PDFs Part Two: Four Ways to Streamline Proposal Reviews

The draft review and approval process can be stressful for any proposal writer. You just spent days crafting a clear, compliant document, and now various senior executives and subject matter experts—many with only a basic understanding of Microsoft Word formatting and review functions—are wading through it. Time is short and deadlines are closing in. What could possibly go wrong? Lots.

We’re out to find a better way. So this week we’re exploring four ways that portable document format (PDF) files, in lieu of Word files, can make your proposal review process more dependable and less stressful. On to the list!

A Quick Caveat Before We Begin: Like Part One of our PDF series, we’ll be discussing features specific to Adobe Acrobat, since most businesses use this software for PDF creation. For similar features of other common PDF creators, such as PDFCreator and CutePDF, please consult their respective websites.

1. Use as a Shared Review Tool
In addition to having smaller file sizes, PDFs have two significant review advantages over Word files: (1) they maintain their integrity when viewed on virtually any system, and (2) they allow you to restrict the reader’s ability to alter its contents. That’s right, PDFs can help rid you of the hours spent remedying mangled formatting, altered document styles, shifting graphic placements, and untracked changes.

The downside of PDFs has long been the actual review process, but it’s now easier than you may think. Acrobat has taken a cue from collaboration applications and included shared review tools in its latest versions. While in your file, you can issue the PDF, instructions, and a due date directly to multiple reviewers (who only need Adobe Reader to perform the review). Through the course of the review period, you can track progress, add reviewers, and deliver automatic updates and reminders without sending a single manual email.

Meanwhile, reviewers can use a standard set of commenting tools, including sticky notes (like the Comment feature in Word), a text editor/typewriter, and a highlighter, while also being able to see other reviewers’ real-time feedback in the document. It’s much like reviews in Word, except with more efficiency and less risk for you.

The How To (in Acrobat XI): With your proposal draft open in Acrobat, select the Comment pane on the right side of the page, then the Review panel, and then Send for Shared Review. Select the file location where you’d like the review comments to be stored, then enter the email addresses of your reviewers. Add a summary message, insert the deadline, and click Send.

2. Use Seamlessly with SharePoint
For many organizations, Microsoft SharePoint is the preferred software for collaborating on proposals and managing document reviews. No problem. Acrobat now integrates with SharePoint much like Office and Excel, allowing for easy retrieving, opening, and saving of proposal review drafts and comments. (Note: If you’re still using a company shared drive for proposal work, we encourage you to give SharePoint a look. It’s well worth it.)

Gone are the days of annoying, manual PDF checkout and saving processes. Now you can checkout and open a PDF from a SharePoint library, edit it while viewing others’ comments, and save it back to the SharePoint library—all directly from Acrobat.

The How To (in Acrobat XI): When sending out a PDF for review (see above), select your desired SharePoint library as the location to store review comments. When reviewers navigate to the library, all they have to do is click the PDF to open/checkout, make their desired edits and comments, select File from the top menu, and click Save to Online Account. When prompted, they select Check In.

3. Sort and Export Review Comments to Word
Another longtime complaint of using PDFs for reviews has been the headache of manually transferring revisions, one by one, to the original Word version of the proposal. No more. Newer versions of Acrobat give you the option of exporting comments and text changes directly to the original Word document.

Even better, once the comments and text changes are exported, they appear in the Word document as tracked changes. Also, much like Word’s spellcheck function, an Acrobat dialogue box can take you through each change for resolution. No longer do you have to worry about missed changes, unresolved issues, or the challenge of deciphering handwritten comments.

The How To (in Acrobat XI): With your proposal draft open in Acrobat, click on the Comment pane on the right side of the page, then the options icon under the Comments List header. Select Export to Word. When the dialog box opens, navigate to the original proposal Word file, select the type of comments to export (e.g., All Comments, Text Edits Only), check the box next to Turn Track Changes On Before Importing Comments, and click Continue. Once your file opens, apply or discard each change via the dialogue box.

4. Get Quick Signatures and Approvals
Once reviews come to a close, signatures are typically needed for both the proposal submission and internal approvals. For instance, within the proposal document and any accompanying forms, RFPs commonly mandate that an original signature be inserted from a company executive. Also, most organizations require any number of executives to sign off on the final document. With executives often at remote locations, getting these signatures can be a major bottleneck.

Newer versions of Acrobat help you avoid last-minute scrambling for signatures by allowing people to electronically sign the PDF. No printing, faxing, cut-and-pasting scanned signatures, or overnighting documents. Executives and reviewers can easily insert their signature directly into the document by typing or drawing their name.

Using EchoSign, Acrobat also allows you to send the document to signatories, track progress, and receive notifications when signatures are provided. This is a useful tool, but as a paid service, we have found that sending documents for signature via SharePoint or email is usually sufficient.

The How To (in Acrobat XI): When a signatory receives the PDF, they open the document and click the Sign pane on the right side of the page, then the I Need to Sign panel, then Place Signature. They select the method for creating the signature and click on the appropriate place in the document to insert it. Done.

One Final Caveat: We recognize that there are many other solutions for improving your proposal reviews and approvals, such as using a proposal automation system. Also, some organizations avoid the formatting issues of Word by performing final document layout in a graphic design program, such as Adobe InDesign. Our point: PDFs may not be most effective with your particular proposal process or available resources, so as with any process improvement, it’s important to examine what works best for your environment.

Shameless Plug Alert: A great way to ensure you have effective, persuasive proposals and presentations is by hiring a professional writer, editor, or trainer. You know, like the ones at Freestyle Editorial Services. Visit our website and contact us today to discuss how we can make your company stand apart from the competition.

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