Proposal Editor: A Small Cog in a Big Machine

The Big PictureI’m a proposal editor, not a proposal manager. But last month I studied forand gotAPMP certification.
That’s the accreditation given by the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (, a worldwide organization dedicated to teaching proposal managers the skills they need to lead proposal teams and win bids.
Even though I’ve been editing proposals for more than a decade, I learned a ton in the process. Here are three nuggets that really hit home for me–and that directly apply to our role as proposal editors:
Sell, sell, sell. At its core, a proposal is a sales document and is meant to be persuasive. Proposal writers and managers are concerned with “win themes,” compliance with the request for proposal (RFP), and meeting the clients’ needs by linking discriminators to features and benefits. Those are our clients’ goals, and we should always keep in mind what matters most to our clients. Of course, we’re correcting grammar and spelling errors; making style consistent; standardizing acronym treatment; and ensuring figures and tables have numbers and titles.  But we should do everything we do with the greater goal in mind—to persuade the reader. In fact, one proposal manager told me that the number-one most important thing we do as editors is point out where a statement is unclear or incomplete.
Small cog in a large machine. The accreditation training gave me a greater understanding of how large, complicated, and stressful the entire process is and how small—yet important—our role is as editors. This helps me to better understand, for example, why documents come to us several hours late without our deadline being extended, or why clients can be quite determined to use a certain style or numbering scheme that differs from the norm. The document is their baby—they have been working on it intensely for weeks or months, and they’re just entrusting it to us for a short time relatively late in the process.
Review vs. edit. I realized how little emphasis proposal managers give editing in an iterative process full of reviews. In fact, the terms review and edit are used almost interchangeably. The reviewers go through the document to evaluate the win themes and the technical information, and so forth. Editors go through the document to fix small errors that no one noticed were there and may never notice were fixed.
Why bother?
Organizations invest thousands—if not millions—of dollars into bidding on contracts that will translate into new jobs (or, for the incumbent, loss of jobs) and thousands or millions of dollars of revenue.
For a relatively small investment of time and money, editors can polish a proposal so it does what it is supposed to do—that is, persuade. We point out holes in the argument where a few words were accidentally dropped. We make sure the descriptions of graphics and actual graphics match. By fixing typos and tightening the phrasing, we increase the air of professionalism and decrease distractions.
And all that is important—a very important small cog in a large machine.


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