How to effectively read a Request for Proposal (RFP)

As the saying goes, “well begun is half done”. Reading an RFP effectively is crucial to the rest of the proposal development process to eliminate sections rewritten over and over, omitted requirements, and ultimate lost of a proposal.

Typically, RFPs are organized according to lettered sections A through M, and often come with a number of attachments. Sections A through M serve standard purposes for all RFPs almost without exceptions. These sections are also called the Requirements. Form SF-33, which is the title page of the RFP that looks like a table, is Section A. This section represents an opportunity summary, and provides such information as the due date, contracting office information, and Table of Contents to help navigate the RFP. Sometimes though, it is not a standard SF-33 form and it may contain other information, such as the number of copies of the proposal you need to submit. Read it carefully. The form requires your signature when you submit a proposal, and if you got amendments, you need to submit those amendments signed as well to acknowledge the receipt.

Other typical RFP Sections are:

  • B – supplies or services and prices,
  • C – descriptions/specifications/performance work statement (PWS),
  • D – packaging and marking,
  • E – inspection and acceptance,
  • F – deliveries or performance,
  • G – contract administrative data,
  • H – special contract requirements,
  • I – contract clauses,
  • J – attachments – a flexible section designation,
  • K – representations, certifications, and other statements of offerors,
  • L – instructions, conditions, and notices to offerors,
  • M – evaluation criteria for award.

The most important sections that you should read first are L, M, C (and sometimes key attachments such as J).

Section L answers questions such as:

  • What does the government want in the proposal?
  • How many volumes and pages, how many copies do you have to submit, and how?
  • What do they want to see included in the content?

Section M tells how the Government will evaluate the bid, deciding which proposal wins, and section C represents what is the work the Government is asking contractors to bid on. Frequently, the Statement of Work is included as an attachment in section J.

Some RFPs are not organized alphabetically, but you should look for similar elements:

  • Instructions to the offerors.
  • Evaluation criteria.
  • Scope of work (in whichever forms it appears – these days they are called Performance Work Statement (PWS), Statement of Objectives (SOO), or Statement of Work (SOW)
  • Other parts that typically belong in an RFP similar to the above list.

Sometimes you may find the instructions to the offerors in the cover letter, and then the rest of the requirements in the RFP. This often happens with Task Order Requirements (TOR).

Take note: After you have familiarized yourself with the most important sections, you still have to read the entire RFP, including all the attachments. It is, however, less daunting if you know what to look at first.


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