How to write winning tender responses when faced with a limited word count


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I’ve recently noticed a growing trend in what is asked of bidders. The level of detail and information required seems to be on the increase yet there is a demand for more concise submissions with lower word counts and limited opportunity to append supporting information.

Whilst, on the face of it, a restricted submission and word count may seem like less work, it can actually be more difficult to condense your message into a few paragraphs.

If you find yourself struggling to say what you need in a concise and compelling way, here are a few questions to ask:

Are you clear on what you are trying to say?

Have you planned out your response or are you writing freely and hoping the answer comes to you? The latter works for some people but I find it actually takes longer to write that way and the narrative often loses focus.

I don’t put pen to paper until I have a skeleton structure to work with. This sets out the key points to be covered and the flow of the response. It doesn’t have to be complicated – subheadings to reflect the question and your response might be all it needs – but organising your answers before you start will keep you on track and make it easier for the reader to follow.

Are you answering the question?

If a word count has been set, the client wants you to get to the point. It can be tempting to include everything when it comes to your approach or methodology but you may only be scored on specific elements. Pick out the key themes in the question and evaluation criteria and focus on perfecting your response to those rather than risk diluting it with general information.

Does every word add value?

Are you squeezing every bit out of your word count or is it wasted on generic filler or intro text? Every piece of content should answer at least one of these questions: who, what, where, when or why? If it doesn’t, get rid of it. Being ruthless can save valuable words and your answers will have far more impact.

Is there a better way to present the information?

Narrative is a great way to explain a concept or approach but, when your response focuses on outputs, other tools can be more appropriate. I’m a big fan of a table or matrix to present lots of information and evidence. For example, one table could be used to demonstrate what you will do, the benefits to the client, where this has been done before, the tools to be used and any measurable outputs. A simple table is less open to interpretation and can be evaluated easier as the client doesn’t have to sift through text to pick out what they need to know and score.

Are you being too technical?

When you’re an expert in your discipline, it’s natural to recall and add more detail as you write but it’s important that you don’t lose your reader or deviate from what they actually want to know. Your team CVs, case studies and professional qualifications will demonstrate your technical ability so your written responses can focus more on what that means to the client and their project. Unless you’re specifically asked for it, strip out lengthy technical details and jargon and, instead, include a brief summary with the value and benefits that it will bring.

Whilst some people believe it’s easier to cut content down after it has been written, I feel strongly that this is when text loses its flow and becomes clunky. Spending half an hour beforehand to plan your response can reduce writing time and improve the final result. The more you write in this way, the easier it also becomes as you train your brain to work differently.

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