500 word limits

written by Robin Hastings
2 · 13 · 17

Late last year I was in Sydney working on a unique government tender. The department set some of the strictest word limits I’ve ever seen. 3000 characters per response. That’s less than 500 words to explain what the tendering company does, how they intend to meet the Request for Tender (RFT) criteria, and the entire pitch for each region.

Well, I do love a challenge, and this didn’t disappoint! But its also left me pondering how I can take away some lessons to pass on to the benefit of my team, clients and customers.

Below are the top three lessons I think we can all take away from my experience. Regardless of how strict (or otherwise) the wordcount is on your next tender, these rules will help ensure you stay on track and provide a more concise, focused message in your next tender.


  • Focus attention on the value proposition and differentiators. So often I see tender response documents outlining a range of features and calling them a value proposition. A limited word count forces you to challenge your thinking. Ask yourself: Does the competition offer the same or similar things? Is your solution or the statement you’re making about it REALLY unique? What is the industry status quo – and are your ‘unique selling points (USP)’ really differentiating from this? Sometimes less is more, and if you only have two key USP/differentiators, it is better to highlight these as a standalone, rather than letting them get lost in the detail.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words. Using images, diagrams and graphics to illustrate a point is far better than a page of text. Sadly, on this occasion the government RFT documents didn’t allow for us to submit any imagery, but nine times out of ten you will be able to. And I strongly believe it makes all the difference. Where possible, turn words into diagrams. It will help reduce the burden on the eye of those pages and pages of text, add interest to the page, catch the attention of the skim reader (often an advisor to the main assessment panel) and help simplify complex information so it is more easily consumed by the assessors.
  • Writing guidelines help keep everyone on track. Starting the bid off on the right foot means developing a set of rules to help all of your content owners and writers produce consistent messaging. It goes without saying that the win strategy and USP/differentiators are circulated to the team prior to writing, but taking this a step further will help save time and corrections later. Outline to the team what phrases need to be included, or avoided, how to refer to the client, how to use language, bullet points, call out boxes, etc. The more detail you can provide at the beginning, the less chance there is of needing to do a complete re-write at the end!

Robin Hastings

Managing Director & Founder of PitchThis, Robin is a senior bid manager and corporate writer with extensive experience in bidding and project management across corporate, public and NFP sectors.

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