Writing a proposal can be much harder than one assumes. Proposals come in many shapes and sizes: qualification based, standard form 330s, letter types and even email proposals. Some of these are associated with a fee; some are not. No matter which type of proposal you utilize, you must take care in the words that you use!

Many years ago, the comedian George Carlin, one of my favorites, created a routine called “Seven Words You Can’t Say On TV.” Are there words you shouldn’t put into proposals? You bet there are! Just like back in the day when you couldn't say those seven words on TV, there are words to avoid in your proposals.

These inappropriate words and phrases can weaken a proposal, annoy evaluators and even undermine your credibility. This is not even close to covering all the words, but here are some catagories of words to avoid:

Crutch words

When you don’t know what to say, you will use crutch words to make the reader think they know what they are writing about. For example, when you write, “We understand your requirements,” then you fail to demonstrate any understanding.

Boasting Words

I know every company feels compelled to say they are superior, world-class, uniquely qualified, have state-of-the-art technology and are thought leaders in their market.

I am fairly certain no evaluator selected a firm because they had “state-of-the-art tools.” Maybe you should focus on the customer, instead of trying to make your firm sound so important.

Vague, useless words

Probably my two biggest pet peeves in proposals: “We are pleased to submit this proposal” and “thank you for the opportunity.” These are just useless words. You will do better if you write about what matters—which is how you are going to do the work.

Weak, timid words

We believe, think, feel, strive, attempt, intend, etc. are all words that tell the reviewer that you just don’t know. So why would they select you just because you will intend to do something? As a great person once said, “do or do not, there is never intend” – Yoda. Or at least something like that...

This is just the beginning. In the next section, I will continue the discussion about proposal words and get into the contractual side of what you say in a proposal.

Let me know what your favorite words are NOT to put into a proposal and let's build a fun list together.