How to write a proposal

A proposal has a lot of different purposes, but there’s only one good way to write one: the way that pulls together all of the information in a concise and persuasive way and helps you get what you want … whether that’s a whole new software system, or just a tweak to your marketing strategy.

This article isn’t about a business proposal — also known as a quote — but instead about the document required when formally pitching an idea for action and execution by managers or department heads.

When are proposals necessary?

Any project you don’t have the clearance or authority to start without a higher-up’s approval, you need to submit a proposal for.

According to SSWM, a proposal is “a detailed description of a series of activities aimed at solving a certain problem”.

That problem  could be anything, from:

  • Process improvement
  • Cost reduction
  • A new marketing strategy

If it’s an idea you need to ask permission to execute, or to get action on, it needs a proposal.

Why are proposals important?

A proposal is a way to pitch an idea and state your requirements, so it’s important for supervisors because they can get information in writing (not casually in the elevator), and be able to act knowing the full implications of their decision. They’re also a chance for you to make a structured, logical argument and lay down everything in favor of your idea. A well-written proposal shows your manager you care about the cause, and it’s not just a mid-meeting whim you blurted out.

Examples of proposals

It’s a broad topic, but it’s best explained with examples before getting right into a step-by-step guide.

Below is a simple proposal example with some basic sections.

Now let’s take a look at how to write a proposal — whether it’s as simple as the one above, or more complex.

How to write a proposal: step-by-step

Here’s the general structure of a proposal:

As you can see, a proposal generally consists of:

  • Introduction: A brief overview of the problem, solution, costs, and benefits.
  • Issue: The main definition of the issue, including subject, purpose, main argument, background information and importance.
  • Solution: The main definition of the solution, including your step-by-step plan, the benefits, and how potential obstacles will be overcame.
  • Qualifications: Overview of the personnel required, experience.
  • Conclusion of the costs and benefits, and wrap-up: Balance the cost against the benefit, reinforce your point one last time.

1. Identify and define your reader

Just like with any kind of persuasion, it helps if you understand how to appeal to your audience. Who will be reading your proposal and deciding if it’s accepted or rejected? What do they care about? What kind of language and benefits would resonate with them? This is the first step because it’s an important thing to keep in mind as you go along and as information that informs the way you write from here on.

2. Define the problem your proposal will solve

Who: Who will the proposal affect?

What: What’s the reason for you to write the proposal in the first place? Explain the current situation and the problems that come with it.

3. Define the solution

How: How are you going to solve the problem? Explain step-by-step in detail.

Who: Identify the personnel you need, along with their prior experience to add persuasion to the proposal

4. Conclusion: costs, benefits and wrap-up

Reiterate: The purpose and main argument

Costs: Break down the projected costs involved for different elements of the project

Benefits: Break down the benefits to the organization, monetary and non-monetary, to persuade the reader there’ll be a return on investment

Thanks: Thank the reader for their time.

Contact information: Where can the reader get in touch with you? Make sure to be crystal clear to make the details easily discoverable.

BONUS: Get this process as an interactive checklist

Last steps before submitting the proposal

Clear writing is your best friend when you’re trying to write persuasively. For that reason, there are a few checks to run before you submit your proposal.

Remember, what’s clear to you might not always be clear to other people.

1 .Check for jargon (then destroy it)

Although jargon is popular in the business world, not everyone shares the equal love for it. It’s terms like right-size, blue sky (verb), turn-key, and synergize. They might mean something to you, or make you feel intelligent, but there are simpler alternatives that will help people understand what you mean!

2. Change the passive voice to the active voice

The passive voice is defined as:

“The noun or noun phrase that would be the object of an active sentence (such as Our troops defeated the enemy) appears as the subject of a sentence with passive voice (e.g. The enemy was defeated by our troops).”.

It’s a long-winded way of expressing something that could be expressed in simple terms:

The passive voice sounds distant and even deceptive, and, since the reader might even just be skimming your proposal, you don’t want to add extra words to cloud your point.

3. Proofread the proposal

Install a tool like Grammarly and check the proposal in an online text editor. Grammarly will manage to pick up on anything that is grammatically incorrect and sometimes even flags up stylistically poor phrases. Poor spelling and grammar will only discredit the value of what you’re saying and could be a problem that leads to  your proposal being rejected.

 

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