Ambiguity is Your Enemy

Ambiguity is Your Enemy

Ambiguity is not Man’s best friend. It is the enemy of every bid writer. If you don’t know exactly what you are communicating in your writing, you can be sure that the evaluator won’t have a clue! Ambiguity can take many forms and is most often used by writers to mask something they are unsure of; or to hide something that they don’t want to reveal to the evaluator. Other times, ambiguity may be caused by using words and phrases that have more than one meaning – without the context to give clarity to the reader. Here are some examples of ambiguous language to avoid in your bids:

AMBIGUOUS COMMITMENTS:  Many bidders will avoid committing their company to anything concrete by using phrases such as “We will seek to ……” or “We will try to ……”. These phrases are useless. Evaluators will see straight through them and mark them for what they are. Empty statements of intent. One of the greatest instructional films of all time captured this issue perfectly. A master bid writer (ahem!) chastised his apprentice for agreeing to merely try:

 “Alright, I’ll give it a try.”

“No. Try Not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

 WORDS WITH DUAL MEANINGS (regardless of context): A great example of this is the use of ‘bi’ to denote frequency. Bi-monthly can mean twice a month or once every two months. Bi-weekly and bi-annually can cause similar confusion.

THE WORD ‘FREQUENTLY’. This is a term that can have different meanings to different people. How often is frequent? Be clear and give a timeframe in which actions occur (e.g. twice a week).

THE WORD ‘REGULARLY’: You want the evaluator to know that something happens at regular intervals of time, but you give no indication of how long those intervals are. If an audit is undertaken once every 20 years then that is regular. It’s just no use. If your audits are undertaken every year then say so! Otherwise, the evaluator will be left to make their own guess as to exactly how long the intervals between audits are and they won’t flatter you.

THE WORD ‘RECENTLY’: You want the evaluator to know that something happened a short time ago. So simply say when. Give a date. Otherwise you’ll look like you’re playing a game of smoke and mirrors. Here’s an example of how the word ‘recently’ was used in a film to try and give seven little bid writers some wriggle room when instructed by the bid director to wash their hands before supper. Did it work? I think you know the answer….

“Supper's not quite ready.

You'll just have time to wash.”


    Hah! Knew there's a catch to it!

    Why wash?

    What for? We ain't goin' nowhere.

    'Tain't New Year.”

“Oh, perhaps you have washed.”

     “Perhaps we—"

“But when?”

    “When? Uh, when?

    Uh, you said, "When?

    Why, last week-- uh, month--year—

    Why, recently.

    Yes, recently.”

“Oh, recently. Let me see your hands.


How shocking. Tsk, tsk, tsk! Goodness me, this will never do. March straight outside and wash, or you'll not get a bite to eat.”

INCORRECT SPELLING. There are many spelling errors that can be made which spell checkers won’t pick up. This is because you’ve spelled an alternative word correctly but it gives a completely new meaning to your sentence – or makes no sense at all. How does it look when you are writing about the severe deprivation experienced by a population and then go on to refer to them as severely depraved? In addition to suffering inequality, they are now being labelled by you as morally corrupt! Review and amend your work and have someone proficient in English to proof read your responses so that errors can be corrected prior to submission.

UNSUBSTANTIATED STATEMENTS: Unless you can provide clear evidence to back up your claims, avoid over-inflated statements of grandeur such as “We are the UK’s number one company for …….” or “As the company with the highest client satisfaction rates in the world…..”. These just make you look silly and don’t provide any clarity as to the actual success of your organisation.

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