A technical proposal is one of the most important tasks in business or technical writing. A well-written proposal can secure your organization a new sales client, a major project or grant funding for research or other activities. For many organizations, effective technical proposals are essential to their continued success.
Study the request for proposal, or RFP, closely. Many organizations send out RFPs when they want proposals for a product or service. RFPs contain guidelines on what the proposals should cover, as well as when and to whom they should be submitted. A good proposal should not deviate from the guidelines in the RFP. Unfortunately, some RFPs can be vague, offering little guidance. This is especially problematic when you are trying to develop cost estimates in your proposal. Step 4 will offer suggestions for coping with vague or unclear RFPs.
Plan your proposal before you write it. Often you may not know any more about the client or funding source than what is in the RFP. Do your homework and learn what you can about the organization and its decision-makers. Then spend some time brainstorming about the organization’s needs. Proposals that display little or no understanding of a client's needs often result from writing too soon without taking time to think about the client.
Draft your proposal. Variables such as the size and scope of the project, as well as the potential client that will receive your proposal, will determine the length and format. In some situations, a shorter memo-like proposal is appropriate. Other situations, such as large projects or grant proposals sent to large organizations, will call for longer proposals written like a formal technical report.
Include in the body of your proposal a schedule for deliverable goods or tasks and an estimate of costs. Follow specifications in the RFP. If the RFP is vague, there are a number of ways you can deal with this. One suggestion is to offer your potential client a set of options from which to choose. An alternative is to make your own assumptions and specify them in the proposal. Third, you can contact the potential client and ask a lot of questions. Many clients will appreciate this, as it shows that you care about the project.
Organize the proposal in such a way as to attract the attention of readers and focus them on the key points. Start with an abstract that summarizes your proposal. Expand on the details, including costs, in the main body of the proposal. End with a conclusion that emphasizes the benefits of choosing your company. Keep abstracts, summaries and conclusions concise and as free of technical jargon as possible so that they are accessible to all readers, regardless of technical knowledge. Flesh out technical details in the body of the proposal.
Edit and format your proposal, making sure it is free of errors and that the document is easy to read. Emphasize how your project will serve the client's needs. Consider explaining the qualifications of key personnel for the project you are proposing. Use lists (either with bullet points or numbers) to highlight key points. Use headings and subheadings to break up large blocks of text.
Format your proposal with an “abstract, body, conclusion,” or ABC, approach.
Establish the need for what is being proposed.
Be realistic in your cost estimates and schedule.
Focus attention in the conclusion–this is your chance to make a lasting impression.
Make sure cost information is easy to find, as readers will be looking for it.