patterns in your content. Maybe it’ll help you realize that one story has a really important “who”—while in another, the “how” is what really matters.

This helps you write your best, because you’ll focus on what’s most important in each piece. So thank your language arts teachers next time you’re writing a proposal—they just might help you seal that deal.

To learn more about this and other topics discussed at APMP, check out https://www.apmp.org/resources/videos/.

Samantha Enslen runs Dragonfly Editorial. She always likes getting back to basics.

Chalkboard with who, how, what, why, where, and when surrounding a giant question mark


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