Word templates that confuse and frustrate

As a consultant, I frequently write proposals and tenders. They’re an essential part of finding work.

Most of the time, the process is relatively straightforward: I concern myself with the content of my proposal and submit it as a PDF based on a Word document. I use a very simple template that I’ve developed over the years. Layout comes at the end of the process: after I’ve developed the content.

Occasionally, I’m asked to tender for large projects, and these frequently involve working within standard tender templates, developed by the organisation. The templates are Word documents, usually with tables set up for the tenderer’s responses.

Recently, I spent many hours working on a template-driven tender. But instead of devoting most of my time to thinking about the content, my time was absorbed, right from the start, with the template.

One word too many in one box, and the text disappeared! One word too many in another box, and a blank page appeared! Attempt to split the box over two pages, and the table header would be repeated! There seemed to be no consistency in what was happening, and no clear way to solve the problem.

Several things bothered me about this tendering experience:

  • The document was difficult to navigate. I was constantly being interrupted with problems about the form of the document when I wanted to be thinking about content.
  • I spent precious time fiddling with the layout, when I could have been developing a better response to the project – so form was ruling over content
  • The response table had been designed with little understanding of legibility – there was no option but to produce a tender that looked dreadful and was challenging to read (the tender documents stated that tenders not using this form would not be considered)
  • The response table was produced with little understanding of the systems that underpin table construction in Microsoft Word
  • The response table was entirely unnecessary: A Word document without tables could simply have been used, with tenderers free to type in their responses underneath each question. No need for rows and columns. No need for forced page breaks. No need for unworkable margins.

I wonder whether I submitted a tender that was riddled with errors. By the end of it, I was so frustrated that I sent it off without careful checking. Hopefully, the tendering process wasn’t an indication of what the work would be like … if I win it of course.