A major problem in bid writing: nounitis, Scott Keyser


Nounitis — the over-use of abstract nouns — is a common problem in bid documents.


Words like provision, solution, focus, enhancement, strategy abound. They’re all abstract nouns, theoretical concepts that only engage a relatively small part of the brain, the neo-cortex. In evolutionary terms this is the youngest part of the brain, responsible for things like logic and intellect. The oldest, deepest part, housing emotion, imagination and intuition, is the limbic brain.


Neuro science asserts that big decisions — like awarding a major contract — are taken in the limbic brain, then post-rationalised in the neo-cortex.


Abstract nouns don’t engage this vital, limbic brain.


The other problem is that, because they’re not real, concrete things (you can’t touch a solution or a strategy in the same way that you can touch a table or a book), abstract nouns are harder for the reader’s brain to process; they demand more processing power.


And that’s because we think in images, which abstract nouns don’t evoke.


So nounitis creates two problems in our bids: the reader’s brain is less engaged, and has to work hard to process the language.


What can you do about it? Make your writing more concrete and less abstract. And if you have to use abstract terms like solution, give the reader a concrete example of what you mean. The more neurologically engaging your writing, the more impact it will have.



© Scott Keyser 2020


Scott Keyser is The Writing Guy, a twice-published bid writer & consultant, and writing skills trainer. Scott helps organisations to write Human and double their tender win-rate.






Gareth Snaith, Contract Performance Manager, 3SC