7 Steps to Writing an RFP That Gets High-Quality Responses

Meme image showing an old photo of Oprah Winfrey from her talk show days, wearing a bright red dress, holding a microphone in one hand, both arms held high into the air, her mouth open as if she's screaming to her audience. And the text overlaid on this meme image says the following: "You get an RFP! You get an RFP! EVERYONE gets RFPs!"

RFPs, or requests for proposals, are exactly what they sound like—you submit an RFP to vendors and ask the vendors to submit a bid and detailed proposal before you decide which one of them wins your project.

The competitive nature of the process helps ensure you’re working with qualified vendors who aren’t overcharging.

Even though the concept of RFPs is simple, they can be challenging to write. Read the following tips to make sure you’re going through the right process.

Step 1: Get Clear

The first step to writing an effective RFP is to get very clear about the underlying project and what the RFP should accomplish.

Your organization may understand exactly what it wants, but that won’t do you any good if you don’t clearly articulate that to the potential vendors.

“Keep questions clear and direct,” advises Vanguard, the investment management company, in its guide Creating an Effective RFP Process. “The clarity of your questions will drive their usefulness. Indirect questions will likely result in indirect answers that don’t provide the information you need.”

“Also, if questions are too vague or open-ended,” Vanguard adds, “you can’t make comparisons across [vendors].”

Don’t Miss: Why Avoiding Clichés in Business Writing Is So Important

Step 2: Figure Out the Details

Figure out the details of the project, such as a timeline of exactly what needs to get done. This helps bidders accurately calculate their budgets and how to allocate their internal resources.

If you’re not being clear about the details, some vendors won’t even respond to your RFP. So don’t make it too time consuming for them to decipher.

Step 3: Determine the Audience

It’s important to consider what kinds of organizations you’re hoping to work with on the project so that you understand the audience for whom you’re writing.

The more specific you get, the better.

  • For example, saying you want to work with web design firms isn’t very specific.
  • But saying you want web design firms that specialize in WordPress and have 20 or more employees—that’s specific.

Step 4: Decide What You Need

Determine exactly what you’ll need from the vendors in their proposals. Otherwise, you might wind up with missing or unnecessary information.

Many RFPs even lay out the format the proposals should be in, just so there’s no misunderstanding about exactly what is needed.

“It is in your best interests to provide suppliers with a roadmap for writing their proposals that requires them to respond in a consistent manner,” says Bud Porter-Roth, author of Request for Proposal: A Guide to Effective RFP Development.

Step 5: Outline the RFP

Now that you have all the preliminary information out of the way, you can start outlining the RFP.

It’s up to you how detailed you want to make it. At a minimum, you probably want a structured list of the sections of the RFP, as well as the order in which they’ll be presented.

It can also help to go a little further than this by breaking down the sections and specifying the main points you want to cover within each section.

Don’t Miss: Here’s a Free RFP Template

This is a thumbnail image of a document icon, with text on it that says" Request for Proposal Template. You have such an important project that you put out an RFP. We will help you explain your requirements and needs to customize this clear and concise request for proposal template.

Step 6: Write the RFP

Now it’s time to flesh out all the ideas and start writing.

If you followed the previous steps in this process, it’ll make this step much easier because you’ve already done the groundwork.

Some people skip steps 1–5 and just start writing the RFP, but that can lead to a lot more work in the end.

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Step 7: Edit the RFP

Last, but definitely not least, edit the RFP.

Some organizations don’t take this step seriously enough. But how unprofessional will they look if they have typos or misspelled words throughout their RFP?

According to Tom Sant, CEO of The Sant Corp., which develops software for generating proposals, typos in an RFP are one of four things that frustrate vendors. The other three are “RFPs that are disorganized, RFPs that ask redundant questions, and RFPs that have contradictory requirements,” Sant says.

“Committees sometimes write RFPs, and if the RFP isn’t edited carefully, confusing and contradictory RFPs can result,” he explains.

At Super Copy Editors, we’ve copy edited and proofread many RFP projects. We’ve also proofed proposals, so we understand both sides of the process. This experience helps us make sure that your RFP is professional and complete. If you need more information on our RFP proofreading services, contact us today.

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Dave Baker

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Hi, I’m Dave Baker, founder and copy chief of Super Copy Editors. I have more than two decades of professional proofreading and copy editing experience, including work for The Nation magazine, The New York Times, and The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, where I shared two staff Pulitzer Prizes after Hurricane Katrina. Today, I have put together a hand-picked team of copy editors, and we especially love working with ad agencies, marketing departments, and education companies to make their text as polished as possible. Learn more here.

4 Comments

  1. gregt
    August 5, 2018

    People – there is no such thing as Request for Proposal. It is Request for ProposalS.

    You issue a request.

    A request for what?

    ProposalSSSS.

    If you only want one, you say Request for A Proposal.

    At least in English.

    Reply
    1. Dave Baker
      August 5, 2018

      Hi Greg,

      According to Merriam-Webster, “RFP” stands for “request for proposal”: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/RFP

      Reply
    2. Dave Baker
      August 8, 2018

      Greg, thanks again for your comment. You may be interested to know that I reached out to Linda Wood, senior editor at Merriam-Webster, Inc., who agreed that your preferred form should be added to the dictionary’s entry for “RFP”:

      “The evidence shows that your suspicion is correct. ‘Request for Proposals’ [with an s on the end] is very common, and it appears that both forms are in frequent use. I will make a note to our file that ‘Request for Proposals’ should be added as an alternative expansion at RFP. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We are always appreciative of our users’ suggestions.”

      Reply
  2. Mike
    January 7, 2020

    Well done. Thank you. This was very helpful.

    Reply

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