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How to Write a Proposal

Writing good proposals is an extremely useful skill for all the possible sorts of occupations. Regardless of whether you are a student, a manager or a blue collar, or just organizing the social life in your neighborhood, proposal-writing skills are essential to make your work effective and recognized. You get to write a proposal every time you want to convince the responsible people when you want them to support the enacting of your plan. If you want to gain the support you want, then your proposal has to be to-the-point and engaging. This is what defines a well-written proposal.

As you know, putting together a good proposal is a great skill to possess regardless of your occupation. Surely, there are different kinds of proposals for different goals, and they all have specifications of their own. There can be proposals for safety measures, proposals for process improvement, proposals for cost savings, etc. Still, there are some common guidelines that apply for all kinds of proposals to make them convincing and captivating.

We have tried to put those together in this how-to guide. So, the process of shaping a firm and straightforward proposal can be broken down into the following stages and steps:


Step 1. Understand who your audience are.

Before you start writing your proposal, you need to have a clear picture of who your proposal is aimed at. You should realize who these people are and what may appeal to them. Moreover, it will be entirely right to assume that the people reading your proposal are busy people, so the proposal has to be very brief and concentrated, and you have to remove all the unnecessary bits of information. You should ponder about what your reader already knows about the topic, and avoid mentioning that in your proposal. The only information that should be in your proposal is the new information. To sum it up, here is a checklist of questions that you have to answer about your proposal:

  • Who is going to read it?
  • How familiar are they with the problem already?
  • What information they want to hear about it and what information you can omit in your proposal?
  • What do they want to hear?
  • What do you want these people to learn from your text?
  • How do you motivate them to make the necessary decision upon reading your proposal?

Step 2. Clarify the issue

In a perfect case scenario, the issue that you are proposing to solve is evident to you. You know the drawbacks of the current state of events and why it needs to be improved. But is it just as clear to your audience? And – more importantly – do they believe that you are the one who can take care of it?

So, you should realize that your task is not only to convey the situation to your audience. You need to convince them that you possess sufficient expertise and authority to deal with the issue properly.

This has to do with the classical persuasion methods suggested by Aristotle in his time: pathos, logos, and ethos. When putting together a proposal, writers often concentrate on logos – the one that appeals to rational thinking and operates facts and logic. While it is quite important, it must not overshadow the other effective persuasion methods: pathos – the one that appeals to emotion, and, of course, ethos – the one that is meant at establishing you as someone who possesses just the sufficient authority on the subject. In case of a proposal, you should employ ethos to convince the reader that you understand the issue better than anybody, so you should be the one to deal with it.

You are welcome to learn more about these persuasion technique – ethos, pathos, and logos – from handbooks and guides in rhetoric. This is essential for coming up with a firm proposal.

Step 3. Suggest a solution

Once again, always keep in mind that your reader is a busy person who will not give your proposal a thorough and thoughtful reading at a relaxed pace. They will most likely just look through it, and if there will be nothing to grasp their attention, they will discard it and forget about it. This is why, you should not go round about, but instead get straight to the point. On the one hand, the solution that you are suggesting should be brief and easy to follow, but on the other hand, you should provide as much detail as necessary, - so that your reader was left without questions.

Among the details of your solution that you must provide in your proposal, one of the key aspects is the timeline. All the stages of implementation need to be clearly outlined, so that you could convince the most skeptical audience that you have an insight into the problem which you are able and willing to solve.

Step 4. Stick to the proper style

We mentioned on more than one occasion that you should keep visualizing the people who will be reading your proposal. This means not only visualizing the process of the reading your text, but also going into greater detail – what kind of people they are and how you can appeal to them. This should influence your choice of style and words that you are using to make your proposal effective with this audience.

Evidently, people are different. We all have different points of perception. Some of us like to think of ourselves as perfectly rational people who can only be won over by cold facts (logos). Others would hate to be seen as lifeless robots without emotion, so they tend to be prone to more emotional persuasion (pathos). These are some general examples of the factors to consider when building the appeal of your proposal. In reality, you will need to go into much deeper detail.

However, in any case, you should avoid relying solely on emotional appeal – because, strong as it may be upon first impression, it can vane just as quickly, unless it is based on some solid facts to back it up.

Step 5. Outline your text

Same as with any other piece of writing, when you are to put together a good proposal, it is good to have a clear plan of action. However, unlike with most other writing that you had to do for your school or job, here – your outline will not be included in the final text. Instead, it is only meant to facilitate your work on the proposal proper.

Once you have conducted a thorough research on the problem and your audience, you are ready to put together an outline to write your convincing proposal. The outline should be defined by what you have learned while completing previous steps of preparation. Here is a template of a comprehensive proposal outline:

  1. Introduction
    1. Give the relevant background information on the problem.
  2. Main body
    1. State the problem and justify why it needs to be addressed.
    2. Suggest your solution.
    3. Detail how your solution will be implemented.
    4. Take a look at other possible solutions and prove that yours is better.
  3. Conclusion
    1. Restate the problem and your ultimate solution.

In some cases, you will have to devote separate subsections to budget analysis and details of organizing the works.


Step 6. Start off with a staight-to-the-point introduction

As discussed before, you are expected to value your reader’s time and attention. So, it is never a good idea to round about. Instead, it is always best to get your reader hooked from the very beginning. This is what paper writers call a hook sentence.

You want to get your reader engaged from the very first line, so it is not prohibited to give some shocking information in your introduction. Then you move on to providing some background information. In one of the previous steps, you have already sorted out how aware your reader is about the issue. You know that you don’t need to repeat this information for them, because it will only make them feel like you are wasting their time and get them annoyed. You don’t want that. So, instead, you refer to the information that your reader already knows, expand on it, and reveal your own expertise on the subject, thus capitalizing on it.

Step 7. Address the problem

At this point, you are supposed to be in tune with your reader, and you are the one directing the further narration. Now, it is the high time to get to the meat and state the problem. Since you have already shared some background information, now it makes sense to go deeper on the subject by offering your take on some of the more specific details of the problem. These details usually include (but are not limited to) the following: the root cause of the problem, the reason why it is regarded as a problem, what negative effect it has, etc.

In this section, you pay special attention to the reasons why now is the high time to address it. Naturally, it can be useful to include some forecasting about what will happen if the issue is not tackled with immediately and decisively.

Once again, depending on what you know about your reader, you may get emotional and personal to some degree. But – nevertheless – be strongly encouraged to employ some external sources of information to back up your standpoint. It is not prohibited to treat the facts from these sources somewhat liberally for the sake of persuasion.

Step 8. Share your solution(s)

Finally, you get to the main point of your proposal: you offer what can be done in regard to the problem. Here, you not only mention what exactly you suggest to do about the problem, but also what the advantages of your solution are if compare with other possible solutions, as well as what will the benefits from your solution be – both short-term and long-term.

In the benefits section, it is always great to think as global as it can get. Consider how your solution can be applied for the good of as many people as possible, and not just one particular niche.

As a part of convincing your audience that you are the best choice to tackle the issue in question, you should pay respect to other possible solutions, even when they are opponent to yours. By acknowledging them, you highlight your awareness and authority on the subject-matter. In this part, it may also be useful to mention why you want this problem solved, what interest you have in solving it.

Step 9. Specify the timing and budget

If realizing your solution does not require any financial investment, then you should not let it go unnoticed. Do not make a big deal out of it but highlight how your skill and expertise have allowed to minimize the costs in such a dramatic way.

However, in most cases where a written proposal is necessary, some substantial financing is implied. Therefore, it is necessary to inform your reader what this money will be needed for, who will be doing the work, and how long will it take. Here, you should give out the figure in as much detail as possible. However, restrain from putting any detail that seems vague or hard to measure. Also, remember to value your reader’s time and attention, so only the truly relevant figures are worthy of attention.

Step 10. Sum up your proposal with a conclusion

The conclusion of your proposal is a brief restatement of your whole body of text. No new information should be put here, you merely condense what you have already said:

  • the problem;
  • why it's necessary to deal with it now;
  • what will happen if you leave things as they are;
  • what you suggest;
  • why your solution is better than alternative ideas.

At the end, you can suggest some further actions that may be taken in the direction that you have outlined. It will be a good addition to your proposal, even better revealing your commitment to the issue. However, this is not a must.

It is a must, however, to thank your reader for their attention and tell them how much you value the time that they took to look through your proposal. Such words of thank are the ultimate way to wrap up a proposal.

Step 11. Edit your draft

That's right. What you have put up for the moment is merely a draft that you can still perfect. If you are writing about something you are truly interested in, it is not uncommon to get carried away and pay most attention to what you are writing as opposed to how it is written. While the content of your work is crucial, the form can also have a critical influence on the end result. That is why, make sure that your proposal is well written.

The most common issues to pay special attention to in this regard are as follows:

  • Avoid jargon and cliches. Opt for general vocabulary at all times.
  • Try to stick with shorter words, sentences, and paragraphs.
  • Always prefer active voice over passive.

Step 12. Proofread your draft

In this final step, the only important thing left to take care of is to proofread your proposal and eliminate all possible spelling and grammatical errors. Often, your reader will not pay any special to those. However, it is better not to take that risk. The presence of such tiny errors may show you in a bad light, your reader may think that you were too lazy to pay attention to some details that you have deemed unimportant. Often, the reader will only notice such mistakes subconsciously, and it will deteriorate their overall impression of the document that they have just read.

It may be challenging to point out all such minor errors in your own piece of writing. Therefore, be advised to run your proposal through some spelling- and grammar-checking software. Also, it is always useful to have a second pair of eyes to proofread your text.

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