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Cut Corners, Not Content: Top Tips for Sticking to Word Counts

Jack Bolton
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Jack Bolton
Cut Corners, Not Content_ Top Tips for Sticking to Word Counts

More often than not while tendering, you will find that quality questions will be limited by a set number of words, pages or characters. You will be expected to keep your responses within these limits or risk compromising your total score.

While you may consider your response a masterpiece, the evaluator won’t if they’re forced to ignore half of your argument. It is therefore incredibly important to meet these restrictions, while also ensuring that the bulk of your content is retained. This is easier said than done however and knowing how to efficiently reduce or edit your responses is vital. Here are a number of tips to help you:

Removing Waffle

You may think that bidding is a great opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of your industry. By including every theory, philosophical approach and scientific explanation in your tender, you can demonstrate just how clever you are. However, tendering is not an intelligence test. It is simply a process to help determine who can deliver the best service. You should therefore stick to succinct, factual information in your answers.

Furthermore, you shouldn’t assume that the evaluator is an expert in your field. If all they have is a checklist of points to identify in your responses, anything outside of that may be disregarded or misunderstood.

It’s therefore important that you keep technical waffle to a minimum, particularly when you have tight word limits. Obviously where questions ask for technical responses, you should comply. If they don’t however, assume that the evaluator isn’t an expert and stick to describing facts, policies and procedures. You may think this will make your responses dull and clinical (and you are probably right) but no marks will be awarded for the entertainment value of your response.

Keep Marketing to a Minimum

It can be tempting to include marketing material in your tender, as bidding is essentially a glorified form of marketing. You are trying to advertise your company to the buyer so they choose your company as their contractor. With all the words in the world, marketing content can sometimes be an effective way of hammering home your bid. However, where tight word restrictions apply, it is most likely unnecessary.

Describing yourself as the best at what you do is all well and good, but for the purpose of tendering, you will need to back up such bold claims. In order to be succinct, it is best practise to cut out vague and arrogant claims to be the best at X or most experienced at Y, especially when you don’t have physical or statistical evidence to corroborate your claims.

Trimming Down

If, having already cut out waffle and marketing, you are still over the word limit, trim down your sentences. Trimming allows you to get to the point quicker, without losing your existing meaning. While this can be laborious and time-consuming, you can save yourself a lot of words in the process.

To help expedite your trimming, here are a few quick tips:

1. Use Active Voice Instead of Passive

Passive voice can sound weak, uncertain and confusing. Always use the active voice where possible. Active voice makes you sound assertive, confident and capable.

The below examples show clear differences in confidence and weight. As a bonus, active phrasing nearly always saves you words.

E.g., you could write:

Passive: You will be called every day by the Contract Manager.


Active: The contract manager will call you every day.


Passive: A weekly site visit is performed by the Site Supervisor.


Active: The site supervisor will perform a weekly site visit.

Not only is your response more authoritative, but several words have been cut in the process.

2. Cut Down on Adjectives and Adverbs

Try cutting adjectives and adverbs that don’t actually add anything quantifiable. E.g.:

Using this approach, we significantly cut our transport costs by 20%

In this sentence, removing the term ‘significantly’ will save you a word without losing any value.

3. Hyphenation

Using a hyphen (-) between two connected words can be a useful way of cutting down your word count as word processors usually view these as single words. E.g.:

We will organise face to face meetings with your representatives

Would become:

We will organise face-to-face meetings with your representatives

By hyphenating, we have reduced 3 words down to 1. However, not every two (or more) word combination can be hyphenated and there are rules as to when you can use it. These rules are too numerous to go into in this blog, but you can read them here. Alternatively, you can play around on your word processor which should flag up incorrect hyphenation.

4. Use Fewer Connecting Words

Rather than using and, however, but etc. to connect multiple statements to each other, try expressing them as different points. E.g.:

Our average delivery time is only 5 hours, whereas our closest rival’s is 8 hours.

Would become:

Our average delivery time is 5 hours. Our closest rival’s is 8 hours.

By separating the sentences, you save two words while retaining your core point on shorter delivery time.

6. Merge Sentences

At first this seems contradictory to the point above, however context is key. You should combine two sentences when one is an explanation or consequence of the other. Crucially, the goal is cut down on the use of the phrases ‘This means that/this is because’ etc. e.g.:

Our quality management system is ISO9001 accredited. This means that our systems, procedures and policies are audited annually to ensure that they meet requirements.

Would become:

Our quality management system is ISO9001 accredited, meaning that our systems, procedures and policies are audited annually to ensure that they meet requirements.

As will many of the methods described above, this might seem like quite a lot of effort to remove one word. However, savings will mount up as you go through your response making changes.

7. Restructuring sentences

Sometimes separating or merging sentences is not enough. Often it would be more useful to restructure and reword a sentence in order to make further cuts. Re-wording the previous example:

To ensure they meet requirements, our systems, procedures and policies are audited and accredited annually to ISO9001.

With this method there is less of a specific rule, so you may have to play around with your wording to reduce your count, without compromising on quality or content.

Cut Characters

Not all tender questions will give you word limits. Some may define character limits. In this circumstance all of the measures detailed above still apply, as losing words naturally results in character reduction.

However, another effective way of cutting characters is to use shorter words and phrases. E.g., use:

  • Happy instead of Satisfied
  • Van/Car/Lorry/Truck instead of Vehicle
  • Client instead of Customer
  • Resident instead of Service User
  • Sustainable instead of Environmentally friendly

Cutting word or character counts can be one of the most arduous tasks during the tendering process, especially when you don’t know what or how to do it.

Fortunately help is at hand! Bespoke Bids offer a number of services to help with your tendering so give us a call to find out more!


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