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Published Date: 3-07-2024
Author: Ciaran Brass
Category: Top Tips
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Although not a part of formal tender evaluation, bid formatting is a critical element of your tender submission, ensuring a clean, professional document which makes a positive impression on evaluators.

Bid and tender writing prioritises clear, concise content which makes it easy for the evaluator to mark and award points against the criteria and contract specification. Bid formatting is a natural extension of this. Remember, evaluators read dozens of tender submissions for each opportunity and a poor bid format could hinder your ability to get ‘easy wins’ when marks are awarded.

Below, we share some tips on how your bid formatting will have a positive impact on your responses, in addition to positively influencing the tender evaluator.

Check guidance on attachments and appendices to ensure compliance

The invitation to tender (ITT) or tender return document will often have specific guidelines on how responses should be formatted. This dictates exactly what can be included within the response, in addition to how it should be presented as part of a compliant proposal.

It is important to note this can vary widely from bid to bid – it is crucial to read the guidance for each opportunity and make note of what is permitted regarding bid form. For example, recent guidance on quality responses from tenders we have supported includes:

  • ‘… The use of diagrams, pictures, CVs, organisational charts and schematics are permitted, and will not form part of your response word count.’
  • ‘… Page limits are inclusive of text, drawings, diagrams, flow charts and any other form presenting a response. All text should be in Arial font size 11.’
  • ‘… Any additional appendices or attachments, including images, diagrams, CVs and organisational charts will be discounted from the evaluation process.’

In these examples, the bidder’s ability to include content beyond words and narrative is hugely varied. For the first two tenders, additional images and diagrams are permitted, but one does not count against the word limit, whereas the other must be integrated into the prescribed page limits.

For the third example, any additional attachments are strictly prohibited and if key information critical to scoring marks was included within these, the evaluator would be unable to award marks due to the guidance.

Note the authority’s preference for bid formatting returns

Similarly, guidance on the format of tender returns can vary and failure to comply with this can result in your tender submission being disqualified.

Examples from tenders we have supported clients with over the past few weeks include the following:

  • ‘… Once you have finished each tender response, it should be saved (preferably as a PDF document) in the naming format indicated for each question.’
  • ‘… Please do not exceed word counts – any written response exceeding the maximum word count will not be considered or evaluated. Please save and return this document as a Word document – do not return it as a PDF.’
  • ‘… Quality responses must be completed and submitted in the relevant section hosted on the authority’s e-Procurement portal.’

In the first instance, the authority requires bidders to individually return each tender response in PDF format, with strict naming conventions for each document. In the second example, there is a standard single-document return, where responses are copied and pasted into a template and must be submitted as a Word document rather than PDF.

Lastly, the third example requires quality questions to be answered within the portal itself, in textbox format. Consequently, this will impact and limit the bid formatting you can apply, which we will cover in the next section.

Verify content in tender responses aligns with submission format

In addition to the above tips, it is critical to remember submission formats are not identical and vary depending on the authority’s preference. The most common types of tender submission formats comprise:

  • Textbox format: responses are pasted into a textbox directly on the authority’s portal, which typically removes any prior formatting. Although it varies, these could be used for responses which have a small character count, enabling the authority to have more control over length of responses.
  • Tender return document: Quality responses and other information – for example, standard company information in the selection questionnaire (SQ) – are pasted into a document template. As a rule of thumb, this is the most common format for tender submissions.
  • Individual response return: Responses to quality questions are uploaded in individual files to the authority’s portal. These are typically used for responses which have page rather than word limits.

Each of the above will impact and inform the bid formatting within your submission. For example, textbox-based tender responses will restrict your ability to use images and diagrams within the submission, as these are unlikely to pull through into the textbox. In contrast, individual response returns will give you freedom to change the bid format as you see fit, even allowing for templates which incorporate your organisation’s logo, branding and accreditations in the document header or footer.

Early in the proposal, double-check what form the submission will take and use this to inform your bid strategy and bid planning for quality responses.

Following guidance, ensure tender responses are formatted properly

Consistent, clear bid formatting should be part of your standard bidding approach. As mentioned previously, with evaluators evaluating dozens of submissions for each tender proposal, small details and flourishes to bid formatting will allow your tender to stand out from the crowd. Some of our best practice approaches for bid formatting include:

  • Images and diagrams within responses where it adds value and impact – for example, before/after photographs of completed works or services
  • Utilising headings, subheadings, tables and bullet points within each response to effectively ‘break up’ text and signpost key points for the evaluating committee
  • Coloured font and shading which reflects your organisation’s colour scheme – for example, shaded headings to divide the response into different elements
  • Deploying white space within a page where appropriate, avoiding a ‘wall-of-text’ approach with wieldy and unbroken paragraphs.

Lastly, ensure there is some sort of proofreading element prior to submission, avoiding any unprofessional grammatical or spelling mistakes. CCS have released general guidance on how to submit a bid, with relevant guidance on the bid format to ensure quality responses are easy to read and understand.

Bid and tender support services

Since 2009, Executive Compass have had direct involvement supporting with over 7,000 PQQ, SQ and ITT submissions. Part of our wider bid management support involves bid formatting of quality responses, ensuring a consistent and professional presentation for documents.

If you would like to learn more about our bid writing, bid review or pre-bid consultancy services, our sales and marketing team are contactable at 0800 612 5563 or via email to

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