Headings

Headings help evaluators quickly understand your proposal’s organization and key points. Effective headings give readers an overview of the story of your proposal and can help you earn higher evaluation scores.

Introduction

Effective headings highlight your solution’s benefits and discriminators. Good headings should convey a clear message, capture the reader’s attention, and address evaluators’ hot buttons or specific requirements. Headings accomplish the following goals:

  • Break large amounts of text into smaller, more manageable sections
  • Make important information easy to locate
  • Simplify complicated information
  • Make your proposal easier to score
  • Guide readers through your “proposal story”

Formal evaluators aim to score specific evaluation questions of the response per the stipulated evaluation criteria. Informal evaluators, on the other hand, target specific topics to read and assess. Both types of evaluators can benefit from clear headings that guide reading.

Best Practices

1. Follow exact bid request instructions for proposal headings, including heading content, numbering scheme, and heading levels.

A compliant proposal is crucial to winning a bid. For some proposals, this means that organizations may be required to follow customer guidelines regarding heading content and format.

Even if heading format is not specified in bid instructions, however, it can still be a smart option to use the exact main headings and subheadings used in the bid request. Mimicking evaluators’ topics and sequencing makes it easy for evaluators to reach responses to evaluation questions. (However, this does not include repeating misspelled or incorrectly numbered headings.)

The table below shows two ways proposal developers can present headings, one using exact headings given in instructions and one using headings with supporting details added (as allowed).

Using exact RFP headings (dictated in Instructions) Manipulating RFP headings effectively (not dictated)
3.0 Bidder Financial Status 3.0 Financial Status: [Company] witnesses 20-percent increase in revenue figures during the past two years
3.1 Year 2013 Revenues 3.1 Year 2013: Remarkable increase in telecom services revenues
3.2 Year 2014 Revenues 3.2 Year 2014: Significant improvement over the past 10 years, achieving 20 billion USD revenues

2. Use an informal table of contents.

Including an introductory paragraph at the beginning of each section aids clear responses and gives evaluators an idea of what information to expect in the section that follows. Proposal professionals refer to this paragraph as an informal table of contents or section introduction.

Review this introductory section every time you edit a section or heading in the proposal content. Ensure omissions or additions to the write-up are reflected in the informal table of contents. Below is a sample informal table of contents, followed by proposal subheadings using identical language for easy navigation.

1.0 Introduction

The RFP emphasizes ZAD Airlines’ requirements for delivery of the System Integration project in a mandated duration of eight months.

Our Implementation Scope

1.1 Upgrading Check-in Systems

1.2 Upgrading Baggage Reconciliation Systems

1.3 Installing Flight Display Systems

1.4 Conducting User Acceptance Testing

1.5 Conducting User Training

 

Proposal subheadings appear as follows:

1.1 Upgrading Check- in Systems at five designated Airports in Europe.

1.2 Upgrading Baggage Reconciliation Systems at five designated Airports in Europe.

1.3 Installing Flight Display Systems at five designated Airports in Europe.

1.4 Conducting User Acceptance Testing to ensure all of ZAD’s Airport Systems are integrated via the core room at your head office.

1.5 Conducting User Training for Operational Teams.

3. Use headings to convey key benefits and discriminators.

Your solution’s benefits and discriminators are the most important message you must communicate to proposal evaluators. Use headings to catch the reader’s attention and explain what sets you apart.

Of the following two headings, which one is most effective?

EDE’s New Release Of World-Class E-Gates Version 0.6
Our E. Gates System V0.6 Has Reduced Passenger’s Check-In Time To Seven Minutes
The second heading focuses on benefits to the bidder: reducing passenger check-in time at a highly congested airport.

4. Use informative and telegraphic headings as appropriate.

Informative headings are like headlines in a newspaper: They create interest that encourages readers to continue reading. In proposals, they enable evaluators to immediately determine both the contents of a section and the benefit to their organization. Informative headings signal new topics to evaluators, may link features to benefits, and often cite features that are discriminators.

Good informative headings are also inclusive, meaning that reviewers can read headlines alone and still understand your message. For example, the heading, “Three Benefits of Our Solution: Lower Costs, Fewer Errors, Less Downtime,” tells the reader that the discussion will consist of three parts and is likely to begin with cost, followed by accuracy, then maintenance requirements.

Headings will convey key selling points with clarity. One way to develop good headings is to write them as early as possible in the creation of the proposal outline. As you read through a new RFP, determine your key selling points and write informative headings to match.

Use telegraphic headings to label major proposal sections. Although they are less engaging for the reader, telegraphic headings are recommended for standard sections such as Executive Summary, Proposal Overview, Technical Proposal, Appendices, and Clarifications.

5. Use verb headings to convey action and noun headings to demonstrate your purpose.

Verbs in headings can persuade readers by illustrating the actions that will result from choosing your solution. Verbs should be written in the same tense throughout your document. Limit or avoid question headings, as they give the impression of uncertainty. Here are examples of verb headings:

  • Reduce Airport Congestion by Implementing EDE’s Check-In Systems
  • Cut Down Check-In Time by 40 Percent
  • Ensure Smooth Airport Operations Even With Increased Passenger Volumes

Noun headings are recommended for giving brief answers to straightforward questions in the bid. Providing responses to crucial bid questions in the headings frees evaluators from having to read a proposal’s full text to get the answers they need.

For example, a bid question might check whether bidders have a local presence in Kenya. Heading 3.1 highlights the bidder’s presence in Nairobi without having to go into unnecessary details.

  • 3.0 Three hundred fifty offices worldwide
  • 3.1 More than 10 EDE staff based in Nairobi office
  • 3.1.1 Delivery and operations teams available onsite 24×7

6. Create a clear hierarchy of information.

Ensure second- and third-level headings relate to their primary headings. Unrelated subheadings create confusion, leading to lower scores.

Numbered headings help evaluators find responses to requirements in longer proposals (more than 10 pages). However, headings with more than three levels can create confusion.

After level three, use run-in headings to give a similar effect to a new subheading without creating additional heading levels. A run-in heading may be in boldface or a large font; text follows after a period or a colon and a space.

7. Maintain consistency throughout your document.

Headings can be aligned right or left, centered, indented, or presented as run-in headings. No matter what style you choose, ensure headings at the same level are consistent throughout your proposal.

Any difference—in size, color, font, or other style—must be made with a purpose, or risk causing confusion. Appearance variation is advised to occur in this order: font size, boldface, color, italics, font change, all caps, and underline.

You should also be sure that your headings are grammatically consistent, or parallel. Parallel form means simply that like items are phrased in a like manner, which allows evaluators to move quickly through your proposal without being slowed by awkward shifts in structure. The table below shows the difference between nonparallel and parallel headings.

NONPARALLEL PARALLEL
What Is the Problem? A Brief History of the Problem
Describing What Acme Can Do to Solve the Problem A Description of Acme Solutions
It’s a Matter of Time A Timetable Acme Can Follow
Fees Acme Will Charge A Breakdown of Acme’s Fees
When You Need to Pay A Payment Plan
Finding Out Who’s Who A Listing of Acme’s Staff

Summary

  • Effective headings attract readers’ attention, tell them what to expect in subsequent sections, and help evaluators find responses to specific questions easily.
  • Where possible, use the exact headings listed in the RFP, especially in government proposals.
  • The most effective headings are informative, numbered, and consistent in structure.
  • Verb headings express action and noun headings state a purpose.
  • Make your subheadings identical with the topics listed in your introductory sections. Review the listed topics every time you modify your text.
  • Consistency in heading styles is critical; proposal producers should create their own libraries of heading styles.

Terms to Know

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