How to Write a Proposal

By Mark Nichol

Writing a proposal is similar to but not exactly the same as crafting a persuasive essay or producing a report. Here are suggestions for developing a proposal, including some pertinent to its specific purpose.

1. A proposal should define a problem and describe a solution that will persuade busy, thrifty, skeptical readers to support it.

2. Employ facts, not opinions, to bolster the argument for approval. Research similar plans or projects and cite them, emphasizing their successes and/or how your proposal resolves the weaknesses, omissions, or mistaken priorities apparent in them.

3. Analyze your plan or project, demonstrating possible outcomes. If possible, model a small-scale version of the plan or project, report on the results, and extrapolate how the full-scale plan or project will turn out based on the test.

4. Any discussion of financial or other resources should be conducted carefully and should present a realistic picture of the expense required.

5. Be meticulous in writing, editing, and design of the proposal. Revise as necessary to make it clear and concise, ask others to critique and edit it, and make sure the presentation is attractive and engaging as well as well organized and helpful.

A proposal should include the following elements:

Executive Summary: State the rationale for putting the proposal into effect, and summarize the proposal. (This allows a decision maker to quickly get the gist of the proposal, hence the name.)

Statement of Need: Detail why the plan or project the proposal recommends is necessary.

Project Description: Explain specifics of the plan or project, and how it will go into effect and how it will be evaluated.

Budget Analysis: Provide and explain how the plan or project will be financed and categorize and annotate operating expenses.

Organization Details: If the proposal is being submitted to an outside party, provide information about the beneficiary organization, including its mission, its stakeholders and who its serves, and the scope of its programs and services.

Conclusion: Summarize the proposal’s main points.

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4 Responses to “How to Write a Proposal”

  • Marc Rubin

    I just wanted to thank you for supporting so many of my long-held beliefs – so that I could show that “it’s not just me!”

    I’m a serial comma-ist – and that was especially important.

    Thanks again.

  • Roland Garton

    Nice to have an article on proposals.

    A couple quick points I might add to your article: first, proposals can address a problem, as you discuss, but they can also address an opportunity. In fact, the “new opportunity” proposals can be the most exciting.

    Second, I would mention the value of including partners and letters of support in a proposal.

    TheGrantHelpers.com offers many additional tips and techniques in its blog. I’d encourage interested readers to visit.

  • Roberta B.

    Also include names and description of credentials and expertise of the individuals who will be responsible for managing and performing the work.

  • John White

    Good outline and proc.

    I would change “Executive Summary” to “Summary.” The former is supercilious and a vestige of 1980s corporate-speak.

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