Best Practices for Formatting Your Next Proposal 

In our recent webinar, Expert Dos & Don’t’s of Proposal Writing with Rachelle Ray, we received dozens of insightful questions from the audience. In this blog, we’ve compiled the top formatting best practices your proposal needs, based on your questions for Rachelle. Use this list as a quick reference for building your next RFP response. 

How do you present a proposal when you know there are competing bids with varying scopes?

Don’t let the variety of scopes in competing bids throw you off – you should still apply basic proposal best practices to communicate value. As with any other proposal, the first step is understanding the client’s situation. In this case, they’re comparing proposals with different scopes, indicating they’re probably seeking diverse solutions to their challenge(s). The best way to demonstrate your value is to align it with a specific challenge.

To do this:

Focus on Creating Value in Your Proposal

Highlight your unique value proposition. Clearly explain what makes your proposal stand out and how it directly addresses the client’s needs. Set your proposal apart and help the client compare responses by highlighting your unique strengths. Showcase any innovative approaches, specialized expertise, or proprietary technologies. Provide evidence to support your claims, such as case studies and references showcasing your track record of success.

Customize and Personalize Your Proposal

Demonstrate that you’ve taken the time to understand their requirements, needs, and issues and have crafted a solution tailored to their goals. Draw parallels between the strengths and benefits you provide in your value highlights and the specific aspect of the client’s scope they can address.

Be Clear and Transparent

Clearly outline the scope of your proposal, detailing what is included and excluded. Be transparent about any assumptions made and explain any deviations from standard practices or industry norms. Transparency builds trust.

Remember, your goal is to make it easy for the client to see why your firm/team is the perfect fit for their needs. Rather than trying to figure out how to help the client compare your proposal with the competition, stay confident and focused on delivering value.

The recommended format for project organization charts and process diagrams can vary depending on the specific use case and preferences of your organization. For example, you’ll want to tailor the format of your charts and diagrams to align with the scope and complexity of the project. For larger and more complex projects, you may need more detailed and comprehensive diagrams, while smaller projects may require simpler representations.

Here are some general guidelines to consider:

Clarity and Simplicity

The most important aspect of any organizational chart or process diagram is clarity. Make sure that the information is presented in a clear and easy-to-understand format. For organizational charts, make sure you are indicating reporting relationships and lines of authority and have defined the roles and responsibilities of each position or role depicted in the chart. For process diagrams, make sure you clearly depict the flow of activities from start to finish.


Maintain consistency in the format and layout of your charts and diagrams. Use the same symbols, colors, and formatting throughout to make it easier for the reviewer to interpret the information.

Provide Context

Add annotations or explanations as needed to clarify any ambiguous or complex aspects of any charts or diagrams. This helps ensure that the reviewer has a complete understanding of the information being presented.

You may need to experiment with different formats and seek feedback to find the approach that works best for you.

What’s the best way to illustrate firm capacity on proposals?

Similar to organizational charts and process diagrams, illustrating capacity depends on several variables. Honestly, capacity questions have always baffled me, as the client has no way of confirming the accuracy of your response, and what constitutes ‘good’ capacity can vary greatly among clients. For instance, some firms may showcase key team members with 90% availability, while others prefer a more ‘realistic’ approach, showing 75% commitment to existing projects and reserving 25% for new projects. Alternatively, firms may opt to list key personnel’s weekly hours available or provide insights into ongoing projects with anticipated completion dates.

The solution you choose will depend on how well you know the client and their expectations, how the question in the RFP is phrased, and the composition of your team.

With that in mind, here are some effective ways to illustrate firm capacity:

  • Create diagrams showing the team structure for the proposed project, including roles and expertise. This demonstrates you have the necessary personnel to staff the project.
  • Use Gantt charts or something similar to show the availability of key personnel and resources over the project’s lifecycle.
  • Share data on your firm’s current and historical utilization rates to prove your ability to manage workload efficiently.
  • Provide statistics on the number of professionals within each specialty area, indicating the depth of your resources.
  • Outline the technology, software, and other tools your firm uses to streamline work and increase efficiency.

Do you need to write out numbers and put the number in parentheses?

It is not typically necessary to write out numbers and also provide them in parentheses in marketing documents, though this may be required for cost.

Using numerals is great for skimming text and readability, and these are often clearer. It is important to note that specific style guides or organizational preferences may determine how you write out (or not!) numbers, so it’s a good idea to follow any established guidelines in your writing. If you don’t have established guidelines, now is a great time to create them!

When the client lists required information, do you list the requirement as a header within your proposal?

The key to crafting a compliant RFP response is to organize your proposal to mirror the RFP structure and make it as easy as possible for a reviewer to find the information they’re looking for.

If the RFP defines specific sections, use those as the major organization headers of your proposal. This approach makes the reviewer’s journey through your proposal easy to navigate.

There are two ways you can tackle addressing questions within each section:

1. Q&A Style

You might use a straightforward Q&A format, especially if you have plenty of space to work with in your response. List the RFP question, then dive into your answer. It’s clear, no-frills, and gets straight to the point. This method allows reviewers can tick off their checklist with ease.

2. Descriptive Headings

Alternatively, you can headings that capture the essence of the RFP questions. This solution can be more visually appealing and help with telling a story, making the proposal more engaging. Make sure these headings make sense and can be easily traced back to the RFP questions without a treasure map.

Whichever route you choose, the goal is to keep your proposal easy to read, easy to skim, and aligned with the RFP. It’s about making sure the reviewer can see at a glance that you’ve got everything covered, without having to dig – or worse, guess. 

How should the response be formatted (letter size vs 11×17, or landscape vs portrait)?

It probably goes without saying, but you should always check the RFP requirements for page sizing and format requirements first. It is common to see specifications for 8.5×11 submissions with permissions to use 11×17 in certain cases, or with clarification that 11×17 or larger formats will count as multiple pages.

If you are including drawings and renderings for a case study or project page, consider how much value those drawings add to the page and proposal overall. Are you including them because they’re the only visual options you have? If so, dedicating more space to them on a larger page may be unnecessary. The reviewer is not likely to spend much time taking in the details.

If you are including drawings and renderings in response to an RFP requirement, then devoting a larger page size to these components may be more important. Making sure these visuals are easy to read will be important to the reviewer. 

Should proposal writers craft their proposals to be printed?

We have no control over whether a client prints our proposal and, if they do, how it will be printed. The client could print a black-and-white copy of our response, or their printer might be running low on toner so all of the colors are skewed.

Because we can’t account for all of the variables if the client chooses to print, it’s best to assume the proposal will be reviewed in the format delivered. As long as the text and imagery are legible, the layout is clean, and the content is well-written, then you’ve done the best you can do regardless of what the client chooses to do with the file upon receipt. 

What are the best practices for incorporating consultant information into a final proposal?

There are several ways you can achieve a cohesive response that seamlessly integrates consultant information.

Here are a few common solutions:

Consistent Formatting

Resumes should be reformatted to match the layout and style of the prime firm’s documents, promoting a cohesive visual identity.

 Unified Tone

Consultant bios and other content should maintain a consistent tone and perspective throughout the proposal. This may require revising from first to third person, particularly when referencing consultants as separate entities. For instance, a consultant profile initially written as “Our firm was founded 15 years ago…” should be revised to “[Consultant firm name] was founded 15 years ago…”

Visual Harmony

Ensure that visual elements, such as headshots, logos, licenses, etc., are consistent with those used for prime firm information, and used in a similar manner. This contributes to a more professional presentation.

To streamline this process, consider the following best practices for obtaining consultant information:

  • Provide templates that outline the required information and formatting guidelines, facilitating the submission of tailored content that meets your specific requirements.
  • Furnish detailed lists specifying the information needed for each section. For instance, rather than requesting a generic “firm introduction,” provide a comprehensive breakdown detailing key components such as local and national staff counts, years in business, headquarters location, etc.

How do you manage “generic”/boilerplate pages?

How you manage boilerplate pages will largely depend on your available resources and the processes within your organization. From an organizational standpoint, various solutions exist, including cloud content libraries, digital asset managers, collaboration tools, and local drives.

Whichever option you choose, establish a clear organizational structure or tagging system to facilitate easy content retrieval. Ideally, your solution will also have a mechanism in place to indicate when content was last updated (which may be as simple as simply writing this in the document itself). Assigning editing permissions and delineating responsibilities for content updates are equally important steps. The individual or team responsible for managing this will vary depending on the size and structure of your organization.

In terms of process, many firms try to proactively update boilerplate content but struggle due to capacity constraints. To set yourself up for success, consider integrating content updates into the proposal closeout process. This means updating libraries with any new content within a week following proposal submission.

Alternatively, or in addition to this approach, you might establish a schedule for regular content reviews. These reviews, whether conducted quarterly, yearly, or at another interval that suits your organization, can be used to identify relevant content, archive outdated material, and determine content requiring updates. Depending on the nature of the content, some reviews may require input from technical staff, while others may primarily involve marketing or brand personnel.

For resumes, is it best to keep the design plain and simple?

Spice them up! Adding a touch of design creativity (while maintaining professionalism, of course) can be a huge advantage to your marketing. Reviewers and clients are likely to see the same standard resume formats repeatedly, so a creative approach can help differentiate your team and leave a lasting impression. Just ensure the essential content is easy to read and well-organized – finding the right balance between creativity and professionalism will be key here.

Should proposals match or include the bidding company’s branding?

Using another entity’s branding can be risky. Unless you have a copy of their style guide, you’re making assumptions about their brand usage. Some entities, including many government organizations, have very specific brand requirements and may even prohibit the use of their logo/brand in another entity’s marketing materials.

In specific use cases, incorporating another organization’s branding into your proposal can show personalization. For example, adding a client logo to the top of an organizational chart or a school mascot to a narrative demonstrating your understanding of a project are small ways to show familiarity with the client.

Using another organization’s branding doesn’t contribute anything to your proposal beyond showing that you searched them on the Internet. Changing colors, fonts, formatting, etc. is an unnecessary time investment that would be better spent crafting compelling messaging.

Resources for Your Next Proposal

As you craft your next proposal, keep these best practices in mind to create your most compelling and creative firm presentation yet. And for more resources to guide you along the way, be sure to review our Proposal Template Checklist, The Savvy Proposal Pros Dos and Don’ts Checklist, or chat with Rachelle directly for helpful tips and guidance.

Looking for inspiration? Review the elements of our favorite RFP responses and why they worked. We can’t wait to see what your team will create in their next winning proposal.

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