22nd Jun 2010 AUTHOR: Matt Milgrom

Tender Writing: Free Your Content By Boxing It In

We don't often link constraint with creativity. But boundaries are rocket fuel for a struggling tender content writer. And it's all about tennis.


  • Boundaries foster creativity & focus attention - for tennis & writing.
  • A good writing template facilitates clear, convincing writing.
  • A step-by-step approach ensures the response is complete.

Constraints can actually foster innovation & improve accuracy

As kids, my best mate and I spent our summers at the local tennis courts. Sometimes between sets we'd have a spirited game of "Crazy Tennis". For this version of the game we dispensed with conventional rules; the ball was never out, the lines meant nothing and the number of bounces immaterial. Despite the obvious freedom, those games never lasted long. Crazy Tennis was deadly boring - for good reason.

Tennis is an exciting, creative game BECAUSE of the rules. Forcing a player to place a shot within a clearly defined boundary sharpens focus and fosters ingenuity. The same is true of tender writing.

Writing with Boundaries: An Everyday Example

Think back to when you last applied for a credit card, or completed a survey. How did you ensure you provided all of the required information? It's likely you didn't need to think too carefully about it: you simply filled out the form.

Forms are probably the most extreme application of 'constrained writing'. Yes, they can be laborious and dull, but you're never left wondering where to start and what to include. Forms may have a limited structure, but in terms of information flow, they are liberating.

Liberating RFP Responses

Most Requests for Tender or Proposal (RFT / RFP) require precise responses to specific questions. Sometimes these responses are concise and short. Occasionally, however, the required information will run to many pages. In cases like these, a Writing Template can be an excellent way to liberate the writer.

A good writing template:

  • Helps the writer start the writing process
  • Provides a basic structure to follow, step by step
  • Includes cues to ensure the content is powerfully presented

The Anatomy of a Successful Writing Template

We employ customised writing templates to compile responses for a single submission from SMEs across different organisations. The content authors loved having the process broken down into logical chunks.

Typically, the template is divided into the following sections:

1. RFT Section/Chapter/Heading Identifier

Clearly identifying each piece of writing is absolutely vital. When your submission is complex or the number of authors large, these clear labels will mean you can easily collate the responses. Its good practice to use this identification in the filenames of each completed template.

2. The Exact Text of the RFT Question

The template should be filled out with the question text taken from the RFT - copied and pasted if possible. Having the precise request available helps an author answer the question completely. And it means they can check back on it during the writing process.

3. Brief Summary

For lengthy responses the author should include a short summary up front to outline the key points in a sentence or two. If the body text includes subheadings, these can be outlined as bullet points here, providing the reader with a map of what is to follow.

4. Introduction

A good introduction to the body text of a response can affect whether the reviewer reads on our skips ahead. An inspiring prologue outlines exciting benefits or highlights surprising facts to invite the reader to continue.

5. Body Text

This is where the real meat of the response sits. In some of our other articles, we talk about powerful writing techniques to give your pitch real persuasive punch. The template simply reminds the author to use headings, bulleted lists and quotations wherever possible.

6. Graphics

Because images, charts and figures sell with emotion and power, the smart author will consider them during the writing process, rather than tacking them on afterwards. The template provides space to include basic sketches and ideas. Additionally, convincing captions should be outlined here.

7. Theme Statement

With longer responses, succinct, single-sentence theme statements convey and reinforce your key messages so that the essence of your response isn't missed - even for skim readers.

The techniques referenced in the template are outlined in other articles about writing to sell, using graphics and making a document skim-proof. Including them within the writing template prompts the writer to consider using them for every single question.

At first glance, a writing template might seem like a restrictive antidote to the free-flowing creation of content. In reality, the constraints of a good writing template can - like the boundaries of a tennis court - foster invention and improve accuracy. When that happens, the writer AND the reader benefit.

mattMatt Milgrom is a principal consultant for Tender Success and has helped to craft many creative, winning proposals, with and without restrictive templates. Contact Matt to ensure your next response is a success.