Unveiling the Mystery of Proposal Writing

 

capitol building

Any technical writer on the prowl for a new position will find dozens of positions for proposal writing. But proposals are a beast all their own. Some people love them. Others despise them. Few understand them until they get the experience. I’m hoping to dispel a bit of the mystery here and help maybe some of you decide whether proposal writing is right for you.

What are proposals?

When the Government is in need of contractor support, they put forward a request for proposal (RFP). The RFP outlines their need and the preferred structure for responses. Then, companies have the opportunity to offer a solution in the form of a proposal.

In the proposal, the company outlines what solution they would provide. They also illustrate corporate qualifications and past experience in related areas. The goal is to convince the Government that the combination of solution, company, and price are the best value.

After reviewing all submissions, the Government selects a winner and a contract is born. From there, the company hires employees and begins providing the proposed support.

There are many other intricacies involved in proposals and many other events that can occur during this process. This section is meant simply to give a general overview of the concept.

What are proposal writers?

Proposal writers work for companies geared towards Government contracting. These companies require Government contracts to generate revenue and grow their business. The more proposals they generate, the more likely they are to win, the more work and revenue they generate. So, they put together a proposal department dedicated to generating proposals. On this team is a number of proposal writers.

How does it relate to technical writing?

Many RFPs are searching for a technical solution to a problem. Maybe the Government needs people to manage their servers. Maybe they need an application developed to help increase their efficiency. Maybe they need someone to usher in the latest technology.

In response to these RFPs, companies are required to outline their technical solution in the proposal. By understanding technical concepts and approaches, proposal writers can provide educated edits. They can also take the liberty to better word the proposal to be more convincing. In a sense, most proposals involve technical writing, but not all technical writers work on proposals.

Why is there a stigma against it?

When you talk about proposal writing, two things come up. The compensation is high, and the hours are a pain. It doesn’t take much to see that the two are connected. But why are proposals so grueling?

Proposals require coordination of proposal writers, upper management, and technical subject matter experts. That effort takes time. Meanwhile, you’re on a strict deadline to get things 100% perfect. So proposal writing is not an 8 hours a day, 5 days a week position. Proposal writers can work weekends. They can work 60 hour weeks, easy. It requires as many hours on as many days as necessary to get the proposal done on time.

Proposal writers are also salaried. So those extra hours and extra days are sort of a loss. Most companies compensate with a higher salary. Others provide bonuses to accommodate the extra hours worked. Either way, they try to make it worth your while. For many, no amount of money can make those hours worth it. Hence, there are writers who don’t touch proposal writing with a 10 foot pole.

Conclusion

Proposals writers can find themselves in a good place. Most are compensated with a high salary. The position comes with lots of experience and exposure to management. Because contracting companies always need to generate proposals, there is reliable job security. But the hours are hard. The coordination can be frustrating. It can be more trouble than it’s worth. So if you’re curious, try it. Some love it, others don’t, but only you know what works for you.

About the Author
Greta Boller is a technical writer located in the Washington, D.C. area. For more information, please visit .

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2 thoughts on “Unveiling the Mystery of Proposal Writing

  1. paul613 March 10, 2016 / 9:09 AM

    I spent more than 30 years as a technical writer, technical editor, and science writer. Then, in 2012, I switched to technical proposal writing. Writing proposals has been a mixed blessing. On the plus side, It’s provided me a new way to apply a set of well-honed skills–writing clearly and persuasively about technology, using illustrations effectively, and using Microsoft Word at an advanced level. On the minus side, proposal writing is more political and more partisan; and I’m second-guessed more often by people who think they can write or think that corporatespeak is professional writing while human writing is not.

    I’m not sure I agree that proposal writing pays better than technical writing. Most proposal managers underestimate the knowledge, skills, and intelligence that separate great proposal writing from merely passable prose.

    In 2014, I was the only proposal writer on the proposal team of a 200-person technical services company. The only writer! Sounds secure, right? Wrong. The proposal manager decided his group needed no writers, and after 10 months, he laid me off and replaced me with a graphic artist.

    I agree with Greta that the pace of proposal writing is marked by peaks and valleys. It’s been 6 weeks since I’ve had a direct project to sink my teeth into. To keep myself valuable, I’ve been exploring new tools and devouring books on writing…and making sure my boss and colleagues know.

    Like

    • gretaboller March 10, 2016 / 9:41 AM

      Thanks for providing your perspective, Paul.

      I agree, proposals go through many edits from people who think they know better. It can definitely get frustrating. I myself have seen sections get complete rewrites, then they come to me to explain the new content! It’s a balance between sticking to your guns, and being diplomatic around your superiors.

      You hit an interesting point that has come up time and time again. Writers are always the last to be hired and the first to be let go. When developing proposals, contractors want to keep their price as low as possible by cutting all nonessential positions. And everyone can write, right? Unfortunately, too many companies discover years and months later that they’ve done themselves a disservice. Meanwhile, lone writers sit on edge, hoping that their value is recognized. There is definitely more security in a structured team environment.

      Proposal writing can go through ebbs and flows. If there are no RFPs out in your company’s area of expertise, there’s only so much you can do. I’m glad you’ve found a way to keep busy and valuable during the “down time”. Good luck moving forward. Wishing you experience and growth in whatever manner it comes.

      Like

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