Winning the Business

Readability Diet

Trimming the fat from your content to make it more digestible

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Breaking down a wall of text is something proposal professionals deal with daily. Here are some helpful hints to make your proposals more easily consumable for evaluators.

Nutritional Guidelines: Defining the Reading Grade Level

The reading grade level (RGL) indicates the ease with which the evaluator can digest your content. The Flesch-Kincaid method is used to determine a text’s RGL. RGL guidelines are like the nutritional requirements for your proposal. Establishing an RGL for a proposal (preferably one that matches your customer’s RGL) makes editing and evaluating easier.

Before writing a proposal, define its RGL. Some companies define RGLs in their style guides or for each opportunity. Government defense proposals can be based on the applicable military branch’s specification. For example, the U.S. Department of Defense uses MIL-STD-38784, which requires a ninth-grade reading level. It is usually best to set an RGL between ninth and 12th grade. For commercial proposals, a ninth-grade reading level should suffice, but more technical proposals may need a higher RGL.

The goal is to make a proposal clear for any evaluator type, from procurement personnel to technical SMEs.

Slimming Down That Wall of Text

Slimming down sentences to lower your proposal’s RGL can sometimes be difficult. To write slimmer, keep your sentences to no more than 15 to 20 words. Editing to remove unnecessary words, colloquial phrases, prepositional phrases, and syllables also slims down the RGL. One way to identify a high RGL is if you must read a sentence more than once. If it is difficult for the writer or reviewer to understand at first pass, it won’t be easy for the evaluator. The goal is to make a proposal clear for any evaluator type, from procurement personnel to technical subject matter experts.

Tools such as readability analyzers and even Microsoft Word can check a text’s RGL to help with the slimming-down process. Readability analyzers automatically evaluate the text’s RGL, which can help reduce editing and reviewing time. In Microsoft Word, a pop-up window appears at the end of a spelling and grammar check. This window displays the number of words and characters in the document and its Flesch-Kincaid grade level. Free tools such as SlickWrite and Datayze evaluate text and identify sentences that should be slimmed down.

Beefing Up Graphics, Reducing RGLs

Using graphics and brief bullet points can also help reduce your text’s RGL. Graphical elements enable evaluators to review proposals faster and digest more information in one glance. Items such as processes, data, statistics, listings, testimonials, and differentiators can all be put into graphics. Graphics with action captions highlight the graphic’s takeaway for the evaluator. If a portal response is required, bullets can take the place of graphics. Remember to keep all bullets concise—no full paragraphs or even sentences.

These dietary guidelines will help you slim down your RGL and make evaluating easier. Improving the readability of your proposal is important for all involved—reducing the time needed to edit, review, and evaluate it. All these ingredients combine to create proposal content that is easily digestible.

Katie Murillo is senior proposal manager at Kforce, a Tampa, Florida-based professional staffing services firm. She can be reached at