Five Steps to Save Space and Meet Government Proposal Page Limits
By Global Services on April 27, 2018
Government proposal writing teams often run into the same problem: their proposal’s narrative is strong, it hits all the key points, all the information in it is important—but it’s just over the page limit. Exceeding page limits can make your proposal non-compliant and at possible risk of rejection. Some disagreements have even gone to court in the case of Silver Bow Construction v. State Department of Administration Division of General Services. Below, we provide a simple, step-by-step approach to reduce wasted space and avoid the need to cut content.
Step 1: Start with “low-hanging fruit” formatting changes.
Simple formatting changes can often save a great deal of space. Do you have bullet lists that could be turned into a simple series? For example, the following takes up four lines:
- Point one
- Point two
- Point three
- Point four
It could easily be reduced to a single line separated by semicolons:
Point one; point two; point three; and point four.
Or, if the list requires more emphasis than a standard list would provide, try using bullets as separators without introducing paragraph breaks. This is especially effective when using colored bullets:
Point one ● Point two ● Point three ● Point four.
Other easy changes might include moving content in line with section names, rather than breaking them apart. For example, this section name wastes nearly a full line:
Our Management Approach.
Our management approach is based on…
But a simple change eliminates the wasted space:
Our Management Approach. Our management approach is based on…
Step 2: Check the merit, positioning, and formatting of graphics and tables.
Graphics will often force an early page break, resulting in lost space on the previous page. Additionally, sometimes graphics are overused or used improperly (Check some best practices in Five Quick Tips for Winning Proposal Graphics.) See if you can reposition the graphic to eliminate this. For instance, rather than Paragraph 1 → Paragraph 2 → Graphic → Paragraph Three, try Paragraph 1 → Graphic → Paragraph 2 → Paragraph 3, and so on. (Of course, only do this if it makes sense and won’t separate the graphic from the relevant text).
For smaller graphics, you may be able to fit text beside them. Word defaults to “In Line with Text” formatting for graphics. By changing this to “Tight” or “Square,” you can drag the graphic to one side of the page, allowing text to flow beside it.
Check your tables as well. Make sure that rows are allowed to split across pages, header rows aren’t repeated unless necessary, and rows are sized to the text (rather than conforming to a larger, fixed height). Also try using Word’s “Auto-Fit to Content” feature to size the columns in the way that uses space most efficiently. The Auto-Fit feature does make mistakes, however, so be sure to try manually moving the column widths around to see if you can buy yourself extra space.
Step 3: Check for “stuck” text around callout boxes and small graphics.
In Word, text can sometimes “stick” to a text box or small graphic, preventing the text from moving up to the previous page even though there’s room for it. This results in dead space at the bottom of the preceding page. To correct the issue, drag the callout box anywhere fully outside of the “stuck” paragraph and release it. The text will “unstick” and automatically move up, after which you can reposition the callout box where it belongs.
Step 4: Check for wordy or over-written sentences.
Often, sentences can be significantly shortened without changing their meaning. For instance:
Team ABC-123 utilizes a project management approach which is based on Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) best practices. Team ABC-123’s PMBOK-based approach allows us to deliver efficient project management.
Here’s the same information, more efficiently:
Our efficient project management approach is based on Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) best practices.
Note that no actual information was lost in the rewrite—just extra words that didn’t really do anything.
When making such style/grammar/word choice changes, you should again start with the “low-hanging fruit.” That is, prioritize those paragraphs that will yield the greatest benefit for the smallest rewrites. For example, if a paragraph has a single word dropping down to the next line, you only need to figure out how to cut one word from the paragraph and you’ll gain an entire line’s worth of page space. That’s much quicker and easier than trying to cut a full line from a different paragraph. Start with the easy fixes, and then move on to the harder ones, if necessary.
Step 5: If all else fails, move on to content cuts.
Sometimes, doing all of the above steps still won’t be enough to get the document under the page limit. In such cases, content cuts become necessary. By doing Steps 1-5 first, however, you gain the most space possible ahead of time, minimizing the amount of content that needs to be cut.
By following this approach, you can reduce wasted space and bring your government proposal in line with page limits. For further assistance with formatting, editing, graphics, layout, or other parts of the government proposal process, contact Global Services today!