In this podcast, I’m covering a common question which is : How long should a proposal be?

The rule of thumb for how long your proposal should be is to make it as long as you need to get your point across without overwhelming the evaluators. More is not better. Consider the effort it takes by the reviewers to slog through long proposals.

In the words of Dr. Frank Luntz, author of the book Words that work, “… brevity, clarity, and simplicity are simply the hallmarks of good communication.”

In some RFP proposals, you’ll be given a page count limit that forces you to respond within pre-defined limits. This may even include specifying font size and minimum margins. If you’re given a page limit, write close to the limit without going over, unless the limit is simply longer than you need to tell your story – don’t just add filler to get it to the limit.  In some cases, you’ll be given page count limits for specific questions or sections. It should give you some idea of the relative importance of each question or section.

If you’re given a limit, follow it. You’ll either be disqualified if you exceed it, or any pages over the limit will simply be discarded before they’re seen by the evaluators.

If no maximum page count is given, take a disciplined approach and make sure you don’t write too much. There’s a temptation to include all the material you can find. This tendency results in material that is not relevant to the actual evaluation of your proposal and may distract the reviewer from the messages that are most important.

If you aren’t given a page count limit in the RFP, assess what a reasonable limit would be and take a similar approach to page counts for various questions or sections. By providing a page count limit internally while you’re developing the proposal response, you’re much more likely to get concise information from your internal writers, subject matter experts and subcontractors.

A rough guideline for allocating space is to use the scoring matrix and allocate a page count to specific questions or sections based on their value in the scoring matrix. For instance, if you have a 100 page limit and a specific section is worth 20% of the total score, you would allocate 20 pages to that section. This is only a starting point, since there may be specific areas where you need more or less space to appropriately address the question and provide the required information. So, don’t be too rigid.

If you assess information and decide whether it’s important enough to include during the overall process, the size of your proposal will naturally develop. It’s important to take a critical eye and not be afraid to discard, summarize or shorten material that was provided to you by others.

Structure and formatting is very important and will be discussed in a future podcast, but don’t sacrifice a readable proposal to make a shorter one. Eliminating useful elements that may take additional space will defeat the purpose of communicating your message. This includes introductions, summaries, diagrams, bullet points, sub-headings and shorter paragraphs. Some companies reduce font size, spacing between paragraphs and margins to pack in more material. This makes it hard to read and defeats the purpose. Cull out the material that doesn’t really matter and make it easy for the evaluators to evaluate.

And yes, it is more difficult to write a shorter, tighter, better proposal than a long, bloated one. In a long letter to a friend, Mark Twain once said that he would have written a shorter letter, but he didn’t have the time.

Our Book "Win More Business - Write Better Proposals". is now available at Amazon in many countries, including the USA , Canada, UK, Japan, Germany and France. You can also order it directly from the author on this website