Writing a government-contract proposal may not seem much like writing a novel or newspaper article, but one adage remains true in all these cases: It's almost impossible to properly edit your own writing. You've spent so much time on the project, it's difficult to separate what you mean to say from what you've actually said, and spotting inconsistencies can be tough. That's why you should strongly consider forming a proposal-review team, commonly known as a "red team."

Before beginning the red-team review process, break up your review into separate sessions and set specific goals for each. Feedback dealing with the "meat" of the proposal — looking for gaps, making sure each section and requirement of the RFP is addressed, etc. — can be done with a rough draft, while the finishing touches, such as proofreading, can wait until the proposal is almost complete. Be sure to leave enough time between the final red-team review and the proposal submission to make any recommended changes (no, the night before the proposal is sent out is not enough time).

Your red team should be checking against these "five Cs" of proposal review:

  1. Coherence – Is there too much use of technical jargon? Is every section clearly written?
  2. Completeness – Is every requirement in the RFP fully addressed? Are there any gaps in strategy?
  3. Compliance – Do all sections conform to relevant guidelines and regulations? Is proper legal language in place to protect proprietary information?
  4. Consistency – Are all sections formatted the same way and in the same font? Are units, terms of measurement, etc., consistent throughout, and in keeping with the RFP requirements?
  5. Correctness – Are there any grammatical or spelling errors? Keep an eye out for "numerical typos." They're harder to see, but an error in pricing or units could lose the contract for you – or worse, commit you to a contract that won't be profitable to fulfill.

Whom you ask to be on your red team will vary based on your organizational needs as well as on the proposal itself. You may not want all of the same people to be involved at every step; for example, senior team members and executives might have a lot to contribute during the Coherence and Completeness stages, but you may not want to take up their time conducting the Consistency and Correctness reviews.

Make sure that the proposal manager is involved; legal counsel should also take a look at the draft before submission. Other possible red-team members include technical and product experts and personnel who will be involved in the project.