Writing a Tender by Tony Zemaitis

writing tenders

My last post gave a lot of good general advice on answering tender questions. This time we are going to look at how to write tenders where word restrictions, page limits or maximum character levels apply.

This is a more recent challenge – limits on pages, words or characters. Once, you rarely saw restrictions. Now most public sector and corporate tenders have some type of limitation e.g.

  • Maximum 500 words
  • No more than 2 sides of A4 using Arial font size 11
  • Response is limited to 5,000 characters (including spaces)

The instruction will be accompanied by something like “anything over the stated limit will be disregarded and not marked”. This means that your tender answers must comply to the restriction to have any chance of getting a good score. Anything over the set limits will not earn you any scores!

The limits often seem a bit harsh when trying to answer complex questions. However, they can help us focus on writing a concise response. Which of course is the idea – no waffle!

I always say to clients that “we are all in the same boat”. Every bidder faces the same challenge; we just have to be better! And we normally are! The following techniques will help you to write tenders with high-scoring answers and observe limitations.

Tender Writing Techniques

Ask for an Increase

It may seem too obvious or too cheeky but you can ask the tendering authority for an increase. I’ve had situations where the tender questions are complex but with severe limits e.g. 250 words. (The questions were around 50 words!) I recommended that my clients ask for an increase. They got the word-restrictions raised to more workable levels.

Procurement officers will often use a template or previous document as the basis of a tender. It is quite possible for questions to be extended without increasing their word-count. Good organisations will understand and revise limits to allow space to provide appropriate answers.

Use Headings and Sub-headings

It is always best practice to respond to each part of a question under its own heading. It tends to be even more useful for restricted answers. For example, if a question asks:

“Please explain your approach to staff selection, training and development. Also explain how you will maintain the required staff certifications at all times.”

You should break it down into the following sections / headers:

  • Staff Selection
  • Staff Training
  • Staff Development
  • Staff Certifications

This not only makes it easy for the tender panel to identify your responses to each key part. It also helps you to answer each point (and keep to the point for each element). NB to save on words, you might not repeat ‘staff’ each time.

Abbreviate Names

Simply put, Tony Zemaitis Associates Ltd could be TZA. One word (3 characters) vs. 4 words (25 characters). You may need to use the full name (with abbreviation in brackets) at the beginning so readers will understand.

Use Hyphens

Hyphens not only help people understand the context, they also join two words and so make them count as one. For example “in house safety testing” becomes “in-house safety-testing”. If you use hyphens correctly, it isn’t cheating – just good grammar.

Write with Brevity

In the same vein as the last two points, trim unnecessary words. Although we don’t want bad grammar, don’t worry about perfect grammar. Remove unnecessary words e.g. “All staff are trained at induction and then receive on the job training”becomes “Staff attend induction then on-the-job training”. 62% reduction in words!

Good examples of writing with brevity are shown in the Lifehacker article by Danny Rubin. More excellent tips on removing unnecessary words are given in Hugh Grigg’s Tricks to Reduce Word Count.

It is much easier to use very terse language in bullet lists, tables and charts.  But don’t be afraid to write tenders with extreme brevity in general prose if you have to.

Use Bullets and Lists

Expanding on that last point, lists are an excellent way of getting information across with less words or characters. You can often take normal prose and condense into lists – especially processes or systems.

For example:

“Upon receipt of an enquiry the contract manager will create a log in the Job File. He will then make contact with the customer to arrange a suitable time to visit the premises in order to undertake a site survey.”

Becomes:

  • Contract Manager logs enquiry
  • Arrange site survey

Saving 74% characters or 78% words!

Bullets are also helpful when explaining key benefits. They are much easier to read than long paragraphs e.g.

This will reduce:

  • Money
  • Lead-time
  • Administration
  • Complaints

A few words of advice on bullet lists when you write tenders: continue

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