How to Develop a Proposal Plan Part 5: Proposal Writing

Sep 6, 2018

This article is the fifth installment of our Proposal Plan series that discusses Proposal Writing. 

In Government Proposals, experienced Proposal Managers develop a Proposal Plan to guide them through the proposal effort.

A Proposal Plan is a comprehensive set of documents, instructions, processes, tools, and templates that aids in the proposal development process.  The Plan addresses and guides proposal activities at six major points in the proposal process:

  1. Understanding the Requirements
  2. RFP Analysis
  3. Win Strategy
  4. Proposal Logistics
  5. Proposal Writing
  6. Color Team Reviews

During part 5: Proposal Writing, the Proposal Manager develops various types of documents to provide guidance to the writing team.

Providing written guidance to the writing team is essential for successful proposal development, because it lays the groundwork for the company’s approach to meeting RFP requirements while helping the proposal writers stay focused on the key concepts to be addressed in their proposal sections (it keeps the moving train on the track).  These documents include:

Writers’ Work Packages: 

Writers’ Work Packages are developed from the annotated proposal outline and the Win Strategy documents, which were described in Parts two and three of this series. Work Packages are developed for all proposal sections. They include the RFP references (Section L, M, C), and any other RFP references, such as Section H, I, for example. They contain the detailed outline of the section from the annotated proposal outline to ensure that each writer is writing to RFP requirements.

The Work Package also includes an understanding of the RFP requirements, summarized in bullet form, that identifies key customer issues identified by the capture team as part of the Source Evaluation Board analysis and Win Strategy development that must be addressed in each section.

The Work Package provides space for documenting the company’s approach to satisfy the requirements (what, how, and who will do it), as well as the specific processes, tools, or organizational elements used to carry out the work. It also provides space to capture what is innovative about the company’s approach and the results that will be achieved, identifying the specific features and their corresponding benefits to the customer.  It provides space for developing rough sketches, tables, photographs, or other graphics that support the material presented in the section, including the graphic “action caption”.

It also provides space for listing specific elements of the company’s experience and past performance that will be used to convince the customer that the company can successfully execute its proposed approach (specific contracts, activities, accomplishments and awards). Some of the Work Package content is provided by the Proposal Manager from information that is already known or readily available. The rest of the information in the Work Package is developed by the individual writer, with assistance from other knowledgeable colleagues and subject matter experts.

download the proposal plan graphic

Writers’ Templates:

The Proposal Manager or Proposal Coordinator provides writers’ templates for each section that includes all relevant RFP language pertaining to that section in small print following the section header.  This approach is often used in addition to work packages or in smaller, more time-sensitive proposals where writers work to an annotated outline and forgo formal work packages.

Writers’ templates also serve to focus the writers as well as provide the section/sub-section headers in the approved word processing format, ensuring early conformance to proposal style guidelines.

Writing Guidelines:  

The Writing Guidelines are essentially the style guide that the proposal team will use in developing the proposal. They cover the basic elements of style as well as editorial guidelines developed as a result of the company’s past experience or from a professional source, such as The Government Printing Office Style Manual, for example. Early adherence to writing guidelines reduces editorial time and expense and ensures consistency of style from section to section.

Writers’ Key Word List:

The Writers’ Key Word List is a list of significant acronyms that will be used in the proposal as well as a listing of general key words from the RFP that will be woven into the proposal text at various points to demonstrate overall understanding of RFP requirements and how the company’s proposed approach will meet the requirements. Specific key words and associated verbs may also be listed by major proposal section to assist writers, and selected key words may be identified for use in the Executive Summary.

Writing/Production Process:

This document gives an overview of the production process and how writers are to interact with their Proposal Coordinator and the production staff when submitting text and graphics. The instructions also include file naming conventions for text and numbering conventions for graphics.  When applicable, the document includes security procedures for the protection of competition-sensitive materials, including the use of the “Competition Sensitive” legend, materials safeguarding, and disposal.

Automated Tools to be Used and Proposal File Structure:

The Proposal Manager or Proposal Coordinator will also brief the writing staff on the automated tools to be used during the proposal development process (for example, Privia, SharePoint, or another collaborative tool), the file structure into which various sections of the proposal will be uploaded, and the location of any writers’ working files. The Proposal Coordinator will also provide documentation on the setup and use of the collaborative site to make sure that all become proficient in using it. The Proposal Manager will review proposal documents at various stages of completion and provide further guidance to writers as needed.

Proposal Library:  

With large RFPs, the Government may provide potential bidders with procurement-related material, including multiple draft RFPs, appendices and attachments, and a large volume of supporting documentation. This information is typically stored in the Proposal Library, either on the collaborative site or in hard copy in the proposal War Room for use by the proposal team. The library may also contain proposal boilerplate, regulations and orders, and other general reference material. The Proposal Coordinator maintains the proposal library and produces an index that lists library acquisitions by title author, publishing date, incoming dates, and acquisition number.


How effective is the guidance your writing team receives on your proposal efforts? They should receive formal work packages, annotated outlines and writers’ templates, and information on the company’s win themes and the overall strategy for winning the effort. Successful proposal teams “plan to write." Shouldn't yours?

This article was originally published in 2014 and updated in September 2018. For an updated resource please see "A Complete Guide to Developing a Powerful Proposal Plan."

how to develop a proposal plan 

Ellen Perrine

Written by Ellen Perrine

Ellen Perrine is a Proposal Development Consultant with Key Solutions with more than 30 years of experience in federal proposals including strategy development, proposal management, compliance management, and technical writing.

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