An important part of finishing any proposal is making the final page count. Many government agencies have a policy of returning excess pages to the bidder unread. At least one agency starts their review by counting pages from the front of the proposal. When they get to whatever their magic number is, they remove all the rest and send them back to the bidder unread. If this happens to your proposal, you have problems. Not only will your evaluators not see something that your team thought was important (whatever was in those returned pages), you will probably be judged "non responsive" to parts of the RFP. You will also have left your evaluators with the indelible impression that you cannot follow instructions… not exactly a message to make someone want to choose you instead of a competitor!
So how do you get your 20%-over-page-count, ready-to-go-to-press, Final draft down to size? The first step is to have the authors and volume managers make one last pass through the almost-final document. After authors and volume managers take their last shot at page count, consider going to the "3-2-1 system." With one or two days to go before printing, three people - good candidates are the Capture Manager, Program Architect, and Proposal Manager - take the entire proposal and try to take out material. With half a day to go, cut the number of people "negotiating" to two. And with a hour before any section has to be printed, anoint someone king (ideally, you already have - the Capture Manager) and let him or her make the final decisions. But page reduction is not just a matter of judgment about what to cut and what to keep. In many cases, because of the way sections break between pages, just removing a few words can save an entire page. Here are some useful hints that will help you reduce pages.
Look for paragraphs with only one or two words on the last line. Find some way to reword part of the paragraph to eliminate the extra words. It is almost always possible to do this without losing any meaning. Ways to do this include:
- Rewrite wordy phrases. Even after a good edit, there are ways to rewrite sentences that may not be as pleasing to the eye or ear, but take up less space. - Change from passive to active voice. "We did…" takes up less space than, "Thus-and-so was done by us."
- Adjust paragraph margins by as little as 0.05". A punctuation mark after a word is treated as part of the word, sometimes causing the whole word to wrap to the next line. While this trick may technically violate the strict letter of the RFP, it will not be noticed in a paper-only submittal. If you don't overdo it, the odds of anyone noticing it, or complaining if they do, in an electronic submittal are negligible.
- Turn on automatic hyphenation. Adjust the "hyphenation zone" in your word processor to a smaller number and allow unlimited sequential hyphens. The result may look a bit awkward, but you'll get more words to the page.
- And lastly, one that seems very odd but actually works quite well: Eliminate every instance of the definite article "the" in the paragraph. Then reread it and put the "the's" back where they are absolutely necessary. (I once cut nearly one full page from a 100-page proposal using this technique. And the proposal actually read better!)
- Allow sentence fragments as Headlines. Newspapers do this all the time. If you have boxed summaries at the start of sections, allow sentence fragments there, too.
- Change stand-alone Headlines to run-in heads. No, they don't look as nice, but looks must sometimes take a back seat to content.
- If the RFP doesn't specify a maximum number of lines per page, consider reducing the leading of the paragraph. ("Leading" is the spacing between lines of the paragraph.) You can also reduce the spacing between paragraphs. While both of these tricks certainly push the intent of page budgets in the first place (and if you aren't careful, you can make the pages look very crammed), they do work. But don't overdo it, either in the amount of leading reduced on each page or the number of pages on which you use this trick. Used judiciously, the chances of aggravating an evaluator with either of these techniques are small.
- Change the typeface in your tables. Even if the RFP calls for a specific type size in tables, it is rare to see a typeface specified. There are many condensed typefaces that will allow you to pack a lot of information in a small space but are still quite readable.
- Eliminate references to artwork. If your artwork is clear and well-captioned, eliminating references is not a bad compromise to increase information density.
- Eliminate unnecessary graphics. Look for artwork whose only purpose is to reinforce points made in the text.
- Reduce the amount of substantiation of any claim. If you have two examples to illustrate a point, make it one. If you provide excerpts of data from some report, eliminate the excepts all together.
While the preceding list is not complete, it does demonstrate that there are lots of ways you can meet page count, even when you discover the problems at the last minute. But a better way to address the problem is to prevent it in the first place. Practice the P7 rule: Proper prior planning prevents probably poor performance.