A written proposal always offers to answer a need with a service, product or project. To succeed, a proposal must simultaneously inform and convince its audience of the proposer’s qualifications, solution and budget. A solicited proposal typically provides specific information that readers request in a particular order and format. An unsolicited proposal sometimes needs to convince readers that a need even exists. Either way, a proposal must have a compelling beginning, middle and end. Tailor each section of your proposal to succinctly provide what your readers need to know to accept your proposed solution with confidence.
Create your proposal’s "front matter." Typically this consists of a letter of transmittal, a title page, a table of contents and a project summary. Your proposal summary may take the form of a 100 to 300-word abstract or one-page executive summary.
Begin your proposal with the heading “Introduction.” Reveal your proposal’s purpose and preview its contents. Describe your relationship with your readers or with various sources of information. Concisely describe your solution, especially its benefits, to draw your readers in.
Discuss your proposal’s “Background.” State the problem and describe your audience. Demonstrate that you have researched the issue well from multiple angles to come up with a sound solution. Clearly state your premises and assumptions and define any basic terms that you use in the proposal.
Describe your “Solution.” Show your readers why your solution is the best way to address the pressing issue. Discuss the benefits of your solution persuasively, preferably using hard facts and figures to support your claims.
Describe the “Approach” or “Methodology” with which you will implement your solution. Include information on how you will sequence and manage the work and ensure sufficient labor and resources to deliver quality results. Detail a schedule that indicates key milestones and critical checkpoints, and a work plan the shows the involvement of all participants through time.
List your “Qualifications” to make your readers comfortable and confident in your abilities. Provide evidence that you and your team, if any, have the experience and background to do the job well.
Detail a “Budget” that lists all the resources you'll need and their corresponding costs. Calculate the total cost of the endeavor, including labor, materials, equipment, supplies and so forth.
End with a “Conclusion” that reiterates and highlights the benefits of your solution. Urge approval encouragingly, confidently and compellingly. Offer to provide additional information as needed.
List your “References.” Cite the sources that you used to develop your proposal.
Compile an “Appendices” section comprised of supplementary documents that support claims or illustrate statements made in your proposal. These may include spreadsheets, flowcharts, similar projects or case studies, resumes, letters of recommendation, white papers and so forth.
Your audience’s information needs should drive what to include or exclude from your proposal.
Lead your readers from concern about an issue to excitement about your solution. Precede your cost information with your reassuring qualifications, and follow it with a recap of your solution’s exciting opportunities and benefits.
You may not need all of the above-mentioned sections and may even combine several sections into one. Conversely, you may create new sections to satisfy your readers’ need-to-know. For example, add a “Review of Literature” section after “Background” to describe work that is closely related to your proposal; or, add a “Contract” section after “Qualifications” to indicate your contractual assumptions, expectations or exceptions.
Format your proposal for easy reading. Craft each paragraph to begin or end with your main point, reserving the middle portion for details or examples. Ensure that each paragraph is no more than 10 lines long. Italicize or underline key points and use headings and subheadings to help readers locate information quickly. Unless otherwise instructed, use 10 to 12-point font size throughout.
Check your proposal for spelling and grammar errors. Where possible, get a fresh set of eyes to review your proposal before printing and submitting it.
Create templates and adapt the applicable sections of successful proposals in future proposals.