Re: Proposal Writers -- LONG --

Subject: Re: Proposal Writers -- LONG --
From: John Posada <jposada -at- NOTES -dot- CC -dot- BELLCORE -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 11 Apr 1997 18:51:21 -0400

Regarding the posting about proposal writers...I'm a proposal writer for Bell
Communications Research.

I thought I would pass on a rather long message that I had written for someone
else looking to get into this specialized type of writing. I don't think that
the person ended up in this line of work, but it may or may not have been
because of the following information. And yes, it's similar at most other


I don't know if I can address the issues that you itemized below, but maybe I
can offere some input about the process of writing proposals that may have some
input on the guidelines that you've put together.

"Be very afraid!"


Unless you've done it before, be aware that proposal writing has nothing in
common with the type of tech writing that most people are famillar with.
Forget having the luxury of agonizing hours and hours about which/that or
punctuation inside or outside of quotation marks, let alone anything more
complex than making sure that each sentence has a subject and a verb.

In conventional technical writing, you are writing instructions. In proposal
writing, you are creating a mental picture. This is the hard part...a proposal
is a sales document and is designed to sell a product, not instruct the reader
on how to operate the product. Repeat after me..."What's in it for the
customer, why should the customer buy it and why should they buy your stuff
instead of your competition."

Input to you from SMEs, Account Executives and others will be late...sometimes
very late. You will not get material based on the schedule issued for the
submission of material. There will be holes in the stuff that you need to
track down. You will get input and/or changes to input up to and including on
the day it is to ship to the customer. Be ready for this and have some idea of
how to handle all of the odd-ball situations that you can think of.

Forget "technolgy". Think of this as guerrilla writing. Sometimes you will
place text into a document without reading it.

Become interested in those little add-on shareware tools for Word that do
things such as helping automate graphic captions and bookmarks, programs such
as Woody's WOPR or Fileware and Docupower from Total System Solutions, etc.,

Be prepared to receive material from others in formats that you don't support.
For this reason, I have AMI, WordPerfect, FrameMaker, 1-2-3, Excell, Quatro,
dBaseIV, FoxPro, Paint Shop Pro, HiJak, various coinversion programs,
UUECODERS/DECODERS, HTML tools, and 20-30 other various programs and utilities
on my computer.

For the library...keep everything and never throw anything out. Get a bigger
hard disk. Get a zip drive with lots of diskettes. Keep a binder for each
proposal you do and place everything that is important in it, including a final
copy of the document as it went to the customer.

The problem with cutting edge technology is that at crunch-time, the more
complex something is, the better the chance for it to screw up, fall apart, or
get FUBAR.

You will work strange hours. In the beginning of a proposal, you will work
human hours, maybe even be slow. Then, as you get closer to the deadline, the
hours get longer, more irratic and you must be ready to be flexible.
'ferinstance...I'm sitting here playing with myself, checking emails, suring
the web, etc., and getting paid 40 per hour to do so. I also know that I'll be
working a proposal all weekend for another 20 hours this weekend. Why is this?
Because the material that I'm supposed to get Thursday and Friday, I'm getting
Friday night, Saturday and Sunday. It isn't unusual to work 20 to 40 hours OT
on top of a 38 hour week. You ARE getting paid overtime, right?

By the case you can't tell, I wouldn't write any other type of
material. I LOVE what I do and I'll break $100K this year. To me, Tech Writer
Hell is to spend 18 months working on a single 1,000 page document and dealing
with the same group of people for that period of time.. Jeezz...I may
turnaround 500 to 2,000 pages per week between the two or three proposals that
I may be working on at any one time. This type of work, I'm in and out of a
proposal in 2-3 weeks, and then I start a new proposal with new techies, SMEs,
managers, account executive, etc..

Even though you will do everything in your power, and should do so, to make
sure that you don't include errors in the document, accept the fact that they
will be there, and don't sweat it. Try the best you can and don't let it
bother you. deadlines. Nothing more and nothing less. Say what you are
going to do, and do it. I'm not refering to the RFP deadline date. That goes
without saying. I'm talking about the deadlines that you will have almost
every day of a project, for one reason or another. Missing a deadline by an
hour is missing the deadline. Be flexible, stay on your toes, and roll with
the punches. Develop a tough skin, make the demands that you need to that will
enable you to do your job. If someone prevents you from getting your job done,
yell, jump up and down, scream, pound your fists on their desk, or your desk,
or your boss's desk, or their boss's desk, but MEET YOUR COMMITTMENTS and
document everything.

John Posada
Proposal Technical Writer
908-699-5839 (work)
jposada -at- notes -dot- cc -dot- bellcore -dot- com


I'm glad to see so many other proposal writers out there on the list. In my
experience with the list this area has not received much attention. I am
interested in what your roles are in the proposal process. Do you become
involved only after basic go/no go decisions are made or are you involved in
finding RFPs and generating interest? I'm not looking for any trade secrets,
just general interest in how the process works at various organizations.

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