Lesson 3: Effective Tender Writing

There are some key characteristics to effective tender writing. Apart from conveying a winning strategy, tender writing must be: 

  • Correct 
  • Complete 
  • Concise 
  • Clear 
  • Consistent 
  • Truthful. 

Correct  

  • All numbers in the text need to be correct, such as page numbers, graphics and table numbers, quotes and financials, dates and times. 
  • Lists of instructions must be in the correct order, all tasks accurately recorded and numbers in consecutive order. 
  • Accuracy within your work is as important as clarity. If you mean to write $4,000, double check that you haven’t written $40,000. The smallest error could rule you out. 
  • Ensure that all sources are correctly referenced. 

Tender Tip

  • Avoid unsubstantiated claims – these will also detract from your credibility.  
  • If you are making a claim, you need to back it up with case studies or statistics to show that you are not just spouting puffery.  
  • For example, saying “We are industry leaders with vast experience…” is much more compelling said like this: “With 85% market share and 25 years’ industry experience …” 

Complete 

  • Ensure your document is complete by responding to all the necessary schedules and providing all requested supporting documentation. 
  • Provide a complete, well rounded discussion and argument that clearly articulates why your organisation should be chosen over your competitors. 
  • In your discussion, be sure to provide necessary detail to ensure a fair assessment of your capabilities can be made. Any claims you make need to be substantiated with documentary or statistical evidence. 

Concise  

  • Answer only what the client wants to know, not what you think they should know. 
  • Use the ‘Talk Test’ – say out loud your key message, then write it down without adding any other detail. This will ensure your message is clear. We focus more deeply on concise writing later in this chapter.  

Clear 

  • Do not use jargon. 
  • Do not assume a reader’s knowledge of the topic; keep things simple and avoid technical language where possible. 
  • Use clear simple headings and follow a logical sequence when laying out information. 

Consistent 

  • Consistency is particularly important if there is a team of people writing the tender. 
  • For a consistent ‘look’ of the document, prepare a template that can be used for all contributions. 
  • Put together a style sheet and distribute this to all writers. A style sheet will detail editorial decisions, for example, ‘use shovel, not spade’ or ‘the client will be referred to as Council, not Docklands City Council, or Docklands Municipality’. 
  • Most importantly, enlist an editor to do a final and thorough edit of the document. Provide the editor with the company style guide to ensure the document remains on brand. 

Truthful 

  • Never promise what you know you cannot deliver. 
  • Always substantiate claims with documentary or statistical evidence. 
  • A truthful document is more than just accuracy; don’t manipulate information so it is misleading. 
  • Your organisation’s credibility relies on its truthfulness. If you intentionally mislead your prospective clients, not only will you be likely to lose the tender, but it is likely you will not be invited to tender again. 

Most Common Business Writing Problems 

Writing 

This list covers the most frequently occurring writing problems and offers strategies on how to avoid them, or correct them.  

Sentences That Are Too Long 

Sentence length is the most common business writing problem. Ideally a sentence should be 16 – 18 words; for online text it should be 10-12 words. Sentences longer than 25 – 30 words become unclear and the meaning can be lost or diluted. If a sentence has more than one subject, break it up in to two sentences. It will be easier to follow, and the information you’re providing will be easier to digest. 

For example: 

We offer you a team whose primary focus is the provision of cost-effective service and assistance to Local Government. We currently work for more than 30 municipalities in both suburban and rural Victoria, and indeed our core business is the provision of services to the Local Government sector. Being a boutique firm, we are able to offer competitive rates and are able to invest heavily in our client relationships and service offering.  

We believe that the depth of relationship between our clients and us is the foundation for more than just successful outcomes; but rather lays the foundation for us to be your greatest advocate. 

Passive Voice 

The passive voice avoids assigning the action in a sentence. Overuse of the passive voice leads to convoluted and unclear writing. Using the active voice is much more effective in business writing.  

Here is a brief explanation of how the active and passive voice works: In an active sentence, the subject is doing the action. 

 A simple example is the sentence “John loves Jane.” John is the subject, and he is doing the action: he loves Jane, the object of the sentence. In passive voice, the target of the action gets promoted to the subject position. Instead of saying, “John loves Jane,” I would say, “Jane is loved by John.” The subject of the sentence becomes Jane, but she isn’t doing anything. Rather, she is just the recipient of John’s love. The focus of the sentence has changed from John to Jane. 

Here are some examples to help you recognise the active and the passive voice: 

Passive: Water is drunk by everyone. 
Active: Everyone drinks water. 

Passive: One hundred people are employed by this company. 
Active: This company employs 100 people. 

Passive: The report will be reviewed by the supervisor before it is sent to the manager. 
Active: The supervisor will review the report before it is sent to the manager. 

Passive: The recommended guidelines for replacing equipment should be followed. 
Active: Follow the recommended guidelines for replacing equipment. 

For Example:

 All service delivery KPIs will be met by our service department. 

 Our service department will ensure that all service delivery KPIs are met. 

Weak Verbs 

The use of weak verbs can dilute your organisation’s message. Using strong verbs makes for much more compelling writing. While business writing does not permit the same artistic license as other forms of writing, there is still scope to craft your sentences in a more compelling way. A generic example of how verb use impacts the writing is as follows: 

Generic verb use: The boy runs to first base. 
Creative verb use:
The boy dashes to first base 

Generic verb use: Our five year plan will enable our firm to achieve new heights. 
Creative verb use:
Our five year plan will propel our firm to new heights. 

Generic verb use: Our innovative marketing will help you achieve unprecedented growth. 
Creative verb use: Our innovative approach will fuel unprecedented growth. 

By simply choosing a more interesting verb your sentences will have much more impact. 

For example: 
 Our service delivery KPIs will vastly improve your business’ efficiencies.  
 Our service delivery KPIs will improve your business’ efficiencies exponentially. 

Sentences Beginning the Same Way 

Too often, too many sentences begin in the same way. ‘The’ is the main offender. Overuse of ‘the’ and ‘there’ at the start of each sentence can be avoided in myriad ways. You just need to be conscious of it. Some useful examples are opening with: Accordingly, As a result, In particular, Above all, Comparatively, In essence, All things considered. Using constructions such as these will also assist with the readability

For example: 

 We have several staff that are qualified in service delivery. We have exceptional KPIs, which are evidence of the high standards we provide. We also pride ourselves on continual efficiency improvements. 

 Our staff are qualified in service delivery and our KPIs ensure we continue to provide very high standards. We also pride ourselves on continual efficiency improvements. 

Pretentious or Confusing Writing  

Using long words, business speak or jargon detracts from your writing. If a reader can’t read your prose and know exactly what you are saying, you are alienating them with your language use. Keep language simple to keep your reader engaged. 

Business communication doesn’t have to be formal. Formality in written documents can often have the opposite effect to what you were hoping for; it can obscure rather than illuminate what you are trying to say. Informal writing doesn’t mean it’s unprofessional; being less formal usually makes your work more accessible, and this is what you are aiming for. 

For example: 

Our aforementioned KPIs ensure you continue to touch-base with your blue-sky targets, thus ultimately rendering them blue-sky clients. 

 Our KPIs ensure that you maintain regular contact with your potential clients, with the intention of converting them to customers. 

Too Many Words  

Business writing can be too wordy. Conduct a cutting exercise at the end of each chapter or topic. It will always make your writing better. Here are some examples where one word is better than three: 

  • “Due to the fact that” can be changed to “since” or “because”. 
  • An alternative for “On a timely basis” would be “fast” or “quickly”. 
  • “Now” is the perfect alternative for “At the present time”. 

For example: 

 In light of the fact that you already have a delivery truck, we have built a discount into our logistics pricing. 

 Because you have a delivery truck, we have built a discount into our logistics pricing. 

Detail is King  

Don’t sacrifice detail in order to get rid of wordiness. You need to provide enough detail to paint a clear picture. For example, “we can provide you with 15 qualified waiting staff to work at your four-hour function” is much more preferable than “we can provide the staff you need for your function”.  The detail shows your reader that you understand what their needs are and you are seeking to address them. 

For example: 

 Our KPIs mean you will always meet your deadlines. 

 Our eight-hour response KPI means that you will always meet your required 10-hour deadline.   

Large Slabs of Text  

Long blocks of text will immediately put your reader offside – avoid this at all costs. It signals ‘hard work’ for the reader, which is exactly what you don’t want. 

If you have a lot of information to convey, then consider presenting your information such as: 

  • Break it up in to smaller paragraphs that are easier to digest.  
  • Use illustrations or diagrams to add interest and provide opportunities for the reader to rest without losing interest.  
  • Numbered and bulleted lists also work to break up text and provide sign posts for the reader.  
  • Make it as easy as possible for the reader.  
  • More detail on how to structure your text is provided in the section below under ‘Paragraphs’. 

While this list is not exhaustive, it does cover the most frequent problems. The next section on readability provides more detail on how to avoid these mistakes and how to tighten up your work so you submit a slick and polished response. 

Readability 

The people that end up reading your tender response will be reading many documents similar to yours. All of these documents will be trying to do the same thing: trying to convince the reader that their offering is the best. Keep reminding yourself of this so you continuously try to provide a response that is accessible and easily digestible. This will always reflect favourably on your organisation.  

A really simple overarching rule to apply to your writing is to write like you talk. Good writing is smartened up conversations, in text. This approach will make your work readable, and importantly, it won’t alienate anyone. Here are some key tips to help maintain readability.  

Use technical terminology sparingly – you can’t assume that everyone will know what you mean when using technical terms. Only use technical terms when there is no other appropriate word. Where you do use technical terms, include the definition for the non-technical readers.  

Dont use management speak – using management speak suggests that you are trying to make the truth more palatable. Professional people generally pay no heed to management speak and using it in your proposal will risk your credibility. Some examples of management speak are: 

  • Cascade down 
  • Going forward 
  • Incentivise 
  • Low hanging fruit 
  • Cradle-to-grave approach 
  • 360 degree thinking 
  • Actionable 
  • Paradigm shift 
  • Blue sky thinking. 

All of these terms, and more (the list is by no means exhaustive) will provide you with a fast-track to the ‘no thanks’ pile. This also applies to foreign terms, if an English equivalent exists, use it. Clear, plain English is what you should aim for. Do an editor’s check for this before you finalise the document as it often sneaks in unconsciously.  

For example: 

 A recent paradigm shift in the general market means that reduced consumer spending has cascaded down to small business. We would provide you with actionable strategy to take advantage of low hanging fruit going forward. 

 The most recent GFC has reduced consumer spending, which has affected small business across the board. Our marketing strategy is designed to convert potential customers into actual clients. 

Paragraphs  

Effective paragraph structuring will tell your story. A well-written paragraph will have a lead idea, contain a manageable amount of information, have clear transition from the previous paragraph to the next paragraph, have technical details tailored to the reader’s technical understanding and not be too long. It must provide enough sign posts to keep the reader engaged, but not so much information that the reader gets tired or bored. 

A few tips on paragraphing: 

  • Convey one lead idea per paragraph to ensure you don’t dilute the intended message 
  • Keep the reader engaged and Improve writing rhythm by combining longer sentences and paragraphs with shorter ones  
  • Provide rest opportunities for the reader by using bullets, headings or images.  
  • Use paragraphs to provide emphasis – a paragraph that significantly shorter than other paragraphs will immediately stand out. Often, a one-sentence paragraph can be used to provide major emphasis, particularly if it is an opening or closing paragraph. 

For example: 

We offer you a team whose primary focus is the provision of cost-effective service and assistance to Local Government. We currently work for more than 30 municipalities in both suburban and rural Victoria, and indeed our core business is the provision of services to the Local Government sector.  

We believe that the depth of relationship between our clients and us is the foundation for more than just successful outcomes; but rather lays the foundation for us to be your greatest advocate. 

Being a boutique firm, we are able to offer competitive rates and are able to invest heavily in our client relationships and service offering

Activity

  • Write 2-3 paragraphs about your business and your USP.  
  • Remember to include statistics of your results or outcomes to demonstrate your ability to deliver outcomes. 

For example: 

  • Dawtek is a specialised tender writing firm located in Melbourne. With over 15 years of experience delivering customised tender solutions, we have a shortlisting success rate of 75%. 

Sentence Structure 

Your sentences need to be compelling so keep them short and to the point. Every word in a sentence must contribute to the message; if it doesn’t, get rid of it. Be ruthless about self-editing.  Never use a long word where a short one will do. For example, why use ‘substantiate’ when you can use ‘confirm’ or ‘prove’. Keep sentence structure straight-forward: subject, verb, object. People can read this quickly and easily, and accessibility is what you are aiming for. 

You need to ask yourself the following when evaluating your sentences: 

  • Have you conveyed the intended idea? 
  • Is the sentence clear? Does it require rereading before it is understood? 
  • Are key words and phrases put in important positions, i.e. the beginning or end of the sentence? 
  • Is it concise? 
  • Does the sentence flow easily? 

Your opening sentence informs the paragraph so it is essential that you get it right. If it’s clunky or awkward, your paragraph is doomed. Start as you mean to go on; attending to smaller details such as sentence structure will aid readability and yield greater successes. 

Some Finer Details 

Understand and practice correct use of “that” and “which.” “That” introduces essential information (it’s called a “restrictive clause.”) “Which” introduces extra information (a “nonrestrictive clause”).  

For example: 
“I’m interested in meeting with you to discuss my future with the firm, which at the moment looks positive and exciting.” 

The second clause provides extra information, but it isn’t essential to the first clause of the sentence. So in this instance, “which” is correct. 

In the following sentence: “Writers are the only professionals that we hire” the clause “that we hire” is essential information in the sentence, so the correct word is “that.” Removing the “that” would change the meaning of the sentence. 

Another issue worth clarifying is the difference between “affect” and “effect.” Affect means “to influence” (and is a verb). “Effect” means “result” (and is a noun). For example: “The economy affects our lifestyle, and it has a negative effect on the stock exchange.” 

Tips on Conciseness  

Use Words, Not Definitions – Using definitions will make your work too wordy. Try to use single words to replace explanatory phrases.

  • Before: “The baker made some extra loaves as whatever he didn’t sell he wanted to take home for his family.” 
  • After: “The baker made some extra loaves as he hoped to bring home the surplus for his family.” 

Convert Nouns to Verbs – When a noun ends in -tion, change the noun to a verb. 

  • Before: “The group worked together in the creation of a wall mural.” 
  • After: “The group collaborated to create a wall mural.” 

Reduce Verb Phrases to Simple Verbs – Find the verb in a verb phrase then cut the rest of the phrase. 

  • Before: “The final score was suggestive of the fact that cheating has occurred.” 
  • After: “The final score suggests that cheating has occurred.” 

Avoid Expletives – Expletives are words or expressions that pad out your writing. Avoid using them. For example, expletives such as “There is,” “There are,” or “It is.” 

  • Before: “There are many factors that contributed to the event’s success.” 
  • After: “Many factors contributed to the event’s success.” 

Remove Redundancy – A redundancy is an expression that says the same thing twice.  

  • For example, “free gift” “end result”, “major breakthrough”, “plan ahead”, “personal opinion” and “a period of one week.  
  • Remove these from your writing for more concise expression. 

Provide Visual Cues  

  • Use bold fonts or underlining to highlight main points (but do so sparingly and consistently)  
  • Break-up text with headings  
  • Use tables, dot-points, graphs, and diagrams to draw the reader’s attention  
  • breakup your narrative, and  
  • explain complex data, processes, structures, relationships and concepts. 

Examples 

Here are some examples of layouts I have used in the past for clients. As you can see, I use a lot of white space, images and highlights to accent the important information.