I’ve written before about why proposal writing tends to be terrible (see How Your High School English Class is Ruining Your Sales Proposals), which makes your customers less interesting in reading, understanding, and signing your proposals. Writing well is hard, but here’s an easy tip that has a big impact on a lot of proposal writing.

Ready for it: Get rid of the adverbs.

Let’s look at this example, taken from a real proposal, but anonymized to protect the guilty:

Our highly skilled professionals will diligently analyze your business and proactively recommend highly impactful action items.

Terrible, right? We’ve all read crap like that, and, I hate to admit, I’ve written more than my share, too.

Now, let’s take out the adverbs:

Our highly skilled professionals will diligently analyze your business and proactively recommend highly impactful action items.

It’s still pretty bad, but it’s so much better. When you write “highly skilled professionals”, it doesn’t make me impressed at how highly skilled they are, it makes me wonder why you have to write that. Do you have other professionals that are not highly skilled? Or who don’t analyze diligently?

We could go further, and say something like this:

Our team will analyze your business (see details below) and recommend actions that will have the most financial impact for the least time, money, and disruption.

If you want to highlight your “highly skilled professionals”, but a section in your proposal about the team, with a picture and a brief bio about each person. This puts a face on “resources” and turns them into people. People can relate to people, but not resources. If you want to inspire confidence, show that you have great people, not “highly skilled professionals.” (This may not work in all situations– you may not even know who will be on the project, or you may not want to commit certain people.)

Does this mean you can never use adverbs? Certainly not. But I bet if you do a “Find” on your proposals for “ly”, you’ll find a lot of adverbs that are weakening, instead of strengthening your proposals.

Don’t believe me? Try going through one of your proposals before and after removing adverbs.

Still don’t believe me? Listen to author Steven King, who in his book On Writing, notes “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” (Read more of King’s thoughts on adverbs.)

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