Tips for Writing Your Proposal's First Draft

Okay, you’ve figured out what you’re going to sell, you’ve planned your strategy, you’ve planned your proposal project, and you’ve gotten the rest of the proposal team on board. It’s finally time to write.

How you go about writing the first draft–where you do it, which part you begin with, whether you write it out in longhand first or key it straight into a typewriter or computer–is entirely up to you. You need to write this draft, and all others, the way that is most comfortable to you.

Writing is hard work; writing proposal sections is some of the hardest writing you can do. It requires concentration and persistence. Here are some things you can do before you begin that will help you concentrate on the writing at hand and will help you get through a task that otherwise might be at best a nuisance, and at worst, painful. They may not all be practical, but if you budget your time well enough you should be able to manage it.

Before you begin writing

Assemble your materials. Gather your pens, pencils, erasers, paper, disks, technical notes, books-whatever you need to write your sections. If you do this before you start you won’t have to get up half-way through and fetch more materials, thus breaking your train of thought. In other words, don’t give yourself an excuse to be interrupted.

Establish the best environment. If the distractions of the office keep you from concentrating-the phone calls, conversations around you, people dropping by-then do your best to escape. Find an unused office. Duck into a conference room with a pad of paper. If you can’t leave your cubicle, turn off your phone, use ear protectors, or even headphones piping in your favorite music. It’s important that your mind is functioning at its best; try hard to minimize distractions.

Establish the best time to work. Do you work best in the morning or the afternoon? Try to schedule your writing for the best time of the day for you. If you treat the proposal writing process as a project, you should easily be able to schedule your time.

Avoid psychological stresses. The chief stress to avoid is the feeling you have to get your draft “right” the first time through. It won’t happen, no matter how hard you try-first draft always get changed-so why try? Just write the draft and move on to the revision process.

As you write the draft

Decide which parts to write in which order. Each section has different parts to it. Just because the end product will have definite starting and ending points does not mean they have to be written that way. Start with the piece of the section that is easiest for you, the one you know most about. Once you get some words down the rest of them will come more easily.

Don’t edit on the fly. This means don’t stop after each sentence (or word, in the case of some people) to go back and revise. If you do that with each section you will spend too much time on the first draft. Just write one sentence after the other. When you have finished the first draft, then go back and edit.

Don’t stop; finish as soon as possible. Avoid the temptation to stop writing. The more you can get down in one sitting the less often you will have to start up again. When you stop and start you waste a lot of time, and the process becomes more frustrating.

Work from your outline. If you took the time to put together an outline; don’t discard it now in favor of another, “better” set of ideas. Stick with the outline. Once you have finished the draft, go back and tweak.

Don’t worry about how it looks or what it sounds like. While you are writing, do not worry about the misspelled words, the lousy sentence construction, the incorrect grammar. None of that matters now. What does matter is that you get the ideas down, something to work with and mold into a polished piece of writing. Besides, why do you think they call it a “rough draft”?